The Month In Hardcore: November 2021
The Olympia, Washington band Gag make a pure, direct form of barf-gargle hardcore punk, and they’ve been doing that for nearly a decade. Last year, though, Gag ended their Still Laughing album with a chilly, rudimentary electro instrumental called “Scorpion Sequence.” This was, to put things lightly, a departure. The 11 tracks before “Scorpio Sequence” are all grimy, ugly little two-minute phlegm-snarls. “Scorpio Sequence” is grimy and ugly in its own ways, but it’s just straight-up dance music. On the album, a track like that plays almost as a sarcastic joke. In person, it comes off different.
You need to see Gag live. That’s partly because a Gag show is fun as hell. It’s fast and wild and unpredictable. You know how fight scenes in old cartoons would sometimes just be balls of dust with limbs poking out? And heads popping out to make sarcastic comments before ducking back into the maelstrom? A Gag show is something like that. Being in that tangle, or even alongside the outer edge of that tangle, is a great way to spend a night out. But you also need to see Gag live because their trebly, buzzing attacks just don’t feel the same on record.
Gag are tireless road dogs, and they have been for years. Sometimes, they’ll play bigger shows with bigger bands. They toured Europe with Turnstile just before the pandemic, and they opened Turnstile’s Glow On release show in Baltimore in September. But Gag are a basement punk band at heart; there’s never any stink of professionalism on them. So Gag still make plenty of sense at a small DIY venue with no stage, and they still play plenty of those shows. That’s how I saw them a few weeks ago. Gag played on a Tuesday night in a small Richmond bar that crammed in maybe 100 people. (The four-band bill started at maybe 7:30, and it was sold out by the time the first group went on.) Sometimes, you see a band in a DIY space, and you tell that the band is heading to bigger rooms. Gag have played bigger rooms, and yet a bar like that one still feels like the kind of place where you’re supposed to see them.
Even in the world of hardcore, a weeknight show can be a tough thing. It’s not easy to rev yourself up for a crazy night and get the club going up on a Tuesday. But Gag’s Richmond show was beautiful. Motherfuckers jumped up on the bar and leapt off of it onto everyone’s heads, stagediving in a room with no stage. Even at the back of the room, where I stayed, people would still plow into you. The singer for Torment, the first band at the gig, warned everyone to pay attention to the windows because nobody wanted broken glass in their hair. Fellow local punks Kontaminate, the second band, played for maybe six minutes. I wouldn’t have been mad to hear a lot more of them, but for a band like that, six minutes is probably exactly right. (The whole show was over by 9:30, and as someone who drove more than an hour to get there, I can’t even express how much I appreciate that.)
Torment and Kontaminate both play fast, squalid punk, and the whole bill was originally like that. But on the day of the show, Richmond band Nosebleed, one of my favorites, dropped off of the bill. Division Of Mind, another Richmond band and another favorite, replaced them. DOM are not a fast, squalid punk band. They make ass-beater music. The band’s self-titled 2019 debut is heavy and relentless. It pulls sounds and textures from noise-rock and industrial, but it does that in service of an elemental chug. That record fucking rules. It’s the best.
I missed the social-media announcement that Nosebleed weren’t playing the show and that Division Of Mind were replacing them, so when DOM started playing and people’s elbows started flailing everywhere, I got that great unmoored sensation of “Wait… what’s going on?” (DOM were selling merch, and I saw it sitting there while I was in the bathroom line, so I shouldn’t have been so totally blindsided. I can be slow sometimes.) A Division Of Mind set is a bewildering experience, especially if you’re not expecting one. People go off for that band. Frontman Zachary Lee Acosta-Lewis is a fairly regular-looking guy with a mustache and a job teaching English in college, but when he’s barking out those tracks, he carries himself like an ancient warrior awakened from a mystical slumber. I can’t wait to see that band again.
Both Division Of Mind and Gag have singers who can completely own a room, whether or not there’s a stage, but they do it in very different ways. Gag’s singer, who has an upside down skull tattooed on the side of his shaved head, has a real “gang henchman from Death Wish 3” vibe about him. He growls and crawls and somersaults and scrunches his face up into wild shapes. He once semi-famously played a fest show butt-ass naked. (Legend has it that he was wearing bodypaint, but he sweated the paint off right away.) Even in a small room, he’s larger than life.
Gag’s whole sound is brutish and elementary. It’s not exactly retro, but it does recall the direct immediacy of ’80s hardcore. The singer’s whole presence is very ’80s, too. He’s someone you could imagine seeing in the black-and-white pages of a Glen E. Friedman book, his face still frozen in the rictus excitement of decades past. But ’80s hardcore bands didn’t have songs like “Scorpion Sequence.” When Gag finished their short, intense Richmond set, someone hit play on “Scorpion Sequence.” People started drifting out of the bar soon after, but a dedicated few stayed, and the site of all that mosh mayhem briefly transformed into a dance party. The singer from Gag was one of the people who stuck around to dance, and it suddenly became obvious that “Scorpion Sequence” was never a joke. It was just another reason to move.
