The Month In Hardcore: April 2022

Michael D. Thorn

The Month In Hardcore: April 2022

Michael D. Thorn

The first stagediver didn’t make it. Three bands into the night, the crowd hadn’t really started going off yet. This was, after all, a Wednesday-night show in a non-packed club when the bill didn’t have any local bands, and that’s the type of situation where a crowd isn’t necessarily primed to go nuts. When the great Wilkes-Barre melodic hardcore band One Step Closer launched into “The Reach,” the fiery singalong that they use to end every set, things changed very quickly. The band got maybe two seconds into the song — like, a riff and a half — before someone launched himself from the stage and landed, as far as I could tell, on his head. The band stopped playing immediately, and people huddled around this poor unfortunate stagediver, helping him get to his feet. When it was clear that he wasn’t dead, One Step Closer singer Ryan Savitsky reminded us to all take care of each other, and that was it. They never got around to playing the rest of “The Reach.”

Maybe this crowd was a little less rowdy because it wasn’t a proper functional hardcore show. Instead, every band on Drug Church’s package tour exists on the porous border between Hardcore and Other Stuff, and even full-on hardcore bands sometimes have trouble getting people to get wild on a weeknight. Chicago’s LURK, who opened the night, are basically a punk band, but they’re a punk band that aims for rock ‘n’ roll swagger, not hardcore catharsis. Also, frontman Kevin Kiley kept a Moog onstage. He only ever used that Moog to make a few R2-D2 bleeps a couple of times during the band’s set, but I’d say the mere presence of a Moog acts as a dampening agent on live-show wildness. Nobody wants to be the asshole who kicks that thing over and breaks it.

Soul Blind, from the Hudson Valley, are the kind of band that plays hardcore shows without ever making music that could be mistaken for hardcore. Instead, Soul Blind love riffing on ’90s alt-rock radio fare like grunge and shoegaze, beefing those sounds up and making them heavy. (During the mid-set spiel where he shouted out all the opening bands, Drug Church leader Patrick Kindlon said something like this regarding Soul Blind: “They think they’re an alternative band. I say they’re a metal band.”)

Soul Blind sounded cool as hell; they’ve become a much sharper and more locked-in live band than they were the last time I saw them, just a few months ago. But Soul Blind don’t invite mosh mayhem. That’s not their style. Most of the time, neither do One Step Closer. That band’s take on hardcore is tingly and vulnerable, and their sets tend to build to the moment when they play “The Reach” and finally really set shit off. So when that one stagediver — the first of the night — ate shit, that mishap gave the whole night a tense, buttoned-up vibe. It would take a really great band to cut through and get everyone moving again.

Guess what? Drug Church are a truly great band. A little while after the night’s headliners came to the stage, Patrick Kindlon, one of the great writers and talkers in all of hardcore, demanded to know what was up. He wasn’t watching when that first stagediver went down, but he’d gotten the basic information, and he wasn’t willing to let anything like that happen again. From the stage, Kindlon demanded that everyone in the club that night step forward. He apologized to the moshers: “We ain’t doing that tonight.” He used the phrase “as a community.” Kindlon’s message was this: Stagediving is good, and people should be able to do it safely. So if everyone in the club packed their way towards the stage, then people should be able to throw themselves off of that stage without worrying too hard about splatting down onto the club floor.

Drug Church are a fascinating study in genre. Patrick Kindlon has a lot of side-hustles, and among many other things, he’s one of the hosts of Axe To Grind, a weekly hardcore podcast that I really like. On that show, Kindlon spends a lot of time discussing hardcore minutia, and naturally, a big part of that conversation is always the question of what does and does not count as hardcore. Kindlon has always been clear that Drug Church are not a hardcore band. (He and his co-hosts use the term “hardcore-adjacent” as if it was a genre name, and maybe it is one now.) But Kindlon definitely carries himself as a hardcore frontman. That’s how he barks out his lyrics, how he moves across the stage, and how he addresses the crowd. It’s also how he wants Drug Church shows to go.

Confronted by the specter of a restive, slightly freaked-out crowd, Kindlon just wasn’t having it. Almost through sheer force of will, he convinced all the people in that room to start moving and, more importantly, to jump off the stage and catch each other. I’ve heard stories about Kindlon doing something similar at other Drug Church shows. He’s got a thing that he wants to see happen at shows, and that thing involves a whole lot of flying bodies. Drug Church got a different response than the other bands on the bill in Richmond that night, and that wasn’t just because they were the headliners. It was because Patrick Kindlon was going to make damn good and sure that the night went off right.

