One perception of New York hardcore punk is that it's always been purely about unyielding aggression. Not true. Its original crop of bands carried traces of the stylistically diverse 1970s punks who had inspired them—consider Kraut's melodic Brit-punk leanings, the False Prophets' arty theatrics, DC transplants the Bad Brains' reggae-fusion interludes. With the second generation of Big Apple hardcore in the mid-1980s, however, such shades of multiplicity were summarily stomped into the floorboards of CBGB with a size 13 Doc Marten. The younger wave of bands weren't import bin-scanning downtowners. They were genuine street kids from the outer boroughs—thuggish, thick-necked, tattooed skinheads with reputations for free-flowing violence who would've smoothly matriculated from hopping turnstiles to acting as mafia muscle had they not discovered punk rock. And topping the testosterone heap was Agnostic Front, who will pummel a path to the Chance Theater on December 6.
Agnostic Front began at the dawn of the 1980s and has had enough lineup changes to fill a colorful Wiki timeline, which they do. With the release of United Blood (AF Records; reissued in 2009 by Bridge9 Records), their 1983 debut seven-inch, though, the core duo of founding guitarist Vinnie Stigma and Cuban-born vocalist Roger Miret was in place, where it remains today. The band's first full-length, Victim in Pain (Rat Cage Records), appeared in 1984 and became instantly emblematic of the notoriously tough New York scene.
"Those first two records alone have long sealed Agnostic Front's legendary status and still resonate, more than 30 years later," says Maximum Rocknroll columnist and Suburban Voice editor Al Quint. "There was clearly a progression between the seven-inch and the LP. I got into the album first and, to me, it had an overpowering nature I didn't hear as much from other bands."
As the decade progressed, Agnostic Front added elements of heavy metal to their approach and helped establish the style known as crossover thrash. Cause for Alarm (Combat Records, 1986) is considered a benchmark of this subgenre, which brought an awareness of urban hardcore further into America's more rural regions. The record also, however, lost the band some of its original following, who decried it as a sellout move. In 1987 the group returned to their straight-hardcore roots with Liberty & Justice for... (Combat), but despite the fan-welcomed return, Agnostic Front's existence was not without further drama. Rhythm sections came and went, fights at shows grew increasingly common, and, just prior to their first European tour, Miret went to prison for two years on drug charges (the band toured with substitute singer Alan Peters in his absence). Since he rejoined in the early 1990s the group has continued to release records and drag their tattooed knuckles across stages around the world. Their newest effort is The American Dream Died (Nuclear Blast Records).
Agnostic Front will perform with Dissolve, Brick by Brick, Two Fisted Law, and Psycho Enhancer at the Chance Theater in Poughkeepsie on December 6 at 5pm. Tickets are $15. (845) 471-1966; Thechancetheater.com.