Between the digital and physical releases of Black Flag‘s first new music in 28 years, What The…, Mike Vallely, pro skater and Greg Ginn’s bandmate in side project Good for You, booted vocalist Ron Reyes from Black Flag while the seminal, reunited punk band was performing on stage. As Black Flag is his brainchild and he did nothing to stop it (plus he’s got a rep for passive aggression), Ginn was likely pulling the strings in this event. That, plus Ginn’s failed attempt to sue competing reunion group Flag, explains the main reason for of the shortcomings of What The…: Ginn’s ego.
Some say Black Flag’s reunion was born largely out of competition with other successful related acts, like Off! and subsequently Flag. According to Reyes, Ginn’s self-appointed “pope-like infallibility” created this poisonous dynamic. There are two sides to every story, but Reyes’ has hard evidence in the mixing of this album: the only clearly audible instruments are performed by Ginn, the guitar and bass, with the guitar taking up about two-thirds of the mix. DIY/garage recording can easily produce bedroom records on shoestring budgets with much more meat and balanced EQ, so that’s no excuse.
Ironically Ginn’s guitar work falls into a few patterns that repeat – the riffs of “Shut Up,” “Down in the Dirt,” and “Slow Your Ass Down” all feature jazzy 7-chords over half-time, “Waiting Room“-esque rock beats. He also toes the line between punk-rock and funk-rock, but regardless, the songs generally feel similar.
As he said on Facebook, Reyes knew his reunion existed on borrowed time from the start, and that Ginn would never be a breeze to work with. That explains many of Reyes’ lyrics, of whom Ginn is clearly the subject: [LISTEN]
Reyes’ performance – and laughable, viral album art – may also be weak, but as his appreciation for playing “Down in the Dirt” reflects, he’s at least having fun in his old age as the seasoned punk frontman. Whether it’s Reyes’ spotty vocals, Ginn’s ego, or just another hardcore legend‘s inability to keep up with a genre they helped create, this reunion album is truly the work of a zombie Black Flag – one that exclusively streams their album on the decidedly un-punk Spotify and Rdio. Today’s Black Flag may appear to be a highly influential hardcore punk band, but is it really alive, or just undead? Probably the latter, with an overstayed welcome, but “kicking and screaming ’til the bitter end.”