What lacks in songwriting and production is made up by intensity and energy
New York hardcore and thrash legends Cro-Mags drop bombshells and hold no punches on their first full-length release since 2000’s disappointing Revenge, albeit not without its extremely fair share of imperfections in terms of bland songwriting and thin production.
Cro-Mags have been blazing the trail for hardcore punk ever since their initial inception as a Krishnacore band, with highly acclaimed albums such as The Age of Quarrel (1986) and Best Wishes (1989), before breaking up in 2002. Reuniting in 2008, Cro-Mags have been troubled with lawsuits over trademark infringement between founders John Joseph, who has gone on to front the off-brand project Cro-Mags JM, and Harley Flanagan’s incarnation of Cro-Mags. In more recent years, however, Cro-Mags have played shows with hardcore darlings Misfits and Sick Of It All, before releasing three singles, “Don’t Give In,” “Drag You Under” and “No One’s Victim” in late 2019.
On In The Beginning, “Don’t Give In” suffices as a good album opener considering the band’s nearly two-decade hiatus, but right off the bat, the production and songwriting fall completely flat. The fast-paced and highly energetic guitar riffs and barking vocals may be passed off at first listen, but the poor writing is undeniable, with the brief interludes of unimpressive guitar playing being highly distracting and out of place.
The second single from the album, “Drag You Under,” is a contrast to the previous song, and surrounds a fast-past thrash riff that sounds like Kill ‘em All era Metallica. The following song is the third single released, “No One’s Victim,” which builds up for roughly a minute before exploding into a fast chugging guitar riff and a gang vocal shouted chorus.
The most redeeming part of the fourth track, “From The Grave,” is its brevity, clocking at just over two minutes. It actually sounds like a continuation of where the previous song left off, mostly due to its carbon-copy riff, which actually features ex-Motorhead member Phil Campbell on lead guitar. “No One’s Coming” opens with a tremendously amazing bass guitar sound that contrasts the overproduced and lifeless guitar tones found all over In The Beginning. However, the grit is soon washed away with a manic verse, cringeworthy chorus and multiple, overtly long guitar solo sections.
“PTSD” jams on a swinging backbeat with yet another guitar solo, before launching into a ferociously fast thrash song that incorporates some pretty tasteful chugging chords and ends in the exact manner as the previous songs do: finishing on a chord and letting some studio delay echo ring out. “The Final Test” is more or less unoriginal, with not much of interest to offer save for the experimental clean vocals that incorporate samples and heavy reverberation, with, not unbelievably, another pointless guitar solo section.
“One Bad Decision,” “Two Hours” and “Don’t Talk About It” finally find a theme in Flanagan’s overtly obvious anti-jail and anti-crime message. Musically, the songs are all pretty similar and follow straightforward structuring with the earlier tracks on the record, with the exception of a prison voicemail and an eerie throat singing sample that goes right into “Between Wars,” an extended, six-minute instrumental jam. Nearing the end, “No Turning Back” begins with a refreshingly interesting guitar work in the background, on top of droning power chords and a bland chorus that would be great for crowd chanting, but not much else.
The final track, “There Was a Time,” was definitely a “save the best for last” move, and is one of the more musically and production-wise diverse songs. The tempo changes between song sections leads to a very frantic and chaotic experience, as well as some sonic variance found in the guitar’s much darker and warmer tone, in sharp contrast to the rest of the albums’ bright production.
Going into a release like Cro-Mag’s In The Beginning comes with little expectation considering the band’s last three albums were all commercial and critical flops, with a two-decade hiatus that has been spotted with lawsuits and fighting. Despite their immense legacy and influence on the NYHC scene in the late 1980’s and 1990’s, Cro-Mags have not called it quits, but it’s not looking great. In The Beginning is troubled with poor production quality and lazy songwriting, especially compared to their earlier work nearly forty years ago. A passive fan may enjoy the thundering riffs and drumming, but it is not by any means a stretch to say that it sounds as if it’s ten years late, or rather, a continuation of a formula rather than innovation.