20 years after their last album (the decidedly average ‘Revenge’) and many scraps and drama, Cro-Mags return with ‘In The Beginning’. My introduction to Cro-Mags was back in 1992 when ‘Alpha Omega’ was released. I loved it immediately (it hasn't aged quite as well as it could have due in part to some almost-rap-metal sections), and I soon delved into their back catalogue. ‘Best Wishes’ still stands as their triumph, as I couldn’t get into their legendary debut, ‘The Age of Quarrel’. 1993's ‘Near Death Experience’ was so shockingly bad that my brief infatuation with the band was severed. When ‘Revenge’ was released, I didn't even give it the time of day (I've heard it recently, and it doesn't capture the brilliance of their second and third albums).
Harley has, of course, won the rights to use the Cro-Mags name (John and Mackie must be branded Cro-Mags "JM", which is as awkward as all the "A.D." bands out there). I personally have nothing against John Joseph (I'm not interested in drama though), and his work with Bloodclot was pretty good. However, it's clear that Cro-Mags is Harley through and through. Long-serving guitarist Gabby Abularach remains, as does lead guitarist (and Suicidal legend) Rocky George and drummer Garry Sullivan. Having Rocky on board is a wonderful bonus; I can't think of a better lead guitarist from the Hardcore scene.
‘In The Beginning’ is certainly a cross between a more refined sounding version of ‘The Age of Quarrel’ and ‘Best Wishes’; it doesn't have quite the metallic prog tendencies of ‘Alpha Omega’, which I do miss. Harley's range as a vocalist has deepened over the years, and he continues to utilise a softer delivery for contrast, but he still spits venom; catch their live quarantine show on YouTube to see what I mean. This is not posturing; he's lived the street life and come out the other side (of madness) intact. Rocky's signature leads are present throughout the album, but I'd like to have had his parts elevated in the final mix. Otherwise, the production is solid, and the performances are right on the money; Garry gets to shine in the instrumental ‘Between Wars’ (the theme song from the film of the same name, which also stars Harley). Guitars bite with ample ferocity, and the pace rarely dips, making the near-40-minute runtime seem a lot shorter than it is. Phil Campbell (ex-Motorhead) guests on the track ‘From the Grave’ but, while no doubt a great coup for the band, his presence seems like stunt casting; Phil doesn't bring anything to the song that couldn't have been performed without him.
All the tracks from their previous EPs are present here (making up 6 of the 13 songs). Some may feel short-changed by that but, as someone who didn't get around to buying those, it doesn't bother me (incidentally, the band have made use of the lockdown by writing a follow-up and are now currently in the studio).
If there is one criticism to be levelled at ‘In The Beginning’ it is that the opening salvo of songs (‘Don't Give In’ to ‘From the Grave’) can sound like one long jam (indeed, the opening riff to track 4 sounds almost identical to a riff in track 3). And, in general, the mood of the album is relatively one-dimensional (save for the songs ‘The Final Test’, ‘Two Hours’, and ‘Between Wars’). That is, of course, pretty much the modus operandi for hardcore metal. However, I think ‘In The Beginning’ could have benefitted from some diversity in its writing. This is a fresh start for the band, so I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume this is Cro-Mags rediscovering who they are after such a tumultuous existence, and after some fairly "interesting" sonic choices on the previous couple of albums.
Ultimately, ‘In The Beginning’ is a confident statement from a band that was not so long ago in a strange state of flux, with various versions of the band in existence at any one time. Harley has got his shit together (he has a new wife, is financially stable, and a new outlook on life; even if that doesn't quite stretch to a reunion with John and Mackie). It can only be hoped that this version of Cro-Mags stays together long-term and continues to build on the solid work they've delivered here. A bit of experimentation (without resorting to contemporary tropes or diverting too heavily from their trademark sound), and I think the 2020s could well be Cro-Mags' own Golden Age.
Mission Two Entertainment
IN THE BEGINNING
Review by Steve Cowan
19th June 2020
1) Don't Give In; 2) Drage You Under
3) No One's Victim; 4) From the Grave
5) No One's Coming
7) The Final Test
8) One Bad Decision
9) Two Hours
10) Don't Talk About It
11) Between Wars
12) No Turning Back
13) What You Believed
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"...this is Cro-Mags rediscovering who they are after such a tumultuous existence..."