The Month In Hardcore: October 2021

Spencer Chamberlain

The Month In Hardcore: October 2021

Spencer Chamberlain

It’s pretty funny when rappers try to get crowds to mosh. Moshing at rap shows isn’t new, exactly — Onyx made “Slam” in 1993 — but as a widespread phenomenon, it’s a pretty recent development. Some rappers know how to set that shit off. Some do not. When the $uicideboy$’ Grey Day tour came to Richmond a week and a half ago, some of the acts from the duo’s G59 label would try to get the kids in the crowd to circle-pit, but they’d do it in between songs, when there was no music playing. This did not work well, and it led to some frustration: “Run in a circle, you dumbfucks!” Some people need to learn the hard way that nobody’s going to mosh to stage banter. You need to start the song and then call for the circle pit. Turnstile didn’t have that problem.

Turnstile, currently the biggest hardcore band in the land, have been jumping on tons of vast shows lately, playing for largely unfamiliar crowds and evangelizing for the genre that nurtured them. This is not a new role for Turnstile. When $uicideboy$ launched their first Grey Day tour in 2019, both Turnstile and Trash Talk were on the bill. ($uicideboy$ member Ruby Da Cherry used to be in punk and metal bands, and the group’s whole aesthetic is a gutter-punk approach to SoundCloud rap.) Turnstile have headlined some mostly-hardcore shows lately, and they’ve also played some rock and metal festivals. Maybe they’re getting used to playing to big crowds at events that simply can’t have the atmosphere of hardcore shows. It’s still weird, though.

The last time I saw Turnstile, at their Time & Space release show in 2018, it was beautiful insanity, with bodies flying in all directions. The Turnstile set at the $uicideboy$ show was not the same. It couldn’t be. The stagedive is a key element of the Turnstile live experience, and you can’t have stagedives at an outdoor shed venue with a big barricade. During the first song of Turnstile’s set, I saw someone vault precariously over the barricade, and the cops working security immediately threw the guy down and handcuffed him. Still, Turnstile did everything in their power to make that crowd move, and they did pretty well.

I’ve seen disappointed accounts from other Grey Day shows, all coming from people who went just to see Turnstile. Apparently, the crowds at those shows have reacted to Turnstile with general puzzlement, which makes sense. $uicideboy$ are now a massively popular cult act, and since Chief Keef no-showed all the Grey Day tour stops where he was booked, Turnstile were the only act on the bill who weren’t part of the G59 roster. At the merch table, the line for $uicideboy$ swag was vast and forbidding, while I could just waltz up and buy a Turnstile shirt in five minutes. At these shows, Turnstile simply were not the draw. When he was whipping up the crowd, Turnstile bassist Franz Lyons made the point that this is the type of music that was made for moshing — a bit of a history lesson, maybe, for the kids who had no idea what they were seeing.

In Richmond, though, things are different. It’s the kind of city where tons of high school kids end up going to at least one hardcore show because it’s just what’s going on. Hardcore is a part of that town’s culture, and at that $uicideboy$ show, a good chunk of the crowd seemed to get what was going on. The band’s reaction wasn’t euphoric, but they got people to move, to react. That probably had something to do with Turnstile being great performers — with Brendan Yates leaping and spinning and charging out into the crowd. And it probably also had something to do with Turnstile’s songs, almost all of which are fucking hits, tracks that you can grasp straightaway.

One Step Closer have at least one of those hits, too. For a while now, the Wilkes-Barre straight-edge group have stood out as one of the most promising young bands in all of hardcore. Last month, they released their full-length debut This Place You Know. It rocks. Turnstile’s Glow On is still my favorite album of 2021, hardcore or otherwise, but This Place You Know is right up there. One Step Closer sound nothing like Turnstile. Instead, their sound is raw and dynamic and desperate, built on the contrast between their twinkly-guitar melodies and the freaked-out roars of singer Ryan Savitski. But One Step Closer also have some of the melodic immediacy and the charged-up energy that always set Turnstile apart. Both Turnstile and One Step Closer make great gateway bands — bands capable of pulling people into the whole hardcore world.

A week before that $uicideboy$/Turnstile show, I went to see One Step Closer in Richmond. This was my first indoor show since the pandemic began, and it wasn’t exactly fated to be a transcendent night. This was a Tuesday-night show at a small, half-empty club, and it’s hard to get any sense of explosive energy going at a show like that. Randomly, there were also two other hardcore-adjacent shows in Richmond that same night, a big-club gig with SeeYouSpaceCowboy and a house show with locals Terminal Bliss and Tempter. People had to pick and choose.

One Step Closer were touring with Soul Blind, a Hudson Valley band whose members come from hardcore but whose sound is decidedly different. Soul Blind move between heavy shoegaze and ’90s-style grunge. They play punishingly loud, and there’s a lot of Deftones in their basslines, but nobody’s throwing anyone into a wall when Soul Blind are onstage. The Richmond bill also had four different local bands. My favorites were Guardrails, who play fast and dirty and whose singer rocked a mechanic’s jumpsuit and a chain with a fake-platinum medallion of his own band’s logo around his neck. Fun band!

I first saw One Step Closer nearly two years ago, just before the pandemic, at a big warehouse show that Integrity headlined. Back then, OSC were a bit green and tentative. The Richmond show a few weeks ago was a different story. At this point, One Step Closer have grown confident and intense, and there’s a whole lot of satisfaction in seeing them hit a big crescendo. They also have a hell of a closing song. “The Reach,” from the band’s 2019 EP From Me To You, has reached anthem status, and when that opening riff hit, the room got a whole lot crazier. One of the great things about hardcore is getting to see a crowd of people react to a song like “The Reach.” In the right room, that reaction is a spectacle. It feels good to bear witness.

