The Month In Hardcore: August 2021
Is it OK to go to hardcore shows now? I honestly have no idea. I hope so. For a year and a half, many of us spent long hours zoning out, imagining some vague future moment when live music would return. Hardcore — both genre of music and the culture surrounding it — is largely based on the idea of redemptive catharsis, of these brief and glorious little windows where you can give physical release to whatever pent-up stresses and frustrations you might be experiencing. All this time, I’ve been thinking about what would happen when shows were back in full, about how good that would feel. I got a taste of that last month, when I saw Public Acid and Destruct play a ferociously fun DIY crust-punk show under a bridge in Richmond. But I was really looking forward to the first weekend in August, when hardcore would return for real.
That weekend, two shows went down at the Camel, a small Richmond room. Both were set to happen the same day: Mindforce, Regulate, and Dead Heat played an afternoon matinee. Later that night, in the same room, there was another show: Enforced, Mutually Assured Destruction, and Self-Inflict. Both shows sold out right away. I could not wait for that shit. But then the news reports about the Delta variant started kicking up. One of my kids isn’t old enough to be vaccinated, and I spent the week leading up to the show ripping myself up internally before ultimately deciding that I could not, in good conscience, spend a whole day running around a sweaty room with friends and strangers. Instead, I basically sulked all day. This was not the grand return I’d pictured for so long. The shows still happened, and in the little fractured social-media images I saw, they looked fun as hell.
Instead, a week later, I went outside for another D-beat spectacle. An outdoor show seemed a whole lot less risky, though we’re definitely in weird times when a guerrilla crust-punk gig seems like the healthier option. In virtually any situation, a DIY generator show is a life-affirming thing. When people are willing to drag equipment out to random outdoor environs to play grimy music for grimy people, that’s elemental human-spirit shit. This past weekend, conditions for an outdoor show were not good. Thunderstorms rocked central Virginia for the entire day; 20 minutes before getting to the spot, I could barely see out of my windshield. I almost skipped the show because I thought it must not be happening. But when I got there, the sun had come out, and the punks had shown up.
The crowd that came out to see Raleigh’s Scarecrow, DC’s SQK Fromme, and Richmond’s own Black Button wasn’t as big as the one on that beautiful day a month ago, but it was still easily in the triple digits. (Virginia Beach’s Lethal Means were on the bill, but they didn’t play. Someone told me their singer had been hit by a car; I hope he’s OK.) People at the show didn’t mosh with abandon, and nobody set off fireworks in the pit. Only a few people even bothered throwing beer cans. But the vibe was good. People seemed psyched and grateful that the show even happened at all.
Scarecrow and SQK Fromme both play fast and noisy and messy, and in the mud under a highway overpass with the sound of cars roaring overhead, those songs sounded ever faster and noisier and messier. I’m not quite sure whether the singer’s mic was working at all during SQK Fromme’s set. In D-beat, that’s not a problem. Jackhammer chaos is the genre’s natural state of being, and it practically exists to be played in places like the area under the bridge. Everyone in the two bands looked cool as hell, too. SQK Fromme singer Daniel Peña, formerly of the great DC band Pure Disgust, had a super-long button-down shirt with one sleeve ripped off. That shit looked crazy.
My favorite band on the bill was Black Button, a Richmond group that released a commendably crazy EP called I Want To Be In Control on New Years Day. Black Button’s version of punk is crazy and arty and freaked-out. Sometimes, they play fast, nervous, trebly early-’80s hardcore punk tantrums. Sometimes, they play lurching, grinding Stooges-style murk. I can’t really think of a subgenre that describes Black Button. When I’m listening to them, I feel like my brain is dissolving, and I’m pretty sure that’s the intent.
On Saturday, Black Button showed up with a bedsheet with a hand-painted message on it: “BLACK BUTTON SAYS, ‘REJOICE!'” (It’s oddly inspiring that a punk-show banner could be grammatically correct.) The band spread that banner out on the ground and then stomped all over it while playing. The singer rocked a mustache/no-shirt/overalls look that I could never, at any point in my life, even attempt to pull off. They brought noise and frenzy and intensity, and then they stopped. Black Button played last, and when they got done, the crowd barely thinned out. It was still daytime, and the punks were still hanging out. We’re in a weird little moment now, and I don’t know what’s OK and what’s not, but that felt good.
Amygdala – “A Kind Of Death In Life”
This San Antonio band’s Our Voices Will Soar Forever was my favorite hardcore album of 2019, and the one song that they released last year was “Where Have All The Windows Gone,” the wild and ambitious eight-minute monster from the Shut It Down benefit compilation. Amygdala seem like they’re in the Fucked Up zone, where they can go off on a progged-out journey and it’ll still hit like a fist with hammers taped to it. But this track isn’t that. Instead, it’s a feral and bloody-eyed 84-second ripper that makes me feel like I’ve got weasels crawling around under my skin. Whatever mode they’re in, this band just crushes. [From Amygdala/Listless split EP, out 9/17 on Get Better Records/Quiet Year Records/Lengua Enfurecida Discos.]
Become One – “False Operative”
Long Island’s Become One first formed in 1997, and they’ve broken up and reunited in different forms over the years. When a band has a long pedigree like that, it can be hard to capture a certain urgent energy. That does not seem to be a problem for Become One. “False Operative” is a punishing rage-out that’s going for metallic while edging into misanthropic noise-rock chaos, and its lyrics are about how we should really fight a motherfucker over their bad politics more often: “Disarm the false patriots until they comprehend true pride!” Sounds good! Sign me up! [From Subsidence EP, out now on New Morality Zine.]
