The Month In Hardcore: July 2022
Outside, it was Twister. On the drive, my phone blew up multiple time with tornado warnings, and I didn’t see any of them until I’d parked because I was too busy driving through something like a tornado. I could see maybe five feet in front of my car. More than once, I had to swerve around trees that had fallen across highway lanes. This was one of those drives where you probably should turn back but you convince yourself that the storm will clear up soon, or that there’s no point in driving back through it when it’s just as easy to keep driving. A lot of other cars pulled over under bridges, with hazard lights on, to wait until the storm passed. I kept driving, and when I got there, I was a nervous wreck. That was fine. If you’re going to a screamo show, maybe nervous wreck is an ideal mindstate.
The line between hardcore and screamo is a complicated and slightly mystifying thing. These two scenes share ancestors, DIY networks, and general aesthetics. The music often sounds pretty similar, though hardcore often sticks to set song-structures while screamo gets more freeform with it. There’s some crossover between the two worlds, and plenty of people are into both. Sometimes, the bands are even signed to the same labels. But the shows feel different. People don’t really mosh at most screamo shows. Singers rarely bellow at everyone to get the fuck up. I feel a sense of community at both kinds of shows, but it’s a different kind of community. It’s weird. I’m not totally sure I can explain it.
This particular screamo show, my reason for driving through tornado conditions, was an important one for me. I don’t believe in music-critic objectivity, but I definitely don’t have any sense of distance when it comes to Infant Island, a band that I already loved before I got to know any of its members. A couple of years ago, guitarist Alexander Rudenshiold moved to Charlottesville, the city where I live, and we became friends. Alex has come with me to a couple of the shows I’ve written about in this column, and he’s played me early versions of the next Infant Island album, which is going to be extremely sick. Within the next couple of weeks, Alex is moving to California to get his PhD. He plans to keep Infant Island going, but this particular Richmond show would be the band’s last for a while. I didn’t want to miss it.
This particular show went down in the back room of a local business that I will not identify in this space. Great vibe. The bands played on a tiny wood stage that was almost certainly made by a non-professional; most of the time, it couldn’t hold all the members of the bands. Between sets, the parking lot filled up with people who were down to hang, whether or not they knew each other. (Shout out to the guy who handed me a Miller Lite from a 12-pack he was carrying around. I didn’t even ask for it, and I never met the guy before. Real heroes still exist.) The tornado never touched the venue; it wasn’t even raining anymore by the time I pulled up. Instead, we just got dramatic forks of lightning filling up the sky in the distance. That’s the kind of atmosphere that you want for a screamo show.
Infant Island weren’t the night’s billed headliners, but they played last, and they had to play last. It was only right. Despite my connection to that band, I hope you will believe me when I tell you that Infant Island are fucking spectacular live. Their records are great, too — these sprawling landscapes of lovingly shaped and textured extreme-metal bursts, shot through with a sense of sincere and wide-eyed yearning. In person, they seem slightly chaotic, as if every member of the band was there to represent some fringe subculture and some of those subcultures are ones that I never even heard of. That disorder has its own kind of charm.
The last time I saw Infant Island, they were opening for tourmates Greet Death in a well-appointed downtown Richmond bar, and the room had a weird way of smothering the intensity of anything happening onstage. At this show, though, Infant Island were in their natural habitat, and it felt so much better. In any situation, though, Infant Island commit. They lock in, they throw themselves around and then say earnest things to the audience in between bursts of fury. Even on a wooden stage in the back of an unidentified business, they sound colossal. I can’t imagine the challenges involved in keeping a DIY band going when its members live on opposite coasts, but I hope Infant Island continue for as long as they possibly can. They have something special.
Before Infant Island, we got a surprise set that felt like some kind of gift from the universe. I had gotten used to the idea that I might never see San Antonio’s Amygdala, a downright perfect punk band. I’m not really sure how Amygdala even became a part of the extended screamo universe when their whole style is way more along the lines of enraged, politically informed stadium-crust, but maybe you just get in where you fit in. Last year, Amygdala and Richmond’s Listless released a split LP that absolutely flattened me. The night before the Infant Island show, Amygdala and Listless played Richmond together in an outdoor guerrilla show, hooking their amps up to a generator. That show happened before my workday even ended, and it killed me that I couldn’t see it. But Amygdala’s DC show got cancelled, so both Amygdala and Listless jumped on the Infant Island bill at the last minute, playing a full-on battle set. It was glorious.
