Agnostic Front – “The American Dream Died” (Nuclear Blast Records)
The Lower East Side. New York Hard Core. CBGBs. Some things come, some things go. But Agnostic Front are still out there, the original crew that’s been stomping the streets for four decades. When I first heard “Victim In Pain” back in ’84 it introduced me to a new style known as ‘crossover’ – an even bigger bastard born from thrash metal and hardcore punk. Musically it was fast n loose, with DIY production and a band that looked like – and in some cases did – come off the streets, but man, did it fuckin rage with songs like ‘Blind Justice’ and ‘Your Mistake’! Lapping up Reagan, Koch and later Giuliani’s incendiary politics like pyromaniac skinheads, AF sang about social injustice, street justice and the bleakness of the Bowery. While some in the scene left for Wall Street and others found Hare Krishna, AF shoved a riotous finger up the city’s ass so loud they heard it in City Hall. More like a brotherhood to their crew, a street social movement to the uninitiated and to the authorities a gang, AF founders Vinnie Stigma and Roger Miret have seen it all: from police brutality to drugs and prison, right down to being in the center of the vicious SHARPS vs ultra right wars – from his moving childhood as a Cuban immigrant growing up on the mean streets of New York I remember vocalist Roger Miret telling me with tears in his eyes how some stabbed kid died in his arms in LA. Stigma, holy fuck, this is guy is a real goodfella. As he famously said to an unsuspecting Julian Clary – ‘…there ain’t no Yin in our Yang!!..’ he is the original Mott Street wiseguy, a real character if there ever was one but a brother who always had your back (as I once remember when confronted by some unfriendly bouncers), he once wisely told me that AF was always about family, a band that was always out there for the people. Words to live by. Always a riot live and hosting mosh pit carnages that few survivors will ever forget, the actual musicianship and songs were almost secondary if unintentionally so given the raw energy and politically charged state of the band. It’s possibly why AF never grew any bigger – and probably just as well for the authorities – although those who followed them never left them through thick and thin. Still, you hadta wonder what would really happen if this band really got going on the technical side! Now in their 50s with me not far behind, the prospect of another AF release always had me excited – as always – but with Roger and Vinnie’s enticing studio vids and more guests from Madball’s Freddy Cricien, H2O’s Toby Morse and Sick Of It All’s Lou Koller – man, they even brought back Matt Henderson – this started taking on the prospect of being something much bigger….16 tracks, with De Niro’s infamous ‘Taxi Driver’ rant and a title so apt it’s a real live wire, this is as raging as it was back on “Victim In Pain” – except now with come of age musicianship and breathtaking quality compositions to match!!! If anything, this album is more punk with so much abrasiveness on songs like ‘Police Violence’ and ‘Enough Is Enough’ you haveta wonder if these are leftovers from that very first album?! Back in the day, Roger used to say that he wasn’t about preaching but now older and as concerned about the welfare of younger generations still exploited by a hypocritical system that preaches ‘liberty’, ‘freedom’ and ‘justice’ but in reality does very little, he’s truly stepped up lyrically like on ‘A Wise Man’ where his sick puke vocals make him now sound like a raging street poet as he screams ‘…wake the fuck up people..’!!! Stigma too has mastered his guitar, not only shredding as before but now producing quality, punk as fuck riffs along with blistering lead breaks from a monster crossover sound made doubly devastating by Craig Silverman on the other axe. Never lacking in rhythm, this album’s riot squad is made up of longtime bassist Mikey Gallo and drummer Pokey Mo. Along with family, values such as respect and loyalty have always been in AF’s bloodline and it’s also stamped on anthemic songs like ‘Never Walk Alone’ and ‘Just Like Yesterday’ complete with its NYHC crowd chants that make those CBGB’s matinee shows seem like yesterday. And if you’re new to New York and wondering with all the ‘gentrification’ and corporatisation what it was all about, then take a ride with De Niro on ‘Old New York’ – I guarantee you’ll have a different view! Older and wiser, but more dangerous than ever before with the wisdom of street knowledge that has kept them alive to this day, AF’s time has finally come on what must be their best album to get that wider respect so deserved beyond their own loyal till death fans.