The Month In Hardcore: July 2020
“It wouldn’t be a final Bane show without somebody — and this is not a joke — losing their wedding ring,” Bane guitarist Aaron Dalbec tells the room full of sweaty people. “So if you could just find it, we’d really appreciate it.” Frontman Aaron Bedard makes a joke, or maybe it’s not a joke, about how this happens at every Bane show, as a couple of thousand people shuffle around and scan the floor by their feet. Maybe an hour later, someone passes a wedding ring onstage. “Wedding ring! Wedding ring! Do we have a fucking wedding ring?” The poor unfortunate soul who’s sweated his ring off of his finger is standing there amidst the scrum of people at the side of the stage, so Dalbec gets down on one knee and fake-proposes to him. It’s all terribly wholesome.
Witnessing this kind of spectacle — of people dancing hard enough to fuck up their own lives at a hardcore show, and then of other people helping those people out — is like getting a syringe full of liquid sunshine jammed directly into your heart. Right now, four months into a global pandemic, you’re only going to get a spectacle like that on your computer. It’s better than nothing.
There’s some possibility that the biggest band in hardcore right now is one that no longer exists, that played its final show four years ago. In their time, Bane were the kind of institution that you could easily take for granted. They stuck around for 20 years, touring ceaselessly and becoming known as unfailingly good dudes. Their sound was down-the-middle hardcore — sometimes melodic, sometimes metallic, fast but not too fast, always recorded clean. All four of their albums are good; none of them, at least to me, are transcendent. Big choruses. Great logo. A whole lot of T-shirts sold. If you had even a passive interest in hardcore between the years of 1998 and 2016, you probably saw them at least once.
Bane’s biggest song, the one they probably played the most often, was “Can We Start Again,” from their 1999 debut album. Even at the beginning, Bane looked backward: “Can we start again? Go back to what it meant back then?” When Bedard sang those songs, he was talking about cliques and shit-talk and exclusion, things that didn’t exactly disappear from hardcore in the years that Bane walked the earth. But it’s also about nostalgia, about recapturing the feeling of finding this music and this community when you most needed it. For a very long time, Bane tried to be a force for that. Bane always made a point to decry nostalgia, to not be the old guys complaining about hardcore’s salad days. But in the absence of everything else, Bane have become a focus of a whole lot of final backward glances.
For the past four years, the Philadelphia videographer Sunny Singh has been sitting on a video of Bane’s final show. Singh has been tirelessly documenting hardcore shows for more than a decade, posting literal thousands of complete sets on his hate5six YouTube channel. Hardcore shows are loud and chaotic, and they rely on an atmosphere of physical instability. It’s hard to get that feeling across in a live video. Singh is the best at it. His images are crisp, and his sound is clear. He knows when what’s happening in the crowd is more interesting than what’s happening onstage. Singh is the guy who put together the empty-venue livestream for Code Orange’s record-release show, way back in the early days of this quarantine. During the pandemic, he’s been filming protests instead of live shows. In their video about the moment that Philadelphia cops gassed protesters who were trapped off to the side of a highway last month, The New York Times used Singh’s work. But Singh has also been posting more and more live-show videos during quarantine. He just has videos that he’s never posted. He’s got so many videos.
When Bane played their last show in 2016, Singh filmed it, and he did amazing work: Great sound, multiple camera angles, filmography that seems to capture every important moment of the set in sweaty and empathetic detail. My understanding is that Singh didn’t post the video until last month because the band asked him not to post it. They are, I believe, working on a documentary, so they didn’t want all that footage out there yet. That changed. Last year, former Bane bassist Brendan “Stu” Maguire was diagnosed with cancer. Last month, Singh started a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for Maguire, announcing that he’d post that final Bane set once the campaign reached its goal. It got there in less than 24 hours. So Bane made an event out of it, making T-shirts for the YouTube drop and chatting with fans during the live premiere.