If you’ve never seen a battle set, it’s a great and ridiculous and impractical event. Two bands line up on the same stage, facing each other, taking turns playing songs. It’s not competitive, despite the whole “battle” thing. This isn’t some underground Verzuz where everyone is trying to outdo everyone else. Instead, it’s a sort of cooperative exercise in utterly overwhelming a crowd. Both Amygdala and Listless are already pretty overwhelming anyway — two commanding, impassioned bands with music that doesn’t fit too easily into any underground subcategory, bringing weight and gravitas and presence. Listless have two singers and a bunch of other members, so there’s almost a Wu-Tang thing at work when they play; it takes a minute to even realize who’s in the band and who’s not.
It can’t be easy to make apocalyptic music on cheap and undependable PA systems, and both Amygdala and Listless had to deal with uncooperative microphones and volume levels that stopped well short of the pulverizing majesty that both bands demand and deserve. It didn’t matter. Those two bands, united and on equal footing, still made for an absolute spectacle. The members of Amygdala all seem pretty unassuming in person. (I met frontwoman Bianca Cruz after the show, and she was the nicest person in the world.) Listless, by contrast, are an intimidating sight. The band’s members tend to play by facing away from the audience, and I’m sure there’s a well thought-out reason for this, but I like to imagine that it’s just consideration — that they know people can’t handle the full direct force of their brutal sludge onslaught, so they try to contain it as best they can.
Amydala and Listless don’t sound alike. Amygdala are fast and blistering and serious about the things that enrage them; they are, at heart, a punk band. Listless are slow and smothering and guttural. I don’t feel qualified to put them into any particular box, but they hit my ears as a metal band. Still, these two bands complement each other beautifully. They bring fearless majesty to their unbridled rage, and they sound ready to scorch evil from the earth. We need them both.
I missed openers In Wolves Clothing and To Forget — blame the tornado gods — so the first band I saw was the one that was initially billed as the whole night’s headliner. Orlando power trio Gillian Carter have been around for well over a decade, and they crank out music at an insane pace that’s difficult to track. Seeing them live, it’s clear that these three musicians know each other extremely well, that they speak some private language with one another. They look like swamp creatures, and their music is so sludgy and freeform that I could only tell when a song ended because frontman Logan Rivera would say “thank you” before launching into the next expansive noise-dirge. There was presumably some kind of structure to their set; I just couldn’t see it. That didn’t stop it from hitting hard.
Gillian Carter are fun to watch, too. Whenever their attack would let up enough to allow it, Rivera would launch his guitar high into the air and catch it. The band’s drummer would do the same thing with his sticks, and it would look cool as shit. In general, screamo isn’t really known for its showmanship, and that makes it even more thrilling when a band gives some version of an exciting rock-star gesture. But then, “screamo” is a pretty inexact phrase, and it doesn’t really sufficiently describe any of the bands I saw that night. Infant Island, Amygdala, Listless, and Gillian Carter all take different approaches to heavy, expressive, aggressive music, and all of them do great things. Maybe screamo is more of a community than a genre. Maybe that’s another thing that it has in common with hardcore.
Bent Blue – “Where Do Ripples Go?”
I’m not going to sit here and tell you that it’s not weird that one entire wing of hardcore remains stuck on the sound of circa-1986 Revolution Summer DC, especially given that the whole idea of the Revolution Summer was to expand beyond the accepted structures and boundaries of hardcore. But I love that shit, and I’m never mad when another band comes along to do their version of burly Gray Matter/Soulside melody. San Diego’s Bent Blue do that sound with more force and immediacy than most. On the fast parts of “Where Do Ripples Go?,” they sound like they’re nervously rushing, trying to say what they need to say before nerves fail them. On the slow parts, they sound like they’re discovering a whole new language. [From Where Do Ripples Go? EP, out 7/29 on WAR Records.]
Carbonite – “Like A Sickness”
Philly’s Carbonite get their name from the shit that Darth Vader used to freeze Han Solo and their membership from the area’s heaviest bands — Jesus Piece, Year Of The Knife, Simulakra. With their new EP, Carbonite sound like they’re putting all their shared expertise into the task of creating the meanest, ugliest, heaviest shit that they can conjure. This hypothesis remains untested, but I feel like this breakdown would match up perfectly with the hammer-fight scene from Oldboy, like Dark Side Of The Moon and The Wizard Of Oz. [From Like A Sickness EP, out now on From Within Records.]
