Barack Obama recently apologised to the families of two Western hostages killed during US drone strikes in January in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. The use of drones is nothing new, they've been used since George W Bush was commander in chief, and it seems the narrative of American politics never greatly changes. The only thing that does change is the level of information the world at large is supplied with.
It seems fitting, then, that Anti-Flag are still crafting the vitriolic, politically-charged punk rock that has been the mainstay of their sound for their more than a decade long existence. On their tenth album American Spring, a title very clearly influenced by the revolutionary uprising of citizens during the Arab Spring, the band still possess lofty ambitions for change in their homeland and are proud to be part of the dissenting voices.
Adopting the view of a civilian on the ground during a drone strike, "Sky is Falling" is a fatalistic cry of desperation ("There is no past or future I feel like I'm going to drown/When the sky falls down") that offers a ground-level perspective that bands like Rise Against have a penchant for exploring. "Sky is Falling" seethes with eerie bass-lines that creep up on you, backed with a flurry of militaristic drum beats. Sonically it's an abrasive listen, but the production allows each instrument to breathe - you might feel like you're being immediately launched into the political sentiment of the song but there's just enough space for thought.
But make no mistake, Anti-Flag still know how to create a hook that will immediately make itself at home in your brain. To listen to "Brandenburg Gate" once is to listen to it playing over and over again in your head for hours, and that's no bad thing. Rancid's Tim Armstrong guests on this earworm and the song is described in the accompanying essay (an additional means of expression that the band have used in their other releases) as a "love song for socialism". It's catchy and ambitious, but admittedly it does feel weird to be mindlessly humming "I lost my baby to a foreign war" hours after listening to the song.
Closer to home bassist Chris #2 dealt with the dissolving of a relationship and the unsuccessful pursuit of justice for his murdered sister, two experiences that seem to weigh heavy on the aggressive bombast of "Believer". The despondent cries of "I wish I was anywhere but here" are levelled with refrains of "Don't give up/Don't give in". This is warring emotion at its finest. Elsewhere the searing riff delivered by Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine on "Without End" is just one part of this band's arsenal of combative sounds, with the Anarchist, hyperactive strains of "Break Something" willing revolt against the Capitalist system that the band don't so much loathe, as they seem to want to rebuild and correct.
So, do we find out anything new about Anti-Flag on American Spring that we didn't already know about them? It is still abundantly clear that, as always, they are in pursuit politically and personally. They still capture strong political themes in their lyrics, and the band continues to take on the mantle of covering topics that many bands would run a mile from. American Spring is a call to arms surrounded by pummelling drum kicks and immediately attention-grabbing riffs, offering an idealistic hope for the future. Justin Sane said he hoped this album would encourage people "to never give up", and somewhere among the unabashed rage and attempts to decipher why the world is the way it is, it seems American Spring might succeed in doing just that.