Bad Brains

Into the Future

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D.C. punkers Bad Brains have achieved a well-deserved legendary status, built not just on their essential albums like Rock for Light and I Against I paving the way for years of hardcore to come, but also for being one of the first all-black groups in the predominantly white early punk scene. In the 30 years passing between Bad Brains' 1982 debut cassette and this album, multiple breakups, solo excursions, and reunions have ensued, and the 2000s and 2010s have been spotty times for this always tumultuous unit. Into the Future follows 2002's I & I Survived, an album based primarily on dub instrumentals and absent original Bad Brains screamer H.R., as well as the raw bombast of 2007's Adam Yauch-produced Build a Nation. That album attempted a return to the ragged glory of the band's early speed-demon hardcore days, and probably came as close as possible given the years and weather they'd seen since. Into the Future takes a similar path, turning out 13 new jams that volley between dub-styled reggae and the kind of loud-and-fast hardcore with funk and metal undertones that they've been perfecting for ages. Like Build a Nation, however, it's not quite as loud and just a little bit less fast than before. Songs like "Youth of Today," "Come Down," and the title track all throw back to early punk roots, with abrupt breakdowns, dissonant chord changes, and rapidly shifting time signatures. "Popcorn" is somewhere between hardcore and a metalized hip-hop beat, with some shades of danger and grit transmitting through the song's brutally crunchy guitars and H.R.'s bellowing. While the album includes a fair amount of reggae tracks (which is typical of most Bad Brains releases), most of the lyrics are steeped in Rastafarian imagery and references to Rasta culture. The soupy digital dub of "Jah Love" is peppered with audio snippets from an early interview and the guitar-heavy rocksteady number "Make a Joyful Noise" floats by on a cloud of ganja smoke. The album closes with "MCA Dub," a tribute to the passed Beastie Boy and close friend of the band. Like on the last album, H.R.'s vocals are considerably huskier and lower than the demonic growl of his youth. Unlike that album, though, the vocals come off as cool, distant, and wizened instead of overly stoned and lethargic. It's amazing enough that the energy of early-'80s Bad Brains recordings was even able to be captured on audio tape to begin with. Bands full of kids born years into the reign of the Brains still can't come close to the lightning storm in a bottle that was Rock for Light, so it's foolish to hold the bandmembers themselves up to their previous work from decades past. Into the Future fares better than the stale output of most reunited punk acts and also rises above a weak rehash for the sake of nostalgia. Always true to their original vision, Bad Brains continue sailing on.

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