Drug Church just released Hygiene, a great and exciting record about, more or less, man’s inhumanity to man. Kindlon bellows out specific screeds about no-win situations and societal ills; the single “Million Miles Of Fun,” for instance, is a well-observed note of caution against a vast, widespread collective addiction to doomscrolling. Kindlon is also invested in the idea of separating art from artist, and he seems firm in the belief that we shouldn’t have to judge a person’s character while deciding whether or not to enjoy the things that this person has put out into the world.

Paradoxically enough, though, Drug Church’s music seems very personal, and it relies on Kindlon’s considerable ability to forge a connection with whoever might be listening. Even at its hookiest and most polished — and it gets pretty hooky and polished — Kindlon’s personality remains front-and-center. That works wonders for Drug Church’s live show. The whole band plays with heat and urgency, but the whole night really depends on Kindlon’s ability to play hypeman, and he can do that extremely well.

That night in Richmond, the air didn’t suddenly fill with flying bodies, the way it did when I first saw Turnstile a few years ago. It didn’t turn into outright mayhem, either; Drug Church are not Trash Talk. But Drug Church did turn that kinda-dead Richmond night into a fun communal experience — a whole lot of bouncing around and catching all the people who did fling themselves off the stage. Kindlon would interrupt himself mid-lyric to make sure that happened: “Catch her!” Everyone got caught. Nobody else ate shiny concrete. One guy launched himself right at the column in the middle of the stage, something that Kindlon had specifically warned not to do, but he grabbed the column in mid-air, spun around, and landed just fine. (Kindlon later named that guy as one of the show’s MVPs and described his move as a “stripper swirl.” He also told everyone else not to try what that guy had just done.)

The whole idea of a professional package tour is a little bit antithetical to hardcore, a genre that depends on regional variance and DIY vision. Shows don’t have to happen in clubs; they can happen in warehouses or basements or secret out-of-the-way outdoor locations. If they do happen in clubs, sometimes the vibe is off. But Drug Church aren’t a VFW Hall band. They’re too big for that, and they’re too good for that, too. This spring, we’re seeing a few of the biggest hardcore and -adjacent bands embarking on headlining tours with carefully and lovingly assembled bills. When TouchĂ© AmorĂȘ hit DC, for instance, their openers were Vein, Militarie Gun, and Closer. (I really wish I’d been at that show, but my car was broken down.) Turnstile are currently out with Citizen, Ceremony, Ekulu, and Truth Cult. Drug Church’s own tour fits into that same spectrum.

That Richmond Drug Church show was my first real cathartic spectacle since I saw Show Me The Body play a warehouse last December. In the time since then, there was the whole omicron thing. My dad died. My car broke down. All sorts of stuff kept me from going out to shows, which is one of the things I love doing most in this world. By the time that Drug Church show came around, I needed it. Up until the moment that Drug Church hit the stage, I was worried — not just about the hurt stagediver but about the idea that this night would not be the experience that I’d built up in my head. But Drug Church made sure I had that experience anyway. A great band can do that.

Born Cursed – “Anti Everything”

This Massachusetts band spends most of this minute-long ripper listing off all the shit that they hate: “Fuck white supremacy! Fuck racist ideology! Fuck patriarchal society! Fuck police brutality!” At the end of the song, as the breakdown hits, they switch tacks: “Destroy! Tear it down! Rebuild! Start over! Grow!” I agree with all that, and yet Born Cursed sound a whole lot more interested in destruction than whatever might follow that destruction. I find this relatable. We definitely do need to build a better society, but let’s all enjoy spewing the blood of our enemies into the sky like human geysers first. [From Born Cursed EP, out now on Cassette Culture.]

Combust – “Why I Hate”

You see Dynamite this week? Samoa Joe and Minoru Suzuki just chopping the shit out of each other for like 10 minutes straight? Just slapping each other so hard that they pretty much liquefied the flesh off of each other’s chests? And then screaming and laughing in each other’s faces? This song reminds me of that. Combust play New York hardcore with all the direct urgency of a Nike Air Max to the side of the head. (Fun fact: A lot of this video was shot in and around a Richmond show last fall. I was there, but you won’t see me in the video because I’m not a pit warrior like that.) [From Another Life, out now on Cash Only Records.]

