Anti-Flag’s ‘For Blood And Empire’ Is Still Fantastic, Even Ten Years On

Melbourne played host to many a show on Saturday, December 10th; Katatonia at The Corner Hotel, Coldplay over at Etihad, Invasion Fest at Arrow On Swanson, Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes over at the Evelyn, and Anti-Flag at Max Watts. And it’s the latter that we are all here to discuss now.

However! Before the Pittsburg veterans would play through their 2006 magnum opus, ‘For Blood And Empire‘, first up was Melbourne trio Wolfpack. The band sounded like a mix of The Casualties and D.R.I. and who looked like a thrash metal guitarist, the bassist of an 80’s hard rock cover band and an Irish punk rocker went to the wrong band rehearsal meet up (or maybe the right one?) and thought ‘Yeah, fuck it, why not? Let’s be a band!’. Drummer and lead vocalist Tom lead his two bandmates through their half hour set with real gusto and goddamnit, I have a lot of respect for any drummer when they are the band’s main vocalist.

Yet what’s most interesting about Wolfpack is that they are a non-for-profit band. Currently, the band has raised over $26,000 AUD for animal charities, which is fucking badass! So if you wanna snag some solid punk rock tunes and feel good about it too, check out their Bandcamp page. After their set, their friendly drummer/frontman (who I just realised kinda looks like Jim Carey when he drums, animated faces and all) made his way through the half empty, but slowly filling up venue, shaking as many hands as he could and giving out as many thanks as his lungs would let him, something that I’ve rarely seen at a gig before.

From metal-tinged punk rock songs to acoustic renditions of some of the genre’s classics, we get Scott Reynolds, the former singer of ALL, and his nylon acoustic guitar. The veteran singer, who has only recently returned to taking on music full time, performed acoustic renditions of The Ramones’ classic ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’ (which was just as amazing and as weird as you think it was), The MisfitsAstro Zombies’, a couple ALL songs, and a few originals that he himself had written over the years. The older yet friendly and welcoming singer carries a certain charm to his performance that this kind of performance and style calls for, and Reynolds most certainly delivered that. While it was a massive fucking change of pace for the night’s proceedings, and an acoustic set does tend to reveal just how much people talk during a band’s set, this was a solid performance from a man returning to his passion full time.

Hopefully, this won’t be the last time we hear from the former ALL frontman…

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Ladies & gentleman, Mr Scott Reynolds/PC: Jordan Tan.

After a short but sweet set, Reynolds leaves the stage and eventually the broken M-16 stars of the show take to the stage to perform their fifth record, 2006’s ‘For Blood And Empire‘. Now, ‘For Blood And Empire’ is a personal all-time favourite record of mine. Not just within the realms of punk rock, but in terms of music in general. It’s a record that, even ten years on, still feels just as relevant and as consistent and satisfying as ever, and it may also just be the best Anti-Flag release to date!

Much like The Used’s recent tour Down Under, the best thing about album tours like this is that everyone is on the same page with the set. Cue rabid fans – male, female, old, young, etc. – all losing their minds as the intro guitar to ‘I’d Tell You But…‘ begins, informing everyone that Anti-Flag and the venue (which had filled up really well since Reynolds’ set) were well and truly off together; reliving in tandem the music that made up their fifth studio album, as well as the social and political issues that that record addressed.

The album’s deeper cuts like ‘Confessions Of An Economic Hitman’, ‘Depleted Uranium Is A War Crime’, ‘State Funeral’ (which saw one hell of a messy circle pit) and ‘Emirge’ were one of those “once in a blue moon” moments for an Anti-Flag show. Of course, the mainstay tracks like ‘The Press Corpse’, the danceable ‘War Sucks, Let’s Party‘, and ‘This Is The End (For You My Friend)’ also get some of the biggest response from everyone in attendance and rightfully so – those songs have helped define the later years of the band’s career and are live staples now. Considering this was the first time I had seen the band properly (I saw them at Soundwave 2010 and had no fucking clue who they were at the time) seeing these songs, this particular album in full was just pure bliss.

It also helped greatly that the passing of time has not negatively impacted the band’s performance of these decade old tunes.

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Anti-Flag’s Justin Sane/PC: Jordan Tan.

One thing that I have always respected about Anti-Flag is that they are unapologetically left-wing. They do no shy away from standing up for their beliefs, no matter where and when they are playing. At one point guitarist/singer Justin Sane states that with Brexit and the recent US election, the right wing is rising but that “there are more of us than there are of them” and that “the right wing rise is going to be really fucking short!” Aside from Liberation Front, Authority ZeroDregg’s earlier shows, and a Rebirth set, there aren’t that many bands that wear their politics this openly on their sleeves. (I mean, come on, if you’re at Anti-Flag show and you don’t expect some kind of political discussion, then you’ve done fucked up). Yet it is that openness of sharing their beliefs, of sticking to their moral and ethical guns that ensured that songs like ‘The W.T.O. Kills Farmers‘ and ‘$1 Trillion Dollars‘ felt all the more potent when performed live.

