The Month In Hardcore: March 2022
Almost 24 years ago, Refused released The Shape Of Punk To Come, a twisty and hyperkinetic hardcore record that did everything in its power to live up to its portentous title. The Swedish band crammed synth-bleeps and drum-‘n’-bass explosions and spoken-word interludes into music that was already frantic, and they polished it all up until it sounded stadium-sized. The effort ripped the band to shreds, and they broke up almost immediately. They came back many years later for some cash-in reunion tours and with an underwhelming comeback album that they recorded partially with a Max Martin understudy. The worst thing about The Shape Of Punk To Come might be the fact that the title proved accurate. Over the next decade, a whole lot of wack-ass shit, as well as at least a little bit of genuinely great shit, came out of all the bands who tried to be Refused. But the album itself still stands as a towering bugout — a hardcore band trying to become everything and actually sort of succeeding.
The Shape Of Punk To Come came out in 1998 on the Swedish label Burning Heart, but in the US, it also had a big ol’ Epitaph Records logo on it. I mention this because Epitaph — the biggest punk label in the world today, just as it was in 1998 — is about to release an album every bit as ferocious and ambitious as The Shape Of Punk To Come. On the surface, Soul Glo don’t have too much in common with Refused, which is to say that they are not athletic Swedes with diamond cheekbones and impeccable floppy haircuts. Instead, they’re dudes from Philly — mostly Black dudes, one white dude — who have been living that van life for the better part of a decade. But in Soul Glo’s new album Diaspora Problems, I hear something similar at work. I hear a band willing to use anything and everything within reach to make a sweeping, convulsive statement about shit being way, way too fucked up.
Diaspora Problems is a wild ride. The album opens with the sound of rippling bongwater that may or may not be attempting to replicate the 20th Century Fox fanfare. From there, it only takes the record a few seconds to switch into giddy, overwhelming freakout mode. Soul Glo’s sound starts with chaotic basement hardcore, but it gets a lot bigger and weirder than that. A song like “Coming Correct Is Cheaper,” the second track on the LP, goes from guttural noise-tantrum shit to hypercharged, riffed-out garage rock, all while the looped-up woo yeah from Lyn Collins’ 1972 funk single “Think,” the record famously sampled on Rob Base’s “It Takes Two,” chatters deep in the background. Over all that bedlam, frontman Pierce Jordan shrieks poetically about a world that’s always been hostile to people who look like him: “N***as are all industries’ favorite food, but some get stuck in tooth and stay there partially chewed!” At any given moment of Diaspora Problems, there’s so much going on that it threatens to make my brain just shut down, like an old laptop with too many programs running.
A couple of tracks on Diaspora Problems have a full horn section blatting triumphantly against all that splattering disorder, like this was a Wilson Pickett record, or a Rocket From The Crypt one. Certain moments go into fast, feverish noise-annoys overdrive so hard that the only comparison point I can muster is early-’00s Load Records Providence warehouse shit. Other tracks are expressionist noise-rap of the JPEGMAFIA/Injury Reserve variety. A half-dozen guest vocalists make appearances, and I’ve never heard of any of them. But even with all that spinning-out activity, Diaspora Problems holds together as a cohesive whole. It’s dizzying to consider how Soul Glo pulled this off.
I’m not quite sure how this album works as well as it does, but I know that it has a lot to do with Pierce Jordan, a singular presence. Jordan never stops screaming even when he’s rapping, and he fires off whole dissertations in the midst of his band’s frag-grenade attack. You’d never be able to pick out more than a few of Jordan’s words without a lyric sheet, and that lyric sheet demands close reading. Sometimes, Jordan is self-deprecatingly funny: “Can I live? Is it really possible for a n***a to piss off his therapist? Uhhhhhhh, I’m just asking for a friend, try not to read too much into it.” Sometimes, he sounds ready to lead an ad hoc army into the street: “I’m so bored by the left, protests, and reluctance to militarize! No one’s left blind by eye for an eye unless you make the same mistake twice!” Sometimes, the shit that he says will just cut you to your soul: “My parents were contorted to build a future where their children get extorted, and of course we can’t bear to tell them their efforts were consumed in fire.”
