Music: Bad Religion

Bad Religion, roughly 30 years ago.

Punk Rock with a thesaurus.

Bad Religion is a very influential punk rock band from the United States of America, founded in 1979 in Southern California. The original members were Jay Bentley (bass), Greg Graffin (vocals), Brett Gurewitz (guitars), and Jay Ziskrout, who was quickly replaced by Peter Finestone (drums). In the spirit of the Do-It-Yourself ethic held by the punk scene at the time, Gurewitz created Epitaph Records soon after their formation, and most of the band's albums have since been released through this label.

The band is known for its particulary clever use of metaphor, style and vocabulary in the lyrics, as well as their peculiar vocal harmonies. Lyrics are often about philosophical, social or political concerns and tend to be critical, sarcastic, and often times harsh. Song writing is usually done between Graffin and Gurewitz, except for the period of time when the band left Epitaph for the major label Atlantic Records (1993-2001). During this period, Graffin took on sole song writing duties (excluding their major label debut Stranger than Fiction, which was the last album Guerwitz appeared on until 2002). For the album No Substance, generally considered among the band's weakest entries, song writing responsibilities were shared among the other band members. Since Gurewitz's return, he and Graffin have resumed their original song writing duties.

Since 2001 Bad Religion's lineup consisted of Graffin (vocals), Gurewitz (guitars), Bentley (bass), Greg Hetson—formerly of The Circle Jerks (guitars), Brian Baker (guitars), and Brooks Wackerman (drums). Bobby Schayer was their drummer for much of their 1990s period, but left the band after suffering a shoulder injury. In 2013 Hetson left due to personal problems (divorce) and was replaced by Mike Dimkich. In 2015, Wackerman also left.

Band members (founding members in italic, current members in bold)

  • Greg Graffin - vocals, principal songwriter (1979-present)
  • Brett Gurewitz - guitar, backing vocals, principal songwriter (1979-1983, 1987-1994, 2001-present)
  • Jay Bentley - bass, backing vocals (1979-1983, 1987-present)
  • Jay Ziskrout - drums (1979-1980)
  • Pete Finestone - drums (1981-1983, 1985-1991)
  • Paul Dedona - bass (1983)
  • Davy Goldman - drums (1983)
  • Tim Gallegos - bass (1985)
  • Greg Hetson - guitar (1985-2013)
  • Bobby Schayer - drums (1991-2001)
  • Brian Baker - guitar, backing vocals (1994-present)
  • Brooks Wackerman - drums (2001-2015)
  • Mike Dimkich - guitar (2013-present)

Their discography:

  • How Could Hell Be Any Worse? (1982)
  • Into the Unknown (1983)
  • Suffer (1988)
  • No Control (1989)
  • Against the Grain (1990)
  • Generator (1992)
  • Recipe for Hate (1993)
  • Stranger Than Fiction (1994)
  • The Gray Race (1996)
  • No Substance (1998)
  • The New America (2000)
  • The Process of Belief (2002)
  • The Empire Strikes First (2004)
  • New Maps of Hell (2007)
  • The Dissent of Man (2010)
  • True North (2013)

The Empire Tropes First:

