On the surface, it may look like Fugazi has slowed down. The esteemed punk icons are touring less than they ever have, and have only released two new studio albums -- 1995's "Red Medicine" and 1998's

On the surface, it may look like Fugazi has slowed down. The esteemed punk icons are touring less than they ever have, and have only released two new studio albums -- 1995's "Red Medicine" and 1998's "End Hits" -- in the past six years. In 1999, the group issued the Jem Cohen-directed "Instrument," a career-spanning documentary that, in tandem with the provocative title of "End Hits," led many to believe Fugazi may have run its course.

It would be more than easy for these four Washington, D.C., residents to simply rest on the laurels of an exceedingly successful 14-year career. But anyone who has followed the band or even listened to one of its albums knows that receding into the background is not something Fugazi does well. And on the brand new "The Argument," released as usual on group member Ian MacKaye's seminal Dischord label, the quartet is bursting with potent energy and new ideas.

Although guitarist/vocalist Guy Picciotto says the same process is involved in each Fugazi recording, there are some truly fascinating marriages of old and new happening on "The Argument." For the first time, the group invited outside guests into the studio, including longtime roadie Jerry Busher, who plays drums and percussion on eight of the 11 tracks.

"For us, that was the most significant, because generally when we've gone in to record, it's really just been the four of us and an engineer," Picciotto says. Songwriting continues to be a completely collaborative process within the band, but Picciotto admits, "I think even just having Jerry in [the studio] opened up our minds that it doesn't have to be a hermetically sealed chamber."

The album finally opens up evidence of the guilty listening pleasures of Fugazi's membership, from Queen to Led Zeppelin to the MC5. "Full Disclosure" begins as a Picciotto screaming rant, but moves effortlessly into a full-on pop chorus with slick harmony backing vocals, and later, an uncommonly sublime breakdown. "Nightshop" swerves from demented metal riffing to a jangling chorus replete with acoustic guitars and handclaps. The subdued "The Kill," sung by bassist Joe Lally, is a largely studio-borne improvisation that sounds little like anything else in the Fugazi canon.

The songs have benefited from frequent live airings prior to being put to tape. The pointed, anti-globalization rumination "Oh" was featured during a 1999 U.S. tour, while Picciotto estimates that the groovy, MacKaye-sung "Epic Problem" has been around in some form for eight years. "We'd always throw it back into the dustheap and ignore it for awhile," he says. "This is the first time we came up with an arrangement we could live with."

Picciotto attributes the band's recent scarcity of touring to simple responsibilities of adulthood: both Lally and drummer Brendan Canty have young children. Lally also runs the Tolotta label, while Canty has been in demand as a producer for such artists as Lois and the Make-Up. Once everyone's schedules are cleared, Picciotto expects Fugazi to tour North America in a series of two- or three-week spurts beginning in February 2002.

Even the horrors of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the band's hometown ("Joe lives a stone's throw from the Pentagon, and his house was shaken," Picciotto says) won't crush the band -- long known for its critical commentaries on conservative politics and its anti-mainstream stance -- or the fertile D.C. music scene, which continues to churn out innovative acts such as the Dismemberment Plan and Quixotic.

"From Bad Brains on, there have been so many different harvestings of different groups and bands breaking up and ideas being passed on," he says. And with that in mind, Picciotto sees no evidence that Fugazi's demise is on the horizon. "We made it through some of the hardest stuff already," he says, "and I just think as long as we can play together and people are into it, I don't see any reason to stop."