Domain – “Life’s Cold Grasp”
The members of the South Florida metallic hardcore band Domain are all human. I know that. I do. But sometimes, you need to print the legend. Sometimes, the stories that we tell ourselves are more interesting and revealing than cold, boring reality. That’s why I’m going to tell you that Domain is a group of genetically engineered alligators who have been trained to play Merauder riffs. Sometimes, things can feel true even when they’re not. That’s one of the organizing principles of Florida society, right? [From 2022 Promo cassette, out now on DAZE.]
Iron Lung – “Only Human”
The Seattle-based duo Iron Lung have been in the game for nearly a quarter-century, and their noise-addled attack has never had any use for rules. If these guys want to rope in Heather Gabel, from the Chicago industrial-noise duo HIDE, for a blown-out brain-melt cover of a 1982 Rudimentary Peni ripper, then that’s exactly what’s going to happen. The cool thing about that is the way the simplistic punch of Rudimentary Peni’s original adds focus and shape to the bugged-out squall that comes so naturally to Iron Lung. It makes me wonder what might happen if they were more interested in writing their own anthems. [From Mental Distancing EP, out now on Iron Lung Records.]
Roughed Up – “The Whole World Is Going Insane”
I know absolutely nothing about this band other than a Bandcamp description that says they’re “born between both shores of the English Channel.” That could mean that Roughed Up’s members come from both England and France, or it could mean that they’re from one of those random-ass little islands. Whatever the case, this is that kind of hooky, shred-happy street-punk that has a direct line back to glam-rock. It’s grimy and weatherbeaten, and it sounds like it would beat you up, but it’s also got hooks piled on top of hooks. I love that shit. [From King And Council EP, out now on Mendeku Diskak.]
Rust – “Chokehold”
There’s nothing like a good bark. I’m not talking about singers who sound like they’re animorphing into pitbull form, although I love that, too. I’m talking about the singers who will jump on the mic during a split second of silence in between riffs and just suddenly go “arf!” It’s the fucking best. Knocked Loose are the current champions of mid-song barking, but Tommy Wood, lead shouter for Ontario’s Rust, gets a couple of great arfs in on this one. We also get a quasi-rap breakdown verse from Die Alone’s Cyan Byrne, which is its own kind of weird and dumb and awesome. We might be standing on the precipice of a new golden age of rap-metal verses on hardcore songs, and I can’t wait. [Stand-alone single, out now on Wormwood Records.]
Show Me The Body – “Loose Talk”
You can make fun of Show Me The Body all you want. You can call them art-school dorks doing affected Noo Yawk tough-guy shit. You can laugh at this guy talking about “sometimes I think about the wolf and the carcass of the sheep” over his reverbed-out banjo. But if you’re making fun of it, then you’re probably overlooking the fact that it’s fucking awesome. Don’t fuck yourself over like that. I can’t wait to be in a crowded, sweaty room when the drums on this song kick in. That is going to be a release. [Stand-alone single, out now on Loma Vista Recordings.]
Skinhead – “Dead Skinhead”
As far as I can tell, Skinhead is a one-man project from Criminal Intent drummer Skull, and it’s his vehicle to yell about all the acts of violence that he wants to commit against fake skinheads. I fucking love it. There are about a million objectionable things about “Dead Skinhead,” which is exactly what you’re thinking but which is also way, way better than you’re thinking. It’s juiced-up, catchy-as-fuck oi-influenced hardcore with a whole lot of cranked-up shouting about annihilating some poor fuck’s body and soul. It’s funny, but it’s not a joke. [From Skinhead EP, out now on Closed Casket Activities.]
Spaced – “Prove You Wrong”
I don’t know whether it’s profoundly healthy or profoundly unhealthy, but some of us eventually come to the lightning-bolt realization that we like being angry. That’s how this sounds. Lexi Reyngoudt, lead shouter of Buffalo’s Spaced, has this way of ranting furiously in a way that announces that she means everything and also that she’s having the time of her life. On “Prove You Wrong,” she and the rest of the band communicate that feeling in the catchiest way possible. [Stand-alone single, out now on New Morality Zine.]
Sunstroke – “Everyday Bouquet”
With minor adjustments, Philly’s Sunstroke would probably be able to pass themselves off as an emo band, or even a pop-punk band. But they’re not an emo band or a pop-punk band, since emo bands and pop-punk bands don’t have singers who eat bowls of burning broken glass for breakfast every morning. Sunstroke have that, so they’re a hardcore band. They’re an uncommonly earnest and melodic and hooky hardcore band, but they’re still a hardcore band. [From Buzzer Beater two-song single, out now on New Morality Zine.]