Soul Glo, Masters Of Cathartic Chaos

Michael D. Thorn

Soul Glo, Masters Of Cathartic Chaos

Michael D. Thorn

You don’t know anything until you’re in the room. You can watch all the Hate5six videos you want, but to truly experience a band that’s anywhere near the hardcore spectrum, you need to be there, breathing the same air, braving the same stagedivers. Sometimes, you can get a pretty good idea of how things will go. Certain bands write music in ways specifically tailored to get certain reactions from the crowd, and if you’ve been to a few shows, then you understand the rituals involved. Even there, though, a hardcore show thrives on a certain level of unpredictable, combustible chaos. And when a band’s whole style is built on chaos, then you can’t go in there with expectations.

Last year, the Philadelphia band Soul Glo released Diaspora Problems, one of my favorite albums of the year. It’s a raw, passionate, urgent record with ideas that fly in all sorts of different directions. Soul Glo came up making a kind of scrabbling, chaotic punk rock that didn’t really have a subgenre. They seemed to fall into the screamo world almost by default, since they didn’t have breakdowns or stagedives or pileups built into their music. On Diaspora Problems, they kept that twisty bedlam intact while pulling in different sounds and approaches — sped-up breakbeats, horn-stabs, scam-rap verses. I loved this music, but before last Friday, I’d never seen Soul Glo live.

Nobody is quite sure how to talk about Soul Glo. According to the various streaming-service algorithms, the people who are into Soul Glo are also into some random-ass shit: Chat Pile, Gillian Carter, black midi, billy woods, Petrol Girls, Backxwash. This is not a band with a scene. There’s not a whole wave of splattery, angular, word-dense basement punk about the experience of being Black and broke and chemically unbalanced in America. Soul Glo are a singular band, and they’ve managed to reach the level of critical acclaim and festival bookings without adjusting their style or fitting into any particular mold. That’s awesome. But until I saw them for myself, I didn’t know whether Soul Glo could make people go off. I’m happy to report that they can.

When Soul Glo came through Richmond on Friday night, they played the place where hardcore shows happen. I’m not going to name this particular DIY venue, but it’s a spot run by and for people in the community, and the shows there are great in part because people are invested. A lot of people came to this Soul Glo show, and most of them weren’t the same people who I see at every local show. There were a lot of very young kids, and there were not a lot of mosh-warrior types. I was a little worried that this would make for an overly sedate show, but that’s not what happened.

The Soul Glo bill was weird, in a good way. The first two acts were local: Humanitarian Deficit, a band whose members all look like they’re in high school, and Muck, who play fast and brutish and elemental basement-punk. During Soul Glo’s headlining set, Pierce Jordan said, “I loved Muck.” I might’ve loved them, too. I also might’ve loved Backslider, a Philadelphia trio whose noisy powerviolence is usually not my kind of thing. Backslider play bafflingly fast. They mostly seem to follow the lead of their drummer, who goes for a blastbeat Buddy Rich kind of thing. Backslider don’t really make interactive music. It’s heady and complex and twisty, but it’s also physical enough that you can jump around if you want. In the videos of Backslider shows that I’ve seen online, it looks like a lot of people just kind of let all that jagged sludge flow over them. In Richmond, though, people jumped around.

People jumped around for Cloud Rat, too, even though that band doesn’t necessarily make jump-around music. Cloud Rat are a punked-out grindcore trio from Michigan, and their style is a lot headier and more experimental than what I’m used to hearing at hardcore shows. There’s just one guitarist in Cloud Rat, and there’s no bass player. Drummer Brandon Hill and guitarist Rorik Brooks rip into these dizzily complicated fast grooves while Madison Marshall screams vengefully over everything. Sometimes, they’ll go into long, droning instrumentals between songs, and sometimes the songs are fast and complex enough to blur into each other, so you don’t know where one starts and another begins.

Soul Glo’s Pierce Jordan and GG Guerra watched Cloud Rat’s entire set from the stage, and Jordan was visibly into it — into every blastbeat, every unexpected tempo shift, every desolate stretch of apocalyptic ambience. You see this a lot on hardcore tours — people moshing or singing along for their friends’ bands. It’s always cool. But this felt slightly different, since Pierce Jordan is a hugely charismatic figure and since Cloud Rat makes such dense, weird, extreme music.

