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Bad Brains -- 'Into the Future' (Megaforce)( Handout )
Rating: **1/2 out of 4
If there were a Mount Rushmore for hardcore punk, the D.C. quartet Bad Brains would be guaranteed a spot, likely next to Black Flag, the Dead Kennedys and Ian MacKaye.
The band's albums from the early and mid-'80s (including a self-titled record from 1982 and 1986's "I Against I") are remembered so fondly as touchstones of an impassioned genre that Bad Brains' more recent, less memorable years have done little to tarnish its overall legacy. We won't get anything as wonderfully jarring as the debut album's "Banned in D.C.," and that's OK. The band gets a pass because it's Bad Brains.
"Into the Future," the band's ninth studio album and first in five years, arrived late last month as one more brick in the foundation. If it doesn't exactly jolt you, then "Into the Future" will at least remind listeners that the act can still play loud and blisteringly fast, even if it chooses not to most of the time. Songs such as the 89-second "Yes I" and the 86-second "Come Down" prove the players still have the technical ability and fiery temperament to bulldoze in quick bursts.
There are also the typical Bad Brains diversions, with patient reggae grooves ("Jah Love," "MCA Dub") and thrash-metal exercises ("We Belong Together"). But really, "Into the Future" seems most concerned with following frontman H.R.'s ever-changing fancy.
The 56-year-old continues his streak as a stylistic chameleon, mixing in a floating falsetto and stranger, almost alien, tics into his singing. And, as expected, the spiritual presence of Rastafarianism -- best executed on the closing tribute to the late Beastie Boy (and Bad Brains fanatic) Adam "MCA" Yauch -- feels integral to the project as a whole.
Imperfect but increasingly enjoyable the more time you spend with it, "Into the Future" proves Bad Brains can still pummel listeners with flashes of hard-core brilliance, even if those moments feel like appeasements to early fans. Instead, the band sounds most natural cherry-picking varying styles whenever it gets bored. It doesn't make for the most cohesive listen, but that's never been the band's guiding force. And it says a lot that the forays into left field work more often than not. --Wesley Case