Age Of Apocalypse – “The Patriot”
The Hudson Valley hardcore scene has a long, rich history, and it’s recently given us Mindforce, one of the best bands currently going. There’s always been a certain squeal-crunch ’90s metal feeling to Mindforce’s riffage, and there’s even more of it in the work of Age Of Apocalypse, the latest band to emerge from the Hudson Valley. AOA have riffs, and they’ve also got chesty bellowed-out clean vocals, so they might as well be ’90s metal. But in the way they put those riffs and vocals together, it’s clear that Age Of Apocalypse are going to set some pits off in a very right-now kind of way. [From Grim Wisdom, out 1/21 on Closed Casket Activities.]
Ataque Zerø – “Engaños”
There’s a crazy amount of great hardcore coming out of Colombia lately. Raw Brigade, one of the most exciting bands on the East Coast scene right now, came from Colombia and relocated themselves completely. Back in Bogota, Ataque Zerø — two members from Venezuela, one from Colombia, and one from France — have come up with a sincere melodic pummel that’s just as fearsome and immediate as the mid-’80s stuff that clearly inspired it. [From Ataque Zerø EP, out 12/3 on Static Shock Records.]
Hostilities – “Cornered”
The Portland band Hostilities have a sound that’s full-on ’00s metalcore, to the point where at least two members of the band should really have sketchy goatees. The music is all queasy drop-tuned lurch, and singer Larissa Perrin has an elemental gale-force roar that elevates everything around her. This makes me want to shoplift candy from 7-11 and maybe huff from a whipped cream can in the parking lot. [From No Cowards, out 4/15 on on Bullet Tooth.]
Jade Dust – “Learn To Scream”
I first read the title “Learn To Scream” as “Listen To Scream” — as in, the DC band that employed Dave Grohl as a drummer pre-Nirvana. And Jade Dust might’ve meant it that way, too. Jade Dust come from Santa Barbara, but they care so much about Revolution Summer-era DC hardcore that they got old-school Dischord sonic mastermind Don Zientara to master their record. Good choice. Good song, too. [From Jade Dust EP, out now on Extinction Burst.]
Pummel – “Circling The Drain”
Much like their fellow Massachusetts band Restraining Order, Boston’s Pummel play fast, mean fundamentalist hardcore with big singalong moments and serious verve. They’re very good at a simple, elemental sound. But there are little bits of seasick melody on “Circling The Drain” that I really, really like. There’s just a tiny bit of that, at the end of the song, but it tells me that Pummel could move in some exciting directions if they feel like it. If they just want to keep making straight-ahead bangers, though, then I’m not arguing. [From Next In Line EP, self-released, out now.]
Shackled – “Nothing Ever Came”
At its best, hardcore can represent what happens when profoundly damaged people, people for whom everyday life is a struggle, come together to support one another. Sometimes, they — we — do that by windmilling at each other or jumping off of things onto each other, but that’s still the basic idea. “Nothing Ever Came,” from New Jersey’s Shackled, is about someone not doing that, which isn’t too surprising. (Hardcore bands love writing songs about people who let them down or stabbed them in the back.) But there’s a line on the song that directly presents that central search: “Do you got my back?/ I’m looking in the mirror and I can’t stand looking back at myself.” Who can relate? [From Doubt Surrounds All, out now on From Within Records.]
Si Dios Quiere – “Crime Wave”
“Crime Wave” is all juddering thrash theatrics, right down to the cat-in-a-blender guitar solo, but very few thrash anthems, now or ever, have the urgent intensity of this one. Si Dios Quiere come from Chicago’s Lower West and South Sides, and here, they bark passionately at the police who they see “destroying our community.” For the breakdown, they switch to Spanish, delivering words that would be clear enough in any language: “One day, you will stay in the dark/ Alone and without salvation/ And you will regret.” [Stand-alone single, out now on New Morality Zine.]
Staticlone – “Denver Jetpack”
George Hirsch, former leader of the great Philadelphia band Blacklisted, started the new group Staticlone quietly, and their demo has all the lo-fi mystery of all the bands that Hirsch idolizes. But Staticlone’s songs sound huge and something like “Denver Jetpack” could come off downright anthemic if the band had any interest in making it sound that way. It seems like they’d rather have it just be a flickering rumor of a thing instead, and that fits them beautifully, too. Either way, this rips. [From Staticlone demo, self-released, out now.]
Temper Tantrum – “Bag Of Tricks”
It’s pretty funny and self-aware for a new hardcore band to call itself Temper Tantrum, but when “Bag Of Tricks” downshifts into its chorus, it doesn’t sound like a joke. It isn’t hard to imagine a roomful of people turning into a roiling cyclone when this plays. Temper Tantrum are from Toronto, and they’re brand new, but they already sound like the whole world coming apart. [From Baby Blues EP, self-released, out now.]
Upraised – “Time 2 Represent”
You don’t use “Time 2 Represent” as a song title unless you love the absolute living shit out of Madball. Upraised come from the UK city of Wolverhampton, but they’ve learned a whole lot from classic New York tough-guy hardcore. They really sound like they mean it when they issue a challenge: “Motherfucker, we know your type! What’s up?” You can’t halfass music like this, and Upraised do not halfass it. Instead, they come up with a choppy metallic bounce, and they stretch that sound out enough that it sounds positively epic. This shit sounds like rubble raining down from the sky. [From Hostile Takedown/Upraised split, out now on Mentally Vexed Records/Nuclear Family Records/Mangoe Records/KOTP Recordings.]