Album Review: MADBALL For the Cause
In 2018—The Year in Which Our Lord is Hanging Their Head in Shame at Their Creation—it’s nice to have something you can rely on. When news breaks of friends, family, heroes, and strangers succumbing to previously undiagnosed mental health issues, experiences with assault and abuse, battles with addiction, and spouting off innocent (yet still offending) slips of the tongue are regular occurrences; spit-slathered curve balls fly from the Hairpiece-in-Chief’s mouth on a daily basis; your favourite bands exist as pale imitations of their former selves; it’s reassuring to know there are still places out there where you know what you’re going to get.
NYC’s Madball has been literally screaming “hardcore lives” since the beginning. Twenty-five years and nine albums in, they’re still screaming it as loud as they did a quarter-century ago. Heck, it was the title of their previous album. In the interest of disclosure, I admittedly haven’t actively sought out (read: heard) Madball in a long time. Still, common sense and history tell me I likely didn’t miss the band’s experimental jazz-fusion phase or sojourn into yacht rock smoothness.
With these long-in-the-tooth vets, it’s all hardcore—all the time. It's straight from hardened hearts and dirty streets; For the Cause doesn’t fuck with formula. Sure, some of the snappy rhythms might be rooted in ‘boom-bap’ hip-hop and vocalist Freddy Cricien has the occasional cadence from that world creep into his vocal lines, but this cross-pollination has been long-established and twisted into a usable form by hardcore’s scruffiness. These elements are as common as power chord box riffs, half-time breakdowns, and gang vocals.
Much like Ol’ Faithful spouting off or the ebb and flow of coastal tides, For the Cause spits out rough-hewn, NYC hardcore. The guitars (performed by on-again, off-again member, and alumnus/lifer, Matt Henderson) sound massive. The down picked riff delivery is effective in its melodic simplicity with palm muted sequences as crunchy as noses at a Muay Thai gym. Drummer Mike Justain (ex-the Red Chord, Trap Them, Backstabbers Inc., Unearth) provides an energetic snap, crackle, and pop; his violently staccato demeanor complementing Henderson and the warmth of Jorge “Hoya Roc” Guerra’s low end.
For the Cause consciously nudges the songwriting goalposts back a smidge. Of course, the power-chorded, quarter-note/whole note/sixteenth note/mid-paced chug riff-o-rama instantly associated with Madball exists in spades (“Smile Now, Pay Later,” “Tempest,” “Es Tu Vida” and the ironically titled “Old Fashioned”). Also making an expected appearance is up-tempo material on par with early Agnostic Front (“Damaged Goods,” "Evil Ways").
On the flip side, “Rev Up” is a hook-laden anthem falling somewhere between Sick of It All and Crumbsuckers with Cricien demonstrating his style as both a mono-syllabic barker and a dude who, in the song’s bridge, can carry a tune. “Freight Train” is powered by two-stepping riffs that are almost rock radio ready (if rock radio had any balls or ovaries, that is) and a ridiculously catchy sing-a-long chorus. “The Fog” corrals Steve Whale from The Business and producer and Rancid vocalist/guitarist, Tim Armstrong for a driving "Oi!" tinged number. The clarity of which is aided by Armstrong’s clean and bright production. It suits the street-wise fury of the record rather well.
Aside from the comfort of knowing Madball issued another slice of musical concrete, I, for one, find myself embracing the album's topical and lyrical angle. In the bio accompanying the album, Cricien said, “If you’re not fighting for a cause, you’re not participating in life. Simple as that. Speak up, fight, educate yourself, make a difference and make sacrifices for what’s important to you.”
As one gets increasingly perturbed and isolated by this era of quick and constant change, it’s important to take a stand. It doesn't necessarily mean shouting about social justice, the environment, or pets. It is also not about forcing personal politics down the throats of those who disagree, or how the world would be a better place if those damned kids would stay off your lawn. No, it’s more about fighting for what you believe in, staying solid about who you are and the life you want.
With all the talk of staying true to the scene, stories from the streets, the strength of friends and all that jazz, hardcore’s lyrical reputation has always flirted with a hackneyed lack of dimensionality. However, the themes offered on For the Cause admittedly speak more to me as a chronologically advanced listener who remains fully ensconced in a world/scene that was supposed to have been a teenage phase.
So, when Cricien is bellowing, hollering and pseudo-crooning about trudging forward with life and Madball but doing it for family in “For You;” when he rages about meaning and backing what you say in “Old Fashioned” and refutes those who would decry the band’s ongoing ambition in the title track; it’s all especially poignant and almost touching. To hear personal politic messages filtered through my own life of sacrifice and attempts to remain true to loves and ideas carries a resonating weight. Even if the song remains (sort of) the same, the message takes on a new light and sheds a new light of appreciation for the music. Plus, it’s comforting to know that the old guard can throw down as hard as, if not harder than, today’s young bucks.