Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Crushing The Demoniac - Analyzing Side B of Cro-Mags "Best Wishes"

Harley fronting the Cro-Mags, Photo: Ed Esposito

Ok, back here to dissect side B. If you missed my piece on side A, check it out here:

Cro-Mags Best Wishes Side A

Side B of this 8 song LP opens as strong as it possibly could, with the hellraising fireball, "Crush The Demoniac." Perhaps one of the best if not the very best song on here, it's common knowledge that this song was written right around the time of Age Of Quarrel and was often the band's set closer during their '86/'87 tours. Harley has revealed that while his lyrics to this are significantly different from whatever John Joseph's lyrics were (Harley says he has no idea what John was singing live), musically it was recorded pretty much true to its original form.

Best Wishes era Cro-Mags, Photo: Ed Esposito

The song opens and immediately puts you up against the ropes - I've always loved how it kicks off (although I will say that I wish they opened the song on the record in the exact same way they did often live in '86/'87 with a slightly different notes/accenting after the first few crashes - the best example of this is on that Live At Wellington's recording). The main riff of the verse is said to have been written by Doug Holland, and was the first riff he contributed to the band (which I found pretty surprising, although I guess AOQ was already written by the time he joined up). You'll also note the similarity to Maiden's "Aces High" in this riff. Great stuff.

At 2:02 Holland (and I'm guessing it is him since he played it live) takes off with one of the best solos on the album, his shredding getting fiercer as the energy builds. The video of him playing this at the Ritz is one of the best things ever captured on film and audio - it just sounds demented - John even talked about this in his book I believe. If I ever won the powerball and had limitless time and money to devote to anything I wanted, I would pay someone to give me the ability to play this part and I would just walk around all day playing it in people's faces.

A shredding Parris Mayhew with the Cro-Mags, Photo: Ed Esposito

At 2:25 the solo ends and it goes back to just rhythm shredding and fast picking, like an eighteen wheeler blasting down the high way at 100mph with no brakes, and it's filled with fireworks. There's more great riffage at 2:50 for a few seconds, and then BOOOM! - yep, you're moshing. They could have just ended the song and it would have been more than adequate, but no. Instead they drop a siiiiick mid-tempo mosh part that further explodes at 3:36 for the perfect set closer/outro feel. Because of that, it almost seems like this is the song that should end the just goes out on such a peak.

Nonetheless, there's still three more songs, as "Fugitive" kicks things off next. While I had never heard of the Mags playing this song in '86/'87 with John in the band, Harley has said it was written during that time period by Parris with some of Harley's own riff ideas. It definitely is more melodic and "soulful" (did I just call a Cro-Mags song soulful?) than most of the other songs on here, although the choruses aggro out quite a bit.

Harley Mags, Photo: Ed Esposito

I love Harley's bass work on I think I mentioned before, he has such an evil bass sound on this, I feel like he has a stack of cabs the size of The Green Monster, all cranked on 11 and he is playing in an airport hangar. It sounds huge, overdriven, and live, but I'm no bass player so I'm sure my tech talk could be way off. I wish Pincus got this same sound from Normandy on Bringin' It Down, but that's a different story.

Anyways, around 2:55 Harley's playing really takes off as he throws in a lot of cool little runs and fills that really beef the song up and show that he was/is a legit player (something I don't think is mentioned enough). The rest of the song has a good sense of urgency, like it is really gonna take off...but then it just kinda dies out and ends with a big drum roll/rock crescendo ending. It's a good song, but has always felt like it had untapped potential.

Doug Holland and Parris, Photo: Ed Esposito

"Then And Now" kicks off a great Seinfeld episode where Jerry and Kram- ummm...I mean, the songs kicks off with some busy bass work into straight metal riffing. Harley has said the bass intro was his version of "The Exorcist" done in a harder metal style...but I still always hear "Seinfeld bass" when it comes on. I like the idea, but the whole way the song takes off is my least favorite opening to any song here, it's a little too daring a little too metal for me. How the song starts though is actually a total pump fake, because shit busts open at :53 with some great ring out chords and strong energy straight into the chorus. I love the mosh teaser at 1:24 where they let up and slow it down for a moment, and just when you start to do the face-rake, it's back to thrashing. I always wish they extended that and rocked it out, but I guess the brevity of it is what makes it fast and cool.

Harley again kills it with sick bass lines (of course nobody here is a slouch when it comes to ability). It should again be noted that while seeing Mackie off of this record is a bummer, Pete Hines is unstoppable. Lots of tricky time signatures and changes, simply put there's nothing novice about his skills on da traps. While the song generally is solid and has some rager moments, it still gets a little ADD, jams out towards the end, ditches the vocals and solos, and then just wraps up. Like "Fugitive," I feel like the potential for this song is in fact a bit untapped.

Harley rocks the Raiders, Photo: Ed Esposito

Last but not least: "Age Of Quarrel." I'm not sure the whole intro is as much an intro as it is a notice of your upcoming beheading. It's not the first mosh part I think of when I think of the Cro-Mags, but it's still a hell of a mosh part - military drum roll, death knell bass strumming, funeral procession guitar work...heavy. It builds up perfectly into the verse where Harley starts singing. The stop/start tempo around the 1:58 mark lasts just long enough before building up again, and then it's basically back and forth riffing until finally at 3:37 they are just like "ok, everyone...kill each other, NOW."

Fittingly so, things close out on a very dark note. After all, the song is called "Age Of Quarrel" and I think we all know the underlying message here. If this record came out after Goodfellas (1990), an appropriate soundclip right after the music ends would have been the voice of Vinnie when Tommy gets whacked that says, "And that's that."

