Let The Roundup Begin

The Month In Hardcore – May 2020

Honestly, it’s amazing that hardcore records are still coming out. Hardcore bands tend to record on the cheap, with everyone piled into one tiny room, doing everything they can to capture the energy of the live show. I’m sure some bands can work in isolation, emailing files to each other. Most can’t. And if bands do put out music, they can’t tour to promote that music. And yet there’s still a whole lot of new hardcore coming out, and a lot of that new hardcore is fucking great.

In this space last month, I wrote about early-pandemic livestreams from Code Orange and Year Of The Knife. Those livestreams aren’t even happening anymore. Nobody is playing hardcore for real-time audiences. Honestly, I don’t know what the fuck I’m supposed to write about in this space. The goofy-ass brackets for record labels and scenes that people are filling out online? The guy from 311 doing an acoustic Turnstile cover on Instagram? The Harm’s Way running-man meme? Podcasts? I’m not going to write about podcasts. (There are good hardcore podcasts. I like Axe To Grind and Forum Of Passion. But writing about podcasts is not what anyone needs.)

It’ll be a while before hardcore shows return. If this was just a matter of the government shutting things down — if people didn’t have to worry about getting other people sick — then DIY basement shows would’ve already started up again. But when live music returns, large-scale hardcore shows might be the last things to come back, if only because there’s no way to maintain social distancing while moshing. It’s going to be a while. Eventually, we’ll probably run out of music that bands recorded before the pandemic. The supply could dry up. For now, though, we’re still getting records, and some of those records are great.

10. Vile Spirit – “Worldliness”

One of the cool things about ’90s black metal was how mysterious it was. It all came out in a rush of blurry, lo-fi hissing and rasping. You could tell that these people were supremely angry, and you had no idea why. I get something similar from Vile Spirit, who come from the UK beach town of Brighton. Vile Spirit’s music is disgusting and raw basement-style punk. There are about a million bands who fit that description, but very few of them bring this level of shadowy and obscure menace. [From Scorched Earth, out now on Quality Control HQ.]

9. Vision Quest – “Step Up”

The late-’80s youth crew sound hits different when the person barking militaristically over the fast, chunky riffage is a British woman. A lot of UK bands have singers who work to cover up their accents, either by screaming incoherently or by adapting a sort of universal New York tough-guy bark. Vision Quest are not one of those bands. The band is good at evoking this one specific style, and singer Saskia stands out simply by sounding like absolutely nobody else. The part and the end, where she’s like “Vision Quest! 2020! 1312, sucka!”? That’s just fucking cool.[From Bear Witness EP, out now on Crew Cuts Records.]

8. Gag – “High Off Gun Powder”

This is so fucking repulsive and so good. Gag come from Olympia, and their first album was called America’s Greatest Hits; God bless anyone willing to use a joke that dumb as an LP title in these troubled times. Gag’s sound is guttural rolled-in-rat-shit punk, but they don’t play it with the feverish speed of their peers. Instead, they slow things down enough that their grubby-ass riffs have enough room to move around and infect you. [From Still Laughing, coming soon on Iron Lung Records.]

7. Aches – “Stuck”

Aches are from Mannheim, Germany, and I want so badly to refer to them as “Mannheim steamrollers” even though that’s (1) so stupid and (2) not even accurate. Aches don’t steamroll; they flare and soar and plummet. The band makes intense exposed-nerve ’90s-style screamo, and they make it sound like operatic. Their sound is spacious grand-gesture stuff, and it almost demands to be heard in big rooms. There are snatches of snotty pop-punk melody on “Stuck,” but it somehow fits with all the surging and crashing textured post-rock stuff that they do. It’s the absolute best kind of over-the-top self-pity music, and I wish I’d had it when I was a teenager. [From Dead Youth, self-released, out now.]

6. C.H.E.W. – “Noise Square”

My handwriting is terrible. It’s fast and jagged and awkward and full of weird angles, and if I’m not writing with the exact right pen, then not even I can read it. C.H.E.W. sound like my handwriting. (The last time I wrote about the Chicago band, I said they sound like “a sack full of rabid weasels formed a Discharge cover band,” and I’m just not going to do any better than that. That’s the best I can do.) My favorite thing about C.H.E.W.: Singer Doris Carroll, who met her bandmate Jono Giralt when they worked at the same doggie daycare, sounds like she’s completely sick of everything around her, her own band included. [From In Due Time EP, out now on Iron Lung Records.]

