Groundbreakers: Black Flag – My War


I like to think I have a very diverse taste in music and, more specifically, in metal. Maybe I could even be considered a special little snowflake snob. Even if you share the eclecticism of your average Tinder user, there’s always the stuff that you really like.

If I were to break it down to simple terms, half of the stuff I really like wouldn’t even exist if it were not for the 40 minutes of music Black Flag decided to call My War.

Imagine you’re a punk/hardcore kid in 1984 who just got hold of a copy of My War. Of course you’ve heard Damaged. 15 tracks of fast, fun and sarcastic hardcore punk clocking in at under 35 minutes. It’s one of your favorite fucking albums, man.

So you get home, throbbing in anticipation, put the vinyl on and push play.

Quick intro and soon “My War” blasts forth with a scream and its memorable, surfy guitar. Betrayal, paranoia. “Woooh! Black Flag!” Next up is “Can’t Decide.” A 5 minute song. With guitar SOLOS. “It’s gonna be alright,” you think to yourself. “It can’t be that bad.” Except it was.

Third track “Beat My Head Against The Wall” opens up with a trudgy riff that could have been discarded as ‘too simple’ during the Master of Reality recordings. The schizophrenic tempo keeps shifting throughout its brief run time.

The next couple of songs, “I Love You” and “Forever Time,” feature a far more orthodox approach. Their successor, however, is a bizarre song about suicide named “The Swinging Man.” It sounds like a twisted version of a 1960s Batman-esque TV show theme.

Whoever survived through side A of this record definitely fell off their chair – slowly – upon reaching side B (20:45). Whatever subtlety lied in the experiments of the LP’s first half was replaced by a completely different sound. It could have been called a split record with a fake band and no one would have questioned it.

Gone was the snarky parody of Damaged. Gone were the stereotypical “punk” tropes. The three tracks that make up this side of the LP are over six minutes long. They are dragged out, quasi-droning hymns of self loathing and malaise. Seriously, if you need something besides Swans to wrap up a party early, just put “Scream” on. The living room will empty itself.

My War‘s importance to heavy music extends far beyond means of throwing people out, though. It is a pivotal album in shaping what would become known as sludge metal. Perhaps one of the most obvious examples of their influence in the genre is Eyehategod, a band that can play songs reminiscent of side A and B at the same time. “Medicine Noose” is fast and slow with just a little bit of extra Sabbath sprinkled on top.

Neurosis is another name that comes to mind. While their mature sound may appear very distinct from the one featured in My War, members of the band have cited Black Flag as a major source of inspiration on more than one occasion. Both bands trailed a path of innovation in their own right. Their progression from playing unremarkable hardcore to one of the most original bands in heavy metal was brilliantly fleshed out by Leif on the very first Groundbreakers article. I’ll limit myself to just one of my favorite Neurosis songs.

One of my all time favorites, Melvins, have also sung high praise towards Black Flag, especially My War and Slip It In. Their body of work is wildly vast and diverse, from the droning of Lysol to the earworm anthems of Houdini.

Does Kyuss sound like Black Sabbath? Yeah, they do. But if you were to ask a 1993 Josh Homme about it, he’d say his guitar playing is far more influenced by Greg Ginn than Iommi. This influence would be even more present in the early Queens Of The Stone Age catalog. Just listen to the guitar in “Walkin’ On The Sidewalks” and “How to Handle A Rope” from their first LP. It bears a clear resemblance to the tone and main riff of “Nothing Left Inside.” Ginn’s style of soloing can also be heard in a lot of Homme’s playing. Moreover, the inclusion of zany songs amidst their records can be seen as an allusion to “The Swinging Man” and all of its weirdness.

Is My War a good album? I think it is, but my real answer is that it does not matter. Regardless of the flaws one could point at, the impact it had on the heavy music landscape is too wide to deny. In true Groundbreakers style, it has projected its axons so far into the collective consciousness of metal, hardcore and “post-” bands that any criticism pales in comparison to its relative omnipresence.

