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Music / Bad Religion

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Bad Religion, roughly 30 years ago.

Punk Rock with a thesaurus.

Bad Religion is a very influential American punk rock band, founded in 1980 in Southern California. The original members were Jay Bentley (bass), Greg Graffin (vocals), Brett Gurewitz (guitars), and Jay Ziskrout, who was quickly replaced by Pete 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 particularly 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 to join Avenged Sevenfold. He was replaced by Jamie Miller.

Current line-up:

  • Greg Graffin - vocals (1980–)
  • Brett Gurewitz - guitar, backing vocals (1980–84, 1986–94, 2001–)
  • Jay Bentley - bass, backing vocals (1980–82, 1986–)
  • Brian Baker - guitar, backing vocals (1994–)
  • Mike Dimkich - guitar (2013–)
  • Jamie Miller - drums (2015–)

Former members:

  • Jay Ziskrout - drums (1980)
  • Pete Finestone - drums (1981–82, 1984–91)
  • Paul Dedona - bass (1982–84)
  • Davy Goldman - drums (1982–84)
  • Tim Gallegos - bass (1984–85)
  • Greg Hetson - guitar (1984–2013)
  • Bobby Schayer - drums (1991–2001)
  • Brooks Wackerman - drums (2001–2015)

Studio 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)
  • Age of Unreason (2019)

The Empire Tropes First:

  • 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: A common theme in the Graffin-penned songs. Gurewitz, not so much.
  • 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 Pedestal: Todd Rundgren, one of Greg Graffins influences growing up, produced The New America. Todd was apparently very difficult to work with which disappointed Greg heavily. However they did reconcile years later.
  • 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: After disappointing sales, Into the Unknown wasn't acknowledged or reissued until it was included in the 30 Years of Bad Religion vinyl box set.
  • 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.“
  • Epic Rocking: "Time and Disregard" from Into the Unknown, lasting 7 minutes.
  • God Before Dogma: In contrary to what people think when first learning Bad Religion, they are not entirely against religion. Their songs mainly target those who claim they know God and use it to control the masses and exploit them for personal gain. Their message is that should a god exist, you should actually listen to him directly instead of the organized religion that tries to be his voice.
  • God Is Evil:
    • "God's Love" plays with this, giving an outsider's perspective of people describing pain and suffering as "God's love":
    There's no justice, just a cause and a cure
    And a bounty of suffering it seems we all endure
    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 as they express their grand vision that "We'll build a city with a tower for the world. And climb so we can reach anything we may propose" and their anger at God for destroying what they had come together to build.
    I know why you tore it down that day
    You thought that if you got caught, we'd all go away
    Like a spoiled little baby who can't come out and play
    You had your revenge
  • 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"
  • Heavy Meta: "Punk Rock Song" is well, a punk rock song about how in the face of the misery of the modern world, all they can really offer is a punk rock song that will most likely not be heard by anyone who wasn't already aware and in agreement about what needs to be done.
  • Homage: A World Without Melody appears to be a homage to Nirvana.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Manipulative Editing: "Stealth" samples former U.S. president George H.W. Bush's State of the Union address, but puts excerpts from it in a way, so that it sounds, as he was promoting drug use.
  • 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 (especially 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 album, bordering on Alternative Metal
  • 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 Lesion.
  • Religion Rant Song: Frequent.
    • "Come Join Us," which is about the way that organized religion preys on lonely people and the uneducated.
    Don't you see the trouble that most people are in
    That they just want you for their own advantage
    But I swear to you we're different from all of them
    Come join us!
    • "Sinister Rouge" is about the wrongs of the Roman Catholic Church, from Crusades and the Inquisition to covering up pedophile priests.
    • "Skyscraper" tells the story of the Tower of Babel from the builders' side, describing God as "Like a spoiled little baby who can't come out and play".
    • "Materialist" is essentially an Author Filibuster in favor of materialism (the belief that matter is the fundamental substance of all phenomena, including consciousness)
  • 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 Brett's song "Stranger Than Fiction" to make fun of his 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 Marie Antoinette's "Let them eat cakes" and "Boot Stamping on a Human Face Forever" is the second half of a quote found in Nineteen Eighty-Four 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 anthropocentric 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).
    • One in "You Don't Belong" on The Process of Belief.
    Milo went to college but you knew about that
  • 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. However, there are exceptions to this; and from both writers, no less.
  • 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"
  • Spoken Word in Music: "Voice of God Is Government" begins like this, while "The State of the End of the Millenium Address" is entirely spoken.
  • Step Up to the Microphone: Brett in the bridge for "21st Century Digital Boy," at the end of "Infected" and entire "Dharma and the Bomb" and Jay towards the end of "Punk Rock Song". When playing live, Jay also performs the rap towards the end of 'Let Them Eat War'.
    • Live backing vocals example - during much of their '90s era, Greg Hetson would perform backing vocals on the outro to "American Jesus" (the "one nation under god" bit), while Brian Baker played the lead riff.
  • Stop and Go: "I Want Something More".
  • Surf Rock: Brett allegedly tried to write a surf / punk rock song with "Dharma and the Bomb". The biggest issue here proved to be Greg Graffin. As he is from Wisconsin, he was unable to convincingly imitate the desired Californian accent. Eventually, Brett had to sing the song himself (althogh Greg still performed backing vocals).
  • 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 since everyone uses "Mr. Brett" (which in itself is a subversion, by combining the trope with First-Name Basis); 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!"
  • Vocal Evolution: Greg's voice is still recognizable on How Could Hell Be Any Worse?, but he does a lot more Hardcore Punk-style shouting than singing. Oddly, Into the Unknown was the first album where he started taking a more melodic approach to his vocals.
  • War Is Hell: "Heaven is Falling"
  • Word Salad Lyrics: "The Positive Aspect Of Negative Thinking"
  • A Wild Rapper Appears!: Sage Francis, making a guest appearance on "Let Them Eat War".