Cosmic Rock

CRO-MAGS - "Don't Give In" EP Review 

(Victory Records)


- Pat "Riot" Whitaker


Recently, the monumentally significant NYHC legends CRO-MAGS issued the 3-song "Don't Give In" EP. It is currently available digitally with a physical format vinyl 7" (inch) due from Victory Records on August 2nd.


The story of the CRO-MAGS began from a 4-song Demo that a young Harley Flanagan wrote all of the music for, as well as played each instrument, and performed all vocals on, way back when. After that Demo was fleshed out, Harley connected with guitarist Parris Mitchell Mayhew and the pair began auditioning band members. Eventually, the band's roster would be lined out with vocalist John "Bloodclot" Joseph (aka John Joseph McGowan), lead guitarist Doug Holland, and drummer Mackie Jayson. This is the band behind the now classic introductory album from CRO-MAGS, 1986's genre defining "The Age Of Quarrel".


John Joseph exited the band after the album and Harley assumed vocal duties for the band's more heavy metal influenced second album, 1989's "Best Wishes". In contrast, the pair of albums are as opposite as day and night, and would lead somebody to believe they originated from two different bands. John Joseph eventually returned to CRO-MAGS and the crew, with varying line ups, forged forward for three more official album releases: 1992's "Alpha Omega", 1993's "Near Death Experience", and 2000's "Revenge". For the latter album there, "Revenge", the band was joined by guitarist Leonard F. George, better known by his nickname Rocky George, of such beloved bands as Suicidal Tendencies and Fishbone.


2003 would see CRO-MAGS call it a day, disbanding at that point in time but it would not be permanent. In the last few years, there have been two versions of the band active, a recipe for confusion to some, of course, but that should now be put to an end. A court ruling in April has provided designated versions of CRO-MAGS so people will know which is which, decreeing Flanagan would have exclusive use of the name "Cro-Mags" while the Joseph / Mackie version of the band will begin performing as "Cro-Mags JM" beginning in August 2019.


So, at this point, you are probably asking yourself, "What the hell does all this have to do with a review of a new Cro-Mags EP?" Well, I am telling you this previous backstory so that you, the reader, will know exactly what version of the band we are here reviewing. For whatever reasons, there has been swift action on the part of Harley Flanagan to record new CRO-MAGS music. It was recently revealed that work on a full-length album is underway with producer Arthur Rizk, and a late 2019 release date is expected. To tide music fans over, CRO-MAGS are now digitally distributing the "Don't Give In" EP.


Alongside bassist/vocalist Harley Flanagan on this recording are drummer Garry "G-Man" Sullivan, and returning guitarists Gabby Abularach and Rocky George. And make no mistake, this is the best six-minutes-and-five-seconds spent by any incarnation of CRO-MAGS since 2000, the year of the band's last official record release. With a combustible intensity that you can feel right from the very start of things, lead-in title track "Don't Give In" is as much of a command as it is a life mantra. It is all right there in that signature styling of the music, the "bruise 'n groove" swagger that has long been a trademark of this band.


It moves along at its own pace, pulling back on the reins as the unmistakable playing of Rocky George begins to interject itself. A little over the one minute mark and everything explodes in a tempest of rapid fire drumming, bass pounded rhythms, and those burly, battle tested vocals of Flanagan's. Expounding on the virtues of self determination and the refusal to surrender in the face of anything, this message is loud and clear, and has no need for any polish or pretty embellishing,


Our urban warriors really ratchet things up in the profanity laden powerhouse that is "Drag You Under" and yes, while "...sometimes life is a real m****cker", it is up to each of us to overcome. The fury and intensity of this track is incendiary, it advances with a careening quality similar to that of a bull in a china shop. Laying all before it asunder - driving and battering, battering and driving - this is the pinnacle of the EP and I especially dig Harley's vocals. They feel possessed full of spite, they are delivered to agitate, and are openly confrontational, their repetitive stanzas meant to be driven home as much as the song itself is.


Barely past a 90 second running time comes the EP closing "No One's Victim", all the while that minute and a half is an unrelenting electrified charge. Wave after wave of crushing sonic viciousness pummeling the listener to so much pulp in this homage to the true Hardcore spirit -- sent first to stagger, then determined to drop you. That is, unless of course, you embrace the title like a call to arms for your own resolve and fortitude. I must add that this song sounds as if it could have come directly from the recording sessions for the "Best Wishes" album. But then truthfully, this entire EP is an extension that is reminiscent of the "Best Wishes" and "Revenge" albums.


Yes, the "Don't Give In" EP from CRO-MAGS is a crucial glimpse at what we may expect from the band musically. So to speak, it is a quick snapshot of their overall sound and it is one that will have fans ecstatic over the imminence of a new album arriving before 2020.