"Good tribute album" is watery praise synonymous with the oft-uttered rock cliché "big in Japan." Who cares? "Black Flag tribute album" should be synonymous with "shooting oneself in the foot, then shooting at other people's feet." Sure, everyone, including Moby, loves Damaged, but people forget how much Black Flag was hated when My War came out, and it was only their second album. They were sellouts, fake metal, hippie, too-much-Sabbath-not-enough-Germs-poseurs of the worst stripe -- but seventeen years after they limped into oblivion, they have not one but two tribute albums glorifying their hardcore-gone-haywire body of work. Black on Black is undoubtedly the superior of the two (the Rollins-helmed Rise Above is, uh, big in Japan), and the fact that it is peopled with the avant-individualists of the current hardcore scene is incontrovertible proof that Black Flag's heretic path was the only smart way out of a very small, very dully painted corner.
OK, so seven of the nine tracks are selections from Damaged or the EPs leading up to Damaged, but Burnt by the Sun and Converge hoist Flag's fallen standard by tackling songs from the later years, and the results are brilliant. Burnt by the Sun's "Drinking and Driving" is incomprehensible lyrics barked over the relentless bass groove that was Flag's (ignored) hallmark for many years. On their version of "Annihilate This Week," Converge not only nails the Greg Ginn feedback that leaked from every song but simultaneously pays homage to Black Flag's two speeds: insanely fast and maddeningly slow. They ramp up the velocity in the first half, then drag the tempo through the muck for the second half of the song. Bonus points to the Dillinger Escape Plan for combining "Damaged I" and "Damaged II" into one shrieking mass of vitriol and for turning the latter into a quasi-dance mix near the end with handclaps, filter washes and a synthetic beat. Dark, contrary genius, which neatly sums up the finest elements of Black Flag as well.