The Month In Hardcore: November 2020
One guy has on boxing gloves. His Power Trip shirt is tucked into some gym shorts. I think there’s a mouthguard in his mouth. This is a few days before Halloween, so the whole ensemble is presumably a costume. But it’s functional, too. Because this guy is just out here punching the shit out of everyone. So is everyone else. It’s just a room full of motherfuckers whomping each other and then occasionally pausing for long enough to group-yell some lyrics about killing cops. The camera barely even catches any of the dudes in the band, but that’s just good filmmaking. Watching what’s happening in that room is like watching The Raid, if all the people in The Raid were having the time of their lives — and maybe, hopefully, surviving.
What we’re witnessing is the first show from the San Jose band Sunami — and, thus far, the only one. It’s an utterly bewitching eight minutes of video. The ignorance just does not stop. Fools spinkick each other. Fools uppercut each other. Fools throw high knees at each other. Sometimes, fools take turns throwing shuddering blows at each other and then hug. Sometimes, fools just throw hands at each other mercilessly and then do not hug. At a certain point, you realize that there’s an adjacent room and that a good portion of the crowd is scared to walk through the door because of the chaos happening within. You cannot possibly blame them.
The Sunami house show in question went down a year ago, somewhere in the Bay Area, and it is already the stuff of legend. You watch it a few times and you start to figure out who your favorite people in the crowd are — boxing-gloves guy, bloodthirsty shirtless mustache guy, guy in punk costume, neon-shirt beach-bum guy, terrifying MMA-fighter-looking girl. When you notice that Gulch’s Elliot Morrow is in the crowd — before he grabs the mic for a song — his nose is already gushing blood. A few people are bleeding. It’s a bleeding sort of show. Filming this show must’ve been like doing war-zone journalism.
A year later, it at least seems possible that Sunami will never play another show. They were set to play this year’s edition of the California festival Sound & Fury, and they probably would’ve toured hard in 2020. Circumstances intervened. But Sunami have still managed to become a breakout hardcore band in 2020 on the strength of that video and their gloriously dumb and merciless self-titled debut EP. Singer Josef Alfonso recently told No Echo that Sunami started off as a “joke band,” but they are so good at blistering juggernaut knucklehead shit, and they know it.
Things are happening in the Bay. It’s amazing that things are happening anywhere right now, but hardcore is a powerful thing. Even in the COVID era, we can see great scenes at work. Music is still coming out of Leeds and Wilkes-Barre and Richmond, and a whole lot of music is coming out of the Bay. I already wrote a whole column about the Santa Cruz band Gulch, a by-all-accounts ridiculously exciting live band that has become the hottest thing in hardcore in a time when nobody can play live shows. But Gulch are just part of a whole — an entire mob of dudes who seem to really, really enjoy beating the shit out of each other.
Consider Drain, the band led by Gulch drummer Sam Ciaramitaro. Drain spent a few years developing a rep as one of the most fun, unhinged live bands out there — as a band who puts on the type of shows where motherfuckers stagedive with boogie boards. But even without those live shows, Drain still stand out. Just before the pandemic hit, they released their debut LP California Cursed, a supremely satisfying 22-minute burst of thrashy leads and bouncy riffage and stragulated yelps. Drain are heavy, but they’re the fun kind of heavy. They’re the only band who makes me think of Pantera and Agent Orange at the same time.
Some people from that same constellation also play in Hands Of God, a San Jose band whose style is pure metallic beatdown heaviness — mercilessly muscular mosh music that sometimes veers into death metal territory. Sometimes, they put breakdowns inside their breakdowns. Hands Of God’s 2019 EP Blueprint For Self-Destruction fucking rips, but my favorite thing the band has done is the video of the band playing Louisville’s LDB Fest in February, just lighting that shit up.
Gulch, Sunami, Drain, and Hands Of God all rule, but they don’t sound anything like each other. To me, it’s bonkers that a group of friends from Santa Cruz and San Jose could fly off in all those different directions at the same time, all swinging hard and all connecting. There are more bands from that whole circle, too. There’s the pre-Gulch band Spinebreaker, who were making disgusting raw guttural death-metal shit as recently as last year. There’s Lead Dream, whose EP Mortal Vices is bulletproof stand-tall juggernaut shit. There’s Jawstruck, who sound like they’re so incensed by injustice that they’re about to fly into Wolverine berserker-rage mode.
But it’s not just them. Things are happening all around the Bay Area. The Bay has a storied history in punk and hardcore, and it’s always had an infrastructure around venues like Gilman Street. Still, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen so much energy coming from the area — or, for that matter, from any area. I would love to know more about what’s behind all this vitality. Whatever the reason, what’s happening in the Bay Area — during the pandemic, without shows — is pretty amazing. It’s striking, for instance, how many bands have come together and released their first music just in the months since the pandemic hit.
