“There’s never been a better time for punk, hardcore, than what’s happening on this planet right now, so we gotta fucking work together and try to flip the switch on this bullshit that these motherfuckers are doing… The Great Barrier Reef is dead… We’re destroying the planet. Pharmaceutical companies… Greedy motherfuckers… It never stops. They’re poisoning this planet. War for profit… Fake fucking bullshit…” – John Joseph
As the on-again/off-again vocalist for Cro-Mags, John Joseph performed on one of the greatest hardcore punk albums of all time, 1986’s incendiary The Age Of Quarrel. As good as the album was, the band was equally dysfunctional, so Joseph was gone for the follow-up, the crossover-leaning Best Wishes… and then he was back for part of the metallic mixed bag that was Alpha Omega. After 1998’s Near Death Experience, he and bassist / vocalist / nemesis Harley Flanagan both fronted competing versions of various Cro-Mag-related outfits throughout the 1990s and 2000s. At last count, Joseph is again the vocalist for Cro-Mags, but Flanagan and classic-Cro-Mag guitarist (and fellow Flanagan nemesis) Parris Mitchell Mayhew remain out. Hinted at seven years ago, a new Cro-Mags album has yet to materialize, from any incarnation.
But really, at this point, who cares?
Joseph hasn’t wasted all that much time in the decades that the Cro-Mags floundered about – he’s fronted a few bands, including the underrated Both Worlds for one album in the 90s, and after that, he wrote an autobiography and a book about his vegan fitness lifestyle, the subtly titled “Meat Is For Pussies.” He’s an Ironman triathlete and remains a Hare Krishna devotee, despite the violence often associated with his chosen musical outlets.
Release date: July 14, 2017.
Label: Metal Blade.
What matters most, of course, is that Joseph’s back now with this band – a somewhat eponymous one, given his sometime “Bloodclot” nickname. For Up In Arms, he’s brought along former Murphy’s Law / Danzig / Glen Campbell (yes, seriously, Glen Campbell) guitarist Todd Youth, former Danzig drummer Joey Castillo, and former Queens Of The Stone Age-er and Dwarves bassist Nick Oliveri.
What all that really means is that Bloodclot has some pretty big shadows in which to stand, but to say that it lives up to its pedigree is a wicked understatement. This is a new spin on classic hardcore by some of the guys who helped shape it; it’s done expertly, with a vitality and a passion to rival the best work of its creators. It’s a hell of a hardcore album, a smasher from tip to toe.
The title track kicks the door down in a brief squall of feedback, and then it’s all raging beat and ripping riff and Joseph’s biting bark. “Their business is death / business is booming,” Joseph spits, his anger directed at the military industrialists as palpable and pertinent now as it was thirty years ago. “We, we ain’t gonna fall for your lies. / We woke up and we opened our eyes. / We’re, we’re gonna sound the alarm. / It’s we the people; we’re up in arms.” Tragically, it’s not exactly unique fodder for a hardcore song – I guess some things really never do change – but it’s fast, furious, and catchy, which is everything a great punk song is supposed to be.
The rest of Up In Arms follows suit – from the raging “Kill The Beast” through he chunky chorus of “Prayer,” to the blistering “Kali,” and the appropriately killer “Slow Kill Genocide.” Castillo beats his drums like they’re directly responsible for all the societal ills Joseph confronts on the mic. Youth’s riffs are often as hooky as the chorus shouts they frame out. The production is punchy and tight, not too slick and not too raw. There’s no wasted moment, no slips in energy, no lost points or missteps – just pure, classic hardcore punk delivered by scene veterans quite obviously still capable of the peak pissed-off performances of their prime.
In the interview I quoted at the start, Joseph makes a point to mention that Bloodclot isn’t a side-project – it’s four musicians committed to the band – and that they’ve already started writing for their second album. That’s all more than welcome news. I’ll be seeing Up In Arms again on my year-end list, I have no doubt, and I’ll take all I can get of this type of hardcore – the more, the angrier, the better.