It’s been a very productive couple of years for Cro-Mags kingpin Harley Flanagan. He won the rights to the band name and we finally got to hear not one but two new releases from the hardcore punk legend in the form of Don’t Give In and From the Grave. Both were, for the most, part very good releases, harking back to different periods of the band’s history. You may have noticed that I referenced the band in singular form above. Well the reasoning behind that, is essentially that’s what Cro-Mags in 2020 is. This is Harley’s show and whilst he has assembled some top musicians within the metal/hardcore world, the general consensus indicates that the world misses the Cro-Mags as a unit. But for the sake of this review let’s try and put band politics aside and concentrate on the new full length In The Beginning, which itself encapsulates the two aforementioned E.P’s and a slew of other new tracks.
Ferocious familiarity sets the ball rolling as Don’t Give in slams in, with an intro that brings to mind the ‘Mags classic We Gotta Know, before morphing into classic eighties thrash core. Ex-Suicidal Tendencies guitarist Rocky George was roped in to play on the record and has proved to be a shrewd signing by Harley, who clearly knows what he wants from this record. George’s signature licks dominate this album. The pummelling continues with Drag You Under, taking us back to the Age of Quarrel era of the band as does From The Grave featuring a stint on guitar by none other than Motorhead legend Phil Campbell.
The dirty low end emitting from Harley’s blood soaked bass signals the beginning of No One’s Coming, where Harley doubles down on the fact that if you want something done, you’ve got to do it yourself. Again, if you are a fan of Rocky George’s playing then you owe it to yourself to check out The Final Test and its sublime intro. Big stomping drums, accompany samples and Harley’s rants on Two Hours, a track that brings to mind Suicidal classics like Join The Army or Pledge Your Allegiance. Over the years we’ve become accustomed to Harley’s penchant for an instrumental so he drops another one here with Between Wars which, whilst it’s a great big of music, is not necessarily something we would want on a Cro-Mags album. Finishing the album off strongly we get the venom of What You Believed, where we find Harley venting about his troubled last few years and if we are honest, there’s not many people who are as sincerely angry as Harley when it comes to delivering a barb.
There are J.J people and there are Harley people, but most people would agree that they would love to see the two together on a stage again; but it will be a cold day in hell before that happens. In the meantime Harley is delivering on all fronts with new Cro-Mags music, and providing a very good counter argument to those who say he doesn’t deserve the Cro-Mags name. You can take it or leave it. But I suggest you take it, mainly because on its own merit this a great hardcore record, but also because until somebody else steps forward with a better album, this is the future of one of our scenes most beloved bands. And so far it’s in very good hands... Chris Andrews
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