The Month In Hardcore: May 2021

The Month In Hardcore: May 2021

We should talk about Madball. Good band. Hard band. Madball have existed, in one form or another, since the late ’80s. As a child, Freddy Cricien, now almost universally known as Freddie Madball, would jump onstage with his half-brother Roger Miret’s band Agnostic Front. Madball started off as basically an Agnostic Front side project, with most of the band backing up 12-year-old Cricien. Eventually, Madball found a relatively stable lineup of their own — bassist Jorge Guerra has been in the band since 1993 — and became a regular touring act. By the time Madball released their debut album, the 1994 ass-beater classic Set It Off, the band’s style had solidified. They played a direct, chest-thumping variant on New York hardcore, with metallic chug-riffs and choppy, rap-adjacent vocal cadences and lyrics about all the different reasons that Madball and their friends might potentially fuck you up.

Madball were, and are, an archetypal tough-guy hardcore band, at least in part because the people in the band are, by general consensus, tough guys. If you were into punk in the ’90s, you heard about crazy things happening at Madball shows; their oral-tradition mythology was strong. In spirit, Madball always seemed closer to ’90s New York rap hooligans like Onyx than they were to, say, Integrity or Converge. Very quickly, Madball became an institution. They’re now a reliably simplistic rock machine, sort of like what the Ramones were in the ’90s. Every few years, Madball will put out another album of head-knocker riffs and gang-chant choruses. They will never stop touring, and there will always be people eager to see them, even when they probably shouldn’t.

Madball have been in the news lately. A few weeks ago, Madball headlined a free daytime show in New York’s Tompkins Square Park, playing on a bill full of old-head NYHC types like Murphy’s Law and Bloodclot, the band currently led by former Cro-Mags singer John Joseph. A few thousand people showed up. People moshed. People stagedove. In videos from the event, you can see masses of sweaty people piling up on each other, with almost none of them wearing masks. After a year-plus of quarantine, the visual evidence of that show was genuinely shocking. There’s been live music all through the pandemic, of course, with rappers playing packed-in clubs and geezer acts like the Beach Boys playing state fairgrounds. The night before the Madball show, Machine Gun Kelly played for a Florida crowd that was about twice the size of the one that showed up at Tompkins Square. Still, that Madball show seemed somehow different — a real “we’re doing this now?” moment.

I maintain that the Madball show looked extremely fucking fun. If you have any love in your heart for knuckledragger mosh-music, then the whole Madball spectacle will touch some part of your soul. In a world where people can jump on each other’s heads, a Madball show is a reliably hazardous good time. Writing about the Tompkins Square show the following Monday, I said that if I’d been in New York and fully vaccinated, I would’ve gone. People in the comments section of this website were not happy about that. Plenty of people within the hardcore scene weren’t happy about the show, either. The jokes practically wrote themselves. (My favorite: NYHC stands for “Now You Have COVID.”) After so long without shows, the thinking went, these bands and promoters were jumping the gun, putting on this vast superspreader event when they could’ve just waited a few months. The world is still reeling from this disease that came along and fucked everybody’s lives up for so long. There’s no way to put on a socially distanced hardcore show; the mere idea is laughable. So why not wait a little longer?

This line of thinking is probably right. There’s no way all those people in that park were fully vaccinated, which means we’re dealing with a different kind of risk than the one you take when you front-flip off of a speaker cabinet in non-pandemic times. Things got significantly worse in the days after the show. Many of the bands and organizers did themselves no favors. During Murphy’s Law’s set, Springa, former singer for the early-’80s Boston band SSD, walked onstage in a homemade “Black Flag Matters” shirt, one of the dumbest and most tone-deaf attempts at cleverness we’ve collectively witnessed in a long time. Bloodclot’s John Joseph fumed defensively on Instagram, comparing the show to the Black Lives Matter protests of last summer: “This was our fucking protest — this was our rally.” Then he doubled and tripled down. Last week, Breitbart was quoting Joseph carping about “cancel culture.”

The show’s organizers had permits, but Gothamist reported that they had applied to hold a “September 11 Memorial,” a “political rally with speakers and music.” Soon after the story went nuclear, the Parks Department revoked permits for a bunch of future events. Even without mentioning the legalities, though, the whole thing looked bad. Madball themselves didn’t jump into the post-show social-media brouhaha, but nobody came out of this shit smelling like roses.

