The Month In Hardcore: February 2021

Olivia Keasling

The Month In Hardcore: February 2021

Olivia Keasling

The song is called “i slept with wes eisold and all i got was an out of court settlement.” That’s the title. The track itself is an erratic 93-second sprint that moves frantically from one time signature to the next. Its riffs are almost frustratingly slick, like cat claws scrambling on a glass door. Hayden Rodriguez’s voice is a full-throated fuck-you screech: “I’d probably get under your skin if you still had any left!” I don’t know what that means. I don’t know what any of it means.

I have never met Wes Eisold. My only personal interaction with the man was a not-terribly-interesting email interview more than a decade ago. Eisold is the singer of both American Nightmare and Cold Cave, which means he’s a great frontman in the mostly-unrelated fields of crashing, majestic hardcore and throbbing, vampiric synth-rock. Beyond that, I don’t really know anything about the man. So I don’t know if the Columbus band For Your Health’s song “i slept with wes eisold” is a diss track about Eisold or whether the band is just having some fun invoking the name of a revered underground figure. It’s a diss track about somebody, though. As the song explodes in 15 different directions, Hayden Rodriguez screams, “Toothless! Impotent! Unavailing! Inadequate! Cowardly and vain!” Those aren’t good things! If someone used any of those adjectives in a song with my name in the title, I would be upset! (Twitter tells me, incidentally, that Wes Eisold’s birthday is today. Happy birthday?)

The intent behind “i slept with wes eisold” is slightly mysterious because For Your Health have made a habit of snarkily verbose song titles: “you’re so united ninety-three, we’re so flight one eighty,” “hey did you know that the drummer from saetia was in interpol?,” “my bedroom has been crushed by a fallen plane engine…” That’s not the only trick that For Your Health have picked up from the emo bands of the ’00s. Most of For Your Health’s music is a skritchety abrasive whirlwind, but it sometimes explodes into sudden bursts of soaringly whiny melody — My Chemical Romance choruses ripping their way out of Reversal Of Man tantrum-roars like the chestburster from Alien.

At least nominally, For Your Health are a screamo band. They’ve toured and put out records with screamo bands, and in 2019, they released Death Of Spring, a much-loved split LP with the Pittsburgh band then known as Shin Guard. (Shin Guard have since changed their name to Hazing Over.) In some ways, the “screamo” tag fits For Your Health better than it fits virtually any other band I could name. For Your Health’s sound is, after all, a screamy and convulsive attack that sometimes veers unto unashamed sugar-rush zone of peak Warped Tour emo. (Rodriguez, talking to Stereogum late last year: “I’d say For Your Health is equally influenced by Fall Out Boy as it is, like, Daughters.”) Functionally, though, For Your Health don’t fit the screamo genre. They don’t really fit any genre. They’re a wild, seething, singular beast.

Last Friday, For Your Health released In Spite Of, their full-length debut. It’s a euphorically deranged frag-grenade of a record, a wild spazzout of grand proportions. Parts of the album are punishingly jittery and intense. Others are genuinely pretty. The band seesaws wildly from one extreme to the other, and it makes for a real whiplash effect. You really have to be in the mood for this type of thing. (This column is running late in the day because my dog died last week. As down as I was, I could barely listen to In Spite Of, let alone write about it.) But when you’re ready to meet it on its own wavelength, all that herky-jerk energy feels urgent and exciting. You can see it in the late-2020 Hate5six livestream where For Your Health debuted a bunch of the album tracks. Playing in studios for cameras, bands tend to have a hard time replicating the intensity of a live show, but For Your Health heroically throw themselves into it. They make it count.

