The 10 Best Hardcore Albums Of 2021
This past weekend, I saw Show Me The Body make a room full of people go nuts. They headlined a wild bill that also included Candy, Regional Justice Center, Tempter, and the debuting Earth To Heaven. I’m not totally clear on whether Show Me The Body count as a hardcore band, and I never really got their records. To me, they always sounded like King Krule if he was trying to sound like Unsane, and that shit was weird to me. In person, though, Show Me The Body made perfect sense. They threw themselves around the stage with absolute abandon, and they had kids losing their minds. Motherfuckers were literally hanging from the ceiling. A show like that is good for your soul. And shows like that can happen now. They are happening now.
Hardcore made it through. We’re talking about the genre that relies the most on mass in-person catharsis — on the ability to jump and scream and sweat in each other’s directions. Those are things that you can’t do when a pandemic has shut the world down. For the people who love hardcore, it’s not just a genre of music. It’s a source of mutual support and a much-needed pressure valve. For many of us, the return of live music has felt like the removal of a massive weight. Hardcore shows might not always be the healthiest thing in pandemic terms; those shows probably started back too soon, and even now, they carry risks. (At that Show Me The Body gig, most of us weren’t masked up.) But on some other level, these shows are needed, and now they’re back.
Hardcore records never stopped coming out, even in the depths of the plague depression. In 2021, though, there’s been a flood of great music, both from established bands and from the groups who are still just finding their footing. If I had time, I would’ve made this list two or four or ten times longer. Anyone who likes these albums would be well-advised to check out the new LPs from Dead Heat, Regional Justice Center, Ekulu, Enforced, DARE, Thirdface, SeeYouSpaceCowboy, For Your Health, Ingrown, and Filth Is Eternal, among so many others. It hurts my heart that I didn’t have space for the Amygdala/Listless split LP or the absurdly stuffed America’s Hardcore Volume 5 compilation. There was just too much great music.
Within hardcore, EPs matter just as much as albums. As in past years, I limited this list to full-lengths, but the year in hardcore has given us a ton of great EPs, some of which are on our list of 2021’s best. I came close to cheating and considering Militarie Gun’s two All Roads Lead To The Gun EPs as a single album; I love those things. Recent EPs and demos from Sentinel, Drug Church, Tempter, Colossus, Knocked Loose, Private Hell, Never Ending Game, KOYO, Action News, MOVE, Slow Fire Pistol, and Final Gasp are also highly recommended, as is the Sunami/Gulch split.
When you make a list like this, you have to make some judgment calls about what counts as hardcore and what doesn’t. Angel Du$t are a band that comes from hardcore, and YAK: A Collection Of Truck Songs was probably my favorite power-pop LP of the year, but I can’t really call that a hardcore record. By that same token, Chubby And The Gang’s new album rules, but it’s not really a hardcore album — even if one of the albums on this list is from a band that shares both members and musical DNA with them. Converge made a great album that is also their least hardcore album. Gatecreeper made a great record that basically is a hardcore album, but they’re a death metal band. The Armed’s Ultrapop has a ton of hardcore influence, but I didn’t consider it for this list. There’s no hard, fast definition here; your own version of hardcore is essentially a personal thing. On another day, my list would’ve looked vastly different, both in the stuff that I liked enough to pick and the stuff that made sense on a hardcore list. Your mileage will probably vary.
When I write about hardcore on this site, I don’t really do it for you, our readers. I don’t really do it for the bands, either. I do it for myself. I’ve always loved hardcore, but I’ve really immersed myself in the past few years after neglecting the genre too much for too long. That experience been hugely gratifying, and it’s kept me excited — not just about hardcore but about music in general. Music critics get burned out sometimes. Hardcore has been my protection against that.
If hardcore seems insular and intimidating and cliquish and violent to you, I get it. You might not be wrong. But if any of this sounds interesting to you anyway, go to a show. Go to a bunch of shows. It’s worth it, I promise. Here are my picks for 2021’s best hardcore albums.
Punk rock has been a global phenomenon for a very long time, and the internet has made it easier to discover a ton of the great frantic DIY music coming out of Japan and Indonesia and Singapore and a whole lot of other places. Slant, from Seoul, play ’80s-style ripshit hardcore punk with more urgency than any American band this side of Restraining Order. They’re fast and mean and angry, and frontwoman Yeji has one of the greatest mouth-frothing screeches on the planet — like she’s got a rare strain of rabies that’s only made her more passionate in her rage.
Sometimes, Florida’s Method Of Doubt sound like pop-punk. Sometimes, they sound like a relic of the mid-’80s moment when Washington, DC bands started striving for big sounds and bigger ideas. Sometimes, they sound like they’ve just got to sing. Even at their most melodic, though, Method Of Doubt never skimp on intensity. Staring At Patterns, their first full-length, is charged with ambition and sincerity, and it hits with the same force as recent-vintage wreckers like Mil-Spec’s World House and Abuse Of Power’s What On Earth Can We Do.
Early this summer, LA’s Section H8 played a massive guerrilla hometown show, bashing away as thousands moshed around bonfires and set off fireworks while LAPD helicopters circled. Videos from that show looked like a damn Mad Max movie. Section H8 make music for that kind of insane spectacle. Welcome To The Nightmare, their debut LP, is an apocalyptic pummel that’s high on its own aggression. When Rancid’s Tim Armstrong shows up on “Streetsweeper,” he sounds utterly deranged. Anyone would. Section H8 do that to you.
