Few crossover thrash bands to have emerged in recent years have seen as much commercial success as Iron Reagan, with their last album, 2014’s The Tyranny of Will, peaking at number 22 on the Billboard 200. Crossover thrash, being born out of underground hardcore punk scenes, has typically been an underground genre itself, with many legendary bands in the genre, like Cro-Mags, Discharge and The Exploited, gaining significant cult followings. Iron Reagan’s commercial success, then, is an interesting development, but most likely results from the band’s status as somewhat of a supergroup for the genre. The band’s line-up consists of lead vocalist Tony Foresta of Municipal Waste fame, guitarist Phillip “Land Phil” Hall also of Municipal Waste fame as well as Cannabis Corpse fame, ex-A.N.S. guitarist Mark Bronzino, former Darkest Hour drummer Ryan Parrish and Hellbear bassist Rob Skotis. Crossover Ministry, the latest effort from the thrash outfit, sees the band put together an album that is different in very few ways to their previous two, which comes as no surprise. A lot of bands under the crossover thrash umbrella stay very true to the formula of fast drumming, quick fifth-chord progressions played with dirty guitar tones and yelled vocals with politically-charged lyrics. Whilst Iron Reagan have stuck to this formula very well on their previous two albums, and now on Crossover Ministry, I have personally often been mixed towards their work, in that I have seldom found an awful lot about their musical identity to be particularly unique or memorable. In fact, I found that they seemed to blend in with their competition, with little that set them apart from other crossover thrash bands working within a very similar idiom. This new release sees many of these same reservations I have for the band return and, although there are ever so slight tweaks to their aesthetic here and there, Crossover Ministry feels like much the same for the band and for the genre, for better or worse.
Crossover thrash albums are infamous for being comprised of a large amount of short, blistering songs, and Crossover Ministry is no exception. The album spans across 18 tracks and is 28 minutes in length, with the shortest song on here being six seconds long. Conversely, however, the record features one of Iron Reagan’s only compositions to exceed the three-minute mark on the song Dead With My Friends. This track also stands out due to the lack of distinct political bitterness in the lyrics that is featured on the majority of Iron Reagan songs, instead revolving around Foresta’s desire to spend the Earth’s last moments getting drunk with his friends. Although a change of pace for the band, this sentiment isn’t rare to punk and thrash lyricism. It is a nice breather from the barrage of political angst that dominates the rest of Crossover Ministry, however, and the line, “If everyone is a puppet, how come I’m the only one who sees the strings?” is among the wittiest of Foresta’s lines on the whole album. I also really quite like the opening to this track, which features a spooky piano lick that sounds like it could have been pulled straight from a Ghost record. The following guitar chord progression that accompanies it feels more like something from a doom metal track, but that quickly changes when Foresta’s yelled vocals come in and the song takes a much more standard thrashy turn. Overall, Dead With My Friends is one of the strongest tracks on Crossover Ministry, and even though its length isn’t typical of an Iron Reagan song, they really make the most of the time they have with some fantastic changes in rhythm — including some great accents during the chorus — some well-used changes in dynamics, and a killer solo from Land Phil.
On the contrary, I feel that some of the songs on here are so short that they’re almost wasted. Some very strong ideas are conveyed in the shorter cuts on Crossover Ministry, and I was occasionally left scratching my head as to why the band decided not to develop these ideas past a short 30-second song. Perhaps the biggest culprit of this, in my opinion, is the 13-second No Sell. The build-up to this track is very well-done, but what made it catch my attention was the great verse section (if you can even call it that). The band blister into a fast-paced passage that features what is essentially a call-and-answer between the whole band and Skotis’ fuzzy, grimy bass, and it goes over really well, but ends way before I feel it should have done. Although comically short songs are part of the crossover thrash aesthetic, it feels like this was too good of a foundational idea to confine to a track barely exceeding 10-seconds, and a longer two-minute song based on this starting point seems like it would have written itself so naturally.
There are also a handful of cuts on here that I find so by the book that they don’t leave much of an impression on me, with the opener, A Dying World, coming to mind instantly. This is even more of a shame given that it’s the introductory track to the record, and whilst it is by no means a bad track and adheres to the crossover thrash formula perfectly adequately, it doesn’t really introduce the listener to Iron Reagan more than it seems to just allude to this being a typical crossover thrash record. I must say that I also find Tony Foresta’s voice to often lack the punch that I look for in a punk vocalist, and this shows up noticeably on this track, with his yells sounding like that of the singer for your average pub-playing punk band.
All this being said, I cannot deny that there are some really outstanding cuts on Crossover Ministry that set Iron Reagan apart from their competition like few other tracks of theirs have done in the past. For instance, the lead single from this album, Bleed the Fifth, features a plodding rhythm with some great riffage that would have any mosh pit going wild. I also think this song features one of Foresta’s most powerful vocal performances on the record, as it really sounds like he’s giving it his all here. Blatant Violence stands out for similar reasons, although it has a much faster pace, which is made clear from the beginning with the hard-hitting intro of snare rolls and crash accents supporting the punctuated guitar chords. The backend of this song also features a great bridge with some heavy drumming on the tom-toms and some more great accented crashes to pair with the guitar parts.
Overall, Iron Reagan come through with a relatively solid crossover thrash album that, whilst nothing even close to new for the band or the genre, is likely to satisfy most fans of fast, heavy-hitting hardcore punk and metal music. This being said, I also feel that this album highlights some issues for the band that have some clear resolutions. For instance, the fact that it’s the longer cuts on here that tend to be more impressive, and that a handful of shorter tracks display some great ideas that would fare far better worked into a longer format, shows that a more focussed and explorative record could pay off well for the group. Nonetheless, this is a decent project overall and I’m sure a lot of people would treat it with much less pessimism than I personally have, so I certainly recommend it to fans of the genre.
The Vinyl Verdict: 6/10