Confrontational L.A. punk band Black Flag hit a brick wall with the release of its first album, Damaged, which was supposed to be released by the incongruously named Unicorn Records, a subsidiary of MCA. Once the company heard the album, MCA refused to distribute it, supposedly because its executives found it “anti-parent.” The real reason for the hold-up was more likely that Unicorn was mismanaged and deeply in debt, meaning Damaged would have lost money.
Regardless, Black Flag was forced into a strange compromise; it was allowed to release Damaged on its own SST Records, with the Unicorn logo on it and a sticker on the cover proclaiming it “anti-parent,” but thereafter lost the rights to its own name. The resulting legal limbo lasted three years, and once Black Flag regained the rights to its name it released a glut of albums—three in 1984 alone. The first of these was My War.
The A-side of the album continues where Damaged left off in terms of tempo, but stripped of Black Flag’s early tunefulness (yes, it had some) and the lyrics have gotten even more alienated (only Henry Rollins could make a song called “I Love You” sound so loathsome). But the B-side gets weird; it’s just three six-to-seven-minute songs—“Nothing Left Inside,” “Three Nights” and “Scream”—each slower and more terrifying than the last.
Punk audiences hated it. Not that Black Flag cared (in his book Get In The Van, Rollins describes the band’s mood at the time; “The My War album was out and we wanted to kill everyone”). Critics dismissed it; Robert Christgau wrote: “Henry Rollins’s adrenalin gives out. The consequent depression is so monumental that even Greg Ginn succumbs, adding only one classic to his catalogue of noise solos (“The Swinging Man”) and grinding out brain-damaged cousins of luded power chords behind the three dirges that waste side two.”
But the album gained a cult following and served as a key influence on the later development of indie metal and grunge; listening to the B-side of My War, the Melvins certainly come to mind. As long as there are young men in bad moods, there will be love for My War somewhere.