Gorilla Biscuits, Reunited And Vital

Michael D. Thorn

Gorilla Biscuits, Reunited And Vital

Michael D. Thorn

“That song didn’t seem so fast when I was 16.” Gorilla Biscuits singer Anthony Civarelli, better known to most of the world as Civ, isn’t 16 anymore. Last month in Richmond, Civ had just finished ranting his way through one of the short and delirious bursts of indignation that his band recorded decades earlier — I think it was “Good Intentions” — and he was a little winded. But Civ rallied. He didn’t have a choice. A sold-out crowd had assembled to euphorically rage along with anthems of youthful pride, played by men who are no longer young. A few minutes later, Civ dedicated another classic to all the people who have to drag themselves out of bed in the morning to feed the dogs and the kids — “the fuckin’ kids” — before heading off to work in the morning. I feel you, brother.

Civ started Gorilla Biscuits with some of his Long Island high-school buddies in 1987, and the band didn’t last very long. Gorilla Biscuits released one 7″ and one album before breaking up in 1991. But those records mattered. Gorilla Biscuits were part of a wave of young bands in New York hardcore. Those bands could be tough, but they weren’t as outright scary as forebears like Agnostic Front and the Cro-Mags. Gorilla Biscuits, in particular, played with a giddy, explosive sense of melody. Their songs were tight and focused and extremely catchy. In their style, you could hear echoes of previous punk micro-generations — 7 Seconds, Agent Orange, a whole lot of Minor Threat — that combined beautifully with the innate hard-bounce moshiness of NYHC.

After Gorilla Biscuits broke up, the different ex-members stuck around and tried different things. John Porcelly, one ex-GB guitarist, moved to California and started Inside Out with Zack De La Rocha before moving back to New York and joining Shelter. (Porcelly hasn’t been in any of the GB reunions.) Walter Screifels, another ex-guitarist, formed Quicksand. Anthony Civarelli and a bunch of other ex-Gorilla Biscuits stayed together as CIV. Schreifels wrote much of CIV’s debut album, 1995’s Set Your Goals, though he had to go uncredited, since CIV and Quicksand were on different major labels. CIV briefly made it onto MTV. When I was 16, I saw them at the 1996 Warped Tour, and they left a deep impression. They might’ve been the first New York hardcore band I ever saw. I am older than dirt, but those guys were veterans by the time I discovered them.

That short Gorilla Biscuits run had a huge impact on hardcore and on punk in general. In their way, Gorilla Biscuits were revivalists; they were bringing back the same youthful spirit that Minor Threat had injected a few years earlier. (The band tried to get Ian MacKaye to produce their album Start Today.) Wave after wave of youth crew hardcore bands followed GB, and I hear echoes of the band’s gruff sense of melody everywhere. Rancid’s Matt Freeman, for instance, must’ve studied GB bassist Arthur Smilios. Fall Out Boy covered “Start Today” for a Tony Hawk soundtrack in 2005, and that specific cover version was a whole lot of people’s entry point for hardcore in general. Gorilla Biscuits might’ve been a brief explosion, but that brief explosion was still setting off shockwaves decades later.

Gorilla Biscuits got together for a few one-off reunions over the years, but when they came back together for a proper international tour in 2016, it was a huge deal. Since then, they’ve been a part-time arrangement. The people in the band have lives, and Walter Schreifels is now playing in at least four different reunited bands. (He’s also doing shows with Youth Of Today, Quicksand, and Rival Schools, and Quicksand have been putting out shockingly great records for the past few years. He’s still handsome as fuck, too. In a better world, we would all age just like Walter Schreifels.) At this point, Gorilla Biscuits shows don’t happen too often, but when they do, they’re events. That’s why Gorilla Biscuits get a royal fanfare every single time they play.

Gorilla Biscuits opened “New Direction,” the first song on Start Today, with the sound of trilling trumpets. Whenever they play these days, they find someone local to play that horn-burst before they take the stage. In Richmond, we got two horn players — one on trumpet, another on trombone — who didn’t return to the stage after their 10-second cameo. That’s such a cool way to kick off a show. A lot of things about present-day GB shows are cool.

I’m used to seeing hardcore bands, even headliners, play for 15 or 20 minutes, but GB kept going for maybe an hour in Richmond. They don’t even have that many songs of their own, but they stretched things out by covering contemporaries like Judge and Warzone, as well as influences like Minor Threat and the Buzzcocks. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen someone play a Buzzcocks cover, but “Sitting Round At Home” was part of the GB repertoire back in the day, and they always made it sound like a hardcore song.

Gorilla Biscuits keep their shows from feeling like exercises in nostalgia by playing hard and by sharing bills with a lot of the most vital younger bands in hardcore. This year, they’re headlining big fests like This Is Hardcore and Tied Down, and their headliner gigs have their own lovingly curated sets of openers. During Gorilla Biscuits’ Richmond set, Civ mentioned feeling jealous and competitive while watching End It earlier that night. That was funny, since so many Gorilla Biscuits songs are about being pissed at all the older hardcore guys seeing his generation as competition. But Civ was right to feel nervous while watching End It. End It don’t fuck around.

I’ve seen End It a few times, and they always get a room going. End It’s set was short and concussive. They don’t have any of Gorilla Biscuits’ veteran professionalism, but there are very few bands who can currently set it off like End It. The GB show was at the Broadberry, a pretty big club that doesn’t often host hardcore shows. It’s narrow and long, and it’s not quite set up for the kind of bedlam that End It bring, but End It still brought it. They’re the kind of band who make you want to throw down, and people threw down.

