In 2015, Anti-Flag released their ninth studio album, American Spring, a surprisingly solid, albeit formulaic, collection of songs. That could have been it for Anti-Flag’s musical contributions to the year and spent the next few years touring in support of American Spring, but instead they decided to end the year with Cease Fires, their fourth compilation release.
For those of you who haven’t been keeping up with Anti-Flag, here’s some background info: the band celebrated their twentieth anniversary in 2013 by re-recording songs from throughout their discography (one song per studio and compilation album) and releasing them as a part of their 20 Years of Hell singles series. Cease Fires gathers those re-recorded songs, a b-side from the subscription series, and two unreleased songs from the American Spring sessions.
Let’s get the new songs out of the way first: If you’ve liked the clean sounding, yet aggressively political pop punk sound of Anti-Flag’s records throughout the past decade (The Bright Lights of America notwithstanding), there’s no reason to not enjoy “Coward in My Veins” or “The New Jim Crow.” “Close My Eyes” starts a bit slower, kind of sounding like a song from Bright Lights might have sounded like if the band hadn’t had their major label budget.
The re-recorded songs make up the real meat of this compilation, and the differences between the new recordings and the originals varies from song to song. Compositionally speaking, “Kill the Rich” is near identical to its original, but it still sounds like a brand new song due to the band’s changes in lineup and sound between 1996 and 2013. “The Consumer’s Song” gets a (much improved) full band treatment, “The Ink and The Quill (Be Afraid)” gets the fat trimmed off, and “The Great Depression” is toned down into a lo-fi twangy jam (it also, sadly, loses the guest vocals). Are they better? That’s for the listener to decide, but Anti-Flag certainly made the most of this project instead of half-assing these re-imaginings like Alkaline Trio did on Damnesia in 2011.
On the lesser side of things, the new version of “Wake Up!” doesn’t offer much, and “The WTO Kills Farmers” is transformed into a much more standard affair. It’s also worth noting that both The Terror State and For Blood and Empire have better songs that could have been picked to re-record. Naturally, plenty of songs get the acoustic treatment with varying degrees of success. “20 Years of Hell” is a high point, and the updated lyrics that include mentions of Pussy Riot and Chelsea Manning in “Mumia’s Song” are a nice touch, but then there’s “The Ghosts of Alexandria” which, much like the album it comes from, is just kind of… there.
Old school fans probably won’t care much for these recordings, but old school fans also jumped ship around the Underground Network-era so who cares what they think? It’s hardly essential listening, but Cease Fires is a fun listen for diehards and fans who came late to the party, and it complements the band’s current sound well.
4 / 5 – Stream the album below.
RIYL: NOFX, The Bouncing Souls, Strike Anywhere