Let The Roundup Begin: The Month In Hardcore – January 2020
I sat in the car, looking at my phone, stupidly thinking that this couldn’t be right. There was supposed to be a warehouse here. There couldn’t be a warehouse here. I was in the middle of downtown Richmond, across the street from a Double Tree hotel, no warehouses anywhere.
I followed the instructions from the Facebook event, like a dumbass. The fliers online all said to ask for directions. I didn’t want to ask anyone for directions. I didn’t really know anyone, and I didn’t want to bother anyone. The Richmond venue known only as the Warehouse is not, strictly speaking, a legal venue. It is an actual warehouse that hosts shows sometimes. You won’t find the address online. It’s not out there. You really do have to ask someone for directions. Those Facebook directions were fake, and they led me nowhere.
Sitting in my car outside that Double Tree, I fired off a couple of panicked requests for directions. I heard back in minutes, and I pulled up at the Warehouse just as openers Choice To Make, a band of Wilkes-Barre straight-edge bruisers working a classic New York hardcore sound, kicked off their set.
I can’t lie: The illicit nature of the whole thing is part of the appeal. At the show, I spent a few minutes talking to Ace Stallings, the guy who booked the show. Stallings is a great advocate for hardcore in Richmond. He books shows, writes about hardcore bands for the website No Echo, hosts a podcast where he interviews fellow local luminaries, and maintains the vital Richmond Hardcore Shows Instagram page. For nearly a decade, he led the Richmond band Break Away. These days, he’s singing in a deep and guttural wail for the very cool new band Mutually Assured Destruction. At that Warehouse show, Stallings, who is presumably busier than everyone else in the building, still rips it up hard in the pit for at least a couple of the bands. This guy is probably at least a decade younger than me, and I stand in genuine awe of him. Guys like Stallings are the reason that local hardcore scenes exist.
Outside the venue, Stallings makes a point that I hadn’t thought of: Hardcore shows like this one have something in common with raves: You have to make it your business to know how to get there, and that makes the experience more powerful. You feel like you’re all in on it together. That’s how I always felt at VFW Hall punk shows in high school — following scrawled-out flier directions in out-of-the-way suburbs, almost always getting lost on the way. But there are hundreds of people there at the Warehouse, and they’re there to see five different out-of-town touring bands. It’s a whole different thing.
On this night, the headlining band is Integrity, the venerable metallic hardcore institution that first came ripping out of Cleveland in the late ’80s. These days, Integrity is just Dwid Hellion, the guy who started the band and who seems to make a longstanding habit out of alienating all his old friends and collaborators, along with a bunch of guys who have been playing behind him for just the past few years. And they rule.
Part of it is that Integrity have some serious underground hits, songs that trigger mass singalongs: “Hollow,” “Abraxas Annihilation,” “Micha-For Those Who Fear Tomorrow.” Part of it is that the band’s squalid and mysterious trudge hasn’t really aged at all. It’s been imprinted on a few generations of heavy underground music, and it continues to sound raw and ferocious. And part of it is Hellion’s voice, a scraggly rasp that, decades later, has kept its power. Near the end of the set, during a convulsive “Jagged Visions Of My True Destiny,” a graying but spry Hellion dramatically gestures at his two guitarists as they shred out dueling solos, something I never would’ve even thought to expect at a DIY show.
But even with a legendary name like Integrity topping the bill, the real action is in the undercard. All four of the night’s openers are relatively new, but any of them could be headlining that Warehouse in a year or two. Right now, the first two don’t even have albums out yet. Choice To Make are still getting there. Their fast chest-thump growl is still developing, but it has time; their first proper EP won’t even be out until next month. But another Wilkes-Barre band — One Step Closer, who share a couple of members with Choice To Make — are basically there already.
One Step Closer’s sound is a sincere and strenuous take on ’90s hardcore. It’s raw and emotional and sometimes weirdly pretty. (Their ringing guitar-jangles sometimes remind me of Slint.) Onstage, the band, at least right now, is a bit tentative. But From Me To You, the EP that they released last year, is one of the best things I’ve heard in recent memory. Meanwhile, the Massachusetts trio Fuming Mouth grind out an absolutely fucking ugly hardcore/death metal fusion. It sounds like the apocalypse, and it’s admirably disgusting.