I don’t know if For Your Health count as a hardcore band. I don’t know if they count as anything. There’s no hardcore ritual to the band’s music — no mosh-pit breakdowns, no singalong choruses, no samples of gangster-movie dialog on song intros. If the band reminds me of anything, it’s the squeaky and turbulent post-hardcore of the early ’00s. In both presence and approach, For Your Health remind me more of At The Drive-In or Blood Brothers than any of their screamo-scene peers. (Members of kindred-spirit bands Hazing Over and Soul Glo add backing vocals to In Spite Of, and For Your Health sometimes sound a bit like arty San Diego metalcore spazzers SeeYouSpaceCowboy. But on In Spite Of, I still get more Blood Brothers than anything else.) It takes swagger to pull off a sound like that, and it takes even more to get away with some of For Your Health’s more pretentious lyrics: “Lest sunlight cauterize waxen skin and brimming foam digest newborn pinions/ Icarus, fly by night.” For Your Health pull it off.

As chaotic as For Your Health can be, both lyrically and musically, there’s a great physical directness to the band’s sound. Drummer Mike Mapes, for instance, is an absolute hellbeast. (In the above video, there’s a moment where he drops a stick mid-song and continues to thrash away one-handed, without missing a beat.) And For Your Health are also a band with multiple fuck-the-police songs in their tiny discography. On “Everyday At 13:12,” a minute-long ripper from In Spite Of, Rodriguez screams explicitly about curbstomping a cop: “Lay down, take a bite/ Curbside dentistry is top of the line.”

In the year-or-so that I’ve been writing this column, I’ve gone back and forth a bunch of times on how strictly I want to define “hardcore” — on whether I should be using it to cover adjacent genres like screamo and street-punk. My current thinking is: If something would go off at a hardcore show, then it belongs. Hardcore shows aren’t happening now, so this is purely theoretical, but I think For Your Health would rip it up in just about any DIY-venue scenario. Hopefully, sometime in the not-too-distant future, they can prove me right.

[Quick programming note here: This is the part of the column where I write about 10 hardcore songs from the past month that have been kicking my ass. In past columns, this has been a top-10 countdown. I’ve been thinking about it, though, and maybe that kind of hierarchical thinking is antithetical to the genre. This time, we’re going alphabetical.]

Buggin – “Brainfreeze”

That bounce. The Chicago band formerly known as Buggin’ Out plays fast, but they also make sure everything pushes the beat forward. There’s some Rage Against The Machine in the riffage. The utterly disgusting bass tone keeps the low end strong. Bandleader Bryanna Bennett has an incredible feral snarl, but she keeps her delivery in the pocket. The Beastie Boys cover on the “Brainfreeze” B-side just further proves what the song itself already showed you: This band might bash cinderblocks over your head, but they do it with metronomic precision. [From “Brainfreeze” b/w “Gratitude” single, out now on Flatspot Records.]

The Chisel – “Not The Only One”

Anthemic UK street-punks the Chisel share plenty of DNA with Chubby And The Gang, one of last year’s great punk rock success stories. (Chubby Charles, frontman of Chubby And The Gang and former Violent Reaction/Arms Race member, plays guitar in the Chisel.) But the Chisel have their own variety of folksy fists-up working class shit-smashing, and it doesn’t have anything to do with pub-rock. Singer Cal Graham has some kind of UK regional accent that I can’t place, but that shit goes hard. I love the way he rolls his R’s at the end of this song — “We might be doon, but we’rrrrre never! Fookin’! Oot!” [From Come See Me / Not The Only One EP, out now on Beach Impediment Records/La Vida Es Un Musos Discos/Black Hole.]

Closer – “Angry Flood”

This song might be twice as long as anything else on this month’s list, but I wouldn’t cut a second from it. Three years after the towering album All This Will Be, this New York trio is coming back with the crushing force of a tidal wave. There are quiet parts on “Angry Flood.” There are spoken-word bits and guitars that twinkle. But when this thing builds up to full strength — when it surges and crashes and howls — I want to dive out of one moving car and into another moving car, like this was a Fast & Furious sequel. [From Within One Stem, out 3/12 on Lauren Records.]