Maniac – “Rapture”

Sometimes, ultra-fast hardcore can lose me. Powerviolence can lose me. Grindcore can lose me. Sometimes, when shit gets too fast, I just kind of tune out. But sometimes, a fast hardcore song can send me into a frantic sort of euphoria. This isn’t a critical reaction. It isn’t even a mental reaction. It’s purely physical. My eyes bulge out. My muscles tense up. My teeth get sharper, somehow. I start to feel less human, more animal. This song does that to me. That’s a good thing. Sometimes, you need a song to turn you into a werewolf. [From Maniac/Spy split, out now on Triple B Records.]

Morrow – “Rejoice This Quiet Earth”

In his newsletter, Zachary Lipez used the existence of Morrow’s new album to launch into a long, enthusiastic rhapsody about the absurd, excessive glory of crust and all its various offshoots. I can’t really add too much to that except to say that this wild orchestral folk-metal rage-out hymn makes me want to wander the wasteland, protecting fragile utopian communities from the bands of raiders who are after their gasoline. My name is Tom, and my world is fire and blood. [From The Quiet Earth, out now on The Plague Of Man Records.]

A Mourning Star – “Discretely Shadowed Beneath A Mighty Wing”

I’ve seen Vancouver’s a Mourning Star described as “metalcore.” To me, that description doesn’t really fit. Instead, I’m going to call them “a pack of rabid raccoons, trapped in a trashcan and then fed a steady diet of Earth Crisis records until they learn to mosh-core.” Maybe that’s not the catchiest name for a genre, but in this case, it’s the most accurate one. [From To See Your Beauty Fade EP, self-released, out now.]

Praise – “All In A Dream”

This song makes me want to… give someone a hug? Wait, that can’t be right. That’s not what I should be typing in this column. I should be typing stuff like “this song makes me want to chase a deer through the forest and then tear out its jugular with my teeth,” but this band hits me on a deep and sincere level while (1) being indisputably hardcore and (2) including a guitar solo that sounds like Foghat. I don’t know how any band can pull that off, but Praise did it. [From All In A Dream, out 5/6 on Revelation Records.]

Record Setter – “Dissection Lesson”

I love the way those guitar-twinkles all blend together, almost like they’re reassuring and consoling Judy Mitchell as she lets her exposed-nerve roar loose. I love it even more when the guitar-twinkles give way to the rush of bruised, metallic riffage. When epic widescreen screamo really clicks in like this, I sometimes wonder why anyone bothers to make any other kind of music. [From Home Is Where/Record Setter split, out now on Topshelf Records/Father/Daughter Records.]

Rotting Out – “Who Am I?”

Rotting Out spent a couple of years on the road with some of the biggest metalcore bands on the planet, and maybe that had an effect on them. Maybe they got weird. Rotting Out already had the distinction of being the only big hardcore band that kind of sounds like Pennywise sometimes, and they haven’t lost that. But now, they’ve combined that sense of drive and focus with a disgusting guitar tone and an ability to lurch violently. I have no idea where they’re going right now, but I am along for the ride. [From “Who Am I?” b/w “Even In His Youth” single, out now on Pure Noise Records.]

Warthog – “Four Walls”

There’s a scene in the 1993 John Woo film Hard Target where Jean-Claude Van Damme is on a motorcycle and these bad guys are riding straight at him in a pickup truck, hanging out the window and shooting uzis at him. Van Damme gets up on the motorcycle like he’s surfing, and then, while balancing, shoots the bad guys in the truck. Then, just before the truck hits his bike, Van Damme jumps, flips over the truck, and lands in a crouch on the road. He spins around and shoots the truck, and the truck immediately explodes. This song makes me feel like that. [From Warthog EP, out 5/6 on Static Shock Records.]

XweaponX – “In Spite Of”

Nobody goes to hardcore for cleverness, but using the XwhateverX straight-edge band-name convention to shout out Wolverine’s secret government-experiment code name? Pretty funny! But this Knocked Loose side project doesn’t sound clever. They sound like a bulldozer crushing another bulldozer. I was listening to this on headphones at the gym this morning, and when the breakdown hit, I instinctively braced myself, like someone was about to clothesline me off the elliptical. [From Weapon X Demo, self-released, out now.]

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