On this night, Wild Side are my favorite band on the bill. Wild Side fucking slap. Frontman Brandon MacFarlane announces them like this: “We are Wild Side, from Niagara Falls, Canada, and we play hardcore thug rock.” Pretty good description! (At least, I think that’s what he was saying. He might’ve said “hardcore funk rock,” which sort of fits, too.) MacFarlane is one of the biggest guys in the room, and he’s also the only one wearing a Weezer shirt. He keeps flashing devil horns between songs. He keeps throwing kicks that go clean above the head of one of his bandmates. He has presence. I like this guy.
Last year, Wild Side put out the long-in-the-works debut album Who The Hell Is Wild Side. I liked it, but it didn’t quite grab me. Live, though, it’s a whole other story. MacFarlane’s delivery is a talking-loud-but-not-screaming thing that reminds me of Suicidal Tendencies or Warzone. When you seem them live, the band’s fast, thrashy attack has a serious bounce to it.
In my life, I have been to way too many indie rock shows where people sip IPAs and nod politely while bands play the same sets they’ve played on the last five nights, with maybe an unexpected cover worked in there for variety. This isn’t that. All four openers at this show are playing like it’s the last time anyone will ever see them. The people in the audience are either charging hard around the pit or bracing themselves for someone to come barreling into them at any second. There’s no beer for anyone to quietly nurse. A good chunk of the crowd seems to be straight-edge. No bar in the Warehouse, though you can buy a seltzer at the door.
I ask one sincere young man about the championship belt he’s carrying around all night. It turns out that he’s the middleweight title of his local MMA league, and he won that belt at his last fight. He’s brought it with him to the show because he’s proud of it. That kid rules. You don’t meet that kid at an indie rock show.
This column is a new thing for me. I’ve been keeping vague tabs on what’s been happening in hardcore for a while now, going to occasional shows here and there. But I haven’t been taking advantage of the city of Richmond, which is an hour away from me and which has historically had one of the best hardcore/punk/metal scenes in the country. This year, I’ve decided, I’m getting out there. I’m diving in. Hardcore makes me feel things, and I want to feel things. This column, which is called Let The Roundup Begin, is part of that.
Every month, in this column, I’ll be looking at the hardcore and hardcore-adjacent music that’s come out in the past month, discussing songs or bands or moments that I find exciting. Hopefully, every column will include a photo from Richmond’s own Michael D. Thorn, who is really out here at these shows. The roundup of songs I’m listing covers hardcore-ish things that came out in the past month. (I’m leaving out joints from relatively big-name acts like Code Orange and Envy.) These bands generally don’t have publicists, and I’m not an actual part of this subculture, so I’ll probably miss plenty of stuff. But I’m listening to as much as I possibly can. I’m into it.
In conceiving the column, I’ve taken inspiration from Stereogum’s long-running metal column The Black Market. (Shout out to Black Market founder Michael Nelson. Miss you, buddy.) But there are crucial distinctions: I’m only one person, and I’m an outsider to any and all scenes. I don’t know nearly as much about hardcore as the Black Market guys know about metal. I will probably make many mistakes. This is merely one man’s possibly-misguided attempt to take stock of a thriving world that deserves your attention. Let’s go.
10. Stand Alone – “Take Control”
It starts out as a fast and almost oppressive lockstep about not being able to get shit done: “It gets so goddamn hard to do anything/ It’s like before I even try, I feel defeat.” But when this Syracuse straight-edge crew slows down and locks in, they connect with something deeper and heavier, and “Take Control” achieves its true singalong-anthem potential. [From Promo 2019, out now, self-released.]
9. Excide – “Reflective (New Formula)”
The phrase “post-hardcore” has come to mean a whole lot of different things over the years, but once upon a time, it just meant “people from hardcore bands trying new things.” Excide, a new band whose members come from North and South Carolina, have captured some of the shifting dynamics of that first wave of post-hardcore. But they’re also fully capable of going into a full-on blitz whenever the song demands. The intro here sounds like Snapcase covering Jawbox, at least until it speeds into attack mode. [From Two Of A Kind EP, out on on New Morality Zine.]
8. Ghouli – “Abandoned House”
The name and the cover art might lead you to expect ambient goth-metal or something. That’s not what this is. Ghouli come from Richmond, and their sound is a fast and frantic and ugly take on hardcore punk that rarely deviates from its simplistic attack. Sometimes Ghouli stretch out and vary their speed, but “Abandoned House” is pure sprint. This is good. Not everything needs mosh-part breakdowns.[From Nothing EP, self-released, out 1/22.]