As it is the thematic variety that has allowed ‘For Blood And Empire‘ such lasting power over the past ten years. From pointing out media bias that corrupts and distorts the truth (‘The Press Corpse‘), voicing the struggles of the workers often forgotten about when executives make the big calls (‘The W.T.O Kills Farmers‘), addressing the neo-conservative think-tank that was the Bush administration’s PNAC (‘The Project For A New American Century‘), to encouraging self-love and appreciation of your own skin in the face intense marketing and advertising for “better” ideals of beauty via cosmetic products (‘This Is The End (For You My Friend)‘; this album had and still has a lot to say. It is also quite sad that many of the issues that the band spoke about on this album, and even on their previous works, are still prevalent and in some cases worse than what they were ten years ago; just now the faces and names of the culprits has changed.

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Chris “#2” Baker, maintaining the band’s punk jump quota/PC: Jordan Tan.

Yet at the tail end of this outspoken and immensely consistent album, you have two songs that showcase the two sides of Anti-Flag. The first is that of merely having fun playing music, with the bonafide anthem of ‘Cities Burn‘. I use that term – ‘anthem’ – a fair bit in my writing but only when I feel it is truly warranted and this song mostly certainly warrants that description! It’s perhaps the best song to come off their fifth record and shows that they can indeed write catchy tunes. However, the second is that of the real serious talk with the album’s final outing, ‘Depleted Uranium Is A War Crime‘, which sobers the upbeat mood of the preceding song and hell, that title tells you all you need to know, really. The swan song of their fifth record is a warning against the using munitions dipped in uranium (and other nuclear weapons/devices) during conflicts, as the materials that are a by-product of that process still affect the health of many civilians in southern Iraq to this very day, something that the US government and military never really cleaned up nor was fully punished for. (Oh, and depleted uranium has a half-life of around 4.5 billion years. Yeah…fuck that noise).

And that, my friends, is Anti-Flag in a nutshell for you; having plenty of fun and rocking out but also being aware that sometimes you have to stand up and address the really bleak, horrible shit going on in our world (such as dumping tonnes of nuclear waste in a country that you just invaded).

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A punk jump a day keeps the doctor away. Or, something. I don’t fucking know/PC: Jordan Tan.

Once the four-piece had completed their terrific 2006 record – an experience of which I will never, ever forget – Sane remained on the stage by his lonesome. With guitar in hand, he performed ‘Welcome To 1984‘ with the crowd singing along in full. Once this calm but necessary lapse in the show’s energy levels was done, it was back to business as usual. From here the band’s bassist, Chris “#2” Baker took audience requests from the crowd. Now, to ruin the magic somewhat for you all, I know that the band asked which songs fans wanted to hear on this tour via Facebook a month or two ago, and hey, fair enough! Anti-Flag has written a shit load of songs over the years and are now nine albums deep with a large amount of compilations, splits, and other random releases sprinkled throughout their career. So being coerced into playing some random fucking song that you wrote fifteen years ago, of which you only remember the intro to and nothing further, would be a very big ask and it would kill the show’s momentum if you cocked it up. It’d be organic and human sounding, sure, but not all that great to see in the moment at a live show.

And you know fucking what? I nor anyone else for that matter didn’t care, as the band ran through a great “request” set featuring ‘The Smartest Bomb‘ (holy shit), ‘Spaz’s House Destruction Party‘ (holy shit!), as well as a whole host of other great cuts like ‘Turncoat‘, ‘Rank N File‘, ‘You’ve Gotta Die For Your Government‘, so it was hard to complain.

As an added bonus, Sane also confirmed that ‘Spaz’s House Destruction Party‘ is actually a real story. No, seriously! Turns out, there was indeed a Pittsburg punk by the name of Spaz who held an insanely destructive party on the day of his house eviction, because as the singer puts it, “like all good Pittsburg punks, if you were being evicted you made sure that you burnt that house to the fucking ground!“. As you do.

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Chris #2 signing a fan’s T-shirt backstage/PC: Jordan Tan.

Throttling towards the end of their set, the band pumped out the recent and poppy single ‘Brandenburg Gate‘, and it was following this that band and their crew took Pat Thetic’s bass drum, snare drum and hi-hats down into the crowd, with bassist Chris #2 standing tall atop the kick drum with his bass in one hand and a mic in the other. This is another reason why bands like Anti-Flag attract such passionate, long-term fans; they include the audience in as many aspects of the show as they can. #2 then lead the crowd through ‘Drink Drank Punk‘ and in typical Anti-Flag fashion, a finale featuring a drumless ‘Power To The Peaceful‘, encouraging one final hurrah from the crowd before the four band members shake hands and high-fives all of those down in front before waving a final goodbye and exiting stage right.

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Pat Thetic’s drumming concentration face looks like that of a super villain about to destroy a large metropolitan area. Just sayin’./PC: Jordan Tan.

Walking up the stairs out of Max Watts and back up to Swanson Street with my friend shortly afterwards, I couldn’t shake how this show, in particular, was a great example of the punk rock community and just how positive it can be. Tonight was smiles all around and there was no dickhead ruining the night for those on the floor section or anywhere else in the venue from what I could tell. Whether it was the ethos and mannerisms of Wolfpack, to the relaxing vibe and history and experience that Reynolds brought with him, to the sheer ripper of an album that Anti-Flag performed in full and what that band stands for and stands against, this night lived and breathed the deeper meanings of punk rock; from community, passion, positivity and hope for a better tomorrow. No matter how shitty and negative today may be.

Fingers crossed that in 2018, ‘The Brights Lights Of America‘ will also get an album tour. Good god, I need to see ‘Go West‘ live!

PC/Video: Jordan Tan. 

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