Retro-review: ‘Rock For Light’ by Bad Brains

Thrash metal and punk have always been closely connected in a rather incestuous way.

That connection goes further back than D.R.I.’s 1987 album Crossover, which is credited with creating the fused thrash/punk genre. But thrash metal itself goes back to the early 80s when bands like Metallica took the aggression of punk rock and combined it with the musicianship of 1970s heavy metal.

There’s lots of bands that could be credited with this raw aggressiveness that gave birth to thrash metal. You’ll probably never arrive on a single one, but when it comes to influence, Bad Brains is near the top, particularly their 1983 album Rock For Light.

While the Bad Brains never broke into the mainstream during their heyday, the bands they have influenced went on to make huge marks on music. One of those they made an impression on was Kurt Cobain of Nirvana, who said Rock For Light was one of his favorite albums. Another fan is Beastie Boy Adam Yauch.

It’s also largely because of this album that they’ve had their name pushed for the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame sometime down the road.

Bad Brains doesn’t only bring the aggression and rage of punk and thrash, but also throw a little reggae in as well.

Rastafarianism was a big influence on them at the time and it’s definitely felt on this album.

There are two editions of this album. I will be reviewing that original 1983 edition. The other edition is a 1991 reissue with a few extra songs in a different order.

The lineup on Rock For Light is H.R. on vocals; Darryl Jenifer on bass, backing vocals, and percussion; Earl Hudson on drums, backing vocals and percussion; and Dr. Know on guitar, backing vocals, piano and organ.

The album

Bad Brains doesn’t waste anytime cranking things up to 11.

As soon as “Coptic Light” kicks in, you can hear how Bad Brains would influence the crossover movement that was still a few years down the road. There’s a lot in this song you’ve probably heard other artists take and make their own in following years. That can be said about the whole album. It’s a great song and does what a first song should: Make you want to hear more.

Notably, one of the first things you’ll notice on the album are H.R.’s vocals. They aren’t the traditional punk shouts or metal vocals. Instead they’re sort of a nasally whine, which works for the band.

H.R. is not timid about pushing his vocals to different places. The title track, “Rock for Light,” has H.R. is probably his most adventurous track, taking his vocals to an extreme that’s almost bewildering.

Tracks “We Will Not” and “Destroy Babylon” with its shouted chorus and shredding solo both embody the aggression that would put this album on the map.

Of all the tracks Riot Squad” sees the Bad Brains at their most aggressive and has everything a good metal song should. It’s got the growl, the shredding guitar and the rhythm.

There are some traditional punk numbers here as well, starting with the second song “Attitude.” Other standout largely striaight up punk songs  which include standouts “FVK” and “Banned in D.C.

Now, I can’t call all of these songs “totally” straight up punk. That’s largely due to the guitar solo and structure, which includes very metal interludes and sound. Among this lot I’d say the stand out is “Banned in D.C.” which is fast and actually very tonal. It actually sounds way better live, but the album version is great too. It’s a song made for moshing, that’s for sure.

Rally Round Jah Throne” sees the band experiment outside of the hard rock genre and dip their toe into reggae, something they would do throughout their career. This reaggae vibe is also in “The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth.”

The verdict

Would I recommend this album? Yes, I would. As far as albums go, this is one that lives up to its reputation. While it’s not one I’d say “go out and pay full price for it right away” I’d say it’s definitely one to keep an eye out for or give a listen to on YouTube for free.

Rock For Light is a definite classic and for fans of hard music in general, it’s an important piece of history.