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Hardcore punk is one of those easily dismissed, oft-overlooked genres. Too frequently, people regard it as solely for teens — or irrelevant after the late '80s. The reality is that good hardcore music does have a place in the music world, and bands like Madball are at the forefront of that discussion.
The band was started in 1988 by 12-year-old Freddy Cricien, the younger brother of Roger Miret, lead singer of famed New York hardcore band Agnostic Front. In those days, Madball comprised mostly Agnostic Front members, with Cricien taking lead vocals.
Having been exposed to the hardcore music scene at a young age because of his brother's affiliations, Cricien started playing at only 7 years old and had the opportunity to experience a growing, changing scene at its height, while most others his age wound up viewing only in retrospect.
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Bands like Madball and Agnostic Front are unique for incorporating elements of thrash metal and Oi! into their sound — something that wasn't done in hardcore's early days. In the '80s, metal and punk crowds rarely connected socially, or in public. But as it turns out, plenty of members of one subculture enjoyed the music of the other. This crossover was cemented with these bands, as well as Circle Jerks, Cro-Mags, Nuclear Assault, Suicidal Tendencies, and others.
The Oi! movement focused on bringing punk back to working-class roots and moved away from the more philosophical, poetic components of the style. Bands like Madball often incorporate a working-class point of view on politics, military service, and class struggles, while typically still maintaining a radical view of government.
Lyrics like, "We fight for blood money to reign supreme / You fight for God almighty to control human beings / What makes you better than me? / What makes me better than you?" confront the public and the government about violence, whether means can justify an end, and the question of who actually becomes victim when a nation wages war.
It was this combination — the aesthetic qualities of crossover thrash, the following of a hardcore punk scene in New York, and the unique, important, and relatable blue-collar perspective — that made them stand out.
Madball's newest record, Empire, was released last fall, and though it stays true to the sound and purpose their fans have come to know and love, there's also a certain evolution and sophistication that can be heard, according to Cricien.
But maybe the band's musical sophistication is related to personal maturity — they're also touring differently than they had in the past. For example, several members now have family obligations. Rather than spending weeks or months at a time on the road, they're playing the same number of shows, but in shorter stints — only for about a week or two at a time. Cricien describes this as "a more civilized pace."
Despite the ways the punk community has shifted and the scene has changed, the music that was "born in the streets" still has a feeling of family and camaraderie. The nuanced ways that it changes and grows are defined by the bands and fans who make it meaningful. By listening, you become a part of it. It's one of the few styles where the social component is as important (perhaps even arguably more important) than the music itself. When you're in, you're in.