Harley Flanagan – Cro-Mags (2016)

Harley Flanagan - Cro-Mags (2016)

“Punk’s not dead,” goes the old joke, “It’s only sleeping.” Since the mid-1980s, very little of interest has come from the punk community as it has struggled to deal with its popularity. Teenagers want rebellious music, but they want it to be safe enough that they can use it for those difficult teen years, then move on to lite jazz and album-oriented rock as they age.

As a result, punk became a market, and that market favored brain-dead angry rebellion that did not shake any actual foundations but simply attacked socially-acceptable enemies with a more angry approach. Punk went Leftist in the 1980s, but it is more accurate to say it “went bourgeois,” or searching for targets it could bash without really offending anyone. It is always acceptable to target cops and Hitler, but not so much to mention anything which could make us all doubt our participation in society.

The Cro-Mags were a breath of fresh air in this dying scene. Like other classics of hardcore punk — Amebix, Discharge, The Exploited, Black Flag — they paired a Leftist distrust of the profit motive with a right-wing view that human culpability at the individual level was destroying our society from within. This complex view makes for uneasy coexistence with people who depend on both profit motive and patriotic views of strong defense and economy.

Harley Flanagan, bassist and founding member of the Cro-Mags who identifies Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead as his greatest influence, drove his band to create a form of punk that was actually rebellious. For many of us, “World Peace” was an early Red Pill, awakening us to the fact that the most cherished values of our society were in fact moronic illusions that were consequently quite popular. People love an excuse to turn off the brain and go with the flow.

Nothing as intense as the Cro-Mags could last, and after a brilliant first album (The Age of Quarrel in 1986) the band struggled with internal instability, putting out a speed metal influenced album (Best Wishes in 1989) and a softer, more contemplative and Hindu-influenced take on punk with Alpha Omega (1992) and Near Death Experience (1993). One version of the band released a followup in 2000, and several compilations have tried to resurrect the early material, most notably the demo/live compilation Before the Quarrel (2000).

Cro-Mags, the most recent solo offering from Flanagan, channels quite a bit of rage at the personality conflict behind the collapse of this once-great band, but also at the collapse of hardcore itself. Interestingly, it merges the speed metal era Cro-Mags with their earlier intensity to come up with a metal-influenced (but not metal-flavored) blast of rage and melancholic isolation.

Songs on this album take a form of simple riff loops with introductions and interludes, often fading out in explosive and sometimes bluesy solos. Musical focus targets a good solid riff and a strong chorus that plays off the tension in that riff, guided by the vocals of Flanagan which vary between angry riot shouts and a type of unnervingly emotional but aggressive singing that has never been done successfully in hardcore before.

Like most return albums, this is a foray that tests different waters. The band experiments with — or mocks — Pantera-style riffing on “I’ll Fuck You Up” and revisits punk and metal riff archetypes with earlier songs. None of these are off-the-shelf however; in each one, the riffing remains distinct enough to be its own entity, a hybrid of Motorhead and punk hardcore and the aggressive speed metal from Slayer, Exodus and Metallica with a voice unique to itself.

The question before the reviewer is not whether Cro-Mags is a decent comeback album or an acceptable substitute for the Cro-Mags, but whether the music stands on its own. Over the course of several listens, I have concluded that it deserves listening on its own merit. These are aggressive but thoughtful songs with a core of dissident outlook not toward politics, but toward humanity and its default impulses as a whole, and in so doing it continues and enhances the best of what hardcore punk had to offer.

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9 thoughts on “Harley Flanagan – Cro-Mags (2016)”

  1. Rodney Ugs says:

    I always thought the joke was “Punks not dead, it only smells funny”. Maybe I am thinking of Zappa on Jazz.

  2. RaJ says:

    Raj asked Buddha, “Reverend Sir, how come my mind wanders around to forbidden places and yours does not?” “Sir, how come I do back-biting and you don’t?” “Sir, how come I don’t have compassion for others, while you have?” All the questions that Raj asked were of similar nature.

    Buddha replied, “Raj, your questions are good, but it seems to me that in 24 hours from now you will die.”

    Raj got up and started getting ready to go.

    Buddha asked, “Raj, what happened? You came with such vitality now you are totally dismayed.”

    Raj said, “Sir, my mother told me that your words are true and are to be held in high esteem. So please let me go so that I may meet my family members, friends and others before I die.”

    Buddha said, “But there are still 24 hours. Sit, we will talk more.”

    Raj said, “Reverend Sir, please let me go. I must meet my people before I die.”

    So Raj left and went home. Met his mother and started crying. The word spread. His friends came; other family members came; neighbors came. Everyone was crying with Raj. Time flew.

    Raj was busy either crying or counting the hours. When only 3 hours were left, he pulled up a cot and lay down. Although the Death had not yet arrived, poor Raj was kind of dead.

    When only an hour was left, Buddha walked in.

    Buddha said to Raj, “Raj, why are you lying down on the cot with your closed eyes. Death is still an hour away. And an hour is 60 minutes long. That’s a lot of time. Get up, let us talk.”

    Raj: “Sir, what is it now that you want to talk? Just let me die peacefully.”

    Buddha: “Raj, there is still time and our talk will get over before the ‘ordained’ time.”

    Raj: “Okay, Sir . . . say what you have to say.”

    Buddha: “In the past 24 hours, did you curse anyone?”

    Raj: “How could I curse anyone? I was all the time thinking about death.”

    Buddha: “In the past 24 hours, did you think or wish ill for anyone?”

    Raj: “How could I do that? I was all the time thinking about death.”

    Buddha: “In the past 24 hours, did you steal?”

    Raj: “Sir, how can you even ask that? I was all the time thinking about death.”

    Finally the Buddha said, “Raj, I don’t know who has to die and who has to live. But understanding the ultimate truth — i.e. death — can be very enlightening. All the questions you posed to me have been answered by yourself because of the awareness of death that you experienced during the past 24 hours. The difference between me and you is that you were aware of death for the past 24 hours, I have been aware for the past 24 years.”

    1. Phil says:

      So thinking about death turns you into an indecisive vegetable?

      1. vOddy says:

        I don’t agree with what a Buddhist should do, given the knowledge of death, but the good point that we can take from this is that one should be aware of death for all of one’s life, not just when death is near, like most people.

  3. Billy Foss says:

    Shouldn’t that read a lack of human culpability at an individual level? Or am I missing something? Either way, thanks for this. Ironically, I actually came to metal from listening to punk and hardcore like the Dead Kennedys, Minor Threat and Bad Brains, but somehow never heard the Cro-Mags.

  4. Now don’t get me wrong, Subconscious Release was never revered as a classic or legendary album, but it was a very solid British death metal album that came out in the heyday of British metal, when the metal landscape was dominated by the likes of Benediction, Cancer, Bolt Thrower.

    Desecrator – Subconscious Release 1991 full album


    1. hypocrite says:

      shut the hell up butt pipe

  5. Demonseed says:

    This new one is fun to listen to. Seems well produced too .

  6. Weebshit extravaganza says:

    The lack of GISM on DMU is deeply disturbing.

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