Cro-Mags – In the Beginning Review

The Cro-Mags story is one as brash, bold and bruising as the New York City streets that birthed the seminal hardcore act. Their The Age of Quarrel debut was an instant classic, making them a supporting column of the burgeoning New York hardcore scene during the 80s. However, near constant infighting and massive personality conflicts between founder/bassist Harley Flanagan and on and off again frontman, John Joseph Bloodclot, all but assured their reign would be brief. Their history reads like a never ending feud between members and their discography suffered greatly from all the dysfunctions and malfunctions. In the Beginning is the first Cro-Mags album in 20 years, coming after Flanagan won a trademark lawsuit granting him sole rights to the Cro-Mags name. Knowing the band’s nasty and divisive backstory all too well as a long suffering fan, I was very leary of what this new era might bring. Surprisingly, this does indeed play like a new beginning, revisiting the raw, rowdy street hardcore of their past with enough metal in its DNA to crossover to wider audiences.  If you need an album engineered to kick your ass and take your lunch money, this is that back alley thug.

After a slow, tension-building intro clearly designed as a call back to the opening of The Age of Quarrel, “Don’t Give In” erupts in a flurry of street justice with Harley’s classic hardcore bellows joined by thick driving riffs to clear the asphalt with raw power and savagery. This is the Cro-Mags of old, not far from what was last heard on Best Wishes, and it’s really great to hear them sound so vibrant and vital again. The punches come in bunches with followups “Drag You Under,” and “No One’s Victim” taking no prisoners and giving zero shits about what’s trendy in modern music. This is 100% pure NYC crossover and it will break your face as soon as look at you. For you non-hardcore folks, imagine Vulgar Display of Power stuffed through a punk rock filter set to FUCK YOU! It’s meatheaded, macho, testosterone-fueled stuff and it will get you angry.

Cuts like “From the Grave” and “PTSD” deliver everything a Cro-Mags fan could hope for in 2020 and more, with the latter reeking of vintage Agnostic Front. Nearly the whole album will be moved to my powerlifting playlist and big gains will result. It isn’t until ninth track “Two Hours” that the album stumbles. It’s a message kind of tune about the decisions you make in the moment that can screw your life over forever. While the “prison isn’t worth the crime” angle is heartfelt, the delivery is very ham-handed, with reams of profanity and reflective voice overs, becoming almost a parody of itself1 that hurts the flow of the album. Another issue is “Between Wars,” a 6-plus minute instrumental. It has very cool moments and interesting Indian vibes reflecting the band’s interest in Hinduism, almost sounding like something Killing Joke would come up with. It’s just too long though and it doesn’t fit with the bloody knuckles and baseball bat brutality surrounding it, acting like a drag on the seething, vicious energy the album is precision crafted to project. These problems are relatively minor though as most of the tracks kick a great deal of ass while remaining anthemic and catchy.

Harley does a great job with his vocals. He still has a very effective hardcore roar and ugly sneer, and he sounds as authentic and real as anyone in the New York scene could. The man’s been through some really hard times and his vocals definitely convey that ugly journey. His bass-work is also great, adding a heavy low-end punch to the music. On board to lay down the riffs is long-time Cro-Mag, Gabby Abularach, and he’s joined by Rocky George (ex-Suicidal Tendencies).2 The duo deliver one furious, brain cracking riff after another, with Rocky adding some really slick, interesting solos and colorful flourishes. What the band does sounds brutally simple on first impression, but the music is deceptively deep when you really listen and absorb it.

In the Beginning is easily the best Cro-Mags outing since 1989s Best Wishes, and considering all the bullshit the band has been through (and put themselves through), this is a way better album than anyone had a right to expect. I hope Harley and crew can keep things stable and moving in a positive direction, because it’s great to have the band back and sounding strong again. The New York scene needs this kind of ass kicking wake up call. Let’s see if Cro-Mags can keep delivering it in the years to come.3


Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Mission Two Entertainment
Websites: cro-mags.com | facebook.com/realcromags
Releases Worldwide: June 19th, 2020

Show 3 footnotes

  1. Think Scared Straight the Musical.
  2. Considering the infamous feuds between Suicidal Tendencies and Cro-Mags back in the day, it never ceases to amaze me that Rocky has been jamming with Harley on and off since 1999.
  3. If you’ve never heard The Age of Quarrel, I strongly encourage you to check it out as well as Best Wishes.
« »