Fight Fire With Fire: Minor Threat vs. Bad Religion

Fight Fire with Fire is an ongoing series on our site where we pit two classic genre albums against each other to definitively figure out which one is better. “But they’re both great!” you’ll say. Yes, these albums are the best of the best. But one is always better. Plus, we love these sorts of exercises, and also love watching you battle each other to the death in the comments, so how could this possibly end poorly?

Today we’re shaving our heads—metaphorically, metaphorically—and taking a look at a pair of classic punk EPs that even as diehard metalheads we absolutely love. Minor Threat and Bad Religion both dropped self-titled EPs in 1981, and these are two of the greatest, most pure documents of developing punk, and of pure youth angst, ever laid to tape. And, also, really, they’re both excellent examples of forward-thinking musicality, even if it seems all caveman all the time. But they both were trailblazing specific strains of punk, and today we’re going to look back and see which of the two stands up as the better punk platter all these wasted years later.

Minor Threat – Minor Threat (1981)

Minor Threat’s debut EP is a landmark punk record, a completely pure expression of outsider teen angst. It’s aged well, and that’s because it’s just an incredibly honest release. I mean, I relate to this differently now as a 45-year-old dad compared to when I was a 16-year-old punker, but I can still relate to it, and that’s saying something. The players—Ian MacKaye on vocals, Brian Baker (later of Bad Religion) on bass, Lyle Preslar on guitar and Jeff Nelson on drums—aren’t virtuoso performers melting minds with their technical chops, but the purity of the playing—all feeling, all the time—is what makes this such an endearing and enduring release.

“Filler” is an absolute classic, just a perfect way to start this EP, all sloppy punk energy and (very) adolescent sloganeering in the lyrics that, hey, worked wonders when we were adolescents. MacKaye’s vocals are the best, and the chaotic guitar untangling near the end never fails to get my blood pumping. The best song we’re going to be looking at today, “Filler” is nothing short of a life-changing anthem.

It’s followed up with “I Don’t Wanna Hear It,” which manages to rage hard but also be incredibly catchy and show some songwriting finesse. I mean, once this song is in your head, it will never leave it, vocal hooks for miles, the band not just hammering through angsty angst here; they’re crafting memorable songs. This one’s been stuck in my head for decades.

“Seeing Red” has the greatest fist-pumping chorus on the EP, and I can’t stress this enough: vocal hooks for miles. “Straight Edge” is, of course, the anthem, a song I loved even during various phases of my life when I was most assuredly not straight edge. Hard to believe this song is only 45 seconds long, considering how legendary it is, but such is the power of the material on this EP. Simple punk riffs done to perfection here, with a great vocal performance.

“Small Man, Big Mouth,” “Screaming at a Wall” and “Bottled Violence” always made up a bit of a thematic trilogy to me, that of anger and unwanted violence set to an angry, consciously violent soundtrack. Each is, of course, awesome, catchy, spirited. Not a moment wasted so far, and “Bottled Violence” features one of the best accidental voice-crackings in a scream ever recorded, for bonus points.

The song “Minor Threat” ends it off and the verses always felt a bit goofy to me, but it is fun, and I never skip it, so that says something. I dunno, it’s almost a moment wasted, its 1:29 not exactly essential time spent, but it’s fun, I suppose, and I love some of the lyrics.

Really, almost all the songs here are incredibly memorable, which is an overlooked aspect of this record, and of this band: these kids knew how to write a damn song. Although no one’s playing stands out as particularly amazing, all told, this is 9:20 of raging, focused punk, with an alarming eye to songwriting smarts for a bunch of young punks in the early ’80s. It holds up well, and, with the exception of parts of the song “Minor Threat,” literally every second is passionate, meaningful and enjoyable. Can the same be said for Bad Religion’s record?

Bad Religion – Bad Religion (1981)

Bad Religion’s Bad Religion kicks off with, uh, “Bad Religion,” and immediately it’s apparent how much more of a raw production sound this has compared to Minor Threat’s offering, but it also becomes apparent come chorus time that this band—made up at the time of Greg Graffin behind the mic, Brett Gurewitz on guitar, Jay Bentley on bass and Jay Ziskrout on drums—has an ear toward the catchier side of things. Obviously that would become more fine-tuned as time went on, but even here you can hear the melodies grappling with the straight-ahead punk and early hardcore. Great opener, and it leads into “Politics” perfectly, the band tapping into that same young-punk spirit that made Minor Threat’s EP so great, the vocal lines not quite as memorable as Minor Threat’s, although this band would later become kings of the memorable vocal line, so no worries there. This song doesn’t play quite as nice as the opening cut does, as it cuts to a leaner and harder core pretty quickly, and it works perfectly.

“Sensory Overload” has a great early-punk energy to the verses, and a Minor Threat rage to the chorus, for a solid side A closer. So far so good, with Bad Religion using a bit more melody than their competitors today but never getting weak with it, songs like this one having a more accessible touch to the vocal lines and riffs than Minor Threat’s material, but never getting too sugary sweet.

“Slaves” kicks off side B with some great melancholy melodies and vocal lines, Bad Religion starting to find their footing pretty good here. There’s a bit of a muddy, cramped feeling to this song, and I like it, the band playing hard to try to make sense of all the chaos.

“Drastic Actions” is the epic at 2:36, and damned if this doesn’t sound like something Suicidal Tendencies would have done on their debut, a mid-tempo punk/rocker with absurdly catchy vocal parts. However, it loses a bit of steam and the vocals feel a bit patchy, the EP’s awesome forward momentum coming to a halt here momentarily. Not bad by any means, but it just kinda slows things down every time.

“World War III” ends it off with a concise and brisk rager, filled with tons of ’80s angst. It’s a great way to close the record, picking up the energy levels again after “Drastic Actions,” Bad Religion playing hard into the final grooves of this classic release. This song could easily be the opening cut on this EP, it’s that good, and that’s a smart way to end a punk EP, unlike Minor Threat’s record, which ends off with the worst track.

However, like Minor Threat’s offering, there’s barely a wasted second here on this EP. Also like Minor Threat’s EP, no one’s playing stands out as incredibly noteworthy—this is early ’80s punk, so I’m not coming here for virtuoso playing, after all. It’s all about the spirit, and this record—like its competitor—has no shortage of it. It also has a better grasp of melodies than its competitor.


I figured this one would be pretty neck in neck, and it is. Despite these two bands occupying extremely different real estate in my brain, the fact of the matter is this is pioneering punk rock from 1981, debut EPs, bands channelling adolescent fury and a nascent sense of songwriting and playing… these records are more connected than I thought before writing this, which is interesting, although none of that gets me any closer to deciding which one is better.

So, where does that leave us? We’ve got two fantastic EPs that seem to be pretty on par on a lot of levels. But punk is all about that gut-level connection, and to me, one of these records connects much harder than the other, and that’s partly because it was always the one I glued myself to more, but also because, wow, the songs, the vocal hooks, the passion: Bad Religion fans don’t wanna hear it, but Minor Threat take home the punk prize today. Their EP has better songs through and through, more of the cuts absolute classics for the ages, everything about the record still connecting so hard all these decades later. The tracks are anthems, they’re defining moments in time and, the reason they’ve won this photo-finish contest, they’re, without a doubt, great songs.

Their competitors put up a great fight, but Minor Threat leave victors today, the youthful energy they laid down so many years ago still ringing loud and true, fighting through all the extreme metal we usually spend our days dissecting to give us a short fast and loud reminder of the power of punk, and of the timelessness of honest music.