Parental Advisory: Writeup contains explicit political opinions.
The Terror State is the latest album by veteran anti war punks, Anti-flag. It was released on Fat Wreck Chords, the label started by NOFX's bass player Fat Mike. The album was released on October 27, 2003.
First, a mention must go to the excellent packaging and cover design. The standard jewel case is surrounded by a cardboard sleeve, which contains the main front cover. The picture has the band name and album name in the top left corner, and the main design is a photograph of a obviously war torn area, with run down buildings and wreckage strewn about. The whole picture has almost no colour in it, with the predominant shade being a dirty grey. In the foreground, there is a young girl, probably aged about 12, disturbingly dressed up in army gear, boots, camouflage, and helmet. Her long blond hair hangs loose from the helmet, as she holds an Uzi with one hand and salutes with the other. Remove the cardboard sleeve, and on the front of the insert is pretty much the same scene, but instead of the girl standing and saluting, she lies apparently dead in a pool of blood (which is red, in stark constrast to the rest of the picture), her gun beside her. She stares into the infinite distance, looking towards the camera. Across the top of the picture, where the band name was on the cardboard sleeve, is written "Innocence is the first casualty". The back cover of the album and sleeve contains, along with the usual track listing and copyright notices, the same scene except there is a pile of debris on top of which a crude wooden cross is standing.
Those of you paying attention may have an inkling that this is not a particularly cheery album cover. You'd be right - Anti-flag are not happy at all, and unlike NOFX's anti war album, there are no happy colours or Dubya cartoons. This is a serious album, and that tone is not just confined to the music.
Inside the cardboard sleeve, if you want to cut it open, is a black and white image of Dubya himself, with "One-term President" written underneath. The other side has recommendations to photocopy and either use as a stencil for some.. uh... totally legal graffiti, or as a flyer to stick up and hand round.
Continuing the theme, inside the album on top of the CD is a small piece of paper printed with the band's wishes for people to "hijack the vote just like the Conservative Right hijacked the Republican party". There is a real movement in the American punk community recently to do whatever it takes do get rid of Bush at the next election - Fat Mike has set up a website, www.punkvoter.com, to encourage people to register for voting, and many bands have become more political than they were before. The piece of paper encourages everyone to vote, and go to www.anti-flag.com to learn about the issues, and "how to make an impact before the next election".
Enough about the packaging though, the music more than stands up for itself. This was the first Anti-flag record I've bought, and I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of musical ability on show. Considering the band have "hilarious" names such as Pat Thetic and Justin Sane, I wasn't expecting too much, but luckily these guys can really play their instruments. The band is a pretty standard punk setup, with two guitarists and one bassist sharing the vocals, and then a drums and percussion guy. The band play fast and melodic punk, and if you like NOFX or Rancid you'll almost certainly like this, but it would be unfair to say the bands sound that similar - there is undeniably a unique sound that this band have got for themselves.
The lyrics inside the insert are excellently organised and illustrated, with an "item of war" on each lyric page (helmet, gun, bullet, grenade etc). Even better are the intermittent pages which contain explanation of the lyrics, many of which give some interesting insight, such as details on political activists who I've personally never heard of. Also included are links to "continue your search for the truth at www.undergroundactionalliance.org" for more information.
The first song on the album is the truly excellent Turncoat, which is about everybody's favourite bumbling idiot in charge of the world's most powerful country. That's right, it's Pretzel man himself, and this song does not give him and easy ride. After the opening vocals, accompanied only by acoustic guitar, the band come in in full force. "Turncoat! Killer! Liar! Thief!" is the rallying call of the song, and since it's arguably one of the best on the album, I can see it becoming a classic. The "explanation panel" beside the lyrics gives a convincing backup as to why Bush is all of the four things above - Turncoat because of supporting legislation that hurts Americans such as the corporate welfare for companies who fire most of their workers; Killer because Bush himself presided over 152 executions during his stint at "governing" Texas, not to mention the thousands killed in Iraq and the apparently forgotten Afghanistan; Liar because of the repeated claims that Saddam Hussein has links with al-Qaeda and the promises of Weapons of Mass Destruction; Thief due to him receiving "what amounts to a bribe by changing the rules governing how the endowment of the University of Texas is invested, just so his friends and business associates could make money by managing it". All pretty convincing, and I was very interesting to hear about the bribe, as that has not filtered down to any mainstream media that I've ever seen. While the right wingers are preparing their lawyers for a slander case, it's worth mentioning that everything on the page is backed up by sources, with URLs given.
