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Before the Cro-Mags, the idea of combining heavy metal and hardcore punk was unheard of. But with the release of their classic debut, 1986's The Age of Quarrel, hardcore metal was born, and in its wake came a legion of similarly styled offspring (Biohazard, Vision of Disorder, etc.). The Cro-Mags have endured an endless number of lineup shifts and skirmishes over the band's leadership and just who owns the right to use their name, yet the group continued to record and tour in one form or another, and their influence on hardcore (especially on the New York scene) is massive. The Age of Quarrel's blend of hardcore velocity and metal guitar figures makes it their definitive release, and 1989's Best Wishes pushed their sound into thrash metal territory. 2020's In the Beginning (and the 2020 EP), recorded after many years of uncertainty about the group's future, found them back in angry and aggressive form, with a more muscular version of their '80s classics. From the beginning, the Cro-Mags' leader has been bassist and singer Harley Flanagan, who, in 1977 at the ripe old age of ten (!), started his first punk band during a European trip. Upon returning to New York City, Flanagan played drums with the Stimulators, a punk band who performed quite a bit locally and in Washington, D.C. alongside Bad Brains. The early '80s saw the initial Cro-Mags memberships formed with a variety of musicians playing alongside the only constant -- Flanagan -- who recorded a four-song demo in 1983 that laid down their musical template. By the middle of the decade, the best-known Cro-Mags lineup was in place -- Flanagan on bass, former Bad Brains roadie John Joseph on vocals, Parris Mayhew on guitar, and Mackie Jayson on drums -- and they soon built a rabid following via shows at CBGB. The quartet recorded a 13-track demo that made the rounds throughout the underground (it was eventually officially released in 2000 as Before the Quarrel) and landed the Cro-Mags a record deal with Profile's Rock Hotel label (with second guitarist Doug Holland joining as well). Just as Bad Brains aligned themselves with Rastafarianism, it was around this time that members of the band became closely associated with the Hare Krishna faith. With a loud buzz forming, the Cro-Mags issued their debut full-length album, The Age of Quarrel, in 1986. With thrash metal bands such as Slayer and Metallica becoming increasingly popular, it seemed like the musical tides were turning in favor of groups like the Cro-Mags, as nationwide tours with such acts as Motörhead and Megadeth expanded their audience. But tensions within the band started boiling over, and Joseph and Jayson exited the group after the album's supporting tour. (Jayson would later turn up in the Bad Brains and the Fun Lovin' Criminals.) Instead of following up their debut right away, it wasn't until 1989 that Best Wishes was released; Flanagan doubled as lead vocalist and Pete Hines stepped in on drums. Thanks to increasing troubles with their label, Mayhew left the group, but by the early '90s, the Cro-Mags were up and running once more, as Flanagan and Joseph resuscitated the band with a pair of albums for the Century Media label -- 1992's Alpha Omega and 1993's Near Death Experience -- with Joseph, Flanagan, and Holland joined by new members Gabby Abularach (guitar) and Dave di Censo (drums). However, after the release of a double-live album, Hard Times in an Age of Quarrel, the Cro-Mags split up. In the late '90s, Flanagan and Mayhew revived the band for touring, with Rocky George (ex-Suicidal Tendencies) on guitar and Dave di Censo on drums. In 2000, this lineup released the album Revenge, but the group soon fell apart again, and an attempt by Flanagan and John Joseph to re-form the original lineup also went bust in 2001. 2008 saw John Joseph and Mackie Jayson put together a new band, and they were soon playing and touring under the Cro-Mags name. This led to personal and legal conflicts between Joseph and Flanagan over the rights to bill themselves as such, with both factions using variations on the name for their gigs, and Flanagan releasing a 2016 solo album titled Cro-Mags. In the wake of a lawsuit in April 2019, Flanagan was granted the rights to the name, and in 2020, his latest edition of the band -- Flanagan on bass and vocals, Rocky George and Gabby Abularach on guitars, and Gary "G-Man" Sullivan on drums -- introduced the first official Cro-Mags studio album in two decades, In the Beginning. They followed quickly that same year with the aptly titled 2020 EP.
© Greg Prato & Mark Deming /TiVo
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