In a way, Soul Glo make sense as headliners on a show full of dense, weird, extreme music. They probably make more sense in that setting than opening for some big emo band or playing in the middle of the afternoon on a punk-adjacent festival — the kinds of shows that the band sometimes plays. Soul Glo were absolutely fucking electric on Friday night, and I think their set would’ve hit in any context. But context matters. By the time Soul Glo played, the hyper-visceral metal bands on the bill had worn down my resistance, and I was ready for whatever. (I was also pretty high, which probably also helped.)

Soul Glo are messy. They’ve always been messy. Around the time that Diaspora Problems came out, longtime guitarist Ruben Polo left the band, which led to some lineup instability. The instability suits the band. A lot of my favorite hardcore bands sing about rising up and finding the internal strength determine your own fate, even against adversity. I love that. It’s aspirational. That’s not how Soul Glo work, though. Soul Glo’s music is about facing overwhelming challenges and being overwhelmed — about maybe, on a good day, keeping your shit together. I love that, too.

Soul Glo’s live show is fast and frantic, and it’s all held together by Pierce Jordan’s huge presence. That guy knows how to control a room. He doesn’t do normal hardcore-singer stuff, but he does make it clear that every show matters. In Richmond, he started off by telling us that Richmond fucked with Soul Glo before Philly did and by shouting out the individual people in the crowd who followed the band from show to show. He looked cool as hell casually puffing from an asthma inhaler while holding the mic out for someone else to sing into, and then he let loose with one of the greatest screams I’ve ever heard in person. As one song ended, GG Guerra went over to his laptop and cued up Zahsosaa and Dsturdy’s Philly club-rap anthem “Shake That” and Jordan just treated it like it was the next Soul Glo song. The crowd treated it that way, too. At a Soul Glo show, a song like that makes as much sense as anything else.

Soul Glo don’t really have singalongs, but “Gold Chain Punk (whogonbeatmyass?)” is a monster of a show-closer. During that song, the band members all ran around and switched instruments like a riot grrl band — Pierce Jordan suddenly on bass, the touring bassist running over to the guitar, GG Guerra taking over lead vocals — while automatic-gunfire sound effects came from Guerra’s laptop. It made for a great moment, mostly because I didn’t know what was happening. With Soul Glo, I never really know what’s happening. It’s a good feeling.

Bad Blood – “Apology Denied”

You would think that Scott Vogel was busy enough. Terror is basically the only long-running hardcore band that doesn’t get shittier with every successive release, and they’re also evangelists who stay on the road whenever possible. But Vogel also starts new bands whenever the spirit strikes him, and apparently the spirit told Vogel to start a band with a bunch of scary-looking Buffalo skinheads — all three members of oi warriors Violent Way, as well as one guy from Exhibition. Their first song is fast and mean and elemental — hard-crunch mosh-music from the long-ago times when hardcore and street-punk were not too terribly different from one another. [From The Bad Kind Decides EP, out 3/31 on Flatspot Records.]

Born Cursed – “Hammer Of Truth”

Listen to that motherfucker scream. Born Cursed, from Massachusetts, bring that old feeling where these people are so wildly, euphorically pissed about everything that the only way they can process reality is to roar so loud that they’re puking bile on the studio floor in between takes. This is the kind of band that covers Black Flag — not as a signal that they’re immersed in hardcore history but because they’re in a mental place where a Black Flag cover is the only thing that makes sense. “Hammer Of Truth” lurches wildly from fast parts to even faster parts, and the sheer dizziness of its rage is a beautiful thing. [From Forever, self-released, out now.]

Drug Church – “Myopic”

“Apologies are a wedding-night fling/ Sometimes, it’s best to exit quietly.” That’s Patrick Kindlon, the brilliant crank behind Drug Church, summing up his feelings on a world where everything — “politics and business, most love, many friendships” — works as the basic equivalent of “a county fair where the games are scams.” I don’t always follow Kindlon’s logic from line to line, but those individual lines are gems that can cut flesh as easily as they dazzle. I love that Kindlon’s chosen vehicle for those lines is a massive bulldozing rocker that makes this bleak-ass philosophy into something so anthemic that it’s almost life-affirming. [Stand-alone single, out now on Pure Noise Records.]

Eyelet – “Gross Abandon”

If you were building a case that screamo is often harder than most traditional hardcore — and I feel like I am often building just such a case in this column — then Eyelet should absolutely be one of your main pieces of evidence. The Baltimore band is a part of the screamo underground, but there’s no post-rock tingle to their music. Instead, they sound like tectonic plates angrily crashing into each other over and over. Eyelet’s fast songs are total rippers, but their slower stomps, like “Gross Abandon,” are the ones that make me feel like I’m riding a pterodactyl over a meteor crater, watching shadowy and unfamiliar creatures creeping out. [From Crowning/Eyelet split, out now on Zegema Beach Records.]

