The Empire Strikes First… 14 songs that are fresh, focused, and absolutely alive in the way that great rock ‘n’ roll energizes everything it touches. It’s been a long road from their early-80s beginnings, but these days, the primary concerns of Graffin and Gurewitz are not the band’s intricate (and subtle) years-long evolution; they’re first and foremost topical songwriters focused on domestic chaos and its global manifestation. Bad Religion is, after all, the outfit that, during the first Gulf War in 1991, shared a Maximum Rock ‘n’ Roll split seven-inch with radical MIT professor Noam Chomsky, who, like them, is locked into the tense present and dedicated to exposing the forces who lie and disguise to deepen and enforce human misery.
The truth is that after 20+ years, Bad Religion meet the present day not only unfettered by nostalgia, but hardwired into the moment. Fans take the band’s growth and standards for granted. It’s tempting to say– though impossible to prove– that the The Empire Strikes First is a such a terrific album because vocalist Graffin and guitarist Gurewitz, the band’s most important creative forces, are responding to the death, desolation, and destruction of war, and to the concurrent attacks on the Bill of Rights; it seems more than just a happy accident that the band has just delivered one of its most charged and inspired records in years.