At the dawn of the '80s, New York City was mired in debt and crime, grappling with one of the most trying periods in its history, yet, ironically (or, perhaps fittingly), its underground music scene was seething with activity like never before. Still reeling from the violent inception and subsequent implosion of punk rock, 100s of underprivileged kids living in Manhattan and its outlying boroughs began forming rock groups to rail against the everyday trials, dangers, and prejudices of urban existence. As had been happening in other urban centers, equally affected by the lean, recession-laced early years of Reaganomics (most notably L.A. and Washington, D.C.), New York became a melting pot/hub for a flourishing hardcore scene; a cultural phenomenon which used punk rock as a platform for politically charged, inherently regional musical catharsis. And though it would eventually splinter into countless sub-genres, at least initially, N.Y.H.C. (New York hardcore) far superseded the original punk movement's ragged collective (known as much for art rockers like Talking Heads and Television as it was for true punks like the Ramones and the Dictators) in terms of a cohesive creative vision. At the forefront of this united, seemingly unstoppable army was Agnostic Front, whose frantic, minimalist assault and socio-political rants came to epitomize the essence of hardcore, New York "f'n" City style.
Roger Miret (vocals) and Vinnie Stigma (guitar) met in 1982, forming a band which they briefly called Zoo Crew before adopting the name Agnostic Front at Stigma's insistence (because it sounded like a movement). A volatile team from day one, N.Y.C.-bred music purist Miret was the perfect foil for the Cuban-born, Union City, NJ-native Stigma; the latter a product of refugee parents with firsthand experience in social injustice and opinionated views about politics coursing through his veins. After the addition of bassist Adam Moochie and drummer Ray Beez a year later, Agnostic Front recorded their first independent release, the United Blood EP (now a highly sought-after collector's piece). Loaded with politically charged, minute-long bursts of rage, it was soon succeeded by 1984's career-defining Victim in Pain album, which saw the arrival of new members Rob Kabula (bass) and Jim Coletti (drums). A 15-minute blast of unprecedented fury and aggression, the record came packaged in a nondescript black sleeve and arguably represented the purest, unadulterated expression of New York hardcore. It also confirmed Agnostic Front's status as leaders of the fast-emerging movement, which found its weekly showcase via the now-legendary Sunday matinees at the city's most famous club, CBGB's. Possibly the last significant "scene" to take shape between the hallowed club's grimy, flyer-encrusted walls, the N.Y.H.C. gave birth to countless important bands, among them, the Cro-Mags and Murphy's Law. But none were as popular or influential as AF, whose fierce reputation grew from strength to strength thanks to Stigma's inimitable rhythm guitar ferocity, and Miret's charisma as a decadent urban messiah.
Yet, though they were a seemingly unstoppable musical force, Agnostic Front was constantly on the verge of collapse due to Miret and Stigma's mercurial relationship and its ever-changing lineup, which now included drummer Louie Beatto and additional guitarist Alex Kinon. Picked up by the speed metal-friendly Combat label, the group strled through the sessions for what would become 1986's landmark Cause for Alarm album. By replacing some of their raw, punk rock spontaneity with the tightly controlled velocity of thrash metal (i.e., buzzsaw riffing and double kick drums), the band helped define a style soon referred to as crossover metal/punk, also made popular by D.R.I. and Corrosion of Conformity. Considered a travesty by many of the band's early supporters, the album nevertheless attracted even more new fans to the band's cause, mostly among metal heads, who at the time were generally considered punk rock's natural-born mortal enemies. Many of these, in turn, credit Cause for Alarm with their first exposure to anything punk and began attending the band's concerts, which not surprisingly became increasingly violence-prone as a result.
As dictated by tradition, the band's third opus, 1987's Liberty & Justice For..., featured an entirely new backup cast of musicians, including guitarist Steve Martin (no relation), bassist Alan Peters, and drummer Will Shepler. Seen by some as an act of compromise, the album did away with the metal-style drumming of its predecessor to pursue a looser, less-disciplined direction without relinquishing barely an ounce of power, however. The original hardcore scene had pretty much disintegrated by this time anyway, with growing dissension among the movement's many factions (punks, skinheads, etc.) transforming most concerts into armed combat, and leading to many clubs being shut down. In a way, 1989's Live at CBGB's (with new bassist Craig Setari) symbolized the N.Y.H.C.'s official wake, and collected Agnostic Front's best-loved material as heard in the band's natural element. As if to punctuate the fact, Roger Miret was arrested soon thereafter on serious drug charges and sentenced to nearly two years in prison. In the interim, Vinnie Stigma and Agnostic Front carried on as best they could, undertaking their first European tour with new guitarist Matt Henderson and substitute singer Alan Peters, while Miret found solace writing lyrics about his predicament. These would comprise the bulk of 1992's comeback album, the overtly metallic One Voice, which was pretty much dead on arrival since much of the band's following had moved onto other things during their extended absence. A greatest-hits set entitled To Be Continued... was also issued at this time, prompting the band to call it a day following a farewell concert at (where else?) CBGB's. The final show was recorded for 1993's Last Warning, after which Stigma and Henderson formed Madball with Miret's younger brother Freddie Cricien.
Come 1997, however, Stigma and Miret began discussing a possible comeback for Agnostic Front. And when top punk label Epitaph Records showed interest, the band's long-rumored resurrection became fact, with former members Rob Kabula and Jim Coletti completing the lineup which recorded both 1998's Something's Gotta Give and 1999's Riot, Riot, Upstart in quick succession. The latter boasted an especially strong collection of retro-hardcore, and counted with guest appearances from M.O.D.'s Billy Milano and Rancid's Lars Frederiksen, among others. With the hardcore scene which they'd helped pioneer effectively dead in the dirt, few listeners outside the band's New York stomping grounds seemed to care about their return, but Agnostic Front continued to perform and record occasionally. Dead Yuppies (with new bassist Mike Gallo) was released in 2001, and Working Class Heroes the following year. Agnostic Front returned once again in 2004 with Another Voice. Guitarist Henderson was once again on hand for the record, which was co-produced by Hatebreed's Jamey Jasta. They followed it up in early 2005 with Another Voice. ~ Ed Rivadavia, All Music Guide