With some of Pierce Jordan’s lyrics, I get the reference right away: “Living on Juice Wrld Pop Smoke time.” With some of them, I have no idea what the fuck he’s talking about, but I want to know more: “‘Cookie Monster was a prisoner of war’ is the kind of poem I like, the kind only God can write, the kind that spells out my life in the simplest terms that suffice.” Sometimes, there’s nothing to get. Sometimes, he’s just chanting hard shit over and over: “Who gon’ beat my ass?” Diaspora Problems — an even more provocative title than The Shape Of Punk To Come when you think about it — probably has five or six times as many words as the average hardcore album, and Jordan yelps all of them with unhinged fury. He yelps about the mental effects of living with America’s history of racism, and he also yelps about suffering panic attacks and putting a gun in his mouth to see how it feels. In the context of Diaspora Problems, that’s all the same thing.
When Soul Glo released their Songs To Yeet At The Sun EP in 2020, my friend Chris L. Terry wrote about the band for Stereogum: “I got mad the first time I heard Soul Glo. I wished so badly that they’d been around 20 years before, when I was sorting out my mixed-race Black identity, and dying for permission to be Black and also like twitchy, vulnerable hardcore.” Hardcore can sometimes be a formulaic thing, and it can also be an oppressively white thing, but Soul Glo push back hard against the idea that it has to be either. Hardcore, like every other genre of American music that’s worth anything, is the invention of Black people, and it transcends hardest when it breaks its own rules. Diaspora Problems seems to have no rules whatsoever.
I don’t know where Soul Glo fit into the grand scheme of hardcore, or even whether “hardcore” is necessarily the right genre tag for this band. I think it is. There are some breakdowns on Diaspora Problems that might result in a few motherfuckers getting thrown through a few walls or powerbombed through a few merch tables. But Soul Glo don’t have patience for rules or regulations, and they make their own context. In November, Soul Glo headlined a Philly show with Zulu, Buggin, MOVE, and Action News — all stomp-ass hardcore bands led by Black people. A month earlier, they also played a Philly show with Armand Hammer, the great avant-rap bomb-throwers. Both bills make sense. Both shows must’ve been fun as fuck.
What’s going to happen when Diaspora Problems comes out? I can’t wait to see. I don’t think it’ll be like when The Shape Of Punk To Come came out. I hope Soul Glo don’t immediately break up, and I know “Jump!! (Or Get Jumped!!!)((by the future))” won’t soundtrack any montages in any future sports movies. We’re probably not going to get a whole generation of bands making shittier versions of Diaspora Problems, if only because nobody could rip this album off. How would you even do it? Where would you start?
But I hope a whole lot of people see or hear Soul Glo and have reactions like the one my friend Chris had — or like what Chris wished he could’ve had if Soul Glo had been around 20 years earlier. It could happen. This fall, Soul Glo will play arenas, opening for My Chemical Romance. Maybe that’ll just mean their sound will echo around mostly-empty buildings while people find their seats. But maybe it’ll also mean that some people will see them and have their fucking minds blown. Maybe it’ll even inspire some of those people to go make some mind-blowing shit of their own.
End Game – “Devil In Disguise”
I don’t know anything about the place firsthand, but from what various different pro-wrestling memoirs have told me, the city of Calgary is a weird little cowboy-culture outpost, and if you live there, you need to drive across vast expanses of frozen tundra to get anywhere else. Maybe that’s why End Game are so fucking mad. This song is supernatural knucklehead brutality even before Scowl’s Kat Moss comes in barking about “your end begins at the sound of my voice!” Lionsault your best friend to this. [Stand-alone single, self-released, out now.]
End On End – “How-To Act”
There are certain requirements. If you open your song with a soundclip from the first Fast And The Furious movie, you need to play extremely fucking fast once that soundclip ends. End On End understand this. They live their live a quarter mile at a time. They can have any beer they want, as long as it’s a Corona. You almost had them? You never had them. You never had your car. [From People Like You EP, out 3/16 on New Morality Zine.]
End Reign – “The Hunger”
I don’t know how we got three fucking “End” bands in the column this month, but I’ve learned not to question the universe. The people who make up the new band End Reign come from the ranks of some of the heaviest bands ever to walk the planet: Integrity, Pulling Teeth, Misery Index, Bloodlet, Pig Destroyer. They know how to achieve skies-bleeding black mass transcendence, and they know how to make their shit sound vast and punishing. So when Mike Score — All Out War Mike Score, not Flock Of Seagulls Mike Score — roars about welcoming the serpent’s touch and salvation lying within the black savage grotesque abstract, I feel like I’m levitating above the 7-11 parking lot. [From MMXXII single, out now on A389 Recordings.]
