The Process of Belief is in many ways a landmark album for Bad Religion.
The record, released last week, marks the Southern California punk veterans' 15th release (counting two live records and an EP).
The Process of Belief marks the Bad Religion debut of Brooks Wackerman, the ex-Suicidal Tendencies/Vandals drummer who replaced Bobby Schayer when shoulder problems forced him to retire last year.
It marks a resurgence in radio popularity for the band, whose "Sorrow" is a current favorite on Los Angeles' influential KROQ-FM and is climbing the Billboard charts.
Perhaps most importantly, though, The Process of Belief marks the return of founding guitarist Brett Gurewitz and Bad Religion's return to the Epitaph label he has been running full-time since leaving the band after 1994's Stranger Than Fiction.
Buzz from critics and longtime fans is that The Process of Belief is as good or better than the breakthrough Stranger Than Fiction, which included the single "21st Century (Digital Boy)."
Even the humble Greg Graffin, the memorable voice behind Bad Religion, knows the album is one of their best.
"From the moment we started rehearsing it, at the time all the songs had been completed, we knew we had a special collection of songs," Graffin said from Epitaph's office on the day of the album's release. "It was just a matter of if we could pull it off as a band. And when we started, it was very clear that this was going to materialize into something good."
Musically, The Process of Belief teeters from the raw Ramones-like energy Bad Religion has perfected over the years and the pop sensibilities Graffin toyed with in American Lesion, his underrated 1997 acoustic solo project.
"Sorrow" and the even better "Broken" punch through with powerful verses, but slow down enough for Graffin to get his groove on in the choruses.
"Ever since the beginning, we had one or two songs [on each album] that were slower tempo and more influenced by classic songwriting styles," Graffin said. "We've always done that and never got played on the radio. To try and shoot for the radio is usually a mistake. But we do like having different-tempo songs on an album. We're just happy radio has picked up this one."
Lyrically, The Process of Belief is far more introspective than anything Bad Religion has ever recorded.
"Brett and I both have gone through a lot of hardships, and we wanted to make a record that reflected some of the wisdom that we learned through those hard times," Graffin said. "You can let adversity bring you down, or you can learn from it and grow from it. I don't want to say there are any certain songs about adversity, but some of us have gone through divorces, and substance abuse has plagued this band. Those are things that we grew up on."
Graffin said he always kept the door open for Gurewitz to return to Bad Religion and never lost his musical chemistry with the guitarist.
"It just so happened that after we delivered our last record to Atlantic, Brett had gotten to a point in his life where he felt like being creative again," Graffin said. "It was really fortunate that he had a lot of pent-up creativity. We started writing without even worrying how the album would come out. It became clear that the most logical place to put the album out would be Epitaph. We had come full circle in our creative relationship, we might as well come full circle in our professional relationship as well."
Bad Religion will promote The Process of Belief with a European tour in February, followed by a North American trek in March with Less Than Jake and Hot Water Music. Before heading overseas, the group will play a free in-store show at Vintage Vinyl in Fords, New Jersey, on Monday and the band will appear on "Late Night With Conan O'Brien" on Tuesday.
Graffin, who has a master's degree in geology from UCLA and is working on a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology at Cornell, said he plans to record another solo album during breaks from Bad Religion and writing his book on evolution and religion as part of his Ph.D. work.
Bad Religion tour dates, according to Epitaph:
- 3/1 - Houston, TX @ Verizon Wireless Theater
- 3/2 - Dallas, TX @ Bronco Bowl
- 3/4 - Lake Buena Vista, FL @ House of Blues
- 3/5 - Sunrise, FL @ Sunrise Musical Theatre
- 3/7 - Atlanta, GA @ The Tabernacle
- 3/8 - Norfolk, VA @ The NorVa
- 3/9 - Washington, DC @ The Nation
- 3/11 - Philadelphia, PA @ Electric Factory
- 3/12 - New York, NY @ Roseland
- 3/14 - Boston, MA @ Avalon
- 3/15 - Montreal, Quebec @ Verdun Auditorium
- 3/16 - Toronto, Ontario @ Kool Haus
- 3/17 - Detroit, MI @ State Theatre
- 3/19 - Chicago, IL @ Aragon Ballroom
- 3/20 - Milwaukee, WI @ Rave Ballroom
- 3/21 - Minneapolis, MN @ Roy Wilkins Auditorium
- 3/23 - Denver, CO @ Magness Arena
- 3/25 - Seattle, WA @ Moore Theatre