Fronted since 1989 by indomitable singer Freddy Madball, Madball form part of the highly regarded New York hardcore punk scene. To hell with maturing over time, they declare. 18 years of rough sailing in the explosively anti-political waters of their niche has led them to make a call for us all to Infiltrate the System on their latest release. They, of course, have exclusive rights to the soundtrack. “We speak of justice / But who will bring it?”, they roar in opening warcry “We the People”. This is a trick question. Obviously they will, and they do so in the only way they know how: dive-bombing down-tuned, earth-shaking riffs and enraged diatribes all over us.
Hardcore punk made its name based on nippy, agitated speed that was all over in an average of two-and-a-half minutes. Madball’s latest release observes the latter rule quite closely, wasting no time in getting to the point, but it also goes to show us that the genre has since strayed from its roots into heavy metal’s broad domain. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, except the way which it comes across here. The classic three-chord template is forgone for a leaden, groove-oriented stew. Freddy Madball’s vocals are a harsh, unrelenting bark of command, but they’re also one-dimensional and toneless, losing some of the brunt of the message he’s trying to convey in the sheer weight of the mix.
The result of this is that most riffs are unmemorable segues from one ugly vendetta to another, meaning that track names like “We the People”, “Takeover” and the huge “Stand Up NY” are best allowed to do the talking for themselves. Hardcore punk fans will be mortified by the thought of this, but it’s possible Infiltrate the System works best the first time you read its back cover.
The album’s amplified half is a surging buzzsaw at all times, provided by a guitarist who goes by the alias ‘Mitts’, with the drums propelling a snapping cymbal-snare onslaught that fires on all cylinders. Rabid catchphrases – “It’s time to change”, “Revolt!” “Watch as we break you down” – spatter the disc’s front line. The group don’t believe in the alleged magic of subliminal messaging; listen to this and you’re automatically a rebel. Some have accused punk of being ‘preachy’, but there’s no need for worry here. Madball ram their beliefs straight down your throat.
As the title track reaches the cusp of its finger-pointing beefs, the hum of the guitars drops momentarily away into a drum-and-vocal beatdown, a red-raw combination of the most ascetic kind. It’s an indicator of the blistering power that the New York hardcore scene can rattle up on record. Yet the only riff that sticks on the album arrives on “Revolt”, a jagged beast that irons its thorny presence into you from the get-go, pushed to boiling point by its fierce chant.
It’s hard to find something outside of that to truly exemplify Infiltrate the System. The band members take no steps to prevent their work from blending into one hostile anti-authoritarian groove. Hell, it’s probably what they were aiming for. “Liberty or Death” functions as an upright denouncement of all the world’s governments in turn: dictators, communism, and fascism. And they’re hoping to convert you along the way. If that’s repetitive and hard to swallow, that’s hardcore for you, and it has every right to be. You wouldn’t have it any other way.