HARLEY’S LORD: GREG ANDERSON’S BRILLIANT AND ONLY SLIGHTLY RISKY POWER PLAY
In what is sure to reignite controversy in the hardcore scene, Southern Lord has apparently gone all-in by signing Cro-Mags’ co-founder Harley Flanagan to the label for “several upcoming releases.” To quote label owner Greg Anderson:
Through the power of the net and sheer luck I started talking to Harley Flanagan over emails and telephone past year. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the intensity and honesty of his playing also carried through in his personality. Harley is humble, raw, intelligent, driven and focused. To say it is an honor for Southern Lord to be working with Harley Flanagan is a enormous understatement! We’re in shock and CAN NOT WAIT to get this shit going! The first release we will be doing together will be the forthcoming Harley’s War album. The demos of the material he has shared with us for this are fucking phenomenal! The new Harley’s War material has the same feeling as the initial musical impact the Cro-Mags first had in the mid-’80s. Killer songwriting, raw lyrics and Harley Flanagan’s trademark bass playing. As mentioned above this is “other level” shit!
So why do I think this is a brilliant (albeit a tad risky) move on Southern Lord’s part?
Evidently no longer on polite speaking terms with original Cro-Mags frontman John Joseph, Flanagan has made no secret of his disdain for the current Joseph-led Cro-Mags lineup, and hardcore artists such as Lord Ezec have in turn remained characteristically vocal in their anger towards him. Yet despite Flanagan’s perception among some notable scene figures, nobody can discount that the Cro-Mags–like so many other seminal bands in a given (sub)genre–are more popular than ever before. And I’m not just talking about the version (formerly known as Cro-Mags Jam) you’ll find headlining festivals. Like it or not, Cro-Mags nostalgia, awareness, and fetishism is at an all-time high. Anderson, clearly cognizant of this state of affairs, knows that aligning his label–which has spent the past couple of years carving its own hardcore niche–with a Cro-Mag is the prudent move at this juncture.
Unlike Joseph, Jayson, or even Parris Mayhew, Flanagan performed on every single Cro-Mags LP to date. While today’s hardcore kid might clutch The Age Of Quarrel to his breast as if it were scripture, many metalheads–especially thrash and crossover devotees–recognize the Joseph-less follow-up Best Wishes as an essential and influential release. Given Southern Lord’s established credibility in the metal scene (with the exception of you, self-righteous and crabby Internet commenter), these two selling points, coupled with the imprint’s established distribution network, make this new Harley’s War record more marketable than ever.
Furthermore, Flanagan has something that Joseph does not: cromags.com. Yes, that’s right, the most obvious website domain for the Cro-Mags appears to be under Flanagan’s control, serving to highlight his activities past and present. (Mayhew, interestingly, owns cro-mags.com.) The site is admittedly in dire need of an update and redesign, but even if he just slaps on a picture of the new Harley’s War album cover and a link to the Southern Lord site, both he and the label will likely reap obvious benefits. SEO matters, guys.
But I hear at least one of you asking, “What about content? What if Flanagan delivers a shitty album–or no album at all?” Sure, if the album reviews badly and/or sells poorly, then conventional logic dictates that Southern Lord stands to lose something. Yet I’m going to take a contrary position here and posit that there is hardly any downside to this for the label. Unless Anderson has committed to some big advance (which is possible but not assured), the financial responsibilities wont really kick in until a master is delivered. Sheer curiosity about the album from Cro-Mags fans young and old, driven by publicity and niche media coverage (like what you’re reading right now!), will shift units.
Where Southern Lord stands to lose, then, is if the Harley’s War record is poorly received, harming the prospect of those future unnamed releases. But such a risk exists with countless indie releases, and one Sunn O))) or Boris record could surely cover losses.
Bravo, Mr. Anderson. Don’t let us down, Mr. Flanagan.