You may have heard about the distinguished Big Four in the thrash metal scene: Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax.
What isn't talked about quite as much is the Big Three in the world of Irish punk, that being The Pogues, Dropkick Murphys and Flogging Molly.
With St. Patrick's Day approaching, all three bands are on American soil revving up for rowdy, Guinness-toting crowds. Flogging Molly is on its Green 17 Tour, stopping at the sold-out Stage AE on Friday night, in advance of releasing its fifth album in May.
Flogging Molly goes back to the mid-'90s when Dublin-born hard rock singer Dave King, inspired by the Dubliners and The Pogues, started playing Celtic music in an LA pub called Molly Malone's. The singer, now 49, once explained the name, saying, "We used to play there every Monday night, and we felt like we were flogging it to death, so we called the band Flogging Molly."
Bassist Nathen Maxwell was only 17 when he snuck into a show to see them around '97, on a tip from his father. "I was in punk rock bands and had nothing to do with Irish bands," he says. At that point, some key members were leaving, so the band gave him a shot, even though he was just a kid.
"There was a reason they wanted a kid to join the band," he says. "I had something that they saw. I had something that Dave believed in. I had a learning period. I was definitely the least rehearsed member of the band when I joined, but you gotta start somewhere."
After introducing itself with a live album in 1997, Flogging Molly made its studio debut in 2000 on pop-punk label SideOneDummy with "Swagger," mixed by Steve Albini (Nirvana, Pixies). Fans quickly rallied around Molly's energy combined with the singer's Irish flair for storytelling, on ballads and rockers alike, and the band made an instant splash in the 2001 Warped Tour, which didn't surprise Mr. Maxwell.
"I come from that universe, punk rock has been a big part of my life, and I saw that spirit in the band from the get-go, and I added to that spirit when I joined as well."
Efforts to cross over to the more conventional Irish music scene didn't always go smoothly.
"We do what we do, and there's been no stopping that," the bassist says. "The first time we played an arts festival they had a bunch of lawn chairs out in front of the stage, and I was like, 'Uh-oh.' The police came on stage and threatened to arrest us if we didn't stop playing. I had no idea what was going on."
Over the course of four albums, the band's following has grown steadily, to the point where its 2008 album, "Float," debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard album chart, higher than The Pogues or Dropkick Murphys ever got.
Now, the band is gearing up to release "The Speed of Darkness," which the bassist calls the band's "most authentic and most honest record to date. [It's] about the United States and what we're going through and what the world's going through and sticking together and getting through it."
He scoffs at the notion that Flogging Molly is limited musically by the Celtic-punk genre -- and even questions its very existence.
"No way. There's no genre," he says. "There's The Pogues, the Dropkick Murphys ... the Dubliners, I guess. There are some other bands out there, I guess, if you want to put us in a genre. But no, man, there's no Irish punk-rock genre. It's freedom. We do what we want. We don't have rules."
At the same time, Mr. Maxwell is quick to agree that The Pogues -- who broke out of London in 1984 and have been reunited for most of the past decade -- created the template for Flogging Molly and like-minded bands.
"For me, personally, they're very important. I love The Pogues, and they're one of the greatest Irish bands of all time. They're the only Irish-sounding band I ever listened to before I joined Flogging Molly. What the [expletive] can you say about The Pogues? They're amazing."
As for Boston's Celtic-punk export, the bassist says, "I didn't know who the Dropkick Murphys were when I joined Flogging Molly. They were just beginning themselves. [They formed in '96.] After I joined Flogging Molly I met the Dropkicks, and we've been friends since the beginning."
Both bands have been crowd favorites of the Warped Tour, drawing fans decked out in plaid and even kilts. The last time out, he saw the tour evolving in a different direction.
"We did about two weeks of it last year, and it felt different in terms of when I would walk around and check out other bands. It was really hard to hear anything I liked. Most things sounded the same, sounded like [expletive]."
He acknowledges that these might not be the best of times for punk rock of any kind but says, "Punk rock, as far as what I consider it to be, will always be a spirit, a way of life. As far as it being fashionable in popular culture, I think right now punk rock's not so cool. But who gives a [expletive] what's cool? You do what you believe in and what's cool always changes."