The Chisel, End It, And The Beauty Of Shit-Wrecking Spectacle
Have you ever destroyed a giant old tube TV? Just smashed it into oblivion? It’s the best. I recommend it without reservation. Many years ago, I lived in a gigantic house full of art students, and whenever any of our appliances broke, we’d go up on the roof and take turns hurling them down into the driveway, some 30 feet below. This was probably dangerous, but it was definitely fun. Sometimes, I’d just wrap the chord around my fist and swing the thing at the ground. When all those plastic shards would go flying? That would feel good. Last weekend, while the Chisel were starting their set at an FYA Fest aftershow, that same spirit seized somebody.
The annual hardcore calendar really starts with Tampa’s FYA Fest and with the flood of videos that comes out of that weekend. FYA always looks crazy, and I always end up wishing I was there. (I’ll make it down one of these years.) This year didn’t produce any instant-meme moshers like last year’s FUBU guy, but it did have big moments. Life Of Agony headlined, playing to a euphoric crowd of hardcore kids that understood and embraced the sound that they’d invented 30 years ago. Pain Of Truth, a band with maybe seven songs, looked like absolute world-killers. The videos of Drain’s pool-party pit insanity are just gorgeous.
As someone who wasn’t actually there, though, the image that flying TV is what I’ll take away from this year’s whole FYA experience. On Thursday night, as we drove out to see the Chisel play a post-FYA set in Richmond, my friend Jason said that the whole TV incident was something I would’ve written to describe a band. I hadn’t thought of that, but it’s true. My dumbshit bugged-out metaphors are now manifesting themselves in actual reality. Am I a god?
I never really thought of the Chisel as a throw-a-TV band. They aren’t even hardcore, exactly. The members of the band have roots in hardcore, and they’ve been firmly embraced by the hardcore world. They play fast like a hardcore band, but their music is more in line with the British oi and street-punk of the early ’80s. Still, if someone throws a TV while a band is playing, then that means the band is a throw-a-TV band. You can’t argue with reality.
As someone who lives on the East Coast, one of the best things about FYA Fest is the chance to see a whole lot of those bands in the weeks before and after the fest goes down. Those bands group together to head up and down the coast, and they hit spots along the way. For those of us in the Richmond orbit, that meant a sick-as-fuck five-band Thursday-night bill — the Chisel, End It, Buried Dreams, Raw Brigade, and Tempter — at a very and legitimate downtown venue that very rarely hosts hardcore shows. The soundman was definitely out of his element, but even with the blurry aural murkiness, this was a hell of a night.
When the Chisel got started, frontman Cal Graham called out to the crowd to fill the empty horseshoe at the front of the stage, assuring them that the Chisel are “not a mosh band” and that “nobody’s getting their ‘ead kicked in.” Or at least, I think that’s what he said. On record, Graham seems to lean hard into his accent, which gives the Chisel a little more of the grimy working-class Cockney intensity of the bands that clearly inspired them. But I learned on Thursday that Graham actually sounds more British when he’s just talking. I once lived in London, and I still understood maybe 25% of what Graham said. He’s like British Boomhauer.
How much do you really need to understand, though? Graham is a great frontman — small and burly and energetic and very, very into what he’s doing. Everyone else looks cool, too. Charlie Manning, leader of Chubby And The Gang, plays guitar in the Chisel. He has now grown a gigantic handlebar mustache, and he looks cool as fuck, like a baby Lemmy. The band plays at a frantic gallop, and their live show doesn’t have any of the occasional nuance of their records. I was a little surprised at how the Chisel weren’t playing some of their catchiest songs, the fists-up hookfests like “Not The Only One.” Instead, the Chisel were all balled-up ferocity in person, and that suited them beautifully. See them if you get a chance.
You almost certainly will get a chance to see Baltimore champions End It, and you should absolutely do that. End It still don’t have an album, and maybe they never will. They don’t need one. Without an album, they’ve still built themselves up into one of the biggest and most exciting bands in the hardcore world, and their 2022 EP Unpleasant Living is right up there with Mindforce’s New Lords on the list of last year’s most universally acclaimed down-the-middle hardcore records. As good as that record is, though, it’s got nothing on the End It live show. With End It, as with so many great hardcore bands, you have to be there to get the full effect.
