Someimes bands find themselves dropping politicized, socially-aware records that time reveals to be almost laughably sincere. Every once in a while, a work comes along like For Blood And Empire, Anti-Flag’s magnum opus and a savvy statement with a pertinence and staying power that means it feels as vital today as when it was first released.
After all, as the band’s bassist, Chris Barker, AKA Chris 2, notes, the record is almost prophetic in terms of its analysis of the media and its intersection with American politics – particularly given the post-Trump era we now live in.
“We’ve been rehearsing,” Barker says. “One of the things I noticed is that so much of [For Blood And Empire] is about the failure of the media to be the watchdog of the powerful. Ten years later you look at Donald Trump, who is 100 per cent a by-product of that same fact. We haven’t held politicians accountable and journalists don’t act as journalists: they act as ratings warriors who are looking for stories that are going to be exciting versus being the truth.”
Indeed, though president-elect Trump is a threat, as far as Barker’s concerned, the real problem lies with a range of troubling forces that have been present for years. “There’s a lot of really apropos social commentary on Blood And Empire that really fits on what’s happening in the world, whether it be global terrorism or Monsanto and the company’s recent merger,” he says. “The global conglomerate takeover of what we eat, and what we’re able to buy and what we’re able to ingest on a daily basis.”
Part of Barker’s issue lies in the deliberate obfuscation of the truth, a problem not unfamiliar to Australians. After all, the media in this country provides wall-to-wall coverage for people like Pauline Hanson, and though Andrew Bolt frequently squeals about the restrictions of his freedom, he has a platform few others have been blessed with.
“We’re giving a voice and allowing discussions with people we really shouldn’t,” says Barker. “We should cut them off before they begin. As a journalist, your job is to say, ‘Science is real, black lives matter.’
“We’re allowing people a voice to say the opposite of the truth, and it’s wrong. Facts are facts. We’ve given space for people to allow their arguments to be spoken as though they’re valid, and some of them aren’t.”
It’s not like Barker and his bandmates haven’t offered up such a bold analysis of the press cycle before – Press Corpse, one of the most blistering tunes on For Blood And Empire,takes journalists and editors to task. Is Barker proud of his prescience, then? “I think in a lot of ways a lot of the songs make more sense now than they did in 2006,” he says. “But you never what to look at it as, ‘Oh, we were right.’ But I found myself going, ‘This was the stuff we were talking about. This is what we were warning ourselves of falling into, and that’s where we are.’ ”
That said, For Blood And Empire is far from a depressing album: it rattles and rages with its own very real sense of hope, and every line about oppression is countered by one about resistance. As far as Barker is concerned, such counter-aggression was fostered by the very real sense of support the band felt at the time. “Back then, when we were writing Blood And Empire, it seemed like everywhere you looked someone was opposing George W. Bush and Tony Blair and their war of aggression in the Middle East. That made us feel like we weren’t alone. That’s where those songs came from.
“Of the records we’ve brought into the touring world, probably the two that we’ve played the most of have been For Blood And Empire and American Spring,” he continues. “Those are the records where we’re at our most hopeful.
Though the American election has depressed Barker, he’s gained a strange sense of purpose from all the bile that has been brewed up. “We all do much better with an enemy. As frustrating as it is to be in the predicament where we have an enemy, it means we’re more focused, and it allows us to channel our creativity and energy into challenging something to be better.”
By Joseph Earp