OFF! — the hardcore punk rock group fronted by ex-Black Flag and Circle Jerks frontman Keith Morris — released their first album since 2014’s “Wasted Years.”
“Free LSD,” the band’s fourth album, maintains their frenzied and frantic sound while introducing psychedelic metal and science fiction elements. Since the band was founded in 2009, “Free LSD” marks the most significant change in sound while still staying true to the group’s punk rock roots.
The first single, “War Above Los Angeles,” begins with a slow, heavy metal-inspired trudge that blasts into a psychedelic furor. Dimitri Coats’ guitar sounds like an alien spaceship sending and receiving signals through space before the song blasts into a more familiar hardcore frenzy.
“Kill to Be Heard” plays more like a traditional OFF! song than “War Above Los Angeles,” although it includes a more thrashy sound in the song’s chorus. The one-and-a-half minute blast is a refreshing return to roots for longtime fans of the band.
Other notable tracks include the album’s opener, “Slice up the Pie.” Heavy drums prelude a riff reminiscent of Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid.” As a whole, the song sounds heavier than almost anything the band has released before.
The most interesting four tracks off the LP — titled “F,” “L,” “S” and “D” respectively — act as interludes between the four main “acts” of the album. They all feel free jazz in nature, more akin to improvisational cacophonies of noise than actual cohesive songs. Each of these four tracks sounds similar to the track “Go to Dallas and Take a Left” by Unwound off their 1996 album “Repetition.”
Every track on this LP seamlessly flows into the next. The choice to make each song flow into one another feels natural and effortless, and it only adds to the listening experience. It’s easy to get lost in this album as you go from one song to the next, as it puts the listener in a trance-like state.
There are a few spots where the album falls short, however. While the traditionally fast and groovy hardcore sections of the songs are spectacular, the slower and heavier psychedelic sections feel a bit overdone. OFF! spends almost as much time dissipating energy as they do creating it, and the excellent fast parts of the songs often feel cut short by the slower parts.
That isn’t to say the slower, more psychedelic parts are bad — in fact, they’re outstanding. But for a band whose reputation is all about blistering speed and frantic energy, there doesn’t seem to be enough speed or energy in the songs at times.
I am also a huge fan of Raymond Pettibon, an artist who’s created album covers for bands like Black Flag, Sonic Youth and the Foo Fighters. So far, Pettibon has designed the cover for every OFF! album, including “Free LSD.”
Often, Pettibon’s cover art is as powerful of a statement as the album it represents, if not more. For instance, the cover for OFF!’s self-titled LP makes the album worthy of purchase all by itself.
The album art is distinctly a Raymond Pettibon piece — a thought-provoking one-panel comic accompanied by a vaguely threatening quote. However, it falls short of what Pettibon is capable of. It feels uninspired and derivative of generic science fiction.
Raymond Pettibon is capable of really great, simple art — the cover of “Nervous Breakdown” by Black Flag is both provocative and thought-provoking. The cover of “What Makes a Man Start Fires?” by the Minutemen is simple yet profound. Yet, the cover of “Free LSD” doesn’t feel like it is worthy of being considered a “great” Raymond Pettibon piece.
The cover art doesn’t hurt the album — in fact, it stylistically fits the sci-fi/psychedelia theme of the album very well. But it’s disappointing that it’s not an incredible Pettibon art piece, for this album would have hugely benefited from a truly great Pettibon cover.
“Free LSD” makes sure the audience knows OFF! is back. Short, fast, energetic bursts of high-octane energy make their mark all over this album. The evolution Keith Morris and the rest of OFF! have made from classic hardcore to psychedelic hardcore is refreshing, even if the execution isn’t perfect.
“Free LSD” is a worthy successor to the previous three OFF! albums. They have proven that they continue to be at the forefront of modern hardcore punk while showing that hardcore punk can change and evolve.
Drake White-Bergey is the editor-in-chief and photo editor emeritus of The Daily Cardinal. As a photojournalist, his coverage focuses on politics and protests. Drake is a fourth-year student studying History and Journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. You can follow him on Instagram at @whitebergey.photography and on Twitter at @DWhiteBergey.