  • AbsenteeMusician: Since his return in 2001, Gurewitz only ocassionaly performs live with the band (usually for gigs in California or television appearances). Justified, as he is also CEO of Epitaph Records (which since it was founded in 1980 has evolved into one of the largest independent record labels), so he is busy with releasing other bands.
  • AcCENT Upon the Wrong SylLABle: Lots. A few examples from "Parallel": "Phony COLLective progess, ACCepting that it's all such a mess", and in the background, "our lives are paralLEL"... later, "watching as our FOUNdations crumble away"
  • Album Title Drop: How Could Hell Be Any Worse? on "Fuck Armageddon... This is Hell" and The Process of Belief on "Materialist".
  • Animated Music Video: "Dream of Unity"
  • Audience Participation Song: "Sorrow"
  • Author Tract: Although not in a bad way.
  • Badass Teacher: Graffin. He's taught university classes at Cornell and UCLA
  • Belief Makes You Stupid
  • Book Ends: On Into the Unknown, sort of. The first song is titled "It's Only Over When..." while the last is called "...You Give Up". The whole phrase (It's only over when you give up) is uttered in the former. While no variation or part of that sentence appears in the latter (making it a case of Non-Appearing Title), some other lyrical excerpts from "It's Only Over When..." appear at the end of "...You Give Up".
  • Broken Record: At the end of "Best For You".
  • Call Back: How Could Hell Be Any Worse? is Title Dropped in "Los Angeles is Burning", over two decades later.
    • Both No Control and Suffer are mentioned in "21st Century (Digital Boy)" on Against the Grain.
    • "Punk Rock Song" mentions "Land of Competition" and is itself mentioned in "Kyoto Now!".
    • In an inversion, before they were made into songs themselves, "Social Suicide" and "Modern Man" appeared in "Sensory Overload" and "We're Only Gonna Die" respectively. "We're Only Gonna Die" was actually nicknamed "Modern Man" before that title was used for the song from Against the Grain.
  • Canon Discontinuity: Into The Unknown — after disappointing sales, it wasn't acknowledged or reissued until it was included in a compilation 27 years later.
  • Career-Ending Injury: Bobby Schayer suffered a rotator cuff injury, which rendered him unable to play drums at required speed for Bad Religion. Due to his departure and without any replacement, they had to prematurely end their "The New America" tour (with only one European leg remaining).
  • Christmas Songs: Title of their latest EP, which features covers of various Christmas songs (and a remix of "American Jesus").
  • Corrupt Church: "Sinister Rouge", among others.
  • Crapsack World: "Leaders and Followers", among others.
  • Date My Avatar: song "I love my computer" rolls with this. "...'cause you are just a number and a clever screen name."
  • Deadpan Snarker: Graffin's lyrics are usually this (Brett's not so much). Which is strange, because in-person, he's actually pretty laid back and mellowed-out.
  • Dual Meaning Chorus: Gurewitz himself gives three explanation to "Anesthesia". One particular lyric in that song goes: "I got a little gun, here comes oblivion." It could be about a guy killing his girlfriend, or killing himself but it could also be a metaphor about taking drugs (the little gun here referring to a syringe).
    “Anesthesia is kind of a short story about a guy and a girl who are in love but the girl named Anesthesia is also a metaphor for drugs. And in that song when he says, I’ve got a little gun, here comes oblivion, the little gun can be a gun. You’re not supposed to know whether or not the guy’s gotta gun and he’s gonna shoot Anesthesia and kill her or you’re not sure if the little gun is a syringe and he’s gonna shoot it in his arm and achieve oblivion that way. There’s several levels … you never really know if he’s gonna shoot her or he’s gonna shoot himself. Or if what it really means is that the little gun is a syringe and he’s gonna shoot himself up with heroin.“
  • God Is Evil: And what I'm frightened of is that they call it "God's Love"...
    • "Skyscraper", which tells the Tower of Babel myth from the perspective of the builders.
  • God Is Inept: "Better Off Dead", which is basically God apologizing for creating such a Crapsack World.
    • On the other hand, it may also be a sarcastic reply to people who constantly complain about living in a Crapsack World.
  • Gratuitous German: "Punk Rock Song"
  • New Sound Album: Into the Unknown is a Progressive Rock album. According to Mr. Brett, "not much thought" was put into the album's recording, and the change of style was due to the fact that the band didn't take itself seriously and thought it wouldn't last for very long, so they decided to try and explore some other styles. Two of the members, drummer Pete Finestone and bass player Jay Bentley, quit before the album was recorded because of the change, and the album was met with a great deal of negativity from the fans who embraced the band's previous Hardcore Punk sound; only 12 people showed up to see the band introduce the new material. As a result of the poor reception of this material by fans, this album is somewhat considered Old Shame by the band members, who named their next release (which returned to Hardcore Punk) Back to the Known. Despite the commercial failure and fan backlash of the album, it actually got positive reviews from critics, and is pretty good music coming from a bunch of 19-year-olds with no experience in that particular genre. It was reissued on vinyl as part of the 30 Years of Bad Religion box set, although it's never been released on CD.
    • While most of their albums tended to have their trademark sound, various added elements throughout (mostly based on the time)
      • Generator featured experimentation (epically with songs like Two Babies in the Dark)
      • Recipe for Hate added Alternative Rock and grunge elements (that got refined in their next few albums)
      • The New America feature far more personal lyrics and somewhat more poppy sound
      • New Maps of Hell is by far their heaviest albums, bordering on Alternative Metal
  • Internalized Categorism: The song "Broken" brings up the danger of putting people down, that they might start believing it themselves.
  • Long Runner Line Up: From 2001 to 2013: Greg Graffin, Brett Gurewitz, Jay Bentley, Greg Hetson, Brian Baker and Brooks Wackerman.
