WORDS : EMANUEL MATOS
Cro-Mags’s 1992 record Alpha Omega would be considered an anomaly by most standards – A third album where the debut vocalist returned after several years and one album apart, co-written by two guitar players that left the band before the studio recordings and subsequent touring that eventually collapsed whatever momentum the group had going.
Alpha Omega is, in fact, a decent effort at what they did best: ferociously blending hardcore and metal with a Hare Krishna outlook on life
By Cro-Mags standards – a group with one the most abnormal histories ever – Alpha Omega is, in fact, a decent effort at what they did best: ferociously blending hardcore and metal with a Hare Krishna outlook on life. After years of tumultuous line-up changes, John Joseph, who performed vocal duties on Cro-Mags 1986 game-changer debut The Age of Quarrel (AoQ) got back together with founding bassist Harley Flanagan to work on a new record.
However, any hopes NYHC enthusiasts had about this being a return to form were laid to rest with the simultaneous departure of original guitarist Parris Mayhew, who was a key songwriter and a driving force behind the metallic hardcore sound the band was instrumental in establishing and that would become seminal for decades to come.
In an almost ironic way, the album makes justice to its title. There’s a shortcoming for every strength on display, and its nine tracks do indeed feel endless in some instances, albeit not for the best reasons.
Solid opener “See The Signs”, which feels like a logical continuation from previous album Best Wishes, is followed by the cringy “Eyes Of Tomorrow”, an attempt at rap metal that sounds as gimmicky as the DJ scratches that it contains. “The Paths of Perfection”, the record’s single and a track where Joseph’s melodic singing doesn’t fall from grace, is preceded by “Apocalypse Now”, an 8-minute jam that, likewise to the movie of the same name, should have left some parts on the cutting room floor. And that’s not even the album’s longest track.
Alpha Omega was Cro-Mags’ attempt to move away from the rawness of AoQ and deliver a body of work more on par with thrash metal of the time
As far as lyrics go, you can tell this was an album written in the aftermath of the Gulf War and the Rodney King beating. Hindu spirituality is still present, yet it is often paired or outshined by incisive socio-political commentary on issues such as racism (“Apocalypse Now”) and the nefarious consequences that war generates both overseas and domestically, as highlighted on the brutally honest track “Victims”.
Alpha Omega was Cro-Mags’ attempt to move away from the rawness of AoQ and deliver a body of work more on par with thrash metal of the time. It definitely has an early 90s timestamp and stands tall next to metal releases of the same era, so much that it was released by Century Media, making them labelmates with outfits as diverse as Sodom, EyeHateGod and Moonspell.
The thrash sound is dominant throughout and the production of Tom Soares – who rakes NYHC studio credits by the dozens, from Shelter to Judge or Sick Of It All – pushes all the right buttons. Large hall echoing drums, crunchy guitars and just the right amount of effects to keep Joseph’s inconsistent voice submerged under the instrumental yet edgy enough to come alive in the right moments.
Despite the overall steadiness and some ear-catching moments, it’s impossible not to feel something is missing. Take a song like “Kuruksetra”: excellent riffs, a flawless balance between bouncy and shredding tempos, surgical breakdown inserted just in the right moment, and even if the singing is not a highlight it also doesn’t taint the composition. Still, it doesn’t even come close to be as memorable as the middleweight tracks off AoQ.
Far from being their best offering, Alpha Omega sits well with the metal of the time while packing enough feeling and message to keep any hardcore fan intrigued rather than alienated
By leaving out some of the hardcore punk trademarks in nearly every song – shout and gang vocals, fast drums, streetwise lyrics – the Mags also, unfortunately, removed part of what made their sound unique. Far from being their best offering, Alpha Omega sits well with the metal of the time while packing enough feeling and message to keep any hardcore fan intrigued rather than alienated.
DJ scratches aside, it confirmed that hardcore bands didn’t have to be pigeonholed to the limitations of their native genre and could make music that would appeal to audiences beyond their scene. It helped to solidify the crossover style that groups like Biohazard and Leeway were already fine-tuning at the time and ultimately elevated just a few years later.
It also may be the last “authentic” Cro-Mags album, one where they were neither trying to recreate past glories nor disastrously distance themselves from them.