By Eleni P. Austin
“Break you down, grind you up/Void you out from the land of the free”. That’s the opening salvo from the new OFF! album, Wasted Years. The track, “Void You” is a combo platter of feedback and hi-hat that is also a pointed commentary on the country’s immigration controversies.
OFF! is the brainchild of hardcore Punk pioneer, Keith Morris. Not only was Morris the original vocalist for seminal Hermosa Beach Punk icons Black Flag, but he has also fronted his second band, Circle Jerks, since 1979.
As Morris and Circle Jerks’ guitarist, Greg Hetson were preparing to record their first new album in several years, they enlisted the help of producer (and ex-Burning Brides leader), Dimitri Coats. Unhappy with the results, Morris and Coats wrote a new batch of songs. Greg Hetson was unimpressed, so Morris and Coats created OFF! as a vehicle for this new music.
The duo recruited Steven McDonald, (who still fronts his own band, Redd Kross), on bass. Completing the line-up was drummer Mario Rubalcaba, formerly of Hot Snakes and Rocket From The Crypt.
Making their debut at the 2010 SXSW Music Conference in Austin, Texas, they drew favorable comparisons to Black Flag. The band immediately released a vinyl four-song 7 EP and quickly followed up with three more. First Four EPs was released in CD format in 2011.
The next year, these protean Punkers recorded their self-titled sophomore effort, OFF! 2013 saw the release of a live album, Live At The 9:30 Club. In the meantime, Steven MacDonald toured and recorded with his original band, Redd Kross. Morris played a series of dates in Flag. (A partial line-up of past Black Flag members that were prohibited from using the entire name. Band founder, Greg Ginn was also touring as Black Flag and filed copyright infringement lawsuits against Morris and his successor, Henry Rollins).
Now OFF! has returned with their third album, Wasted Years. Following the opening track, the listener barely has time to draw a breath before being hit with the one-two punch of “Red White And Black” and “Legion Of Evil.”
“Red…” is pretty Mosh-riffic. Squally guitar fills match a juggernaut rhythm. The lyrics rail against complacency. “Arrogance is bliss, who gives a shit?”
“Legion…” weds a thudding, primordial backbeat to scabrous guitar. Here Morris rakes Fox News over the coals. “Manufacturing public opinion, history-proof on a murderous spree/I’m a conscientious objector, encouraging chaos I disagree.”
On four tracks, “It Didn’t Matter To Me,” “Death Trip On A Party Train,” “I Won’t Be A Casualty,” and “You Must Be Damned,” Morris addresses his past substance abuse issues. (He’s been sober since 1989).
“It Didn’t Matter…” is a study in calibrated cacophony. Downstroke riff-age connects with a pummeling backbeat. A few succinct sentences sketch out a dissolute existence… “It’s 10am, drug dealer is my best friend/My brain’s on mind erase.”
Aside from being one of the best song titles ever, “Death Trip On The Party Train,” is a feral and fractious journey to the dark side. Morris repeats the title like a mantra, noting, “third time’s the charm, right into the grave.”
On “I Won’t Be A Casualty,” corkscrew licks collide with a relentless rhythm. The melody is anthemic and Morris’ tone is tenacious as he clings to sobriety.
Rapid-fire guitar fills and a tribal tattoo frame “You Must Be Damned.” A harrowing depiction of adolescent addiction…”14 and now, Alvarado at 3rd/Gotta geezeball as the carpet burns/Watched the house go up in smoke.”
The best tracks here acknowledge that the personal is political. Over a metronomic meter and monolithic, search-and-destroy riff-age, Morris spits out bilious couplets of contempt on “Hypnotized.” The lyrics target the kind of celebrity philanthropy that is mostly a photo-op. “A 20 dollar contribution gets a 60 second solution.”
“Exorcised” is anchored by a walloping backbeat, throbbing bass lines and soaring power chords. Morris offers this curt dismissal.. “Today’s as good a day as any, to tell you to go get fucked,” as Coats’ unspools a blistering solo.
Contrary to what Irma Thomas and the Rolling Stones told you, OFF! emphatically states “Time’s Not On Your Side.” Powered by boomerang guitar shards and shifting time signatures, the melody is as combative as Morris. His tone is menacing, “You fuck with me, I’ll fuck with you.”
Finally, “Meet Your God” is propelled by jack-hammer guitar, roiling bass lines and a punishing rhythm. Here Morris insists that “syphilitic bastards” will have a lot of ‘splainin’ to do when they meet their maker.
Other stand out tracks include; the sludgey “Over Our Heads,” “No Easy Escape,” which ping-pongs between a plodding tempo and tilt-a-whirl guitar. On the nihilistic “All I Can Grab,” the guitars swarm like Killer Bees.
The album remains vitriolic to the bitter end. The title track closes out the album, an unrelenting mix strafing guitar, bottom-hugging bass, knockabout drums and Morris’ everlasting sneer. Here he insists “What was done can’t be unbroken, counting off wasted years.”
OFF! hews to the Punk paradigm of “young loud and snotty, (well, maybe not so young) “Wasted Years” offers up 16 songs in under 24 minutes. The album is sharp, edgy and economical. With hooks galore and meaningful lyrics, it’s catchy as hell! Even the cover art is perfect, specially designed by iconic Punk artist, Raymond Pettibone.
Keith Morris is closing in on 60. He could spend his twilight years waxing nostalgic. As an integral voice of not one, but two, highly influential Southern California Punk bands he’s earned that right. Thankfully, he’s still compelled to create vital music.