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AGNOSTIC FRONT (Buy CDs by this artist)
Victim in Pain (RatCage) 1984 (Combat Core) 1986
Cause for Alarm (Combate Core) 1986
Liberty & Justice For ... (Combat) 1987
Live at CBGB (In Effect/Relativity) 1989
Riot Riot Upstart (Epitaph) 1999
MADBALL
Ball of Destruction EP (In Effect/Relativity) 1989

This pioneering skinhead outfit which has been on the New York hardcore scene since the early '80s debuted (following a 1982 EP entitled United Blood) with an album of standard-issue punk — fast and blurry, but not absurdly so — and well-intentioned, if simpleminded, lyrics about unity, authority and justice. Roger Miret is an adequate run-of-the-mill shouter; like him, little about Victim in Pain, beyond its embossed all-black cover, is especially distinguished. (Remastering the LP for its 1986 reissue doesn't clear things up much; one CD contains both Victim in Pain and Cause for Alarm.)

Agnostic Front's demi-metal second album has a relentless kick-drum sound and a pernicious right-wing outlook. Songs about Bernhard Goetz ("Shoot His Load") and racist resentment of welfare recipients ("Public Assistance") join typical bonehead musings about killing, war, youth and the failings of the public education system. The one random moment of lucidity is "Toxic Shock," a protest against dioxin pollution.

A lineup change that retained only Miret and guitarist Vinnie Stigma then enlarged the quartet into a five-piece. With drums and guitars filling up every nanosecond, Liberty &Justice is a dull, onrushing storm of flailing limbs and incinerating transistors. Bottom-heavy and routine to the max, the music is utterly disposable; Miret's vocals dissolve in an incomprehensible hysterical gurgle. Even worse are the vague religious references.

The live record, cut with a new bassist in August 1988, strikes a balance between the energy and discipline of punk to deliver a taut, clear rock barrage that gallops and moshes along in close formation. The nineteen-song selection pretty much covers AF's high (and low) career points; the strangest moment is when Miret leads the audience in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

Madball is a side project in which members of Agnostic Front back Roger's kid brother, Freddie. On the 7-inch Ball of Destruction, the younger Miret barks out eight indistinguishable shardcore tunes in under a minute each. You'd never know it from listening to this overcompressed buzz, but the program includes a couple of AF songs and the Animals' "It's My Life."

[Ira Robbins]