Hardcore And Death Metal: Two Great Tastes That Taste Great Together

Michael D. Thorn

Hardcore And Death Metal: Two Great Tastes That Taste Great Together

Michael D. Thorn

Here’s a fun exercise: Try to keep up with all the non-hardcore music that’s popular in the hardcore community at any given time. It’s always changing! And it’s always pretty weird! Right now, the list goes something like this: Oasis, Alice In Chains, Griselda, Three 6 Mafia. Sepultura and Slipknot seem to be perennial favorites. Type O Negative continue to get a lot of love. A couple of years ago, people were heavily namechecking the Stone Roses, but it seems like that’s died down. And then there’s old-school death metal. Right now, old-school death metal is king.

At just about any hardcore show these days, you’re going to see a lot of shirts for the ’90s death metal heroes. The full-bore rocker shit tends to get more love than the technical end of the spectrum. From what I can tell, hardcore has fully adopted Obituary, Entombed, and especially Bolt Thrower. Morbid Angel, Cannibal Corpse, and Carcass have fans in hardcore, too, but that love is not as full-throated. If a band can convincingly replicate the grimy and cavernous feeling of that ’90s shit, then that band is going to be welcome at just about any hardcore show.

The fusion of hardcore and death metal is nothing new. The two genres both took shape around the same time, in some of the same places. They both prize speed, aggressiveness, insularity, and the importance of small differences. Present-day hardcore often has more in common with metal than it does with punk, and it can get heavy. Xibalba have been combining death metal and hardcore for years. More recently, Fuming Mouth have been doing something similar. Power Trip were closer to thrash than death metal, but they might’ve been the first band who could move freely back and forth between both of those undergrounds. In the past few years, hardcore has latched onto the old-school death metal revival in a big way. Plenty of the musicians in those OSDM bands come from hardcore, and they bring a certain stomp-crunch sensibility to their sound. This year, Sound & Fury booked Gatecreeper and Creeping Death — two straight-up death metal bands at the biggest hardcore fest in North American history. It made sense.

Two nights ago, I walked into my favorite DIY venue in Richmond — a concrete sweatbox that will go unnamed here — just in time to see a drum solo. I’ve been to a lot of hardcore shows over the decades, and I can’t remember witnessing one of those before. The game has changed. This venue is a hardcore venue, run by hardcore kids, but the show I saw wasn’t entirely a hardcore show. The band responsible for the drum solo was Tribal Gaze, a fresh-faced Texas death metal crew who are currently on their first tour and who will release their debut album The Nine Choirs on Friday. (They recorded it with Taylor Young, from God’s Hate and Twitching Tongues and Zous. That’s another guy who knows a few things about both hardcore and death metal.) Tribal Gaze’s drum solo seemed like a weird choice, but people were feeling it. People were ready.

This Richmond show was a true mixed bill: Death metal bands Creeping Death and 200 Stab Wounds headlining, hardcore bands Age Of Apocalypse and Division Of Mind supporting — with the big caveat that the death metal bands definitely know how to whip up hardcore crowds and the hardcore bands are both heavy as fuck. I thought of the night as a hardcore show, the crowd as a hardcore crowd, but maybe I was wrong. Maybe the distinctions between those two subcultures have simply washed away.

Division Of Mind were fucking awesome, of course. They were the one local act on the bill, the only band that wasn’t part of the larger tour, and this was their house. DOM might be my favorite currently active hardcore band in Richmond, a city that’s full of great hardcore bands. (If we’re counting the reunited Avail as an active hardcore band, then DOM are a strong #2.) On record, Division Of Mind bring all sorts of ominous industrial textures. Live, they’re just pure juggernaut shit — music for breaking people’s faces. In DOM’s hometown, people understand how to react to that shit. It’s a beautiful thing to witness.

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People might’ve had a little more trouble figuring out Age Of Apocalypse, a band that I’ve been wanting to see live for a long time. I wrote about AOA in this space earlier this year, when their debut album Grim Wisdom was peeling my scalp back. In that column, I described Age Of Apocalypse as basically a metal band, which is true. But they’re a different type of metal than the headliners. Vocalist Dylan Kaplowitz delivers his lyrics in a full-throated melodic baritone howl. He doesn’t grunt or growl or bark. He sings. At a show like that, singing can be a bit weird. (Dylan, from the stage: “I know, singing, right? What the fuck?”) That voice, combined with the band’s massive midtempo riffage, make Age Of Apocalypse prime castle-storming music. It sounds like nothing else right now, and I find it hugely satisfying in a primal way. AOA didn’t whip up the crowd the way that DOM did, but I’m very happy that I got to be in the room when those guys were playing those riffs real loud.