End It are funny. That matters. Whenever End It aren’t actually playing, they’re up onstage making fun of each other, their surroundings, you. On Thursday, frontman Akil Godsey clowned Virginia for not having a pro football team and pointed out Baltimore club music’s superiority to go-go. (He’s right.) My favorite Akil line: “I hate going to jail. Food sucks. Conversation sucks.” He’s got the timing of a great stand-up, even when his voice is noticeably wrecked after a few straight days of shows. And you could only tell his voice was wrecked when he talked. Godsey’s got a tradition of opening every End It show by singing a song, really singing it. (In other genres, a singer singing a song wouldn’t be that notable. In hardcore, it’s fucking wild.) On Thursday, it was the Smiths’ “There Is A Light And It Never Goes Out,” and it sounded great. Godsey puts his whole voice into that opening song, and it makes the band sound even harder when the first riff kicks in.
I got in the pit a little bit for End It. This doesn’t usually happen. I am 92 years old, and my body does not want me to engage in such shenanigans. But then “Lifer” started up, and I had to move around a little. (I also thought “Lifer” would be the last song of the set. It wasn’t, but you can’t really leave the pit once you’re in.) My sub-rational decision mostly worked out. It felt good, and I didn’t get that hurt. Most of the people who went all whirling-fist-tornado didn’t hit me too hard. The one hazardous moment came when someone did an extremely forceful version of the get-low side-to-side barreling thing. This guy collided pretty hard with the area just to the side of my nuts. Could’ve been worse, but I wish he hadn’t done that. All of which is to say: Great set, five stars, go see End It.
The rest of the bill: Buried Dreams, from Boston, are stupefyingly heavy, and their whole iconography is a little confusing. They were selling shirts with American flags and the phrase “Back II Back World War Champs,” and their singer has a tattoo of Jesus that covers his entire back. Richmond locals Tempter, a relatively new band, are sick as hell — a couple Nosebleed members and friends doing a grimy metal-punk thing with great riffs and better screams. And then there was Raw Brigade. I am fascinated with Raw Brigade, partly because I have no idea how they make things work as a band.
The members of Raw Brigade come from Colombia, and I’m pretty sure they all still live in Colombia. (Singer Carlos Chavarriaga has an extremely sick “Bogotá Straight Edge” jacket.) But Raw Brigade are in the US all the time. It can’t be easy to keep a DIY band functioning like that. At one point on Thursday night, Chavarriaga — one of those guys who moshes enthusiastically for the other bands on the bill — said that the Raw Brigade members take the band really seriously, and I believe him. You would have to. Raw Brigade’s whole sound is fast, raw, pummeling old-school hardcore punk, like early Agnostic Front. The band plays with a feverish, sloppy passion, and Chavarriaga roars with absolute abandon, as if he doesn’t remotely care what he’s doing to his voice. That guy is in it, and I love it.
It must take unfathomable levels of energy to take that kind of music across the planet, without getting a whole lot of financial reward out of it. (This was not the first time I’d seen Raw Brigade play second on a five-band Richmond bill, and that cannot pay that much.) But Raw Brigade have that energy. They’re inspiring, and I’m so glad that they’re out there.
Eternal Sleep – “So-Called Rapture”
I didn’t get Life Of Agony. When that band was a going concern, I thought they were a dull, trudging grunge-metal band, like Alice In Chains but dumber. But entire generations of hardcore bands understood and embraced that seasick-lurch guttural-melody riffage, and now I hear echoes of that LOA style all over the hardcore landscape. Desperate Prayer Blues, the new album from Pittsburgh’s Eternal Sleep, feels a bit like Integrity trying to become Life Of Agony, and they truly bring the heaviness. This album closer makes me feel like I’m playing Altered Beast in real life — rising from my grave, turning into a wolfman, beating up headless corpses in Greek ruins, all that. [From Desperate Prayer Blues, out now on Closed Casket Activities.]
Imprizon – “Angel Of The Night”
If a hardcore band has a Z in its name where there’s supposed to be an S, then that band is going to be good. That’s just science. Imprizon come from Las Vegas, and they make crossover-style late-’80s NYHC that works on an instinctive, brutally satisfying level. “Angel Of The Night” rips throughout, but that moment right before the breakdown, when all you hear is cymbal taps, you just know that something terribly violent is about to happen. In this case, the violence takes the form of a high-pitched, shred-happy guitar solo. I didn’t expect that, but I’ll take it. [From Demo, out now on From Within Records.]