The next song is Rank-N-File, an anthem for the forgotten cannon fodder who take most of the punishment and do most of the fighting in any war. "These words are for the countless souls / Who died in vain for someone else's gain". Musically, this song is also one of the best on the album, and really moves me every time I hear it. It has a similar effect to reading Catch-22, making you look at war not as many nations fighting, but as many, many more faceless people dying.
The third song is Post-war Breakout, a slower number with excellent lyrics. It turns out the words were written 40 years ago by veteran activist Woody Guthrie, and while it obviously meant something then, it still speaks of important issues today. "Just a post-war nerve case / in a pro war age" is a particulary evocative statement for me, as being of an anti war persuasion myself I'm no stranger to feeling that most of the world disagrees with me. I've not heard the original version by Guthrie, but it's safe to say the band do an excellent job in "punking it up".
Sold as Freedom is a song laced with irony, explaining the current US administration's way to solve problems very effectively. "You want to end terror? This solution is for you!" begins singer Justin Sane, following with lyrics like "Fight fire - with Fire! Douse violent flames with Gasoline!", which to me at least, sounds like a good analogy for what is happening right now in Iraq, and what I fear will happen only too soon in a heap of other places. Hate breeds hate.
Power to the Peaceful was apparently influenced by the writings of Emma Goldman, particularly her famous essay "The road to universal slaughter" It's a pretty standard song, although the chorus of "There's voices calling in the wind... / Power to the Peaceful! / Power to the Peaceful! / Let's Go!" is immensely catchy. "This is not a war of the urging people / This is not a war of economic independence / it's a war for conquest / it's a war for military power"
Mind the G.A.T.T. is a song against the World Trade Organisation, which has "steadily undermined democracy around the world because its rulings take precendence over any legislation from any country that might be interpreted to interfere with free trade" Considering that this is a group who's decided that laws protecting endangered sea turtles and dolphins are barriers to "free trade", I think the band have a point. I saw a documentary recently about the American Peanut - apparently the "luckiest nut in the world". What followed was a look at a selection of nuts such as Brazil Nuts, made in countries other than America, who were becoming no longer profitable, and didn't even break even for the local communities, because "free trade" laws in the area were working completely against the producers of the food. Only the American peanut was the luckiest nut in the world, because the laws were all made in its favour... although "free trade" sounds like something great and worth having, on closer inspection it appears to only benefit multinational corporations, and people in the first world, as all thoughts of the environment and working communities in poorer countries go out the window.
You can Kill the Protester, but you can't Kill the Protest has a pretty much self-explanatory name.. although there are some interesting notes beside the lyrics, with details of some of the times during history when people protesting against inequality have been suppressed and killed. Examples of this include the murder of "Bonus Marchers", World War I veterans who wanted payment of veteran benefits during the Great Depression. Their camp in Washington was stormed by troops, tanks and cavalry in 1932, and one marcher was shot to death, while an infant died of inhalation after the police used gas in the camp. Over 40 people were injured. The bottom of the page says "As long as there is injustice, social movements and protests will continue throughout the world."
