Cro-Mags – “The Age of Quarrel”

When you listen to an older record by a band for the first time, it’s easy to forget to view (i.e. listen to) it through the context of when it came out. If you listen to some of the hair metal of the 1980s it’s easy to think of it as being pretty weak and mainstream sounding, but you have to remember that when this stuff came out a lot of it was considered hard. There was no such thing as “hair metal” then, only heavy metal, and that stuff was for the most part considered metal other than by the true genre die-hards who were already delving into the embryonic thrash and speed scenes that were taking metal to new levels of speed and power. I guess what I’m trying to say is context is important when trying to absorb music.

So with that in mind I dropped the needle on the 1986 debut by the Cro-Mags, The Age of Quarrel. I don’t think I’ve ever heard the Cro-Mags before; I certainly have never owned any of their albums. Widely described as hardcore, the Cro-Mags are also credited as one of the first bands to combine hardcore and metal… though to my ears (in 2013 – context!) this sounds way more metal than punk. But no matter. This stuff is hard. It’s fast. And most of all it’s heavy. The vocals at times have a hardcore cadence to them, but just as often the sound is pure metal, but at a level that was a couple of steps beyond what the mainstream metal bands were putting out at the time. The songs themselves are certainly more punk than metal in length – this record has 15 songs, more than half of which are less than two minutes long and with none pushing the minute hand more than four stops. Compare that to another 1986 truly heavy metal release Master of Puppets that had half the number of songs (eight), the shortest of which was over five minutes long. So if the Cro-Mags punk roots show up anywhere, it’s there. There’s nothing superfluous here. Get in fast, get after it, get out.

“World Peace” is my favorite track with it’s strong chorus, while “Malfunction” has probably the most driving metal rhythm. It’s actually been a long time since I sat down and listened to some metal again, having been devoting so much time to punk, dub, and Icelandic music over the last year or more. And you know what? It felt good. As in really good. There’s something hard to beat about rocking out to some quick bursts of the heavy stuff. I may have to dust off some of my old stuff and get back to my metal roots in upcoming posts…


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