Bane had everyone good and ready for this. In 2014, they released Don’t Wait Up. It was their first album in nine years, and they made sure that everyone knew it would be their last one. Then they toured for another two years on that album — one long global victory lap. Their last show went down in 2016 at the Palladium, in the band’s hometown of Worcester, Massachusetts. More than two thousand people are in the room. When that video starts, Saves The Day and Title Fight and Modern Life Is War and four other bands have already played. When Aaron Bedard speaks at the end of the night, his voice trembles. You can tell that you’re watching one of the biggest moments in someone’s life.
With no live shows, hardcore has effectively ground to a halt, and this video of a show that happened four years ago is a big deal. It’s a hell of a show, too. Bane play for more than two hours, in a genre where a 40-minute set feels like a marathon. (I can’t imagine the amount of cardio the guys in the band must’ve had to do to get ready for it.) They bash through every Bane song that you might possibly want to hear. They make emotional speeches before a lot of those songs, letting everyone in the room know how much the experience of being in the band meant to them. The crowd goes hard the entire time. You might not want to sit and watch this YouTube video for two hours straight — this isn’t Stop Making Sense — but there are magical moments sprinkled all through it.
My favorite one of those magical moments is an hour and 40 minutes into the show, when Bane play the Don’t Wait Up song “Calling Hours,’ which I guess you’d have to call a hardcore posse cut. It’s a long, dynamic song, full of emotional peaks and valleys, and it might be my favorite Bane song. Bedard shares the track with four other singers. At the last Bane show, all four of them join him onstage. There’s diesel-as-fuck David Wood, from Richmond stalwarts Down To Nothing. There’s Pat Flynn, formerly of the fervently beloved Boston band Have Heart and now of Fiddlehead. Flynn is a high-school history teacher, and he looks like one — the world’s most passionate high-school history teacher. Rotting Out’s hulking Walter Delgado is in there, screaming hard and doing his evil laugh, but you only catch glimpses of him, since he’s immediately buried under a pile of bodies. Code Orange’s Reba Meyers comes in at the end, and she really sings. At the back of the stage, drummer Bobby Mahoney’s young son joins him, banging on a tom. It’s a scene of a whole community coming together. It’s beautiful.
Hardcore can make just about anyone who loves it turn sentimental. Bane were always a sentimental band, and they gave themselves a sentimental goodbye. And right now, when we’re all looking the endless monotony of life at home, it feels good to get sentimental about something.
10. Geld – “Forces At Work”
Geld are gross. Hundreds of bands look for ways to combine metal and hardcore, but this Melbourne band does everything in its power to pull only the grimiest, ugliest, most misanthropic sounds and ideas and attitudes from both genres. “Forces At Work” is winter-blitzkrieg shit, halfway between spooky ’90s black metal and prime wallow-in-disgust Integrity. I love it. [From Beyond The Floor, out now on Iron Lung Records/Static Shock Records.]
9. Munifex – “Starving”
I know absolutely nothing about this Vancouver band, and I am good with that. Mystery suits them well. Munifex’s music is cool but familiar. They play fast, lo-fi crusty D-beat — the kind of thing where the shows are extremely fun even though the mosh pit smells like pure ass. But the vocalist sounds like someone slowly lowered a cheap microphone into an unexplored cave to record the echoing rage-roars of the demon who lives down there. Whatever’s making those sounds can’t possibly be human. [From Demo, out now on Slow Death Records.]
8. Kind! – “Breakaway”
Kind! are from Boston, and they sound like it. Boston has a long, rich history of fast, angry, rigorous straight-edge, and Kind! fit right into that. “Breakaway,” which is not a Kelly Clarkson cover, could’ve come out at any point in the past 35 years. It’s fast and unpretentious and upright, and it builds up to a big fists-up chant. But while lots of previous Boston straight-edge bands were all about declaring war on the world — they were unkind! — Kind! bring a welcoming sense of mutual support. “Breakaway” is just two minutes long, but it outlines a philosophy: The world is hard, and people get sucked down into the mire of it, unable to deal. The best thing we can do is help each other out. “Let’s make you whole, that’s the fucking deal.” The band name is truth in advertising. [From the Time To Heal EP, self-released, out sometime soon.]
