Thursday, July 26, 2007

Cro-Mags - The Age of Quarrel

This guest post was done by bob_vinyl over at Rock and Roll and Meandering Nonsense.

One of the best things to happen to both punk and metal in the 80s was the crossover phenomena. What punk often lacked in technical prowess and metal lacked in raw energy was often found in both the burgeoning speedmetal movement and changing hardcore scene. What bands on both sides seemed to find is that Iron Maiden's history and literature lessons and Dio's fantasy world didn't resonate with a lot of kids any more than punk nihilism and anarchism. Instead, both found common ground in things that their audience, largely made up of disaffected youth, could relate to, be it politics, society or lack of control over their own destiny.

While there were fine albums on both sides of the fence, I'm choosing a hardcore record since that's more my turf than metal. You can't make an argument for this album being the first to cross over and even an argument that it's the best example might be tenuous. However, the Cro-Mags' 1986 debut, The Age of Quarrel, is unquestionably a classic.

From the deliberate guitar crunch and drum rolls that open "We Gotta Know," there is little question that this is not the same old hardcore. While John Joseph's vocals are perhaps best in the genre, they don't break out of the hardcore mold. Doug Holland's rhythm guitar work still relies almost exclusively on power chords. But Parris Mayhew's metal riffs show a definite departure from the strict DIY ethic that resulted in so many technical deficiencies among punk and hardcore guitarists (even if those very deficiencies managed to produce a boatload of great music). Likewise, the rhythm section produced departures from the all-out breakneck pace that had previously defined the genre. Unlike most hardcore musicians before him, drummer Mackie could hold his own with some of metal's best.

As with any album in its genre, there is plenty of speed on The Age of Quarrel, but it's the presence of slower parts like the chorus of "World Peace" or the breakdown in "Life of My Own" as well as the altogether slower but equally powerful "Malfunction" and "Seekers of the Truth" that show the influence of metal’s ability to manage its pace rather than go all out all the time.

Along with the metal elements that crossed over, The Age of Quarrel still brings hardcore's offerings to the table as well, particularly with its subject matter. Songs touch in the impossibility of solving the world's problems ("World Peace"), growing up in a rough neighborhood ("Survival of the Streets") and inability to get friends on the right track ("Malfunction"). There are no songs about dragons or science-fiction or history or literature, just the plain, simple truths facing kids in 1986 (and largely today as well).

With the closer, "Signs of the Times," the Cro-Mags offer social commentary on a confused society that still applies today, but the song title itself is particularly telling in retrospect. Little did we know at the time, but this album was in fact a sign of the times and a precursor of what would come.


Anonymous rene said...

I love CROSSOVER Metal from the 80s very much. And CRO-MAGS were great. ALPHA-OMEGA is even more metal then their debut album. Also the old AGNOSTIC FRONT had lots of metal in their music. But to me pure CROSSOVER would be D.R.I, S.O.D, M.O.D,etc...mixing HC and METAL together, and today maybe MUNICIPAL WASTE. Also HIRAX and NUCLEAR ASSAULT had CROSSOVER mixed in their metal music.
HAIL TO OLD CRO-MAGS, their demo also kicked increible ass!!!
Ohhh, lets dont forget about SUICIDAL TENDENCIES.

12:02 PM  
Blogger dschalek said...

I saw these guys open for Venom, of all bands, at the Cabaret Metro in Chicago back in early '86, I think it was. "Not bad for a bunch of skinheads", said the vocalist. They kicked Venom's ass.

4:23 PM  
Blogger Metal Mark said...

I like the album better the last time I heard it (a few years ago) then I did in 1986. However I was originally firmly a metal fan and grudgingly came around to liking some punk bands. The best crossover album came in 85 and 86 and this is probably one of the top ten crossover albums. Unfortunately too many bands that were doing crossover saw dollar signs and starting doing generic speed metal (Agnostic Front, Crumbsuckers,DRI and more after 1986) or generic metal (TSOL) or just crap (Suicidal Tendencies post 1986). The Cro-Mags biggest strength to me was the aggression they brough and natural it came across. Most speed metal bands would have killed to been able to do that half as well as the Cro-Mags did on this album. I am going to likely do a Crossover week some time this year.

6:33 PM  
Blogger Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

Oh, man, what a it!

9:18 AM  

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