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Cro-Mags: Near Death Experience

Album Notes

Cro-Mags includes: Harley Flanagan, John Joseph.

Additional personnel: Bleu Lawless, Jason Mudrick, Steve Aprea (background vocals).

Engineers: Tom Soares, Phil Greene, Josh Chervokas.

The pressures of hardcore success and influence took a constant, heavy toll throughout the tumultuous history of the Cro-Mags. Shortly after releasing their first (and perhaps the hardcore genre's most important) release, The Age of Quarrel, the constant personality conflicts and lineup changes began, setting the outfit into a slow, downward, creative spiral. The mixing and matching of New York hardcore veteran musicians was unceasing, and the band never released successive discs with identical lineups. At the eye of the storm, founding member and "The world's first skinhead" Harley Flanagan hired and fired almost a dozen musicians (including himself) during the Cro-Mags' tumultuous career. Age of Quarrel vocalist John "Bloodclot" Joseph left the band before the follow-up, Best Wishes, only to join up with Flanagan years later for two releases, including Near Death Experience, giving the disc two-thirds The Age of Quarrel troika representation before another breakup led to six years of inactivity. It's often assumed that the teaming of Flanagan and Joseph was key to the band's early success, but careful credit inspection reveals guitarist Parris Mayhew's significant music-writing contributions on The Age of Quarrel and Best Wishes, clearly the Cro-Mags' best and most influential recordings. Although Flanagan and Joseph muster a little of the old-time magic, Mayhew's absence is noticeable from Near Death Experience. While the band's trademark lyrical preoccupations with urban violence and modern man's separation from nature, the past, and spirituality are fully present and accounted for, this 1993 release lumbers through too many bad metal clichés and never reaches the level of musical intensity fans of Mayhew-era recordings will expect. The already low creative standard of Near Death Experience reaches its nadir as Joseph forces some bad Steven Tyler yelping during the "Mr. Brownstone" rip-off "War on the Streets" and reaches rock bottom again during the Dokken-style metal chunking of "The Other Side of Madness." Flanagan and company salvage a few decent tracks like the epic "Time I Am" and "Say Good-Bye to Mother Earth," keeping Near Death Experience on rickety life support. Missing the intensity of earlier, better work, this late-career release from the legendary Cro-Mags is just a cooling ember, left over from New York's '80s hardcore fire. ~ Vincent Jeffries



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