7. SpiritWorld – “Unholy Passages”
Every time the riffs change up on “Unholy Passages,” it feels like a different part of your skull exploding. Stu Folsom, frontman of the Las Vegas band SpiritWorld, likes to talk about loving and being influenced by old-school country, but I don’t hear hardly any of that in the band’s sound. Instead, he sounds like Lemmy’s reanimated corpse, back to seek revenge, growling about “the ancient god of this realm.” SpiritWorld’s sound is metallic the way a crowbar to the skull is metallic. (It’s also metallic in the way that the band Crowbar is metallic, which is basically the same thing.) [From Pagan Rhythms, self-released, out now.]
6. Slowbleed – “Hung At Dawn”
If I ever ride a horse into war, leading an army against an army of zombie demons or some shit, I want something like this — epic, thundering metallic crunch-roar shit from a relatively new Santa Paula, California band — playing in my headphones. Headphones might be a tactical mistake in that situation; you’d probably want to have full use of your senses to determine the location of all your zombie demon enemies. But I might wear them anyway. Fuck it. I don’t much like my chances against zombie demons, anyway. [From ’20 Promo, self-released, out now.]
5. Unreal City – “War Behind Bars”
Unreal City’s guitarist is Robert Orr, who used to play in Integrity, and Unreal City’s whole sound has always descended from the legendary Cleveland band that used to count Orr as a member. There’s still plenty of Integrity in “War Behind Bars,” but the song has its own personality, too. There’s a defiant ripshit swagger in those vocals, for instance, and the thundering toms and blazing guitar solo suggest triumph as much as squalor. Also, the lyrics are about fighting motherfuckers, not about demons or whatever. This is some real tough shit. [From Cruelty Of Heaven, out 8/21 on Closed Casket Activities.]
4. FAIM – “Division Ave.”
Lots of hardcore songs end start or end with audio clips from gangster movies or The Wire or whatever. Not too many end in James Baldwin speeches. The Denver band FAIM write political songs, and they sound like they mean that shit. “Division Ave.” is a song about redlining, and it’s not some dispassionate urban-planning shit. It’s a cool, fast, raw punk song right up until the breakdown, when it sounds like a truck crashing into your fucking face. And then James Baldwin talks. [From Hollow Hope, out in August on Safe Inside Records.]
3. Glorious – “Myself”
The members of London’s Glorious come from the UK metalcore bands Employed To Serve and Renounced, but they make old-school full-speed-ahead chant-along hardcore with only trace amounts of metal left in it. And they sound cool as fuck. Singer Justine Jones has all the confident chest-thumping attitude that you want in a hardcore frontperson, and the band grooves like a motherfucker. If there’s a “stop yelling at me” song that makes its case with the kind of directness that Glorious bring to “Myself,” I can’t think of it. [From Unashamed EP, out now on Church Road Records.]
2. Compa – “Brown”
“I learned to hate myself! Until I learned to hate white supremacy!” That’s Sa Yuri, singer for the new Brooklyn band Compa, on the most anthemic of the tracks from their debut EP. (They released it on the Fourth Of July, which is just a tremendous symbolic fuck-you move.) Compa play raw punk that’s purposeful and sloppy and just shivering with rage. Most of the songs on that EP, sung in both English and Spanish, are so fast that they sound like they’re about to spin into pieces. But on “Brown,” they lock the fuck in and find a way to turn a lo-fi basement hardcore song into something that just towers. [From self-titled EP, self-released, out now.]
1. Regional Justice Center – “KKK Tattoo”
What a tremendous achievement in the field of fast, ugly, abrasive hardcore. Regional Justice Center can crank the fuck out of a one-minute rager. But on “KKK Tattoo,” band mastermind Ian Shelton digs into his own fucked-up family history — meeting his birth father for the first time at age 12, seeing his father’s white-supremacist tattoo, wondering whether he could’ve ever turned out like that himself — and transforms it into something majestic in its darkness. “KKK Tattoo” is a four-minute song that hits like a symphonic opus, moving through movements and cycles of anger and disgust and self-recrimination. It hits like a sustained panic attack. [Standalone single, out now on Closed Casket Activities.]