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Cro-Mags - the Age of Quarrel
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.
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.