Bad Religion keeps the faith

Band celebrates its 30th year with punk-edged 'True North'

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If you go

What: Bad Religion, in concert.

When: 8 p.m. April 14.

Where: Roseland Theatre, 8 N.W. Sixth Ave., Portland.

Cost: $25 through TicketsWest, 800-992-8499.

The new Bad Religion album, "True North," is being touted as one of the band's most punk rock-oriented albums. In fact, it's being compared to the band's 1988 album "Suffer," which is widely considered to be the album that crystallized the group's hard-edged but melodic punk sound.

Bad Religion guitarist Brian Baker has heard the "Suffer" comparisons, but he has a slightly different perspective on "True North."

"I would say that rather than look at it as a retrospective journey, I look at it as a distillation of everything that the band's been doing for 33 years," he said in an early March phone interview. "And I think that Bad Religion is certainly qualified to make a Bad Religion record. And that's what we really have here."

Actually, there's been a good bit of punk influence in every Bad Religion album. But "True North," with its concise, spiky and brisk songs, is one of the most purely punk albums the band has made in recent years.

With the exception of the change-of-pace track "Hello Cruel World," a deliberate, midtempo rocker that clocks in at nearly four minutes, the other 15 songs all are less than three minutes long (with seven of the songs coming in at under two minutes). Nevertheless, the songs feel complete, with big hooks and a full musical message packed into each tune.

The musical direction for "True North" emerged the way it does on virtually any Bad Religion album, according to Baker.

"Each Bad Religion record truly is a product of Brett and Greg's songwriting," Baker said, mentioning singer/guitarist/keyboardist Greg Graffin and guitarist Brett Gurewitz. "There's never a perceived idea. There's never 'We're going to try to make this kind of record.' It's really just what Brett and Greg happen to come up with. And they write individually, so it's kind of an interesting process. Brett and Greg will have each come up with maybe four or five songs and share them with us and each other. And from that, you kind of see where the record might end up going."

This time around, the lyrics Graffin and Gurewitz were writing played a big role in setting the musical direction for "True North," Baker said. The songs were written during the run-up to what became a close and contentious 2012 election.

"It was really time for a good old fashioned 'what the hell's going on in our country' and others, more of a, I would say, somewhat politically charged record," Baker said. "And that lends itself to that kind of speed."

Bad Religion, though, avoids being too specific in the new songs. Aside from "Robin Hood In Reverse," which takes aim at the policies of the Republican party, the lyrics are more general, touching on problems such as greed, environmental problems and relations between countries and cultures.

If "True North" is not all happy-go-lucky lyrically, it is a fun listen and Baker said it reflects the fresh energy the band (which also includes bassist Jay Bentley, guitarist Greg Hetson and drummer Brooks Wackerman) felt going into the project.

"We had a 30th anniversary not too long ago," he said. "And there was an album (2010's "Dissent Of Man") that coincided with that, it was a darker album in a sense, and a lot of touring. We went to places we'd never been. And we basically worked for two years on the road."

At the end of that run, the band took a break.

"I think we might have played maybe a whopping six shows in 2012," Baker said. "There was this great, kind of cleansing pause, which was not a hiatus. It was just a 'Hey, you know, why don't we just take a breath.'"

But now that "True North" is out, Baker said the band is excited to be back out touring.

The shows will vary from night to night, as the band will work off of several different set lists for the tour. But Baker noted that the group plans to play several "True North" songs as part of a career-spanning set. The nature of the new songs is also having an impact on other material that gets played during the shows.

"Because it's certainly more of a direct and succinct kind of high tempo new record, one thing it will allow us to do is we can play more songs off of the new record," Baker said. "But that (also) leaves a big window open to go and investigate some earlier stuff that may not have been in that same vein. It's kind of going to allow us to open the door to playing, I would think, some more of the midtempo stuff from the 2000s and the '90s that we really don't normally get a chance to do because with a punk rock show especially, there really is a set amount of time you can be up there without it wearing on yourself and on others.

"We've kind of discovered that basically that perfect zone is around 30 songs that can be done and still maintain the audience's interest and ours," he said.