Despite being overshadowed by the majority of the population thanks to the uprising of a batch of fellow New York-based hardcore stalwarts (including Sick Of It All and Prong), as well as some modern-day metallic-hardcore rockers (i.e. Sworn Enemy, et al.), and even a few New York-bred crossover hardcore/thrash titans (like Anthrax and Stormtroopers Of Death), NYC's Madball are actually every bit as good as the next band. They certainly have the instrumental skills and convincing delivery to rival anybody else -- that much is for certain on their new album, full-length number eight, 2014's "Hardcore Lives."
And in this day and age of innumerable hardcore subgenres (i.e. post-hardcore, melodic hardcore, and, most prevalently, metallic hardcore/metalcore), it is so refreshing to hear a band do hardcore the right way, the way it was meant to be played. As such, you can expect lots of visceral aggression, very little technicality involved in the musical arrangements, straightforward song structuring, and only just enough melody to be memorable on this record. It's almost as if Madball are saying to the rest of the world: "This is hardcore, and anybody that does anything less than this is just imitating." All told, it seems like a heartfelt "thank you" very well-deserved from the heavy music world to frontman Freddy Cricien and Company.
The album's "Intro" track is exactly that: A very thrashy and even-more catchy instrumental opener with headbanging, fist-pumping chugging that is sure to get many-a-pit revved up. And it flows right into the record's rousing title cut, a mean, heads-down bruiser with thrash-derived pacing, picking, and raging vocals. "The Balance" is the first instance, here, where the rhythm section is really fleshed-out and allowed some time in the limelight, what with its pounding double-kick drumming and grumbling bass lines. But even without these two attributes, said song would still be a keeper on account of it being a blistering mosh pit anthem that also features fiery guitars and memorable, call-and-response vocal patterns.
"Hardcore Lives" then continues in this bass-driven fashion with "Doc Marten Stomp," another bass-heavy bruiser. But this one differentiates itself from the rest of the pack on account of it also being highlighted by some backing vocals that could almost verge on being called "borderline clean." And next up after that, we get "DNA," which plays almost like full-on Nineties thrash, what with its scalding, buzzsaw-fast picking and smashing skins. With that said, though, the tune does retain some of Madball's patented hardcore attitude, as it does not forsake the use of chugging, gut-checking hardcore punk breakdowns and chanted, constipated yelling.
Track six, "True School," is an even bigger standout still, as it boasts a guest spot from Terror's Scott Vogel. And needless to say, he really helps to make this one unforgettable exercise in blistering and brutal, pain-inflicting hardcore-tinged thrash, and one that is home to some extra-memorable and ferocious vocals. The next two songs after that find Madball again delving back into their traditional hardcore sound, as "The Here And Now" and "Nothing To Me" are both heavily reliant on the almighty chug and breakdown. (But two more really memorable and empowering choruses help to make sure that these two cuts are both better-than-your-average page out of the hardcore playbook.)
"My Armor" might be relatively brief, as it clocks in at only ninety-seven seconds in length, but it nevertheless still packs one mighty forceful punch. It is a very, very Pantera-esque scorcher that opens with Cricien hollering "1,2,3,4" before diving headfirst into a rip-roaring river of blistering thrash riffage and pummeling drums. And what's more, but "My Armor" also utilizes a cameo from not one, not two, but three guest vocalists: Toby Morse, Chad Gilbert, and CM Punk, and does so to excellent effect. (There are some truly unforgettable vocal stylings in the song's choruses.) And some solid bass work (i.e. grumbling bass fills) also highlights the arrangements, here, as well.
"Beacon Of Light" might be another speedy, and ultra-abrasive number with grinding guitar licks and catchy, chanted vocals; but it is overshadowed by the three standouts that come next. "Born Strong" (which features Candace Puopolo on vocals) is a scathing assault of machine gun-fast riffing/drumming, clangy bass lines, and bellowed, chant-along vocal refrains; while the next two after that are both pieces of Latin-music-inspired metalcore. Indeed, both "Spirit" and the bass-driven "Mi Palabra" are fiery, thrashy jaunts home to Spanish-sung (or, more accurately, shouted) lyrics, thus evoking memories of Sepultura's "Chaos A.D." days.
"H.L." serves up two final gems as a grand finale. The first of which, "NBNC," is a scant, twenty-seven-second long blast of hooky, staccato riffing and impressively acrobatic, near blast beat-esque drumming; whereas the second, "For The Judged" is one final mosh-pit stoking bludgeon that smells strongly of Biohazard influence. It is one super abrasive bugger, that's for sure, and is backed by solid, locomotive chugging and quick, pounding thrash beats.
"Hardcore Lives" is one darn solid record, and one that can stand toe-to-toe with the likes of Ringworm and Nausea in order to be a leading contender for the much-sought after "Hardcore album of the year (2014)" category. After all, Madball might not exactly be spring chickens anymore (in fact, with a quarter of a century under their belts, they are actually pretty old). But none of that matters because they are still on the top of their game. And so long as they continue playing to their strengths (lean, mean hardcore with a strict diet of red meat and potatoes), they will always keep releasing albums that are of this strong magnitude.