Various Artists – Black on Black – A Tribute to Black Flag

Various Artists
Black on Black – A Tribute to Black Flag

Well, while there’s not a whole lot to be said here, there’s actually a TON of backstory behind this release. Back in 2001, Initial Records announced that it was going to be releasing a 7″ Black Flag tribute featuring four different bands. Unfortunately, one of them, the National Acrobat, broke up, and the label set out to find a replacement act. What Initial didn’t count on, however, was the influx of bands that wanted in on the deal.
Eventually, the decision was made to expand the tribute and release it in three separate formats – first would be a series of four 7″ records, and some time after that, a CD and 12″ record would follow. The 7″ records are now out of print, but the incentive to get all three formats was the old ‘exclusive track’ deal. Volume 2 of the 7″ collection featured a Planes Mistaken for Stars song that was only available on that particular 7″ (a shredding version of “Depression”); PMfS’s version of “Wasted” only appears on the CD version, while the band’s cover of “Gimme Gimme Gimme” only appears on the 12″ record. Over the course of 2001/2002, the 7″ records were released in one pressing of 1000 copies each, and now in 2003, it’s finally time for Initial to come forth with the CD and 12″ formats.
The impact that Black Flag had/still has on today’s independant bands is obvious here, as all nine bands featured on this compilation fall vaguely into the punk/thrash/hardcore genres. The comp kicks off with one of the disc’s standout tracks, a blistering take on “Depression” spit out by American Nothing (a.k.a. American Nightmare, currently known as Give Up the Ghost). The guitars and scraping vocals slay – end of story. Anodyne‘s cover of “Life of Pain” carries a dark, morbid guitar swirl for about the first minute or so, at which point the band goes psychotic for a while before swirling back to the morbid dirge.
Burnt By the Sun‘s “Drinking and Driving” is a little too pedestrian compared to the other tracks here, though the lead guitar work saves the song well enough. I have to admit that I am not a very big Coalesce fan (as if my write up of the band’s set at the 2002 MichiganFest didn’t give that away a while ago), but the band’s take on “Jealous Again” is easily one of the saving graces of this tribute compilation. The track is disgustingly thick (I’m talking, ‘soundtrack to your nightmares’ thick here), and when the dissonant, descending second rhythm guitar kicked in on the bridges, the hair on the back of my neck stood up. This track is also notable for being the only thing that Coalesce actually recorded during their brief ‘reunion’ stint last year.
Converge‘s “Annihailate This Week” rips along from punk to chug to thrash and back, with a whole lot of unintelligibly screamed vocals to boot. The Dillenger Escape Plan showcases new vocalist Greg Puciato on the dirty garage goodness of “Damaged I and II,” which best showcase the low-down, gritty, ‘take over the world’ spirit of Black Flag. The guitars sound like they’re about to short out the amps with fuzz, and the nasty sounding lead guitar licks that pop up are vicious, vicious, VICIOUS.
The Hope Conspiracy pulls off a thick take of “Nervous Breakdown” that’s got as much throb as it does grit, while Planes Mistaken for Stars follow with a pair of tracks. “Police Story” (the PMfS track that actually appears on all three formats) just sounds like Planes being good old aggressive Planes, only doing it with a Black Flag song, while “Wasted” comes off sounding like some sort of Bizarro Planes, where the guitars are actually a bit restrained while BOTH Gared and Matt are completely understandable vocally (which is something, considering that Matt’s still screaming his balls out like usual). Playing Enemy‘s methodical take on “Six Pack” closes out the compilation, as the band sludges through the song before the guitars fall apart into a spaghettied mess to close out the CD.
All in all, this compilation works for what it is – a tribute to a great and influential band as covered by artists that appeal to a pretty select market in the indie scene. I’m not so sure that straight-up Black Flag fans would be all that into the comp, but fans of these bands and genres are sure to eat this tribute up with a spoon.