In the early 1980's, there may not have been a stronger force in America than Black Flag (not that the masses were aware). Along with the Misfits and Minor Threat, Black Flag laid the groundwork for the DIY ethos and inspired a legion of punk bands that have cropped up in the two decades since their absence. This has not always been a good thing.
Their tale has been told by many other than the band's lone constant: guitarist Greg Ginn. Former members, having been alienated for any number of reasons (financial disputes, personality conflicts), have gone onto other things and largely not looked back. A couple of years ago, original singer Keith Morris formed the band OFF!. That group's sound more than just a little bit resembled that of the Morris line-up of Black Flag. Morris's time with Ginn had only ever yielded one EPs ("Nervous Breakdown") but it is known as a cornerstone to the blueprint of hardcore.
The critical and fan praise heaped upon OFF! led Morris to reunite with former Black Flag members Chuck Dukowski (bass), Dez Cadena (guitars), and Bill Stevenson (drums) for live dates. Due to legal ramifications from Ginn, the band chose to tour under the name FLAG. Ginn, naturally, doesn't think this is a great enough distinction. Not to miss out on a potential money grab, Ginn re-formed his own version of Black Flag, using the actual name since he owns its rights. Enter Ron Reyes (a.k.a. Chavo Pederast)
Reyes is the only member of the earlier incarnation of Black Flag in this latter day abomination other than Greg Ginn. 33 years after his last recording with the band, the phenomenal "Jealous Again", Reyes tries his best to liven up a set of 22 limp and lifeless facsimiles of what Ginn believes Black Flag should be in 2013: soft. There is no danger to this album, appropriately titled "What the...". Did Ginn ever bother to ask himself this question as to what he was thinking. Everything that made the band what it was has been whitewashed away with a startling lack of musical aggression. This sounds like a high school or "Glee" version of Black Flag, wholly unfitting for a progenitor of a rock and cultural movement.
The writing, or art, should have been on the wall when news of the album broke and the cover was designed by Ron Reyes. Highly acclaimed artist, and Ginn's own brother, Raymond Pettibon had designed much of Black Flag's previous artwork. Maybe he wasn't asked, which is possible, but he probably didn't hear anything he could connect to artistically. All isn't rosy within the band either as Reyes left the band just under a week ago. Neither Cadena nor Henry Rollins is going to come around and save this sinking ship. "What the..." is only recommended for absolute completist collectors because anyone expecting a furious, adrenaline charged onslaught is going to be severely underwhelmed.