Incendiary – “Bite The Hook”

They’re back, baby! Long Island’s Incendiary went six years without releasing a single song, and that didn’t stop them from headlining festivals around the country. There’s been tantalizing talk of a new Incendiary record for years now, and it’s finally happening. “Bite The Hook,” that new record’s opening track and first single, tells you everything that you need to know about this band: The crushing metallic grandeur, the idealistic but incensed political rage, the tear-the-club-up bounce, the almost-rapping vocal cadence, the gang chants, the whiplash tempo changes, the production sheen that makes the tracks sound big enough to crush planets. This is one hell of a throat-clearing. [From Change The Way You Think About Pain, out 5/26 on Closed Casket Activities.]

Public Opinion – “Heaven Sent”

This is one of those cases where a band gets designated as hardcore more based on culture and association than actual music. Denver’s Public Opinion record for Convulse Records, and Taylor Young produced their new single. Also, frontman Kevin Hart — not that one — screams real loud. But “Heaven Sent” is a pummeling and catchy-as-hell garage-rocker with actual hooks and riffs and melodies, and it sounds a whole lot more like the Hives than Hatebreed. I’m sure that’s a stumbling block for some people, but I think it’s cool as hell. It’s not like you can stagedive at actual Hives shows. [From “Heaven Sent” b/w “Dry Clean Only” single, out now on Convulse Records.]

Sentinel – “Hell Train (Interlude III)”

Supergroups in hardcore aren’t the same as supergroups in other genres. The concept of an arena-rock supergroup is something like: “Hey, look, it’s Sammy Hagar and Joe Satriani, and they’re in a band together because they don’t really have anything else going on at the moment.” Sentinel’s members come from some of the most vital, exciting bands in hardcore right now: Mindforce, Mutually Assured Destruction, Age Of Apocalypse, Restraining Order. But Sentinel’s whole idea is more like: “Hey, let’s make some truly evil reverb-drenched metal-punk that sounds like a Terminator movie where people who are really into Discharge represent humanity’s last hope.” [From 4 Song Promo, out now on Raven Records.]

Skourge – “Torrential Torment”

Houston’s Skourge have been around for nearly a decade, making a squealing and thrashed-out death metal/hardcore combination. They’re a key part of that whole Power Trip/Iron Age wave, and frontman Seth Gilmore is also the singer for Fugitive, the new band from Power Trip’s Blake Ibanez. Also, two members of Narrow Head are in Skourge, even though Skourge sound absolutely nothing like Narrow Head. So why did Skourge’s new album just kind of sneak out into the world without any hype beyond general rapturous word of mouth? Why not tell the whole world about this murderous-beast music? Maybe it was the right call. Maybe music as fast and ugly and hellacious of this should be kept secret. If this record was in every home in America, maybe we’d face a sudden epidemic of motherfuckers throwing each other into pits with spikes at the bottom. [From Torrential Torment, out now on Lockin’ Out Records.]

Torena – “Bleed”

The Oxnard band Torena’s latest EP does not look like a new record. It looks like some cult-beloved ’80s thrash token that would fetch you at least a few hundred bucks on Discogs. But this isn’t throwback music. In a lot of ways, Torena play down-the-middle hardcore, with gang vocals and primally satisfying riffs and breakdowns that might convince you to demonstrate your martial arts abilities on all the strangers in your immediate vicinity. But Torena set themselves apart by sounding huge — like every member of this band was a 14-foot ogre who’d learned to make music by attaching electrified strings to their clubs. [From Evil Eyez EP, out now on DAZE.]

World Of Pleasure – “World War X”

Can you imagine a straight-edge song title more perfect than “World War X”? It’s beautiful. I love it. The whole idea of World Of Pleasure is a little confusing to me; did singer Jess Nyx somehow think that Mortality Rate, her other band, wasn’t heavy or strident or extreme enough? But I am very happy that World Of Pleasure exist, that they’re making these fast, lurching brutalist anthems and combining them with random-ass samples of video-game hyperpop. If these people are really declaring war on all of us who are not straight-edge, then I am confident that my side will lose, and I am OK with that. [From xWeaponx/World Of Pleasure split, out now DAZE.]

more from Let The Roundup Begin: The Month In Hardcore

Please disable your adblocker or subscribe to ad-free membership to view this article.

Already a VIP? Sign in.