Hardcore Deathmatch: Cro-Mags vs. Beowülf
Cro-Mags with Harley Flanagan at center
[Editor's note: Deathmatch pairs two artists who have something in common, and determines who is better. It's a concept we sort-of ripped off from MTV, except that instead of claymation it's the printed word!]
See also: Top Five Best Post-Hardcore Records
Harley Flanagan, founding bassist of New York hardcore crossover act Cro-Mags, made headlines this weekend. Frustrated with current members, he allegedly knifed two of them, including his replacement.
Critics often credit Cro-Mags with kicking off the late-'80s hardcore-metal movement. No one can deny they helped rip hardcore from its punk roots. However, is the 'Mags landmark 1986 debut The Age of Quarrel as good as another 1986 record released right here in L.A. -- Beowülf's self-titled debut? Let's break it down.
Cro-Mags are notable for being perhaps the first band on MTV to be mosh-worthy. Their video for "We Gotta Know" showcases stage diving and terrified newbies who aren't sure what to make of the behavior. The band discussed moshing, along with their interest in Hare Krishna, on MTV with Steve Blame.
Beowülf never made it to MTV, but their first album sounds like the engineer recorded a circle pit. It's easy to imagine a whirlwind of angry teenagers punching each other in the face when you listen to Beowülf.
Gang vocals became a mainstay in hardcore after The Age of Quarrel. "We Gotta Know" sounds like the 'Mags 500 closest friends showed up at the studio and wrestled each other to grab hold of the mic.
Beowülf also had gang vocals, but "gang" takes on a new meaning. While tough-guy gangsta posturing is now de rigeur in certain hardcore circles, Venice bands were the first to bring cholo swagger into the mix. Rather than an undisciplined mob, the backing vocals on Beowülf sound like an army.
While Beowülf straddle the fence between thrash metal and hardcore punk, the vocals owe far more to the heavier side of metal than the gruffer elements of punk. Beowülf frontman Dale Henderson displays some semblance of control.
Contrast this with John "Bloodclot" Joseph's totally uncontrolled, throaty rage. Every New York hardcore band since has tried and failed to approximate Joseph's vocals on The Age of Quarrel. Call us suckers, but we prefer the unrestrained wailing of angry youth.
Both albums judiciously and effectively use double bass drum. This isn't the helicopter drone popular among slamming death metal bands. It's a Motörhead-by-way-of-Tank pitter patter that's something like salt. You wouldn't want a bowl of it, but just the right amount is perfect.
Both bands employ double bass at just the right time, giving the music an extra bit of heavy-as-lead shimmy.
Cro-Mags always took themselves really seriously. Fortunately, they actually had something to say about the state of the world during the last days of Reagan. "Seekers of the Truth" and "World Peace" aren't the most articulate and incisive songs ever written, but they do show an intellectual curiosity lacking in most hardcore.
On the other hand, Beowülf knew how to have fun. They wrote songs like "Drink, Fight, Fuck" and "(My Life) Alcohol." It's just a more natural fit.
It's close, but Beowülf wins using party lyrics, circle pits and the sound of a thousand militant skateboarders. Plus, no ex-members have (allegedly) returned to stab up the joint.
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