Started as a sort of Agnostic Front side-project, Madball quickly morphed into a full-blown band with engaged and enraged vocalist Freddy Cricien at the helm. Those who can recall the days when Roadrunner was still a reliable imprint will no doubt have heard 1994’s Set It Off and 1996’s Demonstrating My Style, two of the finest metallic hardcore records of the 90s. Since then, lineup changes to the guitar and drum positions haven’t drastically altered the reliable, resilient Madball style or ethos. And while the Erik Rutan produced Empire is generally on par with the group’s heavier output of the last decade, this new album’s highlights put it more than a few steps ahead of Infiltrate The System and Legacy.

Lyrically, Cricien excels in several instances on this record. Calling out the armchair cynics and ignoramuses that take irresponsible glee in dismissing hardcore, “R.A.H.C.” might be their best single since the ’90s, cleverly written and downright anthemic. The first verse has Cricien parroting back ill-informed statements and sarcastically bemoaning his wasted life fronting his long-running and still-popular band. The second is classic Madball, a thorough pummeling with a Fuck You send-off. This all takes less than two minutes and leaves little doubt that Cricien, Mitts, and Hoya Roc are as committed as ever to holding it down. (Newcomer and E Street progeny Jay Weinberg plays drums on the record, but was dismissed from the band weeks before Empire‘s release.) The importance of family, both in blood and spirit, is a consistent thematic thread across Empire. A guest appearance by Cricien’s brother Roger Miret on “Shattered” — fitting given the band’s origins — borrows a sacred line from an Agnostic Front classic, while the sentimental yet definitively not soft closer “Rebel4life18” pays tribute to a departed beloved sister.

The Internet is a wellspring of discourtesy, perpetuated through snarky tweets, pithy blog comment quips, and sloppy YouTube answer videos. This state of affairs must be vexing for someone like Cricien, a man who has built a legacy on commanding respect. Yet he’s as vigilant and derisive as ever on “Delete,” a track that could be directed at the popular B9 board or any half-assed blogger posing as a music critic. Approaching elder statesman status in the hardcore scene, Cricien has decided to speak to these new enemies in the same manner he has with his old ones, shaming and threatening them through song.

(3.5 out of 5 horns)


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