Jesus Piece – “An Offering To The Night”
We have waited so long, and it’s finally happening. Jesus Piece have returned, and they’re making music that’s as heavy and ugly and brutal as we could’ve hoped. I would put this song on repeat, but I know what would happen. My walls can’t take all the headbutting, and I don’t want to have to clean all that plaster out of my hair. This video? Come on. Hardest use of fisheye lens I’ve seen in probably 20 years. [Stand-alone single, out now on Century Media.]
Juicebox – “Scar”
I love the moment a new hardcore band puts its demo up online. It’s like: There it is. That’s the beginning. It’ll always be the beginning, even if they never do anything else. There’s a definitive start date to this band, and it’s preserved forever, at least unless they scrub their Bandcamp page. In the case of Houston’s Juicebox, we’ve got a fully-formed band with its own sound and viewpoint and personality. They already kick ass, but it’s possible to imagine them getting so much better. That’s exciting. In any case, this is officially the best new band of 2023, at least thus far. [From Demo, self-released, out now.]
Mattachine & Mikau – “Unlucky Channel”
This one might be some insider-trading shit, since Infant Island’s Alex Rudenshiold is my friend and since Mattachine is his militant-queer hardcore side project. This track is a fusion of two different Infant Island-adjacent bands, since DC mathcore miscreants Mikau also count drummer Austin O’Rourke among their number. But come on. This song is a crazy-eyed frantic beast, and my guy writes the best mosh calls, whether they’re serious or not: “Every single one of us is product of a mass extinction event! I want you to fucking act! Like! It!” I feel a little dizzy whenever I play this one, and I think that dizziness is a good thing. [Stand-alone single, out now on Acrobat Unstable Records.]
One Step Closer – “Turn To Me”
Hardcore is an ethos and a culture and a social category more than a genre of music, but at least from an aesthetic standpoint, One Step Closer feel like they’re in the process of moving away from hardcore and into another thing. That’s fine. Change happens. OSC were great at hardcore, and they’re still great at hardcore; you can hear that in all the surging riffs and throat-shredding roars here. But you can also hear a whole new emotive, melodic sensibility emerging, and that’s honestly pretty thrilling. If and when OSC make another album, I legitimately have no idea how it will sound. The future is wide open. [From Songs For The Willow EP, out now on Run For Cover Records.]
Rabbit – “Halo Of Flies”
Some of us were once taught to believe that the old New York hardcore scene was really two scenes who didn’t much like each other — the tough guys vs. the art-school punks, CBGB vs. ABC No Rio, Sick Of It All vs. Born Against. Is that over? I think it might be over. Part of it is that none of those venues exist anymore, and part of it is that the gutter-punks who are left in New York these days — Hank Woods And The Hammerheads, Warthog, that whole scene — are making some undeniably hard music. I don’t even know if Rabbit even fit into this simplistic and probably-fake dynamic, but their music definitely sounds like art-school kids making impossibly heavy shit, and I love it. [From Halo Of Flies EP, out now on Delayed Gratification Records.]
Riot Stares – “Trip Chain”
Charleston, South Carolina’s Riot Stares know that it’s all about the bounce. There’s melody in this band’s riffage, and they’re smart about structuring songs — knowing when to switch things up, to launch into a whole new groove. But the groove itself remains paramount, and everything else, right down to the singer’s syncopated bark of a delivery, is there to serve that groove. This band makes me wish I could pull off beanies and baggy jeans. They need to play every skate park in America. [From Sounds Of Acceleration, out 1/20 on DAZE.]
Vamachara – “From Miles Away”
California’s Vamachara have been near the top of the ultra-heavy metallic hardcore heap for a long time, but they do something on this song that I’m not sure I’ve heard from them — or, for that matter, from anyone else. When they hit the slow-riff breakdown, Vamachara don’t just suddenly shift into a new groove. Instead, they slow down gradually, bit by bit, the whole band locked in on every slight, gradual change. It’s a little thing, but it somehow makes the song crush even harder, and it crushed pretty fucking hard in the first place. [Stand-alone single, out now on Closed Casket Activities.]
Zulu – “Where I’m From” (Feat. Pierce Jordan & Obioma Ugonna)
Zulu used to be a powerviolence band that used a lot of samples, right? I didn’t imagine that? And now they’re making unholy riff-beast posse-cut anthems with the singers from Soul Glo and Playytime. That’s fucking awesome. The message hasn’t changed; they’re still talking about standing proud in the face of disgusting oppression. But the attitude is new, and so is the groove. Zulu’s album is going to be something special. [From A New Tomorrow, out 2/27 on Flatspot Records.]