When you don't Control your Government People want to Kill You is probably going to be voted "song most likely to annoy Christian Coalition 2003". It's about September the 11th attacks, and notes that "I wish I could say this was unforseen". America's foreign policy over the last 50 years has stirred up huge resent over the world after countless deaths from American Military Intervention. Without wanting to get this writeup into a total shit-flinging contest, I think it's fair to say that many of America's "liberations" have been very ill advised, and hence there are now large amounts of people who hate America, and are willing to do anything they can to attack it, including suicide attacks. "Such wicked force, you had never seen / though countless times it happened in your name!" is another guaranteed - crowd - pleaser line, as is "Your apathy comes with a price tag after all it seems".
Wake Up! is about the need to wake up the average apathetic person to what is happening in the world around them - "If I had a lighter in hand, and some oily rags / is that what it would take, to wake you from your sleep / to wake up from your American Dreams / to be surrounded in flames". This song is pretty good, but it slightly pales in comparison to most of the others on the album. Saved by the excellent bass riff around "You've got to scream to make your voice heard / I won't stop screaming till mine is heard."
Tearing Down the Borders is, for me, the album starting to pick up towards the end (I'd say that songs 1-4 and 10-13 are the best on the album) and I can imagine this must be a great number live. "We're tearing down the borders / We're fighting for the rights of freedom". Clearly, with Anti-Flag being one of the foremost anti nationalism bands, they are in favour of a world state. Whether that's likely to happen any time soon, well, I have my doubts, although it's an admiral show of forward thinking. We're all going to have to live together, somehow, sometime...
Death of a Nation sounds a fair amount harder than all the other songs on the album. While most are more melodic, this is most definitely hardcore, with double pedal and screaming guitar action for it's entire 1:55 length. "Have you ever needed an ounce of love and all you got is a whole lot of FUCKED!" is probably my favourite lyric on the album.
Operation Iraqi Liberation (O.I.L.) is arguably the best song on the album, with Rank-N-File and Sold as Freedom coming in joint second. This is a rip-roarer of a track, with some samples of Dubya at the start for added comedy value. The song focuses on how while Iraq has been "liberated", enormous numbers of lives have been lost, including thousands of civilians. Hence the not rather dark humoured nature of the lyrics - "Number one at liberating / Liberating life from bodies" and "To save you we may have to kill you / For freedom you may have to die" accurately sum up, for me, the attitude of rather a lot of people, who consider that human lives have a value which is not as important as some other things, such as a particular black sticky flammable type of sludge.
One People, One Struggle is a superb song to finish the album with, a real sing along anthem, and sounds genuinely heartfelt. "One people / One struggle / Stand united / Stand peacefully" is the rallying call, and there are some quite interestings lyrics about Dr. Martin Luther King being hounded illegally by COINTELPRO, which had the goal of "neutralising" political dissidents. I wasn't aware of any of this, and it's good that people are making this information known now. Not to mention, it's a great song.
Musically, I'd have to say that while the album is a good listen, it's not really breaking new ground as far as punk goes. It's still worth a purchase, in my opinion, just don't expect to be bowled over with innovation. There are some excellent riffs and hooks, and I'm particularly a fan of the bass parts in many places.
If there is one point of the album that is a bit of a downer, I'd say it's that the subject matter is often very, very similar between songs. When I was writing the summaries of the songs above, I had real trouble thinking what to write for the later ones, because a lot of them are simply about the same thing, ie how bad the war is. Not that I'm saying this is a bad thing, and obviously with a band like Anti-flag this is expected, but I would at times have preferred a few songs about something different. However, it is undeniable that some of the tracks, particularly Turncoat and Sold as Freedom, are simply excellent, so I wouldn't say this detracts from the album too much.
Overall, I'd say if you like punk and politically left songs then you will really like this record. I imagine that since it's on Fat Wreck Chords it will find it's way into most large record stores, although I got mine from the tiny Out of Step Records in Leeds, because it's always better to support tiny businesses. Either way though, Anti-Flag fans need this right now, and other punkers who up until now haven't got anything by them (like me) would do well to get it as well.
Owning the album
www.amazon.co.uk for the release dates.
Thanks to Timeshredder, arieh, and Andrew Aguecheek for spotting some typos, and archiewood for spotting where my sentence was unfinished.