The venerable Southern California hardcore/pop-punk band Bad Religion has become a lot easier to respect than to enjoy. Two decades and a dozen albums into its recording career, it still adheres to its much-traveled musical and political formulas, wrapping up wordy progressive screeds in speedball pacing and layered hooks even as its sound has drifted in and out of style. But after 2000's The New America, an intriguing collaboration with producer Todd Rundgren that found Bad Religion's music expanding and evolving, The Process Of Belief plunges right back into oppressively rigid formula. Singer Greg Graffin still spits out dense, intricately crafted phrases with the rote patter that's made him one of rock's most emotionally distant frontmen. (From "Kyoto Now!": "The media parading disjointed politics / found in all petrochemical plunder / and we're its hostages.") At their worst, Bad Religion's songs have all the passion and sparkle of sociology lectures, only more monotonous and delivered at quadruple-speed. After The New America hinted at creative advancement, The Process Of Belief finds the group back to its familiar grind. Longtime fans should be pleased with the long-anticipated return of guitarist Brett Gurewitz, not to mention Bad Religion's return to Gurewitz's legendary Epitaph label, but behind-the-scenes improvements don't do much good when they're accompanied by dispiriting creative regression.
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