It has been 20 long years since we have heard a new full-length album from New York's seminal hardcore outfit CRO-MAGS. They released a pair of EPs—"Don't Give In" and "From The Grave"—last year via Victory Records, but amid the current period of global chaos and turmoil, the legendary band that was born from the violent streets of the New York's Lower East Side couldn't have released its new long player at a more appropriate time. "In The Beginning" is the product of the Harley Flanagan unit, as the longstanding in-fighting eventually led to the legal settlement allowing Flanagan to obtain ownership of the CRO-MAGS name, while singer John Joseph and drummer Mackie Jayson perform under the moniker CRO-MAGS "JM". Listeners' allegiance toward specific camps may vary, but regardless of what the band name is, Harley Flanagan is indisputably a hardcore pioneer, and "In The Beginning" is an excellent and memorable hardcore album.
Bassist and lead vocalist Flanagan is accompanied these days by drummer Garry "G-Man" Sullivan as well as guitarists Gabby Abularach and Rocky George (SUICIDAL TENDENCIES, FISHBONE)—an impressive lineup, to be sure. The unit has produced an album that won't be as revered as the classic CRO-MAGS 1986 debut "The Age of Quarrel"—a milestone that bridged punk and thrash metal into a blueprint for crossover—but in terms of quality, "In The Beginning" is one of the band's better albums. Unlike the aforementioned debut, however, the new record eschews the more overtly metal-driven dynamics and edge in favor of more prominent, hardcore stylized songs in the vein of SICK OF IT ALL or MADBALL.
The new, 13-track effort begins with the trio of songs that constitute the "Don't Give In" EP. The lyrics are rife with rage and angst, yet at its core there's an uplifting sense of survival, hope and perseverance. The meaning and sentiment is delivered musically in the form of a hybrid of eighties and nineties hardcore that's encompassed by a modern, crystal-clear production aesthetic. And, desirably, the production doesn't drown the music's inherent coarseness.
In spite of the underlying anger, the most prominent feeling at the heart of "In The Beginning" is the spirit of triumph, a reason to keep pushing forward through adversity. Songs like "Don't Give In" and "No Turning Back" are abundant with the anthemic qualities staple to hardcore. "Between Wars", a nearly six-minute-long, brooding instrumental, provides a likable contrast to the abrasion that's plastered across the rest of the album. Elsewhere, tracks like "No One's Victim" and "Two Hours" rest atop slow grooves that are simple, infectious and catchy.
The significance of Harley Flanagan and the CRO-MAGS in the realm of hardcore simply can't be overstated. It's fair to say that the band's name is synonymous with hardcore. The pioneering NYHC act has reached outside of hardcore by influencing such notable and varied bands as NIRVANA, GREEN DAY and METALLICA. Sure, they aren't likely to release an album as profound and powerful as "The Age of Quarrel" again. But the legendary act, whose core foundation has splintered into two entities, proves its continued relevance with "In The Beginning".