You usually need to know a fair amount about Metal and the history of Metal to fully understand absolutely every point I will make, and having listened to the album yourself will also help. If you don’t have a clue what I’m writing about but still wish to read on, having a tab open on Wikipedia to intermittently check anything you don’t understand, as well as a tab open on Grooveshark, Youtube or something Spotify-esque to check any musical reference points you haven’t heard.
The album which I will be discussing in this entry is The Age Of Quarrel by the highly influential New York based Crossover Thrash band Cro-Mags. The Cro-Mags aren’t something I know much (if anything) about at all, save for that this album comes up in a lot of the lists and documentaries I read/watch, and that it was one of the albums instrumental to defining the Crossover Thrash sound, which for those who don’t know was when the distinct and often rival fans and bands of the Heavy Metal and Hardcore Punk music scenes began coming together with music that took elements from both styles.
I have always had one eye on Crossover Thrash ever since getting into Thrash itself; and then subsequently reading, listening to and watching everything about it that I could find in those pre-modern-usage-of-the-internet days when I was still at school. I really enjoy Nuclear Assault and did all of the studying for my GCSEs accompanied by their Game Over and Handle With Care albums, have a T-Shirt of their Survive album artwork and have put up a Vinyl of it on my wall for decoration.
I also like Anthrax a hell of a lot, and they were always fans of the Hardcore music scene, as Scott Ian will quickly point out in any interview, although they are not full fledged Crossover Thrash themselves, but more of a sort of gateway drug.
I bought, tried, but never fully enjoy the 1985 classic Crossover Thrash album Speak English Or Die by S.O.D, a supergroup that featured members of Anthrax, Nuclear Assault (although Dan was ex-Anthrax anyway) and the singer Billy Millano who went on to form the Crossover band M.O.D.. The main reason I didn’t care for that album was that it got too repetitive and was also very much a comedy affair, which I don’t particularly enjoy in music despite loving it in most other contexts.
I have also wanted/planned to buy the album Crossover (as well as Thrash Zone) by the Hardcore Punk band D.R.I (for exactly nine years now) and the same goes for albums by Suicidal Tendencies and the British band Acid Reign, although I have never actually gotten around to it yet for some reason. That reason was originally due to unavailability but now with the internet can’t be put down to any real reason other than intermittent forgetfulness.
I’ve also recently gotten into Gama Bomb who are a modern band that take a lot from the original Crossover Thrash sound, as well as Corrosion Of Conformity, who’s early work was some of the most important Crossover material ever. This reignited my interest in the style and informed this choice of First Impressions entry.
Interestingly, despite always being willing to watch and enjoy documentaries (and read articles of course) about Hardcore Punk, when I tried out a lot of music by bands like Bad Brains, Black Flag, Dead Kennedys, Minor Threat, Gang Green, SS Decontrol and several other influential bands, I didn’t really like any of them enough to go any further than one curiosity listen, with the exception of D.O.A and their amazingly fun song ‘Fucked Up Ronnie.’
I liked the energy and the speed of those bands, but it didn’t give me anything that I wasn’t getting already, with better production and better musicianship from the Thrash Scene, or with more melody and musicality from very early Green Day. I liked the bits of it that you could tell were uniquely Hardcore, but didn’t like the bits of it that were still Punk (such as sloppiness and the types of notes/chords they’d use) if you follow my meaning.
The Age Of Quarrel is reportedly actually a lot more in the original Hardcore Punk style than the album which followed, Best Wishes, which is a much better example of the Crossover sound, so I am prepared to struggle for any sense of enjoyment, despite academically respecting it.
Before hearing the album, I had previously heard the single ‘We Gotta Know’ on MTV2 and also the track ‘It’s The Limit’ because it had been in the videogame Grand Theft Auto 4. I had enjoyed those two songs and they didn’t seem too sloppy and unpleasant at first glance. Other than that however, the album is a mystery to me.
Listening to the album now John Joseph’s vocals aren’t really my usual thing, but unarguably suit the music well. He is still a Hardcore singer on this release, and you can totally hear the influence that he had on the Biohazard/Sick Of It All vocal style, but his voice is a lot more in-control and audible than some of the Boston, California, Washington D.C. or Detroit Hardcore bands that I had tried out in the wake of watching the documentary film American Hardcore. Still, I think I prefer his voice here to King Diamond’s voice in the previous First Impressions entry.
The songs seem very much split into two categories; firstly three-minute tracks with a sort of Black Sabbath influence, a bit more thrash and occasionally that same intro that loads of bands use at least once. If you listen to the intro to ‘We Gotta Know’ or ‘Malfunction’ on this album and then compare it with Biohazard’s ‘Disease,’ and ‘Killing To Be Free,’ as well as Slayer’s ‘Seasons In The Abyss,’ Exodus’ ‘The Sun Is My Destroyer’ at the 3.41 point, the very last little bonus riff in Anthrax’s ‘Packaged Rebellion,’ then Corrosion Of Conformity’s ‘Tell Me’ and you should probably start to get the picture.
Secondly; speedy one-and-a-half minute tracks with rumbly basslines and usually a d-beat. Interestingly, listening to something like ‘World Peace’ or ‘Street Justice’ from of this album that falls into this second category isn’t necessarily all that different from listening to something like ‘Pay To Cum’ by Bad Brains or ‘I Don’t Want To Hear It’ by Minor Threat, but the production isn’t as off-putting for me, and there is a touch more of the tonal range that I prefer from Metal in there to make it more palatable. They don’t use the sort of chords and notes that The Sex Pistols or UK Subs would have used, and that suits my own personal sensibilities a lot better.
Its also great to hear a lot of the ‘mosh riffs’ that Anthrax, S.O.D and Nuclear Assault would inject into their Thrash Metal and then say came from the Hardcore Scene, in their more natural environment. I find hearing where they came from myself interesting, or at least more interesting than just hearing it in an interview.
Despite my suspicions about early Hardcore there is a lot for me to love about this album. ‘Seekers Of The Truth’ for example has everything that is good about a Biohazard song and also a fun sort of big-shouldered strutting feel to the music, and ‘It’s The Limit’ could fit onto Nuclear Assault’s Game Over album so well I mightn’t realize it if it just happened to slip in there while no one was looking.
For me, The Age Of Quarrel nails the mixture between what I would deem retaining the ‘good’ bits of Hardcore and overcoming what I would deem the ‘bad’ bits of Hardcore. It is raw and unpolished enough to sound like people playing instruments and not a just million dollar record industry project, yet coherent enough to actually sound good at the same time. The lyrics are of the same type of left wing anti-war, anti-bigotry stuff that I enjoy but without any of the hostile and nasty style that Hardcore bands often used, such as promoting rape, street violence and cop-killing. Another point in its favour, so far as my own personal opinion is concerned, is that the guitar solos are much more in the vein of bands I like as opposed to the type that a lot of early Hardcore bands used (although sometimes they also have the Slayer/Sepultura/Kreator sound, which isn’t my favourite)
Overall, this isn’t something that I’d chose to listen to all that often, but it isn’t something I’d want turned off if it came on and it was certainly better than I initially thought it might be. It shares a lot in common with things I do like, and is unarguably the best thing I’ve heard that can still qualify as actual Hardcore. Additionally it seems to me that fully getting into this album would probably be a suitable gateway to Hardcore itself. Once I enjoyed this album as a whole, I’d be more open to it and that would allow me to more fully appreciate an entire Minor Threat or D.O.A album without feeling out of my depth.
In summary, I haven’t found my new favourite album (like I did when doing a First Impression of Operation Mindcrime) but I don’t feel like I’ve wasted my time either.