If the sun is out, the multitude of glass tower blocks, decaying Victorian sites and sticky pavements exude a kind of vitality that is otherwise unthinkable in such a hellhole. Alas, the rain pours, so the sites take on a much bleaker vibe than normal. Coming through Whitechapel, I envisage the victims of Jack the Ripper being disgusted at how their crippling poverty and gruesome murders have now been turned into a kind of pastiche of Victorian London.
Thankfully, with the Cro-Mags (or, at least, Harley Flanagan's version) in town, my mind shifts back on gear.
With the recently settled lawsuit https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/cro-mags-harley-flanagan-wins-band-name-825896/ allowing for two touring incarnations of the band, it seems fitting that Harley celebrate by doing a 30th anniversary tour of their finest record, 'Best Wishes.'
You can read my thoughts on 'Best Wishes' (and interview with guitarist Parris Mayhew) here.
Openers BKS are a powerful hardcore (verging on powerviolence) band who deliver short bursts of anger and groove in their sound, which is a mix of classic crust punk with the fury of US hardcore. Very cool to hear such a band embrace slow grooves without turning them into standard 'mosh' breakdowns.
Dead Man's Chest provide solid, if somewhat unspectacular, metallic hardcore (which verges on Sepultura style groove metal at times). They're a tight act with stellar musicianship, but their songs offer little other than soundtracks to circle pits.
Red Death have been a favourite of mine since I heard their demo tape in 2014. Now signed to metal powerhouse Century Media, they've upped the ante in terms of recording but without sacrificing the intensity needed for a live performance, eyeing the audience with a wild, wide eyed stare and daring them to deny their greatness. Drawing on the classic crossover thrash records, Red Death live are a force to be reckoned with, certainly on a par with Broken Bones.
And now, the main band themselves. The New York Hardcore legends, Cro-Mags.
'Death Camps' began proceedings, and boy does it knock you out for six. That drum intro, mixed with the one note bass riff, just oozes tension, so when the guitars kick in the release is unbelievable. As a diatribe against the slaughter of animals for our consumption, it's a powerful one.
'We Gotta Know' carries on in similar vein. From the classic 1986 record 'The Age of Quarrel', it's lyrics about breaking "...these shackles … these chains … only way we'll do it is if we use our brains … there's gotta be some meaning to the purpose of life/I know there must be more than the struggle and strife" still hit hard no matter how old you are or what direction your life is heading in.
The rest of the evening is a whirlwind of lesser heard tracks like 'Down But Not Out', 'Then and Now' and 'Apocalypse Now' battling it out with old favourites like 'Hard Times', 'Malfunction' and 'Crush the Demoniac.' Doesn't make it any less memorable, it just means that you go with the flow and find it difficult to write about particular highlights, as the whole set was memorable (especially hearing the 'Best Wishes' material, one of those "I've waited half my life for this" moments).
The band Harley has assembled clearly know the material inside out, and play it with the necessary precision and muscle and, at the age of 52, Harley is clearly relishing the chance to go back on stage after his well documented arrest in 2012. He patrols the stage with menace, yet offers a warm embrace to the fans and reminds them that there's nothing wrong with getting older, just as long as it's done correctly.
While it's highly unlikely we'll ever see the classic line up together again, at least Harley's still making waves.
⏩ Christopher Owens was a reviewer for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland.