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The Most Influential Figures of NYHC: Harley Flanagan

Illustration by Dylan Chadwick.

At the end of 2017, I was thinking up No Echo ideas for this year, and one that really got me excited was putting together a year-long series where I take a look at some of the most influential figures throughout the history of NYHC. Like anything else I write on this site, this series reflects my opinion, so I'm sure many people will disagree with my choices, but that's fine in the end. I welcome everyone's feedback throughout the run. 

Another aspect of this project that I'm thrilled about is the involvement of artist Dylan Chadwick. A talented illustrator and animation artist, Dylan is a fellow hardcore fanatic who I knew would help bring more life to this series.

For the first installment, I went with an obvious pick.

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It’s impossible for me to think of NYHC without imagining the imposing mug of Harley Flanagan. When I first got into the music as a kid in the late ‘80s, one of the first things I was implored to do by my older friend Octavio was to listen to and dub his copy of 1986’s The Age of Quarrel. At that point, all I knew about the Cro-Mags was many of the thrash metal musicians I admired called themselves fans of the band. Before I even listened to the record, I remember staring at the photo of the guys in the group and trying to imagine what they sounded like based on their image. Well, whatever the fuck I had conjured up in my head didn’t prepare me for the aural onslaught that is opening cut, “We Gotta Know.”

To this day, there isn’t a better song in the hardcore realm. But it wasn’t till “World Peace,” the second track on The Age of Quarrel, that Harley's 4-string work first made itself known to me. With a rumbling tone that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a classic Motörhead album, the bass line that introduces “World Peace” is an ominous one that is as menacing as the guy playing it.

Writing a bulk of the music and lyrics on The Age of Quarrel, Harley would end up taking over on lead vocals for John Joseph on the Cro-Mags’ sophomore album, 1989’s Best Wishes. Though some of the more bullheaded hardcore fans dismissed it as “too metal” for their tastes, Best Wishes marries the intense spirit of hardcore with the precision of thrash metal. Harley wrote or co-wrote all of the material on the LP. The record has gone on to influence several waves of metallic hardcore bands in the years since its release, and even some of its original detractors have come to their senses about it.

Even before the Cro-Mags existed, a pre-teen Harley was playing drums in his aunt’s (Denise Mercedes) punk band, The Stimulators, appearing on their Loud Fast Rules single in 1980 as his first discography entry. What were you doing when you were 12?

Throughout the years, he’s also released records with the bands White Devil, Harley’s War, and in 2016, he issued a great solo album titled Cro-Mags.

The Cro-Mags’ dirty laundry has been aired out endlessly throughout the years, but no matter all that noise, Harley’s aforementioned songwriting, bass tone, and playing style has helped inform the musical spectrum of hardcore for over 30 years now, and that cannot be denied. If you don’t believe me, look no further in the sonic DNA of such newer hardcore bands as Big Cheese, Unified Right, and Illusion. 

Harley Flanagan at Generation Records, NYC, NY, 2016. (Photo: Lucas Anderson)

Tagged: cromags, harley flanagan, most influential figures of nyhc, nyhc

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