Spy, for instance, are a four-piece who haven’t yet played a single show. In July, they released Service Weapon, a four-song, seven-minute EP of raw, filthy, disgusting punk — an unrelenting fast-growl churn that demands to be heard in a foul-smelling punk-house basement. Eightfold Path dropped their Sutraduction demo, a bloodthirsty blur of face-stomp mosh riffs and ominous metallic atmosphere, in April. Just a week and a half ago, Planet On A Chain, a band of Oakland-scene vets, got together to release This Won’t Get Any Fucking Better, a demo of 10 old-school minute-long rage-outs sprints. I’m sure there’s a ton of other stuff that I haven’t even heard.
Can this burst of activity continue? I have no idea. Bands are breaking up all the time — or, even if they’re not breaking up, their members are moving on to different phases of their lives. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the bands in this column have already broken up. We probably won’t know how many bands we’ve lost to the pandemic until the pandemic is long over. Hardcore bands rarely last long anyway. But this whole Bay Area phenomenon is continuing now. Last week, for example, the supremely ignorant one-man project Foghorn — a guy named Kenny who bellows “if you ain’t from the Bay, get the fuck out my faaaaaaaaace” in Cookie Monster voice — just dropped a stupidly fun three-song crusher called SF Metal. On Friday, Scalp dropped Domestic Extremity, a chaotic, abrasive, monumentally ugly mosh-grind grenade of an album. Scowl, who released a really good EP of straightforward snarls last year, are working on new music. Heavy Stench, who released a really good EP of grimy seethe-spit D-beat last fall, are at least keeping their Instagram going.
The Bay Area might be the most gentrified place on the entire planet. In a lot of the videos I’ve seen of Bay shows, both the bands and the crowds largely consist of people of color — in many cases, the people getting fucked over the hardest by all the money that’s been flooding into the area for years. Maybe people are just pissed. Maybe, in the pandemic, they’re more pissed, more determined to get that shit out. I don’t really know the Bay, and these are only halfassed guesses. But whatever the causes might be, the Bay Area hardcore scene is a shining fucking light right now. Once shows start up again, maybe all of us should bring boxing gloves.
10. Si Dios Quiere – “Sufrimiento/End Of Compromise”
All five members of Si Dios Quiere — Spanish for “God willing” — are Mexican-American dudes from the South Side of Chicago. They switch back and forth between Spanish and English, and they take their cues from the thrashed-out knuckleheads of late-’80s and early-’90s New York: Cro-Mags, Agnostic Front, Madball. Those bands have probably inspired thousands of groups in the decades since, but very few of them bring that same sense of danger — that they’re using this music to make sense of a hostile reality. For Si Dios Quiere, that’s not a problem. There’s a real urgency to their neck-snap riffs, and a real strength to their bellowing. [From A Hell Like No Other EP, out now on New Morality Zine.]
9. En Love – “Poacher’s Discount”
En Love play both fast and heavy at the same time, and they’ve got the same kind of apocalyptic intensity that Trash Talk and Ceremony used to have. But En Love come from Columbus, not California, which means it’s pretty unlikely that they’ll ever start a streetwear brand or attempt to sound like New Order. (These are not shots. Trash Talk and Ceremony fucking rule. I’m just saying.) Please pay attention to En Love’s drummer because that guy is a fucking monster. When was the last time you heard someone play a fucking breakbeat on a fast hardcore song? [From Love Will Drown The Nest EP, out now on Delayed Gratification Records.]
8. Road Mutant – “War March”
Look at that cover art. Look at it! Buildings are reduced to rubble. Skulls pile up on the streets. A big fucking viking and a skull-faced gutterpunk reaper are getting together to stab… somebody. I can’t tell who it’s supposed to be. But I bet he sucks! Given that cover art, and given that we’re talking about a band called Road Mutant here, you should’ve already clicked play. If you didn’t, please be advised that this song is a berserk crossover-thrash avalanche and a whole lot of fun. The chorus: “War march war march! It’s a war march war march! War march war march! It’s a fucking war march!” It sure is, buddy! Really, it’s probably too fast to be called a “march,” but I’m not going to argue with this guy. Road Mutant are from the UK, and they are sadly not skull-faced gutterpunk reapers, but we can pretend. [From Inhuman Nature/Road Mutant split, out now on Nuclear Family Records/Night Rhythms Recordings/x7Ax Records.]
7. Deny – “The Harder You Fall”
The Swedish crusties in Deny have been together for 25 years, and they have a lot of music. You’d think that a quarter-century in the game might mellow you out a bit, or at least make it a little bit harder to conjure the frantic, bugged-out anger that good D-beat demands. Nope! Deny are the kind of band who have one album called I Hate Jesus and another called Parasite Paradise. They sound like they just crawled out of a radioactive swamp and then stepped on a pile of small, sharp Legos. They will never stop being pissed off. [From Deny/Böset split, out now on Cramada.]