Broken Vow – “Poison Pedaling”
These Connecticut kids are young enough that they probably weren’t born when the groups who inspired them, mostly dramatic crashing-chord ’90s straight-edge bands, were making records. They’re also young enough that they sound viscerally enraged about every societal ill they see before them. Good! They should! “Poison Pedaling” is relatively lo-fi and muffled, but the veins-popping passion still comes through with crystalline force. I’d love to hear what this band might be able to do if they ever get a serious recording budget. [From Promo 2021, out now on New Morality Zine.]
End Game – “Feel My Steel”
I’ve never been to Calgary, and I can’t imagine I’ll ever go to Calgary. All I know about Calgary is that it’s a million miles from anywhere and that a disproportionate number of all-time great pro wrestlers come from that town. But Calgary goons End Game might be, for me, the most exciting new hardcore band of the whole pandemic era. On their 2020 demo, the members of End Game sounded like the type of people who might run across the room and headbutt each other for fun. Here, they level the fuck up, perfecting an absolutely nasty halfway-to-thrash crunch without losing the pure disrespectful ignorance that made them special in the first place. This kind of thundering blood-roar is the sound that I hear inside my head whenever I get home from the grocery store and realize that I forgot something and I need to go back. [From End Game/Living In Fear split EP Combined Forces, out now on KOTP Records.]
Final Gasp – “Suicide”
The Glenn Danzig throaty moan-howl is back, baby! Boston’s Final Gasp around heavily with death-rock and doom-metal. They’ve got baritone bellows and slowed-down riffs and glassy keyboards, and it’s all a tiny bit contrived, but it’s the fun kind of contrived. You can just imagine these guys sitting around, talking about how there aren’t any good spooky hardcore bands anymore and how, you know what, they should go ahead and start a spooky hardcore band. “Suicide” does not have to be five and a half minutes long, and it absolutely does not need an extended gothed-out synth-and-piano coda, but I admire the commitment to the bit. If you decide that you’re going to make some epic shit, then you really need to make some epic shit. [From Haunting Whisper EP, out now on Triple B Records.]
Game – “Atomowa Rekonstrucja”
Game are from London, and they’ve got people from Fucked Up and Arms Race in the band, but Ola Herbich bellows everything in guttural Polish. You may not understand, but you will understand. In any case, you should be able to figure out “Atomowa Rekonstrucja” without Google Translate, and there’s something fundamentally satisfying about hearing someone roar out punk lyrics in a language that is not English. The music is a fast, murky pummel that reminds me of weird European underground metal from the ’80s. This is absolute glorious freak shit, and it promises great things ahead. [From Legerdemain mini-LP, out on October on Quality Control HQ.]
Never Ending Game – “Dreamin Red”
I seriously considered using this section just to spotlight tracks from the America’s Hardcore Vol. 5 compilation. It’s one of the best albums of the year, in any genre, and it’s probably my favorite comp in years. That motherfucker has 39 tracks, and pretty much none of them are skips. There are so many bangers on there: Inclination! Fuming Mouth! Dead Heat! Restraining Order! Rule Them All! Open City! I’ve never even heard of CA Coyotes, and their song is a motherfucker. But I’m limiting myself to one song per release for this section, and that means I have to give the America’s Hardcore honors to Detroit’s Never Ending Game, who continue to sound like what might happen if a gang of kodiak bears formed a Biohazard tribute act. (Apparently, the word for “gang of bears” is “sleuth,” but that word isn’t hard enough.) When Mikey Petroski bellows about how he’ll slit your fucking throat and then he’ll watch you choke, eeeuuughh, I feel like I could hit the One-Winged Angel on a buffalo. [From America’s Hardcore Volume 5 compilation, out now on Triple B Records.]
Oxygen Tank – “Darkness Comes To Light”
Toronto veteran Chris Colohan generally carries himself as a supremely chill individual, but in bands like Cursed and SECT, his voice is an elemental demon rasp, one of the great all-out roars in a genre full of them. Oxygen Tank is Colohan’s newest project. He screams, and Hive’s Morgan Carpenter plays all the instruments. The sound is feverish, reckless revved-up punk shit, and that whole aesthetic fits Colohan’s earth-ripped-open vomit-scream beautifully. Every singer should have a collaborator who understands their voice this intuitively. It does wonders. [From Demo 2021, self-released, out now.]
School Drugs – “Dead Vine”
New Jersey scumbums School Drugs play snotty ’80s-style hardcore punk, and they understand that a lot of those ’80s bands knew how to write hooks while they were ripping up VFW Halls. School Drugs play fast and ugly and messy and out-of-control, but there’s a shamelessness to their melodies that I really like. Every once in a while, a whoa-ohh will remind me of Pennywise, and then I’ll get to thinking about how there used to be way too many bands who sounded like Pennywise and now there aren’t enough bands who sound like Pennywise. Seriously, if you’re starting a band and you aren’t sure what sound you should go for, just rip off Pennywise. It’ll probably be pretty good. [From Visitation EP, out now on Indecision Records.]
Supine – “No Altar For The Company Man”
This Philadelphia band plays a form of screamo so screamy that it no longer has any relationship, however tertiary, to any known variant of emo. Every once in a while, Supine will ease off the throttle end let a tiny glimmer of prettiness into their attack, but then they’ll veer right back into their chaotic tantrum realm, and those little shreds of melody will seem like a distant memory. And even in those fleeting moments of prettiness, you can hear the hammer about to drop, the bedlam about to take hold again. I love that. [From No Altar For The Company Man, out 9/17 on No Funeral Records/I.Corrupt.Records.]