The Month In Hardcore: February 2022

Danielle Dombrowski

The Month In Hardcore: February 2022

Danielle Dombrowski

If I’d heard Age Of Apocalypse’s debut album Grim Wisdom when I was 14, I would’ve been extremely fucking in, but it never would’ve occurred to me that I was hearing a hardcore album. In the ’90s, hardcore was expanding in a million different directions, but I didn’t know hardly anything about that. For the longest time, I thought of hardcore as a subgenre of punk rock, and it took years for me to figure out that hardcore was something else. Like every other genre of music, hardcore is a branch that became its own tree.

Grim Wisdom sounds like a couple of New York bands that I remember hearing in the ’90s, but I thought of those bands — Life Of Agony, Biohazard — as tough metal bands. These days, those bands are fully canonized within hardcore. Plenty of people probably considered them hardcore at the time, too. I just didn’t know shit about all that. I was a punk kid, not a hardcore kid. (The first time I heard Earth Crisis was a real eye-opener: “What the fuck? They sound like Sepultura?” I’d just assumed Earth Crisis would sound wimpy. I don’t even know why.) Other than a few fast parts here and there, Grim Wisdom doesn’t sound like anything I’d categorize as punk. It’s a full-on ’90s-style tough metal album, and it’s a really fucking good one. But Age Of Apocalypse come from hardcore, so Grim Wisdom is a hardcore album. That’s the way it works. Hardcore is a genre of music, but it’s also a culture. If you’re part of that culture, then you can make almost any kind of music, and it still counts as hardcore.

In any case, Grim Wisdom, probably the buzziest and most exciting hardcore LP of this young year, is super fuckin’ metal. Age Of Apocalypse singer Dylan Kaplowitz delivers his lyrics in a chesty wail. His voice is burly, but it’s not hardcore-style burly. It’s not the kind of voice you hear often in today’s underground metal, either. It’s a clean, melodic baritone bellow; Life Of Agony’s Mina Caputo is the clearest and most obvious point of reference. Kaplowitz has the kind of voice that wants to howl about squadrons of dragons at the gates of hell. It’s a larger-than-life voice.

The music is metal, too. Age Of Apocalypse can go fast, but they’re most at home in midtempo-stomp territory. The guitars are given to blazing solos, and the riffs sometimes involve trebly pinch-harmonic squeaks. The central riff on “The Patriot” isn’t that far removed from early-’80s Van Halen. “Begging The Reaper” and the interstitial track “Mememto” are so eerily gothed-out that they might as well be funeral doom. Taylor Young, the man who produced Grim Wisdom, is also the co-leader of Twitching Tongues, the band who really helped bring those ’90s big-room metal sounds back to hardcore. Age Of Apocalypse already sounded huge before Taylor Young got ahold of them. On Grim Wisdom, they sound even huger.

Age Of Apocalypse come from New York’s Hudson Valley, the same region that’s given us bands like All Out War and Mindforce. AOA released their demo in 2018, and they played some shows the next year, but they didn’t make a proper record until their EP The Way came out mid-pandemic. The thing that might’ve really made Age Of Apocalypse was “The Balance,” their song for the 2020 compilation One Scene Unity. “The Balance” is an ideal demonstration of what this band can do, and it’s also a classic example of a song that stands out on a compilation because it doesn’t sound like all the other songs on the record. Something similar happened when AOA and the ultra-tough Long Island band Pain Of Truth put out their split 7″ last year. These two bands might come from the same philosophical place, and they might be friends, but they don’t sound like each other at all. I think that’s cool.

I haven’t seen Age Of Apocalypse live yet. As far as I know, the only time they’ve played in my area was a house show that wasn’t announced until the day before it happened; I didn’t find out about it until after it had already gone down. But I know I’m going to get more chances because Age Of Apocalypse are working. Guitarist Jack Xiques seems to be on a mission to start as many bands as possible; since last year, he’s already released a couple of great demos with the new side projects Colossus and Sentinel. (If you’re a fucking dork like me, you’ve already noticed a through-line in those band names. Imagine having three great bands that are all named after X-Men references. That must be cool as hell.) Age Of Apocalypse have also been playing shows all up and down the East Coast lately, and the towering grandeur of their sound comes through in the live videos that I’ve seen. I can’t wait to feel those riffs change the chemistry of the air around me.

I’ve been avoiding live shows this past month because there’s been a big COVID surge in my area and because sweaty basement shows seem like they might be the worst place to be during a COVID surge. Numbers are going down now, and I’ll probably be back in the basements soon enough. But this winter has been long and bleak and depressing, and I really needed a heavy, dramatic nut-crusher of a record to help me through. Grim Wisdom is that record, and I’m grateful for it. I would’ve been grateful when I was 14, too.

Berthold City – “Only Truth Wins”

The blood hasn’t started to flow yet, but the horses can already smell it in the air. They’re restive, twitchy, but they’re not scared. Many of these horses have never been on the battlefield, but they long for it already. Somewhere deep in their genetic code, they know that this is why they exist. On some subverbal level, these horses cannot wait to carry their people into the breach, to hear the sounds of swords clashing with swords, to feel the spray of human viscera on their fur. The horses can smell their destiny approaching. [From When Words Are Not Enough, out 3/18 on WAR Records.]