6. Gridiron – “World At War”
When I was in high school, I simply could not wrap my head around the fact that hardcore kids dressed like jocks and had bands with names like Ten Yard Fight. It was like: You’re punks. You’re not jocks. What are you doing? Like 20 years later, it makes a little more sense. Sometimes, you just want to let a motherfucker know that you will beat his ass, and putting some football shit in your band name is just an efficient way to do that. Gridiron are a new band whose members come from Detroit’s Never Ending Game, Pennsylvania’s Payback, and Delaware’s Year Of The Knife — three bands who make real ass-beating music. Gridiron also make real ass-beating music. It’s choppy, rhythmic stomper shit with vocals that make rap-metal delivery sound genuinely intimidating, and it makes me feel alive. [From Loyalty At All Costs EP, out now on Streets Of Hate.]
5. Employed To Serve – “Party’s Over”
I know basically jackshit about metalcore, and I don’t think I paid any attention to Employed To Serve until leader Justine Jones put out a really great old-school hardcore EP with her side project Glorious earlier this year. Apparently, Employed To Serve are one of the biggest metalcore bands in the UK. They’re the kind of band that gets booked at festivals like Download, and they sound it. That whole clean, sharp compressed-crunch style generally isn’t what I’m looking for out of hardcore, but “Party’s Over” fucking rocks. Jones has a ton of presence, both when she’s screaming and creepily intoning stuff, and this riff makes me want to start a fight in a public bathroom and throw a motherfucker through a stall door. [Standalone single, out now on Spinefarm Records.]
4. Chain Reaction – “Disconnect”
When I was nine years old, I spent a week in Belgium with my family. I don’t remember much about it, but the places I saw were pretty and quiet and old. Also, there was a statue of a little kid pissing, and the pissing was a fountain. I thought that was great. Apparently, though, I did not get the full flavor of Belgium in that one week. Apparently, people go off in Belgium. Chain Reaction, who are Belgian, have gone to great lengths to sound like late-’80s New York hardcore bruisers, and they pull it off. This song is great fast mosh-music up until the breakdown, when it just instantly achieves violent levitation. “Save! What’s! Real!” OK! I will! [From Figurehead EP, out now on Control Records/Atomic Action! Records.]
3. Speedway – “Endless Stride”
Sometimes, in certain circles, people try to front on mosh parts. The logic here is that the obligatory end-of-song hardcore breakdown is a crutch, a tired ritual that conveys nothing. All of that might be true, but it doesn’t really tell you what a breakdown can do. It makes more sense to think of the breakdown as a structural element, like the bridge of a pop song. You could write a pop song with no bridge, and it might even be good, but a perfectly executed bridge is a beautiful thing that helps tell why people still put it in there. Listen to the execution on this breakdown — the long peal of feedback hanging in the air, the stretched-out pause, the return of the slowed-down bassline, the cymbal tings, the melodic crashes of guitar, the way the singer’s passion suddenly jumps up about three notches. Something like half this song is breakdown. I love it. Speedway come from Sweden, and they do the same kind of epic, surging youth-crew scream-alongs that North American bands like Mil-Spec and One Step Closer have been doing so well lately. They know how to make a fucking breakdown hit. [From Speedway EP, out now on Svesk Hardcore Kultur/Triple B Records.]
2. Thought Control – “Thought Control”
I don’t know anything about Thought Control, a new band from New Jersey who wrote, recorded, and released their first record during quarantine. But I don’t really have to know anything about Thought Control. All the information you need is right there in the song on that first record. First: Thought Control play feral, frantic, unhinged hardcore punk with early-’80s intensity. Second: Thought Control are the type of band who will name a song after the band, or a band after the song — always a good sign. Third: Thought Control are very concerned about the subliminal messages being beaming into your fucking braaaaaaiiiiin. If Rowdy Roddy Piper’s They Live character had a band, it would sound like this, and I don’t know how to make my endorsement more emphatic than that. [From Shock To The System EP, self-released, out now.]
1. Mindforce – “Reign Of Terror”
What a fucking band. Everything about this song just hits so fucking hard — the ugly squeal of the guitar tone, the Zack De La Rocha-esque choppy-screaming vocal delivery, that absolute monstrosity of a groove. Whenever something changes on this song — every time a new riff or a new drum pattern kicks in — I want to run at a moving train and headbutt it so hard that it derails. Mindforce are on such a roll right now that they can just do something this nasty at will. That is a powerful place to be. [Stand-alone single, out now on Triple B Records.]