Few `80s hardcore bands are still managing to get by in 2007. Fewer are as relevant today as they were when "hardcore" actually meant something. And even fewer are putting out their best work 20 years after they began. But just like the norm of late `80s hardcore bands that were done by the early `90s, there are exceptions. And few, if any, have been as potent a force as Madball.
It's impossible to deny Madball's far-reaching influence and the respect they've garnered among fans and fellow musicians. Whether getting name-dropped in songs by the likes of Rancid and H2O, earning a top friends spot from None More Black, or being talked up on Punknews by the Ducky Boys' Mark Lind, Madball has secured a stronghold in the hardcore punk community that's as durable as they come. As if brotherly love isn't enough, the legions of imitators that continue spawning to this day are proof of the band's legendary instrumentality in bridging hardcore from the 1980s to the 1990s to the 2000s.
Parallel to latter-day hardcore kinfolk Throwdown, Madball's 2007 effort has produced the band's most accomplished album to date, through both words and music. While Throwdown developed guitar soloing and diverged from their pointed straight-edge themes, Infiltrate the System features more complex structures and compositions than the Madball of the past, while the lyrical content has moved beyond topics of hardcore and family loyalty to far more engaging lexicon. "Renegades" opens with a nearly post-punk feel that could trigger memories of At the Drive-In if it didn't subsequently whip into Madball's trademark heavy two-step hardcore. The album's title track builds with delicately restrained aggression and hits full tread with a group-assisted rally cry: "Spread freedom / What will you do to ignite change? Infect the masses / What will you do with your experience untold? / Spread wisdom / Now it's time to infiltrate the system."
Album standout "Revolt" transitions smoothly from a Refused-like intro to a pounding double-bass-spiked verse and circle-pit thrash-around with some of the album's most telling lines: "Those in position, start the revolution / We need this change / We need you / In my world there's no left or right, there's only common sense / You can save your politics and all that come with it for those easily swayed / [...] / Open your eyes / Open your minds."
Frontman Freddy Cricien has come a long way since the 12-year-old side-project novelty of his brother Roger Miret's Agnostic Front. His gruff intermittent vocal delivery is as much inspired by rap (Cricien moonlights with DJ Stress as a hip-hop duo on the side) as traditional raw-throated hardcore, and has been emulated by new-school hardcore acts from the Warriors to Terror. On the chugga-rific "Liberty or Death," Cricien appears his most convicted: "Liberty or death to the violator, the instigator / Liberty or death to the traitor, soon you will face them / The souls people you betrayed / Your people you enslaved / Your revolution never had them in mind / Fight this oppression until you die." "Novelty" takes aim at the resurgence of hardcore bands that broke up when hardcore stopped being fashionable and reunited when there was more money to be made.
The only snags on Infiltrate the System are built on the foundations of more traditional Madball lyrics with excessively bald-faced threats and hostility. While songs like "No Escape," "The Messenger" and "You're Gone" feature some of the album's best hardcore, the substance is considerably lacking. However, the fact that portions of the album's sales are going to the Arpoador Children's Fund makes such qualms seem frivolous.
Although Madball are among the most influential of `80s bands that remains active, Infiltrate the System is still a pleasant surprise. While the band has managed an immense following even with fairly simple music and cliché hardcore lyrics throughout the years, Infiltrate the System is a big step up in the band's evolution and one that won't lose any diehard Madball fans along the way.