  • Long Title: "The Positive Aspect of Negative Thinking", "The Biggest Killer in American History", "The State of the End of the Millenium Address", "Boot Stamping on a Human Face Forever", "The Voracious March of Godliness".
  • Lyrical Cold Open: "Voice of God Is Government", "The Positive Aspect of Negative Thinking", "Come Join Us", "The Day That the Earth Stalled", "Won't Somebody", "To Another Abyss" and a couple other.
  • The Man Is Sticking It to the Man: Subverted by guitarist/main songwriter Mr. Brett, who owns the record label the band is signed to, but refused multiple offers to sell to a major record label. He even left the band during their years with Atlantic Records. Of course, given that The Offspring were making Epitaph Records tons of money during this time, he probably didn't need to.
  • Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness: Generally a 5 or 6. With a couple songs (such as "Slumber" and "Sorrow") being a 4.
  • One Steve Limit: Greg Graffin and Greg Hetson and from the original line-up, Jay Bentley and Jay Ziskrout.
  • Precision F-Strike: "Fuck You" is about this.
  • Protest Song: Almost everything they play.
  • Rearrange the Song: Live at Palladium DVD has a version of "Cease" performed solely by Graffin on piano. It was based on the version that appeared on his solo album "American Lesson".
  • Religion Rant Song: They have lots of these, which comes as a total surprise, given the band's name.
  • Self Titled EP: With a self-titled song, which would later be re-recorded for Back to the Known.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Lots of songs, but "Germs of Perfection" is the most blatant example.
    • "Beyond Electric Dreams" is another.
    • It's really easier to list the Bad Religion songs this trope doesn't apply to. The quality of their lyrics is often half attributed to the fact that they pull out interesting vocabulary and find a way to work it into conventional pop rhyme schemes.
      • Apparently, sometime after Mr. Brett left the band, he'd mock the band for being "the rotting corpse of thesaurus rock" (which was definitely classier than Greg Graffin changing a lyric in Mr. Brett's song "Stranger than Fiction" to make fun of Gurewitz's struggle with drug addiction whenever it was performed live).
  • Shout-Out: Lots of them.
    • In the song "You", the line "there's no time for fussing and fighting, my friend" is taken from "We Can Work It Out".
    • Another one to The Beatles is in "Anesthesia": "1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, all good children go to heaven." (Taken from "You Never Give Me Your Money").
    • "21st Century (Digital Boy)" references "21st Century Schizoid Man" by King Crimson.
    Schizoid Man
    "Cat's foot, iron claw
    Neurosurgeon screams for more
    Innocents raped with napalm fire
    Nothing he's got he really needs"note 
    Digital Boy
    "Cat's foot, iron claw
    Neurosurgeon screams for more
    Innocents raped with napalm fire
    Everything I want I really need"
    • After this, on Against the Grain version (the booklet of which even blatantly states "Outro lyrics to Digital Boy stolen from 21st Century Schizoid Man"), Greg sings "21st century schizoid boy...". Brett's record label Epitaph Records is also titled after another King Crimson song.
    • At least two song titles on The Empire Strikes First are this. "Let Them Eat War" is a variation on not actually MarieAntoinette's "Let them eat cakes" and "Boot Stamping on a Human Face Forever" is the second half of a quote found in 1984 by George Orwell.
    "If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face... forever."
    • Some of their song feature excerpts from known poems, often varied.
    "And did those feet in ancient time walk upon England's mountains green
    And was the holy Lamb of God on England's pleasant pastures seen!" (William Blake's poem).
    "And did those feet in ancient times trod on America's pastures of green
    And did that antropocentric God wane with their thoughts and beliefs all unseen?" (Bad Religion - God Song).
    "Here's the church, there's the steeple
    Open the door and see all the people." (Nursery rhyme)
    "Here's the church, there's the steeple
    Open up the door, corporations are people." (Bad Religion - Robin Hood in Reverse).
  • Band Name Drop: Aside from an obvious one on "Bad Religion", there is also one in "No Direction".
    No Bad Religion song can make your life complete.
    • Graffin sometimes also does it for individual band members during live performances. Some examples:
    Do What You Want
    "My moniker is man and I'm rotten to the core" (studio)
    "My moniker is Greg and I'm rotten to the core" (live, on Big Band VHS for example)
    Stranger Than Fiction (90's only)
    "I want to know why Hemingway cracked" (studio)
    "I want to know why Gurewitz cracked" (live, less frequently he also used to sing "I want to know where Brett gets his crack")
    Infected (also 90's only)
    "Don't be mad about it, baby" (studio)
    "Don't be mad about it, Bobby" (live)
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Quite literally a case of Depending on the Writer. Graffin's lyrics tend to fall more on the cynical side, while Gurewitz's tend to be more on the idealistic side. There are, however, exceptions to this (from both writers).
  • The Something Song: "God Song", "Punk Rock Song"
  • Sophisticated as Hell: "Fuck You" maintains the lyrics writing style while dropping the F-bombs.
    You can even get cerebral if you want to
    Make a radical assessment that sticks like glue
    Sometimes, it takes no thought at all
    The easiest thing to do
    Is say "fuck you!"
  • Spelling Song: "The Empire Strikes First"
  • Step Up to the Microphone: Brett at the end of "Infected" and entire "Dharma and the Bomb" and Jay towards the end of "Punk Rock Song".
  • Stop and Go: "I Want Something More".
  • Take That: "Hate You" by Gurewitz's brief solo project Daredevils is sometimes considered to be about Jay Bentley. Then there was also the lyrical change in "Stranger Than Fiction" during Gurewitz's absence.
  • They Call Me Mister Tibbs: Brett Gurewitz. Subverted in which not everyone uses "Mr. Brett" (which in itself is a subversion, in combining the trope with First Name Basis), and he himself doesn't seem to mind.
  • Title Track: Most of their albums.
  • Verbal Tic: Before a solo, Greg tends to yell "One two!" or "Let's go!"
  • War Is Hell: "Heaven is Falling"
  • A Wild Rapper Appears: Sage Francis, making a guest appearance on "Let Them Eat War".