5. Militarie Gun – “A New Low For Progressive Society”

Militarie Gun is Ian Shelton, Regional Justice Center frontman and Self Defense Family member, recording alone in his LA home studio during quarantine. Without collaborators, Shelton’s found an extremely cool sound. His voice is a sandpaper-throat growl, and the music has an unrelenting crunch, but it’s also pretty. Those sparkling guitars that come in at the end of this song add a whole new dimension — hard and soft at the same time. Shelton just dropped new Regional Justice Center music, and he’s said that he probably shouldn’t be starting out a whole new project right now, but he’s too itchy to not keep making music. Militarie Gun sounds like that — like a guy who needs to just keep moving forward. [From Militarie Gun demo, self-released, out now.]

4. Truth Cult – “Off Fire”

Truth Cult are from Baltimore, and they’re named after a Lungfish song, so obviously I’m going to say that they rule. But I’m right! They do rule! Truth Cult pull a lot from the late-’80s Dischord sound — all those big riffs and dynamic shifts and straining-for-transcendence vocals. But they use those sounds in service of absolute anthems, which isn’t something that most of the other Revolution Summer-inspired bands often do. “Off Fire” has a big buildup, a chorus that begs to be screamed by hundreds of people in unison, and a bassline that just kicked me in the gut and gave me a Stone Cold Stunner. It’s all I want. Also, if this video is any indication, Truth Cult absolutely rip live. (They were supposed to play my local punk house in late March. I really hope that happens, but I have a feeling that their new album will make them too big for the punk-house circuit.) [From Off Fire, out now on Pop Wig! Records.]

3. Infant Island – “Stare Spells”

By the time you read this, Infant Island’s long-gestating sophomore album Beneath is out in the world, and you can hear this Virginia band’s florid screamo majesty in its full glory. That’s the best way to hear it. Infant Island are a full-immersion band, not a one-song-at-a-time band. But if you’re going to hear just one song, then “Stare Spells,” with its crashing crescendos and its ringing eeriness and its sudden and cathartic eruptions of violence, is the way to go. Infant Island’s version of screamo is raw and ambitious and hypnotic, and I really don’t think there’s anyone better in the genre right now. [From Beneath, out now on Dog Knights Productions.]

2. Sunami – “Y.A.B.”

The title stands for “YOUR A BITCH.” Sunami come from San Jose, and they include members of Gulch and Hands Of God. Both of those bands are hard as fuck. Sunami are harder. Last year, Sunami made a whole lot of noise with a three-song demo full of ignorant skullcrusher riffs and cop-killer threats. For their first song since then, Sunami have come with some real juggernaut shit: 30 seconds of what sounds like a little kid (probably taken from a YouTube video) promising to beat you up, followed by 90 seconds of Sunami promising to beat you up. “Keep fucking talking! Sick of your shit! Keep fucking talking! Get your head split!” Also: “Fuck you and your Gulch hoodie, bitch!” When Sunami get a chance to play this shit live, it is going to be absolute fucking mayhem. I cannot wait. [From Sunami EP, out 6/5 on Creator-Destructor Records.]

1. Mindforce – “Fratello”

Hardcore is a genre of music driven mostly by live shows, so it’s crazy that someone can come along and become the band of the moment at a time when shows can’t happen. But that’s what Mindforce have pulled off with the Swingin Swords, Choppin Lords EP. The Hudson Valley band was already a big deal, but they’ve just leveled up. Swingin Swords, Choppin Lords is four songs in seven minutes, and it feels epochal. “Fratello” sounds like an anthem the first time you hear it: The sinister bass intro, the triumphant thrash riff, the thundering groove, the staccato rhythmic bellowing. The whole track works like a breakdown, and when the actual breakdown hits, it feels like a bomb just went off inside your brain. [From Swingin Swords, Choppin Lords EP, out now on Triple B Records.]