Before we get any deeper into this column, we should acknowledge Cleveland’s 200 Stab Wounds for having the best band name in the game right now. What a perfect moniker. What a specific and extravagant number of stab wounds. It’s always that 200th stab wound that really gets you, right? The mere existence of that band name makes me want to pull a 22 Savage and start a competing band called 201 Stab Wounds. 200 Stab Wounds are a band with a gift for names. The first song on Slave To The Scalpel, the full-length debut that they released last year, is called “Skin Milk.” This is quite possibly the most disgusting two-word phrase in the entire English language. I don’t know what that means, and I don’t want to know.

You get the picture: 200 Stab Wounds are grimy as all hell. They are also a straight-up death metal band, not a band who specializes in turning hardcore and death metal into a delicious swirl. 200 Stab Wounds don’t write songs with obvious mosh parts, even though they definitely seem psyched when people mosh to their music. Their frontman Steve Buhl growls while playing guitar, which is something that you rarely see at a hardcore show — partly because the frontman’s job is participatory as much as it is musical and partly because it’s hard to keep performing when stagedivers keep knocking out your mic cable. But on this night in Richmond, 200 Stab Wounds were the band to beat. People lost their minds.

This is probably where I should admit that I’ve never been a death metal head. I’ve tried, again and again, and it’s almost always felt like work, or like I’m trying to watch a foreign movie with the subtitles off. When Genocide Pact headlined one of the shows in the Big Takeover festival earlier this year, I left early, even though Genocide Pact are an exemplary death metal band. I just wasn’t in the mood. I’m almost never in the mood for death metal. If I’m being honest, I went to the show on Tuesday mostly for Age Of Apocalypse and Division Of Mind. Still, 200 Stab Wounds got me. They were so fast and gross and excessive and fun that I felt myself drawn to that pit like a moth to a flame. And that pit went off.

At this particular venue, you know it’s a good show when someone grabs the ceiling pipes, hoists themselves up, and dangles upside down by their legs. That happened a few songs into 200 Stab Wounds’ set. Today, typing hurts because somebody’s head collided hard enough with my elbow. (The elbow was stationary. The head was swinging.) I’d feel bad for the other guy, but he didn’t stop moving for even a second. Maybe 200 Stab Wounds just play with enough force to make a motherfucker’s skull harder. I don’t know how often I’ll return to 200 Stab Wounds’ records, but I will be happy to remember being in that crowd when they whipped up that frenzy.

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At that show, all five bands used the same drum kit, and that kit had “Riley Gale Forever” spray-painted across the drum head. The late Power Trip frontman casts a long shadow over both metal and hardcore, and that’s doubly the case for headliners Creeping Death. Power Trip once took their fellow Texans Creeping Death under their wing, just as Creeping Death are now doing with Tribal Gaze. The last time that Power Trip played Richmond, on the tour with High On Fire, Creeping Death were on the bill. Creeping Death and Power Trip don’t sound remotely alike, but they’ve got the same kind of attitude. Creeping Death play old-school metal with charisma and hard-stomping intensity and wild-ass riffs. When Creeping Death finally took the stage on Tuesday night, nobody in the band was wearing a shirt, and four of the five members were rocking mustaches, ranging from hessian dirt-stache to full-on Lemmy handlebar. These guys came to party.

By the time Creeping Death started up, the room had largely cleared out, which surprised me. But this was a Tuesday-night show in a hot-ass sweatbox venue, and a whole lot of people, myself included, had work in the morning. Creeping Death have been around for a while, and 200 Stab Wounds are the new hotness. But people should’ve stayed. The people who did stay had a great fucking time. I’m not a death metal guy, but there is no barrier to entry with Creeping Death. They’ve got a catchy take on the genre, and they play with a downhill-boulder sense of momentum. They also look like they’re serious fun up there. Creeping Death have made a niche for themselves in the metal world; their last tour before this one was opening for Carcass and Immolation. But I hope they keep coming back to hardcore. They’re a blast.

Arma X – “Violento Ritual”

I once walked into my parents’ house, which had been empty for a week, and I was greeted by the sound of chanting monks. My parents had just left one of their Gregorian-chant CDs on repeat without realizing it, and it was playing on this glowing red boom box for days at a time. Shit was fucked up. It felt like I was walking in on a druidic sacrifice. (My dad was a fervent Catholic who listened to chanting monks to relax, like a psycho.) The Madrid band Arma X brings a level of unhinged bone-snap intensity to just about everything they do, but this song kicks things up about five levels when the riffs suddenly drop away and some motherfucking chanting monks show up. Even if I didn’t have that weird memory deeply embedded in my brain, that would still be a whole new level of evilness. Respect. [From Violento Ritual, out now on Quality Control HQ.]

Botch – “One Twenty Two”

This column is not about nostalgia acts. There are plenty of legacy hardcore bands still touring and still making great music, and shout out to them. (The new Quicksand single? Banger!) Generally, though, I’d rather devote this space to new shit that’s bubbling up. But when Tacoma mathcore legends Botch, a band that broke up when they were just on the verge of becoming underground-huge, return out of nowhere, with their first new song in two decades? And when that song kicks ass? That’s worth a few sentences. Dave Verellen’s voice has wizened and deepened, but there still aren’t too many people on the planet who can scream like that. [Stand-alone single, out now on Sargent House.]

