Archetypal hardcore punk, the Cro-Mags thrust aside social contrivance to speak a plain truth and tell everyone else to back off, in the process helping develop the techniques and realistic, neo-Machiavellian worldview later adopted by underground bands.
flag of the United States Cro-Mags - the Age of Quarrel (1986)
Cro-Mags - Best Wishes (1989)
the Age of Quarrel

Production: Stolid basic studio with appropriate clarity.

Review: As inertia crests its apex clarity emerges in silhouette to the perspective of topography falling away beneath, in hardcore punk music an insurgent curve emerging with the Cro-Mags who introduced counterpoise riff composition that presaged death metal and a realist outlook on life through the kaleidoscopic brutality of the streets of New York, itself both a glittering testament to modernity and a rotting declension to an insidious industrial age.


1. We Gotta Know
2. World Peace
3. Show You No Mercy
4. Malfunction
5. Street Justice
6. Survival of the Streets
7. Seekers of the Truth
8. It's the Limit
9. Hard Times
10. By Myself
11. Don't Tread on Me
12. Face the Facts
13. Do Unto Others
14. Life of My Own
15. Signs of the Times
Length: 33:33

Cro-Mags - the Age of Quarrel - punk hardcore crossover 1986 Profile Records
Copyright © 1986 Profile

Casting their music in the striated liquid of distorted power chords, the Cro-Mags use minimalism to make abrupt versions of the more aggressive rock music, amplifying its intensity by increasing its focus in a polarization not unlike a laser. Yet like heavy metal, songs use introductory riffs, and while they cycle between verse-chorus riffs, they break up these patterns with rhythm and phrasal divergence in riffs, also layering drums and bass and guitar in patterns repeating in overlay at different ratios throughout the work.

The result is the unique, metal-esque sense of prismatism, where a narrative composition returns in an evolving ring, modifying itself each time in an evolution driven by the poetic structure of each song. Riffcraft takes hardcore to its final stage by using two- and three-variant endings to budget riffs of a couple chords and a rhythm, enabling the development of motif and, like metal songs, having an odd sense of poor man's counterpoint where patterns occur at different harmonic locations in inverted or repeated direction, creating a topography of sound from mutations of the same basic idea.

In their embrace of a literality that sees reality as an ambiguous good derived from the service of both positive and negative, and a rejection of the underlying dominant theory of keeping peace by suppressing unpleasant conflict, the Cro-Mags also amplified hardcore to the point where the only remaining outlet is a Viking funeral: all illusions have been rejected and raw warfare is shown as the default state of humankind, eliminating the founding idea of rock music which was to simplify music and offer it like a TV dinner to a credulous couchbound mass. Lyrics about street battle, honor among the alienated, and a distrust of the prevailing illusion in both mainstream and populist form create a cachet for this band that has since been approximated by acts as diverse as Pantera and Public Enemy.

Aspects of this album show age but do not fix it at a time; first, the vocals are squirrely and vary between riot shouts and the kind of quasi-squealed, half-roared provocation that begins gang fights. Instrumentation and technique immediately got an upgrade through crossover and later death metal, to which this is very close in its tendency to make phrasal riffs (some precursors of other New York luminaries, like Incantation) and stratified texture shifting in temporal layers to reveal a topography of dynamic space implied by the sound. However, when taken as a whole, it stands above hardcore of the time and of now through its focus on the tangible as the literal as the real.


1. Death camps
2. Days of confusion
3. The only one
4. Down but not out
5. Crush the demoniac
6. Age of quarrel
Length: 25:48

Best Wishes (Profile Records, 1989)
All good things must end, and those that burn brightest last least, as they reach an apex and detonate. When that occurs yet external pressure persists an analogue must be made forgoing goals for the methods that once achieved them, plus randomness of musicians casting about for inspiration in technique, creating an amalgam of past visions ungrasped and current influences not quite internalized. The resulting salad confuses: appropriately, the Cro-Mags return with an album that has as many bits of Metallica's "Ride the Lightning" as past punk glories, including a saturation of solos, catchier choruses and smoother vocals. While the vocals on the original were annoying, now they are insincere; while the instrumentalism and musical knowledge are greater, they fill a void of momentum that limply gestures at an idea once not quite remembered in time for its creation. Avoid this album.
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