Madball – “Set It Off”

When Fuse Met Fire

As origin stories go, it’s hard to eclipse that of Freddy Cricien, not yet even 10 years old, being stuffed into a drum case and smuggled into early ’80s shows at now legendary clubs like A7, the Great Gildersleeves and CBGB—often toted by Warzone frontman Raymond “Raybeez” Barbieri, no less—to join his big brother Roger Miret’s band Agnostic Front onstage and scream out a couple songs. “Freddy loved the hardcore scene from the start,” Miret writes in his essential memoir, My Riot: Agnostic Front, Grit, Guts & Glory, “and took to it like a pyromaniac to a blowtorch.” And what do you do if you got love for a hardcore pyromaniac? Well, if you’re circa-1988 Agnostic Front, you create an extremely combustible side project for him to front, arrange a few songs like gasoline-soaked kindling, let him demonstrate his usual microphone-as-flint style and watch those motherfucking stages burn.

Truth is, in the years between the Ball of Destruction 7-inch (1989) and the Droppin’ Many Suckers EP (1992), Madball could have easily would up a quirky footnote rather than this epic, scene-transfiguring novel that still seems extremely far from “The End” three decades later. (Seriously, the 2018 long-playing conflagration For the Cause is among their all-time greatest infernos.) Here’s the wild, beautiful thing about this trailblazing, New York City hardcore-epitomizing outfit, though: They always treated “burn out, not fade away” as a false choice. They never accepted the phoenix rising from the flames as mere mythology. When Madball ran low on fuel, the band smashed apart outside expectations, inner doubts and the crumbling architecture of the decaying, inequitable society around them, then tossed it all on the pyre.

This is the story of how Cricien, guitarists Vinnie Stigma and Matt Henderson, bassist Jorge “Hoya Roc” Guerra and drummer Will Shepler stormed an otherwise fallow scene a quarter-century ago, forged real evolutionary synergy between the old and new schools, fomented a scene revolution and, amidst the flames, created Set It Off, one of the single greatest, most enduring hardcore records of all time.

Need more Madball? To read the entire six-page story, featuring interviews with all members on Set it Off, purchase the print issue from our store, or digitally via our app for iPhone/iPad or Android.