Parris with the Mags and a great Best Wishes shirt, Photo: Ed Esposito

In general, it's also worth noting again how blatantly Krishna-fueled this whole record is, from the cover artwork to the lyrics...I mean, it's super heavy and nothing about it is subtle. The cover art (Lord Nrsimhadeva killing the Demon Hiranyakasipu) is so brutal and fitting...I've never really dabbled with the KC stuff too extensively but that image makes me want to shave up and chant 16 rounds immediately.

Also, considering the Bloodclot departure and the metal alliances, one would expect these would just be songs on standard metal topics - NOT vegetarianism, reincarnation, extreme spiritual devotion, and escaping the material world. A band like Shelter may have brought prasadam and beads to every young HC kid in the country in the early 90s, but the Cro-Mags basically wrote a thrashing metal record with direct, no compromise, in-your-face lyrical inspiration from the Gita. Pretty wild.

More Harley, More Raiders, Photo: Ed Esposito

Musically, there are parts here that drag a bit, some aspects that could have used some more thought and production, and some general metal influence that maybe didn't gel perfectly, but the overall end result to me is in fact a pretty relentless metal record with a LES hardcore backbone covered in tattoos. "Death Camps" and "Crush The Demoniac" on their own are better than 97.8% of all recorded music ever, so it's kinda tough to be too critical when I really stop and think about it.

Then again I also like Near Death Experience and Alpha Omega to varying degrees as well, so maybe I'm not the proper authority.

Either way...they came, they saw, they conquered. The Cro-Mags.

Best Wishes,
Gordo DCXX

Harley with some pre set prep Cro-Mags style, Photo: Ed Esposito


Anonymous said...

The first time I saw the Cro-Mags was in '89 on the tour for Best Wishes. They were amazing to say the least. I can still remember the energy that they had that night. I can pretty much say that this is the best sounding HC record I have ever heard. Definitely a very under-rated record. True, it's no AOQ, but what is? That's right, nothing is. -JK

Anonymous said...

The pic of Harley in the Raiders jacket is priceless.

more cro-mags said...

harley flanagan is a living legend. and he's the first and only true cro-mag!!!!!. please, post some comments, music or photos about M.O.I. or the early cro-mags thanks. long live harley.

Anonymous said...

This just up, John Joseph talks about his forthcoming book "Meat Is For Pussies"

adam said...

i can't be the only one that saw the Harley fronted Cro Mags back in 88/89 and thought it was a hideous joke of a live show can i?

when we saw them at the Anthrax, it was just pitiful.

Ben Edge said...

"If I ever won the powerball and had limitless time and money to devote to anything I wanted, I would pay someone to give me the ability to play this part and I would just walk around all day playing it in people's faces. "


Like the guy with the turban and the rollerblades on the Venice Boardwalk who just rips on the electric guitar all day long, everyday.

Isaac Golub said...


THANK YOU for admitting that you like Near Death Exp. and Alpha Omega.

I love those records!!! Banks would often ostracize me in public for my love on Alpha Omega. Maybe the rap number is a little lame but they are the Cro Mags they could strangle a ferret through a wah wah pedal while Harley was mic'ed up while he got his ass kicked AGAIN trying to get into MMA and I would listen.

Long live the Cro Mags. A life changing band.

Anonymous said...

writing clinic. A++++++++++++++++ piece

Anonymous said...

Great idea to review albums song by song. Especially "controversial"records. I think you should tackle Alpha Omega as I think there are many arguments to be made about it's greatness.

Agent A. said...

Gordo!!!!! Utterly bludgeoning!!!
That Demoniac got steamrolled.

* *
Sign me up for the Alpha-Omega support platoon. I (stupidly) totally wrote it off when it came out. It took (well, honestly over a decade, and my openness and appreciation for metal to increase about tenfold) hearing some of those songs live on that double CD "Hard Times in an Age of Quarrel" to think "hey, this is catchy, and good."

If you listen to it without expecting AOQ, you get totally SOLID metal songs that often after two minutes in EXPLODE into full-on Cro-Mags songs.

I'll even say Near Death Experience has some shimmering moments as well...though it takes some mining to find the gold, it IS there.

For some incredible 1986 Cro-Mags (i.e. UNTOUCHABLE!) live (nice mention of Wellingtons, the basement of this old hotel in downtown Winnipeg) show, try to hunt down the 1986 show in Pittsburgh!!! The sound (with tons of knockout-punch to it) is unbelievably good and the band and energy is a hurricane.

Here's a small essay by another Alpha-Omega supporter:

Anonymous said...

LOVED THE SIDE A PIECE AND THIS WAS EVEN BETTER. MORE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

thefleX said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
thefleX said...

a) pics of Harley in Raiders jacket: amazing
b) pic of Harley in front of garbage bags filled with beer cans: great
c) band pic with Doug on the right, what's up with him? Brown sugar?
d) Best Wishes, I'd mosh the whole set when played live
e) Harley's second book? Stoked to see it someday
f) this video, still mind boggling:

KJones said...

I always thought Best Wishes was a great record, lots of standout mosh parts and ballsy playing on it. This write-up, though maybe a little over the top, really sums up all the greatness about the record and even re-convinced me why I like it. I would pay to see this line up do these songs...not that it's gonna happen.

BloodDrunk. said...

Check out the new issue of MAXIMUM ROCK N ROLL for an interview with JJ! He breaks it all down, pretty tight--they just let him talk on shit, explain how he feels. Definately worth the couple bux.

Dine Alone said...

The last picture of Harley infront of the garbage bags, I believe he is wearing one of the "support your local third street crew" shirts for the Hells Angels NYC. I used to have the same exact one.

evision said...