If I had been in New York and fully vaccinated, I would’ve been severely bummed about this whole thing, even if I’d had a great time at this show. A big outdoor show in New York probably isn’t going to make much difference in the grand global scale of the pandemic; the people refusing to waive patent laws to get the vaccine out to the rest of the world are doing a whole lot more harm. But plenty of hardcore OGs have been maintaining depressingly stubborn stances on just about everything related to the pandemic since the shit started. The optics are fucked. But what if the optics were something else?

Last Saturday night, a few thousand people showed up to a guerrilla punk show under a Los Angeles overpass. LA locals Section H8 headlined, and I don’t even recognize the names of most of the bands on the bill. This time, there wasn’t any drama about how the promoters got the permits, since the whole thing was transparently and obviously illegal. The videos from the show look fucking incredible. People are moshing around bonfires. People are moshing while shooting off fireworks. People are moshing with police-helicopter spotlights pointed at them. There’s a guy moshing while waving a flaming torch. In those videos, you expect to see Snake Plissken creepy-crawling in the pit. It’s some truly cinematic shit. It’s beautiful. In the end, the LAPD apparently broke up the show by shooting what appeared to be beanbags or rubber bullets into the pit — something that was probably a whole lot more dangerous to the participants than moshing during a pandemic.

Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that? The LA show didn’t have any aging legends getting mad about cancel culture or deriding protest movements. It just had kids going off after being stuck inside for a year. Section H8 aren’t a hardcore institution. They’ve only been around for a few years, and as far as I can tell, they only have eight songs out in the world. They were still able to bring all those people out because people need this shit. You don’t get into hardcore because you’re a healthy and well-adjusted person. You get into it because you need an outlet. For a very long time, people have been denied that outlet. Tsk-tsk’ing these shows online isn’t going to change that urge.

From a public health standpoint, those New York and LA shows weren’t really any different from one another. Madball and Section H8 are peers and allies; they were playing West Coast shows together last year, just before the pandemic hit. The two shows looked different, but they served the same need, and there will be more shows like that soon. I hope there are. I’m fully vaccinated, and I’ve had my two weeks. I saw my parents last weekend. Now, I’m making plans to get a haircut and take my son to the zoo and go see the new Jason Statham movie. I’m ready to be in a crowded room where motherfuckers are jumping on my head, as long as those jumping motherfuckers are also vaccinated.

Bootlicker – “Two Faced”

Vancouver’s Bootlicker play fast, raw, ugly basement punk — simplistic fundamentalist 1982-style shit. I have no idea how their rabid 90-second outbursts will play at album length, but the part of the “Two Faced” where the band pauses its attack and the bruiser-ass singer yelps out “aaaaooow” like Joan Jett makes me pretty confident. If the full-length just sounds like cinderblocks cracking on your skull for 20 minutes, then that works for me. [From Bootlicker, out 6/18 on Static Shock Records.]

Dead Heat – “2 Cents”

Certain Death, the 2019 debut album from the Oxnard band Dead Heat, was one of the best retro-thrash attacks that’s come out of the hardcore scene in recent years, and if anything it sounds like they’re about to level-up on the follow up. (That viscerally gory cover art is a good sign.) “2 Cents” has a screamingly ugly guitar tone, a downright unpleasant tempo change, and a chant-along breakdown that’s just as recklessly fast as the rest of the song. I love all of it, and I have a feeling that people are going to get hurt to this. [From World At War, out 6/5 on Triple B Records.]

Drug Church – “Tawny”

Patrick Kindlon has a gift for sounding theatrically disgusted at all times, and this song, about confronting the idea that most people aren’t going to care about your death, gets a little extra juice from how Kindlon vacillates between vein-pumping rage and withering cynicism. That said, “Tawny” might be the single most accessible song in this month’s column. Drug Church make bouncy, squalid post-hardcore with a deeply satisfying and oddly pretty sense of melody, and even their nastiest numbers hit like anthems. [From Tawny EP, out 6/25 on Pure Noise Records.]