Colossus – “Miles Away”

Colossus are a pandemic-era supergroup that has yet to play a single show. Singer Tom Sheehan is the frontman for Brooklyn legends Indecision, and his high-pitched shriek remains one of the all-time best at conveying skin-peeling fury. In Colossus, he teams up with three friends from New York’s Hudson Valley — two members of Mindforce, one of Age Of Apocalypse. Together, they’re making primal neck-jerk groove-heavy mosh music. I just had to look up which of the Constructicons turned into a bulldozer, and it turns out that his name was Bonecrusher. This song makes me feel like that guy. [From Demo, out now on Triple B Records.]

Daisy Chain – “Tarnished”

“Oh, to have such problems!” Daisy Chain, from Los Angeles, have some of the great on-the-nose snottiness that has historically defined so many of their town’s best punk bands. They also have a sense of classic garage-rock rip-snort. In every picture I can find, Daisy Chain come off like LA leather-jacket guys, and I am not generally drawn to the music of LA leather-jacket guys. But everything about “Tarnished” — the class-conscious lyrical disgust, the guttural face-stop riffage, the way the one guy screams, “Gui-tah! Drums!” — kind of makes me want to be an LA leather-jacket guy. [Stand-alone single, out now on Atwater Records.]

Ends Of Sanity – “Gift Of Suffering”

“You got to! Fight for your! Liiiiife!” And then, if you didn’t get the message: “Fight! For! Life!” OK! I will! Like Colossus, Ends Of Sanity are a quarantine-era project. Their members are in bands like Magnitude and Life’s Question, and as far as I know, they’ve never played a show. That seems insane. On “Gift Of Suffering,” Ends Of Sanity sound like a machine. They make music that can only reach its full potential when it’s the soundtrack for motherfuckers throwing each other through walls. But even playing in my bedroom on a Monday afternoon a year into quarantine, I think this just loosened one of my teeth. [From Ends Of Sanity EP, out now on Daze.]

Extinguish – “Unconquered”

I know absolutely nothing about the California band responsible for this ten-ton brick of ignorance, and that’s fine. Sometimes, a single song tells you all you need to know. This metallic headcrusher tells you that you’re about to get punched and kicked in the head repeatedly. It tells you that you are in a dangerous situation, surrounded by dangerous people. It tells you that it remains unconquered. And when that breakdown kicks in, it also sends non-verbal signals to all your limbs to start throwing haymakers in every direction. That’s how this shit works. [Stand-alone single, self-released, out now.]

Fading Signal – “Staring At The Sun”

This Raleigh band plays fast and feral, but they sound more anguished than angry. “Staring At The Sun” is the rare hardcore song that gets over more on lyrics than on facepunch intensity. “I haven’t seen the sun in days! Food is starting to lose its taste! Spelling goodbye in the blood on the floor! Nothing feels good anymore!” That shit hits almost uncomfortably close to home. Paradoxically but fortunately, looking in a mirror and screaming along that nothing feels good anymore really does feel good. [From Nothing Feels Good Anymore EP, out now on To Live A Lie Records.]

Slant – “Enemy”

The Seoul band Slant play raw, nasty punk with rare ferocity. “Enemy” is primal D-beat with Motörhead swagger in its riffs and frantic bluster in its rhythm section. Singer Yeji sounds like a mongoose who just ripped a cobra’s head off of its body but who’s still angry that she had to deal with the stupid thing in the first place. [From 1집, out 2/26 on Iron Lung Records.]

Tørsö – “Home Wrecked”

The members of the Bay Area punk band Tørsö haven’t been in the same place in months, and they recorded their new EP back in 2018. But they’re singing about Bay Area gentrification and the destructiveness of money, and it’s not like those problems have been solved. More to the point, Tørsö attack their subjects with classic D-beat fury, and that’s a style that absolutely refuses to get old. Torch a Tesla to this. [From Home Wrecked EP, out now on Revelation Records.]

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