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Activist punk rockers Anti-Flag have spent more than three decades merging aggressive guitar attack with raucous, engaging melodies as they share their lyrical broadsides against war, fascism, oppressive governments, economic inequality, and violent police. For their uncompromising views, they've found fans among all stripes of punk rock, from NoFX prankster Fat Mike (whose Fat Wreck Chords label has issued some of their work) to Rage Against the Machine (who took them on tour as their opening act). From their ferocious beginnings on 1996's Die for the Government, they've been willing to experiment with a more melodic approach (2001's Underground Network), ambitious studio technique (2008's The Bright Lights of America, produced by frequent David Bowie collaborator Tony Visconti), and a harder metal-influenced guitar sound (2015's American Spring). For 2023's Lies They Tell Our Children, the band incorporated a roster of notable guest artists without blunting their vision or sense of purpose. Hailing from Pittsburgh, Anti-Flag was formed by guitarist and lead singer Justin Sane and drummer Pat Thetic, who began working up material in 1988. Their first attempt at getting the band off the ground -- with Sane's sister Lucy Fester on bass -- faltered after a single show, but in 1992, they decided to give the project another try, this time with bassist Andy Flag. The second edition of the group proved more stable, and by year's end, they'd self-released a demo cassette, 17 Song Demo. (The tape would be reissued on CD and LP in 2021.) A revised version, 11 Song Demo, appeared months later, and a live session at a Cleveland radio station provided most of the tracks for a third cassette, 1993's 9 Song Demo. Extensive regional touring spread word about the band and tightened their attack, and in 1996 Anti-Flag struck a deal with New Red Archives to issue their first proper album, Die for the Government. Shortly after its release, Andy Flag left the group, and Chris Head took over as their bassist. It soon became obvious that Head was a better rhythm guitarist than a bassist, and they became a quartet with the arrival of Jamie Towns, who signed on as bassist so Head could move to guitar. Towns only lasted two years with Anti-Flag, and Chris Barker (aka Chris No. 2, nicknamed to avoid confusion with Head) was on board as bassist in time to record the group's second LP, 1999's A New Kind of Army, which was released in tandem by Go-Kart Records and the band's own A-F label. (A-F's first release was 1998's Their System Doesn't Work for You, a compilation featuring material from a split release with Canadian punks d.b.s. and unreleased radio recordings.) Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine was impressed with A New Kind of Army, and invited Anti-Flag to open a string of shows for RATM, introducing them to arena-sized audiences for the first time. Anti-Flag took part in the 2000 Vans Warped Tour, where they found that some fans liked what they were doing and others didn't care for their forthright political views. On the tour, they got to know Fat Mike, leader of funny punks NoFX, who had offered to put out A New Kind of Army on one of his labels, Honest Don's Records. Anti-Flag turned him down, but they accepted a deal to put out their third album on his Fat Wreck Chords imprint, 2001's Underground Network, which showed greater studio savvy while still making a strong musical and lyrical statement. In February 2002, the band released Mobilize, which featured eight new studio tracks and eight live versions of tunes from their back catalog; it included the song "911 for Peace," a protest against America's military response to the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. The War on Terror informed the group's next release, The Terror State, their second release for Fat. In 2005, the fiercely independent band surprised fans by signing with RCA Records, a major label that gave them full creative control over their music and packaging. Anti-Flag's first album for RCA, 2006's For Blood and Empire, included liner essays that expanded on the themes of the songs, as well as a pair of stencils suitable for spray-painting. When Chris No. 2's sister and her boyfriend were killed in a violent incident, the group responded by releasing an EP through A-F Records, A Benefit for Victims of Violent Crime, a mix of studio and live material that raised funds for the Center for Victims of Violence and Crime. For 2008's The Bright Lights of America, Anti-Flag worked with producer Tony Visconti, who had collaborated with iconic artists such as David Bowie, T. Rex, Sparks, and Thin Lizzy; Visconti added keyboards and string arrangements to some of the tracks, as well as a children's chorus. The Bright Lights of America was the second and last album under Anti-Flag's deal with RCA. Using money from their advance, the band built a personal studio, where they cut 2009's The People or the Gun, their first release for SideOneDummy Records. In 2010, they set out on a North American tour that was sponsored in part by Amnesty International, Greenpeace, and PETA. 2012's The General Strike was also cut in the group's own studio for SideOneDummy, and in 2014, Fat issued A Document of Dissent: 1993-2013, a 26-track sampler of the band's first 20 years as recording artists. In 2013, the group debuted another 20th anniversary project, a series of six EPs titled Twenty Years of Hell; each release featured two re-recorded tracks from Anti-Flag, along with two songs from bands they admired. Anti-Flag's tracks from the EP series were later compiled on the 2015 LP Cease Fires. The group jumped to Spinefarm Records, a metal-leaning indie label, for 2015's American Spring, which included guest appearances from Tim Armstrong of Rancid and their sometimes-mentor Tom Morello. A companion album, 2017's American Fall, was produced by Benji Madden of Good Charlotte, and debuted in the Top Ten of the U.S. Hard Rock Albums chart. Between those two releases, Anti-Flag issued 2016's Live Acoustic at 11th Street Records, recorded during an in-store appearance at a Las Vegas record shop, and 2018's American Reckoning was an acoustic studio set featuring new interpretations of songs from American Spring and American Fall, as well as several covers. A three-night stand in 2017 at the Troubadour Club in Los Angeles was recorded, and highlights from the shows appeared on 2017's Live, Vol. 1, while more of the material appeared on 2019's Live, Vol. 2. While Anti-Flag were always politically outspoken, they usually didn't call out particular elected officials, not wanting their songs to become dated. They made an exception for 20/20 Vision, an album that confronted Donald Trump and the scandals of his administration head-on; later the same year, an expanded deluxe edition was released, 20/20 Division, which featured five bonus tracks. The band brought in a variety of guest stars to record 2023's Lies They Tell Your Children, including Minor Threat and Bad Religion guitarist Brian Baker, Jesse Leach of Killswitch Engage, Tim McIlrath of Rise Against, Campino of Die Toten Hosen, and Ashrita Kumar of Pinkshift.
© Mark Deming /TiVo
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