Field Of Flames – “Constructing A War Against You”
Lots of hardcore bands will sing about beating you up. San Jose’s Field Of Flames have bigger things in mind. They will call you a bitch and cast you into the fire: “Shatter your hopes, your fantasies! Field Of Flames is your enemy!” And when they start with the ominous classical-guitar flutters, you know they mean business. This shit sounds like dimensional portals opening up, like fanged horses pulling your screaming husk to the other side. [From Constructing A War Against You, out 4/22 on Indecision Records.]
Gilded Age – “SQD // SOS”
Screamo is wild, man. You can start out with frantic caged-animal power violence, and then you can go straight into tingly rudimentary flaring-guitar post-rock, like you’re the deformed cousin that Explosions In The Sky keep chained up in their attic. And then you can start doing the post-rock shit with the power violence, like those two things aren’t fundamentally opposed to one another. You can do all that stuff in the space of the same five-minute song, and it might actually work. What a way to live. [From The Moral High Ground Is A Desert Island EP, out now on Tomb Tree Tapes.]
Guardrails – “Yours Truly”
When I saw the Richmond band Guardrails last year, frontman Jesse “Jetski” Brinkley was rocking a mustache, a mechanic’s jumpsuit, and a bigass chain with his band’s logo on it. If I’m remembering right, he tried his first stagedive before he even started singing. The man is a character, but that doesn’t mean that Guardrails are anything less than serious. “Yours Truly” is a song about struggling with suicidal impulses and just barely making it through. The song sounds like an out-of-control racing tank with its brake lines cut, but a song can be fast and hard and vulnerable all at once. [From If You Please EP, self-released, out 4/22.]
Illvilja – “Den Vidrige”
“Stadium crust” is one of the all-time great snarky genre names because it seems like it should not exist while describing a thing that absolutely exists and usually rules. I have a lot of time for raw, guttural d-beat, but I especially have time for raw, guttural d-beat that sounds huge and triumphant and maybe even melodic. I have even more time for that stuff if it doesn’t sound like it was recorded inside a rat’s butthole. Illvilja (Swedish for “Malice”) are new to me, but their soaringly scuzzy style, about halfway between Tragedy and black metal, absolutely qualifies. “Den Vidrige” (Swedish for “The Disgusting”) is colossal and deeply satisfying, and it’s got a weirdly beautiful ambient-synth-and-acoustic-guitar outro that, for me, pushes it over the top. [From Mörkret EP, out now on Phobia Records.]
Inclination – “Thoughts And Prayers”
Tyler Short, singer for the straight-edge Kentucky band Inclination, is one of those hardcore frontmen who seems like he’d cave in your entire skull if he flicked you in the forehead. He’s the type of motherfucker who you don’t want mad at you. On “Thoughts And Prayers,” he’s mad at the politicians who refuse to help struggling people. We need more guys like Tyler Short calling these guys “scumsucking motherfuckers” and making towering metallic face-stompers about how much we hate those assholes. I don’t know whether that’ll change anything, but it sure won’t hurt. [From A Glimpse Through The Lens single, out now on Pure Noise Records.]
No Future – “Pig Fiend”
When the Mad Max apocalypse arrives, every band will sound like this. I can’t fucking wait. No Future come from Western Australia, and “Pig Fiend” is an 89-second gore-splatter head-rush that sounds exactly the way a song called “Pig Fiend” should sound. The vocals are so buried in the mix that I can’t understand a single word, but some sentiments come across just fine without actual language. A couple of second after I clicked play on this thing, my heartrate just about doubled, so proceed with caution. Maybe wait to listen until you’re in an auto graveyard and you can headbutt a junked Oldsmobile into atoms. [From Death flexi, out 3/25 on Iron Lung Records.]
Spice – “Any Day Now”
You can’t just run around invoking names like Fugazi and Lungfish all willy-nilly, but I’m starting to get that elemental-epic feeling from Spice, a band that started out great and continues to get better with every new song. Right now, Ceremony are crossing the country on a sold-out tour with Turnstile, and yet it’s starting to feel like Ceremony is Ross Farrar’s side project, not Spice. (Farrar’s other other band Crisis Man also has an LP coming out in a few weeks; that guy must just live in a state of constant flow.) “Any Day Now” sounds like the sun just peeking over the horizon in a valley full of friendly dinosaurs, and I wish I could live inside that riff. [From Viv, out 5/20 on Dais Records.]