A vegan Hare Krishna hardcore legend and Southern doom metal legend walk into a bar.
It sounds like the beginning of a joke, but when New York City’s the Cro-Mags and New Orleans’ Eyehategod get together for a show at Club Red in Mesa, you have to pay attention.
While the bands have done an East Coast and Midwest tour together in the past, this is the first time they have come west together, and while both have played here in town before, to see these two incredibly significant bands together on one stage is an opportunity any true fan of heavy music simply cannot pass up. For fans of either band of any age, but especially for those who have been there since the '80s when Cro-Mags and Eyehategod were first pumping out their groundbreaking works, this is truly a magical pairing of disparate tempos and ideologies, but equally powerful voices.
For the uninitiated, Cro-Mags took their cues from hardcore bands like Bad Brains and Minor Threat and weaved in a huge helping of thrash metal. The combination created one of the most explosive sounds to hit the hardcore, punk rock, and underground metal scenes ever when their seminal record, Age Of Quarrel, hit in 1986. When the first song on the record, “We Gotta Know,” kicked in, heavy music was never the same.
Longtime lead vocalist John Joseph, who is an author and competitor in Ironman competitions when he’s not putting his gravelly voice to work, is a man of many words. He prefers to talk more about making music than being influential.
“You don’t think like that unless you’re a fucking narcissist," says Joseph over the phone. "The ones who were (narcissists) aren’t in the band anymore. I don’t get caught up in false ego or thinking that what I’m doing is redesigning the wheel. You just go out and play and have fun with it and stay positive. You don’t forget the people who have been supporting the band all these years. Music is a gift."
For Mike “IX” Williams of Eyehategod, Cro-Mags were influential, but he was also listening to a wide range of metal, including Phoenix goth metal legends Mighty Sphincter. The influence of his band’s double-take-inducing name is not lost on him, either.
“I feel like you have to say, ‘Fuck you.’ I’d be wasting my time if I didn’t," says Williams. "Admittedly, though, as I get older I sometimes think, ‘Why did we call the band Eyehategod?’ But I’m glad we’re offending someone or pissing someone off."
With a name like Eyehategod, the band is instantly recognizable, and it's safe to say the band is still selling records on its shocking name alone. The dark, ominous tunes fused a Black Flag-style hardcore punk soundwith heavy, sludge metal of the Melvinns. Their debut record, In The Name Of Suffering, which came out in 1990, pulled out all the stops and created a now-much-imitated style that was unlike anything out at the time.
Both the bands have had their fair share of adversity. In 2012, an original Cro-Mag, bassist Harley Flanagan, was arrested for stabbing two men at a Cro-Mags show in New York. For Eyehategod, original drummer Joey LaCaze died in 2013 from respiratory failure, and Williams had a liver transplant in 2016. Each band, though, sites a love for music and their fans that keeps them going.
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“We’ve done a couple runs with them guys [Eyehategod]. Nothing but respect. They are great musicians and great dudes. I honestly don’t know what they sing about (laughs) … I just love the energy and real-ness. They put it out there every night. They just hammer it home,” says Joseph, clearly excited about the West Coast run.
While the future is somewhat murky for Cro-Mags due to the aforementioned legal troubles, Joseph seems ready to soldier on regardess. Eyehategod is planning on releasing new material in 2019, and although Williams is reluctant to give away too much news at this point, he's excited to be touring with the Cro-Mags again.
“I grew up listening to the Cro-Mags. They were one of those bands that mixed metal and punk and hardcore together. I grew up on the hardcore scene. We came into the first tour wondering if it would work. We’re two totally different bands, but it’s kind of strange how it works,” says Williams.