This year, 2020, was really shaping up to be Harley Flanagan’s year. In the first quarter of the year, he was gearing up to release the album In The Begining, a vital-sounding album and crucially dynamic record that served as a career reset for the newly reformed Cro-Mags.
Instead of cracking heads on the road and balding tires cross the highways and backwoods concourses of the U.S., he got held up in Queens, stocking up on TP and Purell. And, like the rest of us, probably spending most of the day scrolling the news on his phone and hoping the supply chains hold out, and society around us doesn’t collapse while we’re waiting for news of a vaccine.
As of this writing, we’re still waiting … waiting to see if all the money our government has thrown at corporations to develop a cure has been worth a damn. Money is no object when comes to big campaign contributors. The rest of us don’t get the same level of consideration. A couple of weeks into this whole fiasco, when it was clear that staying inside could not be the sole solution for containing the pandemic, the government sent everyone one check and a letter signed by then-President Trump that might as well have said “Good luck!”
We’re on our own now. Individual responsibility, politicians tell us, shouting at us over Zoom from their hotel suits in the Bahamas, is the only way to contain the virus. And so, business continues as usual. People have gone back to work and gotten sick. Police have killed without repercussions to maintain the old social order, and there was unrest, but no lasting change.
Poor people, old people, black people, trans people, anyone with limited access to resources have borne the burden of the new paradigm. And if you aren’t one of those thrown directly under the treads of the market as its rolls ceaselessly forward, you can scarcely do anything but stare in horror as others are ground into hamburger. It’s enough to make you want to scream until you’re hoarse.
I don’t think it’s patronizing to say, that scream is exactly what Harley and the Cro-Mags have done on their 2020 EP. Not willing to sit ideally by and watch the world burn, they went back into the studio to capture the winds of their discontent so that the sound of their fury could be heard around the globe. The six tracks on their new EP remarkably clock in at 20 minutes and 20 seconds, something the band claims is entirely unintentional.
2020 begins with the slapping breakbeat of “Age of Quarantine;” the danceable clap is quickly replaced by the crunching crackle of a brooding, Biohazard-esque, metallic-thrash that seethes as an agonizing reflection of the portrait of misery that our lives have become. This is followed by the clarion outcry of “2020,” whose shadowy, Deaftone-dealing guitar parts help convey the feeling that a sinkhole has slowly opened beneath your feet, with the world becoming a speck of light on the ceiling as you are swallowed by the chaos below.
There are some tracks here that recall the toothy prowl and NYC hardcore stomp that was revived on In the Begining, such as “Life On Earth” and “Chaos in the Streets.” More interesting, though, are the EP’s immersive dives into reggae and heavy melodicism (“Violence and Destruction”) and blistering and progressive funk-fusion (“Cro-fusion”), experiments which make for some of the more interesting combinations of influences to materialize in the revived Cro-Mags current catalog.
There is a lot to unpack on this truly remarkable and forward-looking hardcore album, but if you take any message from listening to it, it should be this: take a look around you and see what’s going down. If you are blaming your neighbor or people you interact with online for the mess we’re in right now, you might as well be aiming a shotgun at your own kneecaps.
The problems we face are systemic. These problems are bigger than you, and me, the idiots your yell at online, and our meaningless partisan loyalties. And, if we don’t come together to figure out what to do next, the architects of this disaster, and future disasters, will continue to divide us so that they can continue to conquer us.
Get your head on straight because 2021 is shaping up to take us for a ride. And, if we’re not ready, we might as well be roadkill.
Grab a copy of Cro-Mag’s 2020 EP here.