As divisive as it was – and still is – influential, My War is one of those rare records that deserves being called quintessential.

Groundbreakers is the Toilet ov Hell’s Hall ov Fame where we induct some of the most important and influential metal albums of all time. Catch up on previous entries into this hallowed bowl.

Neurosis – Souls at Zero
Death – Symbolic
Fear Factory Demanufacture
Voivod – Killing Technology
Today is the DayTemple of the Morning Star
Avenged Sevenfold – City of Evil
The Moody Blues – Days of Future Passed
Acid BathWhen the Kite String Pops
Ministry – The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste
Vulcano – Bloody Vengeance
Sleep Holy Mountain
Kreator – Pleasure to Kill
Kayo Dot – Choirs of the eye
Thin Lizzy – Thunder and Lightning
Type O NegativeBloody Kisses
Blind Guardian – Imaginations from the Other Side

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  • Lacertilian

    Haven’t listened to My War since high-school. Remedying that now, thanks Dagon!
    The only old punk-type stuff I ever really put on these days is DK. Although I did revisit a bunch of Discharge and DRI last year. Tend to enjoy it more on drunken Summer nights.
    Not that I would have ever thought it, but now you mention it I can kinda hear what you mean about the 70’s TV show music vibe.
    Speaking of Damaged, Jason Fuller’s Goatsound Studios did a 15 band reinterpretation of the album in one day last year, here if anyone is interested.

    • Dagon

      For some reason I always think of the old batman tv show song when I hear “Hanging Man”.

      That Damages reinterpretation is a dope idea, but I like these sorts of things better when the line up is wacky and diverse.

      • Lacertilian

        I know exactly 3 out of the 15 bands, so I can’t comment on their diversity but there are a decent variety of styles being used in it. Doom, acoustic, industrial, grind, female vox, all sorts of stuff.
        How wacky do you want it? Motherfuckers hitting ceremonial gongs and shredding lutes? Actually that sounds pretty cool.

        • Dagon

          Mf howling like badass wolves while someone plays harmonica and tribal drums

          • Lacertilian

            Now we’re talking!

  • King Shit of Fuck Mountain

    All I ever had by them was Damaged and it did nothing for me.

    • Punk without D-Beat is not my kinda punk. Black Flag does not D-Beat.

      • Ayreonaut

        The flag were always kind of doing their own thing from the start, especially with Ginn and his grateful dead and other wierd influences. I recommend checking out stuff with all of their vocalists though. Keith Morris with them had more of a basic, Ramones kinda punk feel. I love Rollins but I think I like their stuff with Dez more

        • Ayreonaut

          Also, the jealous again ep with ron is worth a listen

    • Señor Jefe El Rosa

      But, but you gotta Rise Above…

  • Jason Kolkey

    Great band. Great album. Probably also worth mentioning when discussing its influence that it was one of Kurt Cobain’s favorites.

    • Dagon

      I see melvins as a big influence on that whole Seattle scene that became known as grunge (which to me is more of a fashion style than an actual sound), so there’s definitely a connection there.

      • Eliza

        Grunge was a sound of some sort. It became a fashion style eventually.

        • Dagon

          In my mind there’s too many differences between the original “grunge” bands for them to get that genre tag. Later, when the generic bands started popping up it might have become a thing.

          That’s just my poorly explained opinion though.

      • This is true and I recall MTV even giving them credit a few times.

    • Edward/Breegrodamus™

      See also: Pixies. Dude was an unabashed Pixies fan. Same with homeboy from Weezer.

      • Commodus, Flusher Of Worlds

        And Killing Joke. He even admitted that “Come As You Are” was taken from “Eighties”.

        • Edward/Breegrodamus™

          I need to spend some time with Killing Joke. Always metal approved, but haven’t ever just dove in.

    • Dave Vincent’s Perm

      Also Celtic Frost. Apparently when they were touring the soundtrack was Pixies on one side and Celtic Frost on the other.

