My War, the second studio record release coming from American punk rock band, Black Flag. Able to destroy the boundaries of tempo within their tracks and produce one of the heaviest-hitting sounds of an era; Black Flag was a forced to be reckoned with. Led by Henry Rollins on vocals, Greg Ginn or “Dale Nixon” (An alias used by Ginn on recording) on the guitar and bass, and Bill Stevenson on the percussion.
Black Flag had switched up multiple artists and musicians from even their short years leading up to their first major record release, Damaged. They had switched singers’ multiple times, dropped and picked up different guitarists and had not refined their lineup until finally reaching 1981 when Henry Rollins had joined Black Flag and put the singing and lyrical style on a complete reversal. Gone were the upbeat and party like lyrics, Rollins brought a more frantic, paranoid, and morbid poetic style, and the band was never the same after.
The self-titled track, “My War” opens the frenzied journey of the record, commencing with blazing hi-hats from Stevenson and a dingy style of guitar from Ginn that hazily rings over quick cymbals only set the launching pad for vocalist Henry Rollins who starts screaming immediately. “My War, you’re one of them. You say that you’re my friend but you’re one of them,” this is the first look into the rather suspicious style that Rollins adapted, and instills an instant amount of energy into the already tireless efforts of Black Flag.
With My War, Black Flag also adapted a new style of punk rock. There were no longer single minute long tracks with a similar sound to each, instead Black Flag had brought in multiple layers of track where solos, tempo changes, and choruses were present while other punk rock bands of the era were still sticking to a more get in and get out mentality of track.
The following track, “Can’t Decide” features Ginn with a slightly idealistic style of opening solo before letting Stevenson and Nixon come in, laying out some of the foundation of the track. This then lets Rollins join in with the lyrics “Sun’s coming up and I can’t decide, to spill my emotions or keep them inside.” Black Flag then continues on a slick driving rock style before coming into the chorus of “Can’t Decide” where Rollins pessimistically explains “I conceal my feelings so I won’t have to explain, what I can’t explain anyway.” The track then features another solo from Ginn where he shreds the guitar, bending it strings in ways to make it become distorted and almost seeming warped.
The lower level of production also contributes in addition to the punk rock aspect that Black Flag portrayed through their music. It was of a lower quality of recording and thus made the sound feel more genuine and ultimately raw. My War is a raw record; it does not have any fancy tricks or a million-dollar level of studio equipment. It portrays itself as an outsider in music and instead wants to focus on the bare-bones style of instrumental recording where mistakes happen, and they can be heard in this record. It not only adds a personal level of attraction with the listener, but lets Black Flag feel more like it was recorded all in one single, animalistic run through.
“Beat My Head Against the Wall,” follows and is the first sludge style of track that split so many people up from a first and second-generation of Black Flag fans. The track switches from a crawling and mud-filled start to then jumping into a crashing cymbal and guitar fury frenzy. The sections where it quickly jumps back and forth from this frantic anti-social section where Rollins explains “I don’t care about parties or a good time, I won’t stand in your line.” To the more laidback style where Rollins happily explains “Swimming in a mainstream, is such a lame dream. No method to the madness, beat my head against a wall.”
Both sections create a constant duality that Black Flag will battle with for the rest of My War, they constantly revise their sound and instead display an incoherent power struggle between punk rock and a swinging rock style. It not only creates one of the better mixes of music, but keeps each track feeling stronger than the last.
Trailing behind is the track “I Love You,” a jumpy and bi-polar piece that relies on a loose writing style of past bassist Chuck Dukowiski, that features a battle within the narrator of the track. Rollins explains, “I put my fist through the door, I hate myself for you, I love you.” This bi-polar frenzy is present through most of the track and is only amplified when paired with Rollins mad style of vocalization. As the rest of Black Flag backs Rollins up with their rapid fire style of percussion from Stevenson and sprinting guitar licks from Ginn. The triple threat from the musicians of Black Flag were able to start a fire from the pure amount of animalistic energy that they brought to each track and “I Love You” is no different.
Rollins was able to end the track in a bitter-sweet style of vocalization where he shows a rare sense of pride but still a layer of usual aggression in his singing, “You screamed, you bled, you laid on the floor. But I know that you won’t leave me no more.” This also leads into the next machine-gun style track, “Forever Time.”
“Forever Time” launches with a straight forward jack knife approach at first glance, until falling into a subsection of the track where Ginn destroys on the guitar and the rest of Black Flag is forced to support one of his wilder solos on My War. It annihilates on the track and there are two sections of his solo, the first part that appears near the midsection of the track. Then the proceeding section that contains another wailing assault. Rollins and Stevenson also deliver an animalistic approach in their music that conspires well with Ginn’s style of play. “Forever Time” feels like the last true punk song that Black Flag does on My War, the following songs on the album take a more varied and diverse style.
Black Flag without warning launches into “Swinging Man,” this destructive jazz style piece that combines aggression and tempo inconsistencies to create the foundation of the track. Rollins continues to act nearly like an animal that shrieks and continuously shouts over the remains of an unstable jazz/punk hybrid. The track loses its path halfway through and begins to fall apart into more of a free-form exhibition of guitar solos, screams, and blasts from the percussion. It is beast-like, horrid, but overall an interesting exhibition in genre-blending style.
The rapid style then dissipates as the smoke-filled “Nothing Left Inside” creeps into frame. It not only sounds similar to a doom-rock style relating to Black Sabbath, but it has a style of grunge, before grunge rock charm. It acts as a sudden brick wall that breaks the action into a gradual march that relies on Ginn’s guitar work and Rollins’ outstanding voice to create the grim atmosphere present, Rollins screams, “Your lies, nothing left inside. I built it up, I broke it down, nothing left inside.”
The track’s end is seemingly bitter and abrupt, but instead is the opening to the final act on Black Flag’s, My War. This is where the tracks become much longer and are a sudden change in style as well, thus creating a gloomy end for an ultimately destructive and timeless record.
The second to last track, “Three Nights” is a morose style of track that opens with Stevenson pounding the drums and “Nixon” playing a distraught style bass groove. Surprisingly, this track follows the pattern of “Nothing Left Inside” where the track feels much more somber, almost like a funeral song than the end to a punk record. Rollins lyrical style on “Three Nights” is a contemplation of endless suffering and the no-solution ideas of defeatism. “My life’s a piece of shit that got caught in my shoe, and I’ve been grinding that stink into the dirt.” The track then ends with Rollins telling someone to “Go ahead, go ahead, go ahead, stick me, stick me, Knives.”
The final track of My War, “Scream,” another painful journey of defeatism and anarchy within personal life. Rollins yells “Supposed to act my age, supposed to act mature, I’ve got better things to do than listen to you.” It is one of those fantastic tracks that opposes every idea that someone has tried to fill you with and instead has Rollins wanting to express what makes man the most dangerous animal of all. His intuition begins to fail him and he becomes near primal again in “Scream,” the rest of Black Flag also follows Rollins’ lead as the percussion from Stevenson becomes a sudden crash fest and floor tom smack down. This is all while being paired to Ginn’s awe inspiring guitar work that shreds the frets in a seemingly endless solo.
Black Flag’s performance on just the last three tracks alone are some of the more animalistic and primal rage styles that mixed up their sound on My War. It created a tension between party punk rock fans of old Black Flag and the new coming sound that Black Flag would adopt. In the end, Black Flag spawned a new style on punk records and adapted a new wave of listeners that would live on generations later.