Excide – “Flip”

The first time I heard Turnstile, I thought they sounded like 311, and I couldn’t fathom why the hardcore world had decided that this was cool. I got over that, and Turnstile might be my favorite band in the world now. By that same token, the Carolina band Excide have more than a little Jane’s Addiction in them. I have not considered my feelings on Jane’s Addiction in a long, long time, and I definitely wasn’t out here actively anticipating a hardcore band that would evoke that sound. But when those riffs churn and that singer hits those big notes? I’m all the way in. Let’s go, baby! Let’s make a hardcore version of Entourage and use this as the theme! [From Deliberate Revolver, out 9/23 on New Morality Zine.]

Hammered Hulls – “Rights And Reproduction”

Maybe this song doesn’t belong in this column. You could probably argue that Hammered Hulls are an indie rock band or a post-punk band or something. You could say that they belong to the nebulous genre known only as Dischord Records. You could acknowledge that Alec MacKaye is a hardcore legend while pointing out that the Faith/Void split is 40 years old. The thing is: I truly don’t care. This shit goes. I have a longstanding sentimental attachment to that whole Dischord crew, but even if I had none of that baggage, I’m pretty sure I would realize that this rocks. It’s truly crazy that people who were active in the whole Revolution Summer moment are still capable of making something this fierce and vital. [From Careening, out 10/28 on Dischord Records.]

Jivebomb – “Primitive Desires”

Baltimore’s Jivebomb are just starting out, but they are going to be a problem. I saw the band in Richmond a few months ago, and it was immediately obvious that they’ve got potential. This guttural riff-beast is barely one minute long, but it already sounds like that potential being realized. If Jivebomb can chug and grunt and sprint this commandingly, then just imagine what kind of reckless, ignorant damage they’ll be able to do once they build up some momentum. [From Primitive Desires EP, out 10/7 on Flatspot Records.]

Long Knife – “Curb Stomp Earth”

Oh, hell yeah. Oh, fuck yeah. Do you know how badly I needed this? The out-of-control speed and force, like an 18-wheeler with its brake lines cut plunging down a cliff? The Motörhead-ass riffage? The triumphant screaming shredding? The vengeful hobo-demon vocals? The willingness to rhyme “armies of the night” with “got you in our sights”? This type of hard-rockin’ berserker anthem feels like the kind of thing that shouldn’t be available over the counter because it’ll lead to vast swaths of the population disemboweling Fortune 500 CEOs while throwing devil horns and headbanging. We can hope. Fingers crossed. [From Curb Stomp Earth, out now on Beach Impediment Records.]

School Drugs – “Cold Hearted”

You have to be a total miscreant to pick a band name like School Drugs, and this New Jersey band sounds absolutely willing to fulfill the promise of those two words. School Drugs play hardcore punk like the early ’80s never ended; even their breakdowns sound like headlong dives down dirty cinderblock staircases. It’s not easy to do that old-school hardcore sound well; too many bands forget that the best early-’80s bands were catchy. School Drugs might’ve slept through their history classes, but they learned that much. [From Absolution EP, out now on Indecision Records.]

Skinman – “Blissful Thinking”

Great hardcore and punk scenes seem to pop up in the most unlikely of places, and right now, Hattiesburg, Mississippi is one of those places. Some of the members of Skinman also play in MS Paint and Pleather, Hattiesburg bands who sound nothing like each other or like anyone else in hardcore. With Skinman, they’ve perfected the art of raw, feverish, pissed-off basement punk. I don’t know anything about Hattisburg, but I do imagine that living in Mississippi would leave you with plenty of reasons to be angry. Listening to this, I don’t have to imagine it. I can feel it. [From Skinman EP, out now on 11PM Records.]

Suntouch House – “Suntouch”

For a while in the ’80s and ’90s, noise rock and hardcore were close enough on the spectrum that they were basically extensions of the same scene. Suntouch House, a brand-new band from Jacksonville, bring that Deadguy-style elemental scumminess back with a vengeance. This is burly, discordant, mad-at-the-world music that remains primally cathartic on some soul-deep level. Bottles will smash to this. [From Demonstration, out now on DAZE.]

Yokai – “Narcissist”

Wait. Stop. You’re not ready. Before you hit play, do 20 jumping jacks. A few push-ups. Run around the block. Rip your shirt off like Hulk Hogan. Jump in a river. Rob your neighbor’s house. Fight a mob of teenagers single-handed. Get at least one face tattoo. Eat a burrito with dog food in it. Flip your own car over. Mock a toddler until the kid cries. Rip all your shirts up and replace them with basketball jerseys. Strap on some Timberlands and stomp through a nest of vipers. Set an Outback Steakhouse on fire. OK. You’re ready. Hit play. [From From South Of The Angels single, self-released, out now.

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