Damaged is the quintessential hardcore album, but it was also more musically adept than most other hardcore albums of the time. With Dez on rhythm, Ginn was freed up to be a proper lead guitarist, which brought an unexpected free jazz/metal influence to the chaotic tempo, couple that with Dukowski's bass playing, which could easily keep pace with Ginn's wildly expressive attacks, Damaged set the bar for others to aspire to. Rollins was pure id, an explosive vehicle for the songs. Though he only has one writing credit on the whole album, he took the songs to heart, embodied them, and fired them at the audience with an intensity rarely seen. The Black Flag guys were all a little older and Rollins certainly provided them with some youthful exuberance.
The album opens with "Rise Above," as perfect an example of a punk anthem as ever written by anyone. The songs, many already recorded with one or all of the previous singers, blaze by, like "Spray Paint" which clocks in at about thirty seconds. Interestingly, side A is full of anthemic, shorter punk songs, like "Police Story" and "Gimme Gimme Gimme, " while side B is far darker and more emotional and points towards the heavier, more metallic sound that Flag would evolve over the next two years, especially the slower closing track "Damaged I."
Side A has some of Flag's most well known songs, "Six Pack," "TV Party," "Thirsty and Miserable,"and "Gimme Gimme Gimme," that were staples of live sets and in the case of "TV Party" an actual video. Side B opens with a well known Flag song, "Depression," which was featured in the film The Decline of the Western Civilization with Ron Reyes on vocals. Rollins sings "Depression" like its autobiographical, like he's exorcising demons, like he might hang himself when the song is over. And that's about as pop as Side B gets. "Room 13, " "Damaged II," "No More," "Life of Pain," "Padded Cell," and "Damaged I" almost play as one long psycho drama. To me, this is where Black Flag becomes Black Flag. While others swear by the first four years, I'm a last four years guy. Side A says good bye to the past and Side B says hello to the future.
Damaged paved the way for more metal coming into hardcore and punk and I think an argument could be made for it being the first crossover album, which DRI and Corrosion of Conformity would popularize in a few short years when they transformed from hardcore to metal. Other hardcore bands would embrace metal as well, like Boston's SS Decontrol and LA's TSOL, but they went in a more Motely Crue direction, where DRI and COC embraced thrash metal, which itself was influenced by Black Flag as well as the New Wave of British Heavy Metal.
A few years ago, a double live album appeared on line, capturing Black Flag during the brief era following Robo's departure where DOA's Chuck Biscuits took over drumming duties. It was 1982 and the gig was at On Broadway in San Francisco. What's important about this release, is that it contains one unreleased track, "Martyrs," and features "I've Got To Run" which was previously only available as a B side to "TV Party," along with some early frenetic versions of songs, like "I Can't Decide," which would later be honed to perfection for My War. The album was recorded across two nights and is the only official Black Flag release with Chuck Biscuits. The 1982 demoes were bootlegged and similar to these On Broadway gigs, gives a fuller picture of what My War could have been if Dez, Biscuits, and Dukowski had remained in the band. There are some growing pains evident in On Broadway, like Rollins blowing his voice out, as he was still growing as a vocalist and also the crowd's hostility and the band just being done with their shit, for example; there's a point early in the second gig where people are telling Rollins to get a haircut. He asks them, "who's starting a religion? I don't want to get caught up in the religious fervor." And Dukowski tells them they have a stick up their ass.
To me, On Broadway is a massively important document and I was really excited for its release, but for the more casual fan, it may not hold as much of a place in their heart. People should
check it out for "Martyrs" at the very least, as I've never come across another recording of it and its an excellent track. Similarly, the 1982 demoes are worth tracking down for the track "What Can You Believe" which has never been released elsewhere either- not to mention faster versions of "My War" and "Black Coffee."