It’s hard to talk about the Chisel without also talking about Chubby And The Gang. The two bands started around the same time (2019) in the same place (London), with a lot of the same inspirations (early-’80s UK street-punk and oi). Plenty of the same people are involved in both bands; “Chubby” Charlie Manning, for instance, plays guitar for the Chisel. But where Chubby And The Gang tilt towards pub-rock and power-pop, the Chisel mash down the gas pedal and aim for the same rage-out transcendence as the UK hardcore bands that these guys used to be in. Retaliation, the Chisel’s first full-length, makes over its UK ’82 influences as youth-crew singalongs, and it smashes its way to Valhalla.
Austin’s Portrayal Of Guilt were in the motherfucking zone this year — two ripshit albums, including one called Christfucker, alongside a split 7″ with Chat Pile and a loose Decibel flexi. Christfucker is absolutely disgusting — one of the year’s most sonically abrasive and unsettling records. But We Are Always Alone, the first POG LP of the year, is the winner for me. On that one, the band lurches from punishing riffage into seasick melody, inching their way toward screamo-metal majesty while still sounding like wraiths wandering the wasteland between the living and the dead.
Sometimes, I wonder if I somehow manifested God’s Hate from my own imagination. It seems too good to be true — a fire-breathing metallic hardcore wrecking crew, led by a towering pro wrestler who is also a Southern California moshpit legend and who bellows about murdering Nazis in between cold-blooded movie-dialogue samples. But no, God’s Hate are real. Colin Young, of Twitching Tongues and a half-dozen other groups, realized that his friend Brody King should be a singer in a hardcore band, and so he made that band a reality. God’s Hate’s self-titled sophomore LP works as a platonic ideal in Hatebreed-style knucklehead brutality, with Colin’s big brother Taylor Young coming aboard and making them sound even bigger and meaner than they already did. It’s the kind of record where you feel like you’ve been suplexed through a table before the first song ends.
On a fundamental level, hardcore is an egalitarian genre — a world where band and audience exist on the same level. (Sometimes, that’s literal; a lot of of the best shows happen in rooms without stages.) Every once in a while, though, hardcore produces a figure with an undeniable charisma, one who stands apart. Kat Moss, lead screamer of Santa Cruz’s Scowl, is a star. On Scowl’s debut, she roars and snarls with absolute authority, and she makes her rage feel universal. Scowl’s raw, scorching hardcore punk is a mighty force, and when the band goes left, as on the sweet and sax-laced “Seeds To Sow,” the hard songs just hit that much harder.
You might argue that Boston’s Fiddlehead are not a hardcore band, and wouldn’t necessarily be wrong. Fiddlehead’s second album is heavy on twinkly guitars and tidal melodies, and it’s more about finding internal peace than channeling internal violence. Singer Pat Flynn, the former Have Heart leader and current high-school history teacher, wrote these songs about love lost and gained, about the death of his father and the birth of his son. This isn’t music created so that people can throw each other through walls. But Fiddlehead’s expansive, powerful riffage builds on the sounds made by past hardcore adventurers like Fugazi and Quicksand, and Flynn’s surging bellow is hardcore to the bone. When a song like “Million Times” reaches its stirring climax, someone might still get thrown through a wall.
One Step Closer - This Place You Know (Run For Cover)
A friend recently told me that he couldn’t get into the young Wilkes-Barre straight-edge band One Step Closer because he heard something cheesy in their unabashed sincerity. They were too emo for him. That’s exactly what I love about One Step Closer. When OSC drop the hammer, they hit hard; their first album is full of unhinged roars and anvil-to-skull breakdowns. But even at their most furious, the band comes off wounded and bittersweet. In between busts of hardness, OSC go for overwhelmed prettiness, and even at their hardest, they come off defiantly fragile. Maybe that’s the toughest thing that a hardcore band can do.
I mean. Come on. Precious few hardcore bands even stick around long enough to record a third album. Hardcore bands who stuck around that long, only to get booked to play rap festivals and late-night shows? Nobody’s ever done that before. It just hasn’t happened. Turnstile are the exception to every rule. They’ve made a gleaming pile of hooks with the guy who produced Extraordinary Machine and co-wrote “In Da Club.” They’ve stuffed their album with pillowy keyboards and space-funk interludes and towering alt-rock choruses. And still, they sound like the Baltimore mosh-warriors that they were seven years ago, when they released Nonstop Feeling — partly because they were writing gleaming hooks back then, too.
Careerism in hardcore is a difficult thing. Too little of it, and you’re in six bands that all break up after putting demos on Bandcamp. Too much of it, and you’re coasting on the fumes of past goodwill, recording shittier versions of your early records and mostly touring Germany. But Turnstile have found ways to brighten and expand their sound that only add to its sense of communal release. By nudging their way into the world outside of hardcore, they’re evangelists for hardcore itself — living examples of how rad this whole world can be. Turnstile aren’t trying to transcend hardcore. They’re trying to make hardcore on the grandest possible scale, and they’re succeeding. “Holiday” might sound like a million bucks, but when that breakdown hits, I still feel like I can shoulder-tackle a garbage truck.