The video for “Red White and Black,” from Off!’s new Wasted Years album, depicts a bar full of neo-Nazis getting beaten up by black nationalists. That’s what Off! is going for: a righteous display of power. That’s also the story of hardcore. You fall in love with the aggressive sound, and you reach for the ethic to justify it.
Composed of former members of Black Flag, Burning Brides, Redd Kross and Rocket From the Crypt, Off! is in many ways the ur-hardcore band. They sound it on Wasted Years, for better and for worse. They are better than almost everyone at assembling muscular, spasmodic songs less than two minutes long, and this album distills the form to its essence. And yet it does not feel essential.
The worst part about being the ur-hardcore band is that hardcore is in danger of not meaning anything anymore. Loud and fast have ceased to be artistic positions. If there is a flaw in Wasted Years, it’s that it is done masterfully without being done desperately. There is little sense of danger in its 16 tracks, but maybe that’s the listener’s fault. Hardcore was a way of living once, but now it is a form.