"Whose side do you take in the Cro-Mags feud and why?" This is the hardcore kid's version of what's your sign. Your answer tends to say a lot about you. If you pick JJ it means you're probably a new jack, don't listen to anything outside of The Age of Quarrel, or worse, you're the kind of older kid who is out of touch and stubbornly denies the notion of a crossover Cro-Mags. In short, the choice of JJ is usually the mark of an undesirable. If you pick Harley it means you have an evolved music taste, you probably prefer either Best Wishes or Alpha Omega over AOQ, and you probably like drugs. The choice of Harley is the mark of an initiated person. Then you have the neutral territory members. Mackie has obviously sided with JJ as they have continued to gig together in the current incarnation of the Cro-Mags. Parris, despite bearing contempt for both JJ & Harley, defends Harley to this day.
The Cro-Mags are the Cro-Mags. I say this because there aren't enough adjectives out there worthy enough to describe them. The band has a mythology, catalog, and story the likes of which few bands in the subculture can match. The band took hardcore to another level with The Age of Quarrel. The Age of Quarrel is consistently discussed as the greatest hardcore album of all time. Hardcore kids spend their lives trying to adhere to the virtues set forth by the Cro-Mags. Kids quote "Street Justice", "Don't Tread On Me", "Seekers of the Truth", and other songs as a mantra that they have made their personal mission to strive for. Simply put, the band is a phenomenon. Their music exists as harnessed perfection. They were struck by that rare level of inspiration that few bands are fortunate enough to have. For this reason, despite all of their inner-feuds and sordid history, the Cro-Mags are a perfect band. There can be another million bands that will play hardcore and we will never have another Cro-Mags. They were not once in a generation, nor once in a lifetime... the likes of them will only happen one time ever. This is why kids drop 500 dollars for a Down But Not Out 89 tour shirt. They want a piece of that time period and they're willing to pay knowing it will never happen again.
After The Age of Quarrel, things happened. JJ left the band. I'm not going to get into it because at this point who really knows the story anymore? The history of the Cro-Mags is a history of propaganda dissemination not seen since Goebbels. The point is that JJ was not in the band. Harley took over vocals and continued on bass while Parris stayed the course to help write Best Wishes. Best Wishes was the Cro-Mags' foray into crossover. It is interesting to me that somehow the Cro-Mags caught the most flak for becoming a crossover act out of everyone else. I've never heard people criticize Cause For Alarm in the same way that they have Best Wishes. If anything Agnostic Front's jump to crossover was far more dramatic and pervasive than the Cro-Mags'. What's funnier is that there were a lot of parts on The Age of Quarrel that could tell you they were priming for such a shift in style. On Best Wishes, Parris' guitar work is still attacking but far more complex than what was on AOQ. Meanwhile Harley's vocals were different and fresh. Much has been made about JJ's vocals on AOQ. Parris highlighted many of these problems in his recent interview with Noisey. Some fans of the band (even those who swear by AOQ) prefer the demos of AOQ as opposed to the album itself. So there is something to be said for that and the switch to Harley on vocals.
The Cro-Mags' third album, Alpha Omega, is after the departure of Parris. With Harley & JJ running the show we got another treatment of the crossover thrash that had been played on Best Wishes. The songs were longer, more structured, and a bit cheesier (it was 1992, signs of the times). The album overall is another excellent outing (specifically the A side). Essential listening.
The Cro-Mags' fourth album, Near Death Experience, would be the band's last until Revenge in 2000. The album is what it is. It is a Cro-Mags album. If you are a die hard fan, you should take it in more for reference of the state of the Cro-Mags in 1993 and understanding what the band's dying days sounded like. It isn't a great album, but its a good album.
When they write books about hardcore, there needs to be a sole chapter reserved for the Cro-Mags. The Cro-Mags resonated with so many people because for as perfect of a band as they were, they were so intensely flawed as people that it made them something real. We see this story all the time. Someone can be so good at something but their personal demons are liable to consume them at any given time. That's the story of the Cro-Mags. Overcoming line-up changes, perpetual inner-strife, and their own individual struggles to make something amazing happen. People quote "We Gotta Know" or "It's The Limit" because those songs are more than just music. They go beyond a show or the spinning of a record. They become a part of us and stay with us forever.
Included is all four of their albums and the Before The Quarrel Demos.