From their shape-shifting lineups to a sound that has steadily evolved over time– from light-speed D.C. hardcore to include styles as varied as reggae, funk, metal, and soul– consistency has never been one of Bad Brains’ strong suits. Their on-and-off career has been checkered with peaks and valleys, landmark records (the band’s self-titled 1982 debut is still the standard by which most hardcore punk is measured) and cringe-worthy failures (anyone remember 1993’s Rise? No?).
And yet even the faintest hint or suggestion of new Bad Brains material is enough to make most any self-respecting punk rock fan’s hair stand on end. Even though they’ve oscillated largely between greatness and mediocrity with little between over the years, the sense of legend surrounding the band hasn’t dulled. People might easily dismiss God of Love, but albums like Rock of Light and I Against I have accrued the rip-roaring rastas enough goodwill to last them three lifetimes.
Now back intact with their original line-up, the Brains have rekindled their ferocious spark from their early ’80s heyday, much to the delight of their longtime fans. The Brains’ Adam Yauch-produced 2008 comeback Build A Nation woke the band from its hardcore slumber, regaling punk purists with the kind of spit and kinetic energy not seen in years. Now the band follows up its successful rebound with Into the Future, which proves over the course of 13 tracks and 37 minutes that the band’s backtrack through its angsty, hardcore-meets-reggae origins wasn’t simply a passing fad.
From the mile-a-minute shred fest of “Youth of Today” to the caressing, ska-infused tones of “Jah Love” to songs like the title track that hit the sweet spot in the middle, Into the Future has all of the necessary components of a Bad Brains record. Even the album art, complete with lightning bolt and the band’s famed red and yellow color scheme, comes across as a nod to their earlier work. But while the album is entrenched in the band’s long, sordid musical history, it’s hard to complain. Paul “H.R.” Hudson’s vocals, so noticeably absent on records like I & I Survived and Rise, quiver and squeal like a man possessed, while Dr. Know’s guitar swings from ferocious punk rock to soothing ska to metal-induced solo detours with ease. Bad Brains might not be the young pups they once were, but the songs crafted on Into The Future reclaim that youthful spirit that made the band’s early work so exciting, dangerous, and visceral. For a band that’s never been easy to keep under thumb, the record is suitably hard to pin down.
But while Into the Future, like Build a Nation before it, harkens back to the Brains’ golden age, it’s not the ROIR Sessions. The band couldn’t recreate that sort of spitfire aggression today if they tried, and it would be almost unfair to expect them to. But it’s close, and considering the ups and downs the band has endured over the years, that might be more than anyone could’ve rightfully asked for in 2012. While they’ve been beat up and torn apart numerous times over the years, Into The Future proves that in spite of their trials, time hasn’t been all bad to the Brains.
Essential tracks: “Youth of Today”, “Jah Love”