It's not fanaticism to say BAD BRAINS remains one of the most important bands to ever touch the earth. It may take a number of years in-between releases, when a BAD BRAINS album drops, nothing else in the underground seems as relevant for at least a month. Their Marley-esque totem lifting of a higher love has endeared the BAD BRAINS to their fans, but moreover, their determined angst and ganja-baked dub-step has shaped their mystical status. Only THE CLASH was able to stand toe-to-toe with the BAD BRAINS with their gutsy one-two kayo combo of punk and reggae. Still, there is nothing more virtuous in punk (and metal, for that matter) than "Rock For Light" and "I Against I".
Fortunately for the BAD BRAINS, not too many fans have judged their future work by the penetrating caliber of those cornerstone albums. The mere presence of the Rastafarian rabble rousers has been compensation enough for a scene that hardly deserves them but could hardly sustain its edge without their reminders of how things are done.
2007's "Build a Nation" was a fierce and dirty return to action for the BAD BRAINS. Many witnesses stood in disbelief this band still had the propensity to rattle the masses with bulldozing rasta punk and no doubt the jaws will stay cracked with "Into the Future".
In 2012, BAD BRAINS prove they don't have to play faster than a tsunami to be potent. Of course, "Into the Future" has plenty of velocity, fret not, but like they showed on "Quickness" and "God of Love", their mid-tempo pumps are equally full of piss and vigor. They also evolve their dub maneuvers this time around, producing a fresh tooling about of classic reggae and Two Tone swoons with a deeper electro pulse and even a dash of hip hop, i.e. "Rub a Dub Love". In the case of "Youth of Today", they pair off old guard punk lines with a heavy-stepping ska jive with such fluidity you almost don't see it coming, no matter how veteran a listener you may be of this band.
BAD BRAINS ushers mosh modes of hardcore from yesteryear into a finessed jack-up for current audiences. The title song grooves instead of blitzes with a vintage punk punch guiding the main melody and it still comes off as a tribal war dance, always keeping in mind this band professes peace, not violence. "Popcorn" shucks about in sarcastic reflection of the band's roots in Washington, D.C., but then "We Belong Together" addresses one-on-one humanistic love, as well as the band's status as testifiers to an encompassing spirituality that engulfs their lives and their music. Whether or not the BAD BRAINS acknowledge their commonly-shared view as prophets is between them, yet they do concede how much they are revered by an interview soundbyte that serves up "Jah Love".
As brute ugly as their sound can get, what makes the BAD BRAINS reigning ambassadors of the punk scene is their ceaseless search for a nobler cause. "We Belong Together", "Yes I", "Suck Sess" and "Come Down" are speedier than anyone who thinks they can possibly stand tall in their shadow. What has always distanced the BAD BRAINS from their peers is the manifest quality of their music and their diligent clawing for righteousness.
H.R. is still an enigma, but his vocals on "Into the Future" show him more hassle-free instead of constantly perched on the edge of a cataclysm. He is shamanistic and smooth for most of the trip with only a few swings over to the brink of madness (schizophrenia rules him on "Yes I"), and the latter has always added to his charm, even in his dub-happy solo work. Daryl Jenifer and Earl Hudson remain the most symbiotic rhythm section punk has ever seen and there's no reason to embellish on Dr. Know's riff-blazing autonomy. The major difference between this album and "Build a Nation" is the glazed polish that still retains the predecessor's crunchy vibe and combined, that spells sweet success.
Rounding off with the Fela Kuti-tinted "MCA Dub" in tribute to the fallen Beastie Boy (and producer of "Build a Nation"), "Into the Future" once again stops the underground in its tracks, professing fun and joyful noises amidst the blaring aggression and a dance-dub effect filled with more reverence than rave. Thank you once again, gentlemen. As ever, you keep the rest of us straight.
- Ray Van Horn, Jr.