Black Flag, whether you enjoy their music or not, is one of, if not the, founding bands in Hardcore Punk. They had speed, attitude, and lyrics that spoke to the youth of the day. The look and sound of the band were something everybody could get behind. The early E.P.s set the groundwork for every era of Punk to come after. The Rollins albums, however, added a fire, and anger to an already angry sound that couldn’t be matched.
The early years of Black Flag (1978-81) were when the band cemented their status as Punk heavyweights. Whether it was spray painting the logo all over Los Angeles, or playing shows at house parties, Black Flag was not to be ignored. They designed, hung, and distributed their own flyers and became staples in the DIY scene. They played loud and aggressive, and above all, they had a sound different from every other emerging band at the time. Keith Morris’ vocals were and are instantly recognizable. He sounded like a pissed off surfer who regularly passed out on the beach. When Morris left the band in 1979, he went on to form The Circle Jerks and continued the pissed off surfer music he was great at. Insert Ron Reyes and the West Coast tour. Black Flag’s sound has just left Los Angeles. While Ron was a bit more aggressive, he also was more of a performer. He had a stage presence and was something to watch. Ron Reyes didn’t last long and longtime fan Dez Cadena stepped in and the band went national. With Cadena on as vocals the band started to garner a larger crowd, and the demand for Black Flag music was drastically growing. But during this era the band was always fun, jokes were always in style, and they didn’t take themselves too seriously. The songs had intensity, but there was always a background of fun.
The Rollins years (1981-86) became the heaviest and most intense sounding time of the bands existence. Henry Rollins was an angry , intense, unforgiving front man who helped push Black Flag into the era of Hardcore. Rollins brought a seriousness to the band, and the songs began to reflect it. The song “Rise Above” has become an anthem for Punks of all ages. As with the years prior, Black Flag was relatable to youth who felt they were being held down. But, this time around the intensity was multiplied, they were angrier, and they had a bigger audience. Black Flag, although they didn’t know it or consider it, had become what every other band since would be measured against. The timing was perfect; the sound reflected how the fans felt about life, society, and economic structure. Henry Rollins had the voice and ears of the generation. That following would continue, and continues to this day. Increasing violence at concerts caused Rollins to develop his unique singing style and posture on stage. He was intimidating and constantly on guard for anyone that got near him. The entire tone of the band had drastically changed. They were more musically sound, and the overall musicianship had improved, but that comes with the aging and progressing of any band.
The original idea posed for this writing was: which era is better? And that question cannot be truthfully answered. Black Flag as a whole, with any lineup, are the forefathers of Hardcore Punk. They were always unique, original, and intense. They were lyrically above their peers and shaped the sound of what Punk was to become. So many bands that have come after Black Flag credit them as an influence, and if they don’t, they are lying. Punk wouldn’t be where or what it is today without the sounds of Black Flag. The imagery, the volume, the intensity, all cannot be matched.