  • Dubbbz

    To be honest, I never spent much time with Black Flag, but I do enjoy Weight from the Rollins Band and a bunch of the bands you listed, so I know at some point I need to check this out. Thanks for the perspective.

  • Elegant Gazing Globe


  • Classic

    • Dagon


  • Howard Dean
  • Edward/Breegrodamus™

    About time someone wrote a Groundbreakers on this!!! I will jam today in honor of this fine post.

  • Edward/Breegrodamus™

    Also, I wish I could have seen Black Flag tour with Rollins. They were one of the bands covered in Our Band Could Be Your Life. Not heavy by today’s extreme music standards but groundbreakingly heavy in their day.

    • Dagon

      The fact they decided to slow things down had people throwing shit at them.

      It’s hard to grasp how alien that sound was to the audience back then.

  • BRO! I’ve never checked Black Flag, this is not the exact kind of punk vibe I consume, but I will give this a chance because I wuv u.

  • Eliza

    I do like some Black Flag, despite not being a punk fan. Also, I really feel like relistening to Bullhead now.

  • Loose Nut and Slip it In are my favorite Black Flag rekkids. It seems like they don’t get jocked nearly enough.

    • Edward/Breegrodamus™

      The site just ran an article dividing posers between non-posers…

    • Dagon

      I remember you once talked about writing one of these for Slip It In.

      That would be tight.

    • Dubbbz

      How many loose nuts?

    • Jason Kolkey

      Slip It In rules.

    • Waynecro

      +5 cool points for “rekkids”

    • Ayreonaut

      Man nobody really talks about those records. I love em though. Big fan of their music videos too. I’ve had the bars tattooed on me since I was a teenager.

    • In My Head FTW

    • Señor Jefe El Rosa

      Loose Nut has worked its way to number 2, but I still have My War in the top spot.

      However, Annhilate This Week is in my top 3 Black Flag songs.

      • more beer

        I have always liked the Nervous Breakdown ep and Everything Went Black. Because that has different versions of their earlier songs with all of the various singers.

        • Señor Jefe El Rosa

          First Four Years is good, because it covers the wide range as well. Black Flag had an eclectic group of songs throughout their career.

    • Max

      Slip it In is great from start to finish. Although I first heard it in about 1992, it hadn’t really dated.

      Damaged, which I first heard the same year, really had.

  • Never actually listened to Black Flag before even though I’m well aware of their impact on punk and metal alike. Definitely hearing their influence QOTSA in the opening riff of the album.

    • Dave Vincent’s Perm

      I love me some Queens of the Stone Age. Not metal but whatever, I have no shame.

      • Commodus, Flusher Of Worlds

        No need to feel shame. I love Modern Talking and Kraftwerk..

      • The first two QOTSA albums are great. Nothing wrong dirty desert rock.

    • Señor Jefe El Rosa

      What?! Of all the people, i thought you’d be one to be a fan.

      • My musical listening has many gaps that have yet to be filled.

        • Señor Jefe El Rosa

          Haha, same here.

  • Commodus, Flusher Of Worlds

    This one was a big part of my collection in high school:

  • Janitor Jim Duggan

    I love this album and Family Man.

  • Waynecro

    Excellent analysis, Dagon. Thanks very much!

  • Ayreonaut

    Love black flag and almost all of their material. My war is a legendary album.

  • Señor Jefe El Rosa


    I’m so glad to see this as a groundbreaker. This was an album I obsessed over for a long time and I wholeheartedly back everything said.

  • I have never heard this record. I like it. If someone put this on at a party I would actually think about not staying home instead.

  • DeeSnarl

    Good article. I just have two pedantic complaints, as is my wont. First, “unremarkable hardcore?” “UNREMARKABLE HARDCORE??” Second, while times have changed, I think it’s a stretch to call Damaged “fun,” with, of course, a few exceptions. They weren’t exactly the Dickies.