Monday, October 13, 2014

Agnostic Front

It took long enough, right?

What can I say about Agnostic Front that hasn't been said? The very fabric of NYHC's DNA is interconnected with Agnostic Front. They made NYHC. Agnostic Front nurtured a young Freddy Madball (and basically wrote Ball of Destruction). A young Raybeez drummed on the debut Agnostic Front record United Blood. Agnostic Front made being a skinhead acceptable in New York hardcore (even if their claiming of skinheadom got them into hot water at times). They coined Doc Marten Skins. Which would become Drugs Money Sex. Which would become Dirty Money Syndicate. Words forming an acronym whose iconic status is only trumped by the intimidation and respect it commands. If Bad Brains was the cytoplasm in the primordial ooze and Warzone was the name & identity... Agnostic Front is NYHC's flesh, blood, and bone.

Consider Agnostic Front's history and you see a very clear picture of the New York scene in the 1980s. Their first release, United Blood, is raw. It is so raw that it borders on off-putting for many parties within the subculture. A lot of people can't handle the abruptly short length of the songs and the dogged production quality. United Blood is pure and New York at its essence. When you hear the bass come in on "United Blood", you hear it. You hear New York in the early 1980s. You hear what hardcore music truly is. You hear that anger, that contempt, and just hatred. You know that what you're listening to belongs to an initiated group and when you're a part of that group, it is all of you against the world.

Their first LP, Victim In Pain, is more straight forward and composed. Agnostic Front knows who they are and at this point are more defined. They are Agnostic Front, a part of the rising and established NYHC community. The songs display maturity in both lyrics and songwriting. What they delivered in Victim In Pain is one of the best hardcore albums of all time. If VIP is not in your top 5 hardcore releases, please reappraise your taste in the genre because it is sorely lacking.

Their second LP, Cause For Alarm, is beautiful. Beautiful for a variety of reasons. It features artwork from subculture art hero Sean Taggart. It features contributions from the legendary Peter Steele. Cause For Alarm was Agnostic Front's foray into crossover. It was a natural progression for the band. By this point NYHC, like a pinball factory in wartime building machine guns, had largely converted toward crossover. The Cro-Mags, S.O.D., Leeway, Prong, and Steele's Carnivore had planted their flag for crossover in New York. The album is an achievement for a variety of reasons, above all else because Agnostic Front don't lose themselves in it. Oftentimes when a band branches out, something gets lost in the mix. The band is no longer the same. When you listen to Cause For Alarm, you don't lose perspective that this is an Agnostic Front album.

It is worth noting that the album did get Agnostic Front into some hot water (most notably on the Phil Donahue Show) with the song "Public Assistance". Specifically the line about minorities on welfare. However when you examine the landscape of NYHC in that era, there is a measure of jingoism, right-wing politics displayed almost universally within the scene. Agnostic Front's "Public Assistance" is not an outlier, rather it is an expression of the era and locale.

Hardcore owes itself to Agnostic Front. New York City would not be what it is today without Agnostic Front. We need to be reminded of this fact constantly and we can never lose sight of it. Included is their first four records and their first live album at CBGBs. It is essential listening and beyond that, UB / VIP are records that need to be imprinted in your mind. Agnostic Front taught us that being a part of hardcore makes us different. They taught us that at the end of the day "there is no justice, there's just us".

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