7. Glean – “Garden”
Is it possible for a young hardcore band to be into ’90s college rock? I guess anything’s possible. The internet exists, and all this stuff is out there. “Garden” is the first song we’ve heard from Glean, a new San Diego band whose hoarse thunder contains a whole lot of off-kilter hooks. This is the kind of sound you make when you’re really into both Hüsker Dü and Sugar but maybe slightly more into Sugar. (Shout out to the Moonrise Kingdom sample at the end. Lots of hardcore band sample movie dialogue. Not many sample it from Wes Anderson movies.) [From a forthcoming demo, coming hopefully soon on New Morality Zine.]
6. Nosebleed – “Outside Looking In”
Nosebleed, a fast and simplistic and endlessly angry Richmond hardcore punk band, are best experienced live. Singer Valentina Lopez will charge straight out into the crowd and headbutt a motherfucker if the pit isn’t sufficiently hectic. If you’re going to listen to them at home, you’re going to want to listen to them all at once. The new Outside Looking In 7″ blasts through six songs in nine minutes, so isolating a specific songs feels beside the point. But if you’re in the market for a quick minute-long rage-burst, that title track will do the trick. [From Outside Looking In EP, out now on Triple B Records.]
5. Punter – “A Minute’s Silence”
The Australians are not playing around: “Remember the martyr, laid down his life at Gallipoli/ For prepackaged communities, stretched out as far as the eye can see.” Punter, from Melbourne, play stomping hardcore that draws a bit on the knucklehead riffage of ’60s garage and AC/DC. The weirdly melodic backing vocals add something, and so does the wiry, nervous guitar. But the best thing happening here is frontman Ash Wednesday absolutely losing his mind about how badly everything sucks now. [From Demo CS, Out Now on Blow Blood Records.]
4. True Form – “True Form”
I love it when the name of the band is also the name of the song. You just know that you’re getting the purest form of the band, the statement of intent. In the case of Jacksonville’s True Form, that means an anthemic old-school NYHC stomp with squealing thrash leads, charismatic-grunt vocals, and, when they slow down enough to let it happen, some serious bounce on the chorus. That breakdown makes me want to fistfight an asteroid. [From Control EP, out now on IOU Records.]
3. Power Alone – “Where We Stand”
There is no distance here. Nobody is hiding behind any sort of irony or literary trick. Instead, Power Alone vocalist Eva Hall is overwhelmingly pissed off about all the evil shit that she sees in the world right now: Toxic drinking water, animal slaughter, indigenous people’s rights being obliterated, corporations controlling everything. And she’s here to roar righteously about all of it: “You make excuses! Like it’s all right!” Power Alone are a new straight-edge band whose members come from around California, and their big, heavy groove is formidable. But what sets them apart, for me, is the urgency and intensity of what Hall does on this song. She means it. [From Rather Be Alone, out 2/28 on Indecision Records.]
2. Frail Hands – “Holding”
Does screamo count as hardcore? I’m going to say, for the purposes of this column, that it does. What really impresses me about Nova Scotia’s Frail Hands is the way they can crank out a two-minute song that feels like a multi-part epic. “Holding,” the opening track from their new album, moves from tingly and delicate post-rock to floor-flailing freakout to bruising rush and back again in no time at all. It’s stormy, intense exposed-nerve music, and it just rips right through me. [From Parted/Departed/Apart, out now on Twelve Gauge Records.]
1. Chubby And The Gang – “Speed Kills”
It is very possible that I am now stretching the definition of “hardcore” beyond where it’s supposed to go. Chubby And The Gang, from London, play fast and hooky music that’s more in line with oi and street-punk than with hardcore. Sometimes, they sound like power pop. Sometimes, they sound like beerhall-fight early-’70s glam. Sometimes, they sound like Art Brut. But they play fast and rough, and Fucked Up’s Jonah Falco produced their album. Frontman Chubby Charles was in Arms Race and Violent Reaction, the two bands who might’ve kicked off the recent wave of UK hardcore. So I’m considering them sufficiently hardcore for inclusion here. This is at least partly because I love them. “Speed Kills” is a delightful knucklehead ripper of a song, and it makes me want to kick over supermarket shelves. [From Speed Kills, out 1/17 on Static Shock Records]