Filth Is Eternal – “ZED”

Seattle’s Filth Is Eternal used to be known as Fucked And Bound, and they used to play fast and damaged. Now that they’ve changed their name, Filth Is Eternal sound even more fucked than before. (Don’t know about bound, though. Can a band sound bound?) “ZED,” their first song under that new name, is an absolutely disgusting noise-rock lurch, a song that radiates pure soul-scorching misanthropy. Just hearing it makes me feel like I’m ankle-deep in humid swamp-muck, picking leeches off my arm. [Stand-alone single, out now on Quiet Panic.]

Hostile Takedown – “My Will Be Done”

“Why does the world feel so fucked? Has it always been this way?” I don’t know, dude. The person asking these questions is Jack Cooper, whose Instagram page What It Takes HC Blog is a vital hardcore resource. (Cooper listens to everything. It’s honestly baffling how they even find it all.) Cooper now also leads Hostile Takedown, a new Southern Virginia band with a shit-stomping metallic hardcore sound that reminds me of Integrity. If you were as fully immersed in all forms of hardcore as Cooper is, then maybe you, too, would be able to make primal fuck-you-up music like this. Probably not, though. [From Demonstration, out now on Words Of Fire Fanzine.]

Militarie Gun – “Don’t Pick Up The Phone”

There’s almost a damn New Pornographers song struggling to break its way out of this ripper, and you can hear echoes of it in the acoustic guitars buried deep in the mix. It would probably be a pretty good New Pornographers song, too! But rather than going full power-pop, Regional Justice Center’s Ian Shelton is drowning his hooks in hardcore aesthetics, in bellowed vocals and ear-scraping guitar tones, daring you to find them. Those decisions work, since “Don’t Pick Up The Phone” is a song about creeping bad feelings: “Don’t pick up the phone when you’re on drugs/ It couldn’t be good/ You’ll think, ‘Why did I pick up?'” [From All Roads Lead To The Gun EP, out 6/4 on Alternatives Label.]

Nosedive – “Bad Mood”

Nosedive, from the Australian city of Wollongong, play slow and metallic, but their sound isn’t beatdown. Instead, their style is desperate and frantic — like a fast California band went into a breakdown and then couldn’t figure out how to get out of it. The central lyric here is extremely relatable: “I’m in a bad fuckin’ mood!” Frontman Josh Hanns bellows it with so much euphoric blood-boiling giddiness that he sounds like he’s enjoying the bad mood, and that might be relatable, too. [Standalone single, out now on Best Wishes Records.]

Pillars Of Ivory – “Leviticus”

Mindforce frontman Jay Petagine started Pillars Of Ivory during the pandemic as a way of experimenting with rap music, his first love, and finding unexpected ways to fuse it with hardcore. Members of Death Threat and Age Of Apocalypse joined up. The last two Pillars Of Ivory tracks have been long single-track demos — contemplative beats that bleed into hardcore stompers and then back again. “Leviticus” does the same thing in a more compressed timeframe. Inspectah Deck’s voice echoes out over a moody boom-bap soundscape before the riffs come in and fade out. It’s a bit messy, but it’s never disjointed, and it always makes sense. [From The Biblical Scripturez, out now on Triple B Records.]

Sentinel – “March Of Pain”

The just-launched Sentinel are an East Coast supergroup, and their arrival feels like an event. Members of Mindforce, Mutualy Assured Destruction, Restraining Order, and Age Of Apocalypse got together to make martial metal-punk with riffs that sound like the moment your brain stops functioning rationally and goes into fight mode. Sentinel’s debut EP is an all-killer no-filler piece of work; every track on it makes me want to headbutt the hood of a cop car until the engine block falls out. But that opener? That opener might make me smile while I’m doing it. [From Sense Of Dread EP, out now on Streets Of Hate.]

Snag – “Jar Spell”

I should probably cover more screamo in this column, and when a song is as jagged and desperate as “Jar Spell,” I don’t even feel weird about it. Snag, from Milwaukee, bring some of the lyrical drama that a good screamo rager needs: “Your eyelashes like raindrops! A tempest against my neck!” That stuff can be funny, but it’s sincere, too. Around those sentiments, Snag have built a textured, tangled roar of a song. Their guitars slash and twinkle at the same time, and the urgency doesn’t dim even when the song gets (relatively) quiet. Also, the bassline of this song might be the most melodic thing about it, which is cool. [From Death Doula, out 7/2 on Middle-Man Records/Zegema Beach Records/Sad React Records/LongLegsLongArms Distribution/Confluence Records.]

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