Big Cheese – “The People’s War”

Anytime anyone breaks into evil stage-laughter right before the breakdown hits, you’re in good hands. Big Cheese’s 2020 full-length Punishment Park was an end-to-end banger, and the Leeds band truly got fucked by timing, dropping the LP right before the pandemic. In their first release since then, Big Cheese have grown thrashier and heavier, but they’ve kept the wild-eyed devotion to old-school New York face-stomp shit that made them so viscerally thrilling in the first place. [From Anymore For Anymore? EP, self-released, out now.]

The Chisel – “Retaliation”

Like fellow Londoners Chubby And The Gang, a band with whom they share a few members, the Chisel are hardcore more through association than through style. Musically, the Chisel draw a direct line back to classic UK street-punk, with its beery melodic abandon and its group-hug chant-along choruses. But the Chisel’s sound is also informed by the speed and focus of the hardcore that most of the band members used to play, and if you put them onstage at just about any hardcore show in the world, they would rip heads off. “Retaliation” already sounds like a monster, and I can’t wait for that full-length. [From Retaliation, out 11/26 on La Vida Es Un Musos Discos.]

Exhibition – “Give It Up”

You know the opening scene from Blade where Wesley Snipes struts into the vampire blood-rave and just starts kicking and chopping and shooting, turning like 20 motherfuckers to dust without breaking a sweat? When that first headbanger riff kicks into gear, that’s how I feel. Exhibition, from Buffalo, are very into the late-’80s moment when a bunch of New York hardcore greats veered into metal directions. “Give It Up” isn’t as unstable as those records, but it’s just as dedicated to crushing orbital bones. [From You’ll Be Next… EP, out now on Edgewood Records.]

Knocked Loose – “God Knows”

You could argue that Knocked Loose are just as big as Turnstile, though they’re a different kind of big, with a different sound and a different demographic. As with Turnstile, I’ve seen a lot of people online writing Knocked Loose off as goofball shit, and their type of bright, clean metalcore is definitely not for everyone. But holy shit, Knocked Loose are great at that sound, and success hasn’t made them any less hard. All five tracks from the band’s new surprise-drop EP are brutal unrelenting weed-wacker-to-the-face music, and I could’ve dropped any of those tracks into this month’s column. I may have only picked “God Knows” because that sample at the end works so well, but this felt like the correct choice. [From A Tear In The Fabric Of Life EP, out now on Pure Noise Records.]

Private Hell – “Total Massacre”

The members of Richmond’s Private Hell have played in Virginia punk bands like Ghouli and Fried Egg. I love those bands; Fried Egg were house-show standouts around these parts for years. But I’m pretty sure none of those guys have ever attempted this kind of towering, apocalyptic fast-growl metal-punk, and they are really good at it. If I ever become a desert-encampment warlord and I have to whip a crowd of bedraggled survivors into a bloodthirsty rage, I’m building a big bonfire, putting on a loincloth and a minotaur mask, and playing this song. [From Private Hell demo, self-released, out now.]

Punitive Damage – “Legacy”

Regional Justice Center bassist Steph Jerkova also sings for the Vancouver band Punitive Damage, and her voice is an incredible blood-fugue roar. She sounds like an ancient warrior who has been resurrected in the present day and who has gone on a hallucinatory backwoods murder rampage. Punitive Damage’s new EP rips through three songs in less than three minutes, and all of them are bangers. “Legacy,” the opening track, is the best of them, and it’s all about how the “smug old men” who own everything should be put to death. I see no lies. [From Strike Back EP, self-released, out now.]

Reckoning Force – “Broken State”

Virginia Beach’s Reckoning Force play the fastest possible version of early-’80s hardcore. “Broken State” is an all-out sprint that sounds the way it feels to fall down an entire flight of stairs, constantly trying to grab at shit to stop your fall but always missing and just picking up steam until you’re a tangled and breathless wreck, staring up at the sky above you, trying to figure out when you’ll be able to move. [From Broken State, out 11/12 on Not For The Weak Records.]

Scowl – “Fuck Around”

Drain’s Sammy Ciaramitaro guests on this minute-long rager from the Santa Cruz band Scowl, and I have a genuinely hard time telling which parts are his and which belong to Scowl leader Kat Moss. I count that as a big endorsement of everyone involved. Moss and Ciaramitaro both sound like they’re rage-screaming and vomiting at the same time. When you’re making a transcendently ugly basement-punk face-obliterator like this, that’s about the best vocal tone you could possibly have. Singers who can pull that delivery off are rare, and on this song, we’ve got two of them! [From How Flowers Grow, out 11/19 on Flatspot Records.]

Spice – “A Better Treatment”

I’m cheating here. “A Better Treatment” isn’t really a hardcore song. It’s more of an absolutely incredible indie rocker, the type that barely ever gets made anymore. There’s a violin on here! That’s not hardcore! But “A Better Treatment” is my favorite song in this month’s column, and it’s one of the best things I’ve heard lately in any genre. Two members of Spice, singer Ross Farrar and drummer Jake Casarotti, are also in Ceremony, and the bassline on this is hard as hell, so I say it counts. “A Better Treatment” has all the expansive, smothered intensity of the Dischord stuff that I grew up loving, but the song never feels like pastiche. Instead, it feels like staring into infinity, searching desperately for some reason to hope. [From “A Better Treatment” b/w “Everyone Gets In” single, out 11/19 on Dais Records.]

Wise – “Intro/Madness Beyond”

I don’t know anything about Whittier, California, the hometown of the band Wise. But judging purely by the sound of this track, I have to conclude that Whittier is a city where every building is on fire and where packs of wild, mangy hyenas roam the streets at night. Please, nobody correct me. [From The Essence EP, out 11/12 on Triple B Records.]

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