Excide – “Uncoil”

People don’t understand why you won’t stop jumping off of buildings. They think you want attention. They’re wrong. You don’t care about that. They think you’re doing it to build a YouTube following, but they don’t realize that you still jump off of buildings even when the cameras aren’t running. They think you’re an adrenaline junkie. Maybe that’s it, but you’re not convinced. You’re not totally sure why you keep jumping off of buildings, either. But when you’re falling, in that brief moment before you hit, you know it’s about to hurt, and you feel alive. [From LP promo, out now on New Morality Zine.]

Final Form – “Welcome To The Real World”

You can’t focus on anything. Your skin itches and prickles. Your throat is so dry that you can’t even speak. Everything makes you so angry and that anger is its own kind of high. The color of the wall? The books on the shelf? The faces of the people around you? You want to destroy them all. You just want to obliterate them. You relish the thought. They don’t know that the zombie bit you. You’ll never tell them. Pretty soon, you’ll be one of those ghouls yourself, and they’ll all be dead. [From Demo 2, out now on The Coming Strife Records.]

Foreign Hands – “Separation Souvenir”

Look, it’s not your fault. It’s their fault. They didn’t write the rules carefully enough, and you just took advantage. Who wouldn’t? If they didn’t want you to enter the demolition derby in a rocket-powered bulldozer, they should’ve told you that rocket-powered bulldozers weren’t allowed. You can feel them glaring, and you glare right back. Once that engine turns over and this thing starts, anything that happens is on them. [From Bleed The Dream EP, out 2/18 on DAZE.]

Ithaca – “They Fear Us”

The mall has been decaying ever since Sears shut down three years ago. Within a month, the rats moved into the empty space, and nobody ever bothered to call an exterminator. The Gap and Eddie Bauer moved out pretty soon afterwards. Lids and Foot Locker have been gone since last year. That sketchy massage parlor held on longer than anyone expected, but it’s gone now, too. Even the vending machines are gone, though you can’t tell if they’ve been moved or stolen. The only things left now are the Hot Topic and the Spencer’s Gifts, and you can’t really call them businesses anymore. They’re not stores. They’re home bases for the warring clans of teenagers, and woe unto anyone else who might enter this mall. They won’t even make it to the food court before the feral kids set upon them. [From They Fear Us, out 7/29 on Hassle Records.]

Last Wishes – “Your Worst Enemy”

Bro, what the fuck did you just say to me? You serious, bro? You trying to get hurt? Yeah, that’s fine, bro, hide behind your friends. They could get hurt, too. [From Organized Hate, out 4/29 on The Coming Strife Records/DAZE.]

Peace Test – “Empathizer”

I told you. I gave you every warning. I shouldn’t have had to say it, but I said it anyway. Don’t genetically engineer hyper-intelligent gorillas, I said. If you must genetically engineer hyper-intelligent gorillas, I said, don’t give them skateboards and baseball bats. Now look at us! We’re never making it out of this laboratory alive! [From Pry, out now on To Live A Lie Records.]

Spoiled – “Skynet”

So here’s my pitch, right? It starts out just the same. It’s Los Angeles in 1984, and a naked Arnold Schwarzenegger materializes in a big bubble in nighttime Los Angeles. He walks over to some punks, Bill Paxton and those other two guys, and he tells them to give him their clothes. But here’s what Arnold doesn’t know, right? Arnold doesn’t know that these punks are also Terminators! Yeah! Sent back from the future and everything! Except these are more advanced Terminators! They’re like T-one millions! And they fuck him up! [From Anti Human Machine Gun, out now on Fresh Outbreak Records.]

Staticlone – “…Of Light”

The monsters of the deep, lad, they love a storm. We fear the storms, but when the lightning cracks and the waves foam, these beasties come dancing on the surface. The whales, my young friend, launch themselves from the tippy-tops of the waves, and they come flipping and crashing down. You don’t want to be there when they land! The squids — squids bigger than you can imagine in your worst nightmare — they let their tentacles fly in every direction. They’re not hunting, mind you. They merely care not whether they hit anything. One night, by the light of the moon, I swear by my beard, I saw a dolphin spinkicking. [From “Cabotinage” b/w “…Of Light” single, self-released, out now.]

Warfare – “Doomdsay”

Fire burns the sky. Molten ash rains down. There’s so much blood in the river that the water is pink. Everything that you’ve ever known is coming to a brutal, spectacular end. You’ve seen this scene a million times in your mind. You’ve pictured it again and again. It’s the vision that’s been lurking behind every anxiety that you’ve ever felt, and now it’s here. You’re going to die, and so is everyone that you’ve ever loved. But now that it’s all happening, your anxiety is gone. You let go. You welcome oblivion. You’ve never been so happy. [From Doomsday, out 3/11 on Triple B Records.]

Yearning – “II”

Oh God, no! The ferrets! They’ve been plotting against us this whole time! [From MMXXII EP, out now on No Funeral Records.]

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