End It’s reception was especially impressive after their fellow Baltimore band Truth Cult played to crickets. Truth Cult played hard, and they moved with wild, intense grace; frontman Paris Roberts is a force of nature up there. This wasn’t necessarily a sedate crowd; they’d at least moved around for the Virginia Beach basement-punk band Reckoning Force, the night’s first act. Truth Cult’s sound is a little more angular and off-kilter than most bands who might open for Gorilla Biscuits — less hardcore, more post-hardcore — but it’s not like they do math equations onstage. Truth Cult rock, and their sound is bracing and instinctive. They still got a whole crowd staring at them quizzically, nobody filling in the empty horseshoe pit near the stage. It was mystifying. I heard a lot of people saying afterward that the liked Truth Cult, that they’d go see them again. When Truth Cult were playing, though, you couldn’t tell.

Maybe that’s the danger of a reunion show like this one. Legacy hardcore bands tend to sell more tickets than up-and-comers, though that’s changing. A whole lot of the people in that room probably hadn’t been born when Start Today came out, but it was still an older crowd. Older crowds might not get up for a band like Truth Cult. Still, I like the way different hardcore generations interact at shows like this one. Younger people get to sing along with songs that have been passed down to them, generation by generation, through routes as indirect as a Fall Out Boy cover in a Tony Hawk game. Older people drawn back in by a familiar name might get to see End It wreck a room.

Hardcore, like every genre, can put too big a premium on nostalgia. That’s why it’s cool to see big festivals, like last year’s Sound And Fury, where almost all the bands are young and hungry. But there’s also an important place for a band like Gorilla Biscuits, a group that’s old enough that entire generations of hardcore have matured since they came along but spry enough that they can still put on a fun, exciting show. A band like Gorilla Biscuits brings people together, and that, in and of itself, is a net positive. In its own way, that Gorilla Biscuits show felt wholesome — an image of a subculture that reveres its elders but doesn’t feel beholden to them. That’s how it should be.

Blow Your Brains Out – “No Control”

The world is a crazy place. A Tokyo band in 2023 somehow channels the spirit of ancestral chest-beating fuck-you-up NYHC. Japan has its own traditions of psychotic, dangerous hardcore, but I don’t hear any of that in Blow Your Brains Out. Instead, I hear primal Cro-Mags knuckle-dragger music, with vocals bellowed hard enough that I wouldn’t have even known the lyrics were in Japanese if someone didn’t tell me. Maybe you have to come from outside the English-speaking world to pick a name like Blow Your Brains Out, even if that name functionally means the same thing as “End It.” [From The Big Escape, out now on Quality Control HQ.]

Buggin – “All Eyes On You”

One of the reasons that I gravitate to hardcore is that it’s an underground DIY culture that’s still full of gigantic, larger-than-life personalities, and Buggin’s Bryanna Bennett is one of them. Buggin’s sound isn’t complicated, but they play with bounce and and conviction, and there’s so much swagger in Bennett’s delivery. That confidence doesn’t dip when Jordan Moten, from fellow Chicago band Kharma, comes in to yell some shit on the breakdown. I’ve been waiting on a Buggin record for a while, and this song speaks to a whole lot of coiled energy that’s about to unleash itself. Be ready for that. [From Concrete Cowboys, out 6/2 on Flatspot Records.]

Echo Chamber – “Dust In A Bag”

I tend to get resistant about hardcore bands from western Europe — partly because I know they’re less likely to play a warehouse near me anytime soon and partly because a lot of that stuff has a brickwalled professional sheen that I find vaguely off-putting. But I would’ve never guessed that Echo Chamber come from Germany. The Cologne band just released their demo last year, and they bring the kind of murky ferocity that I want from a band who just released their demo last year. “Dust In A Bag” sounds raw and unformed, but little touches like the breakbeat just before the breakdown are the kind of shit that I want to hear. [From Scheme Until It’s Your Reality compilation, out now on Scheme Records.]

Fight On Sight – “Buried Alive”

There are so many hardcore songs where the basic message goes something like: “If you fuck with me, I will murder you.” In this genre, that’s a tale as old as time. You have to ask whether the band in question brings feeling and style and physicality to the way that they deliver it. Fight On Sight are a brand-new band from Hamilton, Ontario, but they’ve got all the intangibles already: sticky riffs, heavy grooves, big chant-along moments, and the huge charisma of singer Hillary. “Buried Alive” is barely more than a minute long, but that’s all they need to bust you in your lip. [From “Buried Alive” b/w “Suffering” single, self-released, out now.]

Gumm – “Slogan Machine”

Chattanooga’s Gumm are a weird band in all these tiny ways. When their songs seem like they should explode into rage-out catharsis, they often get quieter, finding these weirdly pretty twinkly melodies instead. Even when they’re being accusatory, as they are on “Slogan Machine,” Gumm always sound big-hearted and idealistic. There are things about this band, like the sidelong hooks and the fuzzed-out guitar sound, that remind me of some of the guitar-rock bands currently taking up a whole lot of the hardcore conversation: Drug Church, Militarie Gun, even Fiddlehead. I don’t know if Gumm will join the ranks of those bands. They might be too abrasive; their bass tone sounds like it’s been rotting in a crawl space for months. Maybe Gumm will blow up, and maybe they won’t. Either way, this song rips. [From Slogan Machine, out 5/19 on Convulse Records.]

Never Ending Game – “Never Die”

This big, mean beast of a song is almost a full-on collaboration between Detroit hard-rocks Never Ending Game and Baltimore overlords Trapped Under Ice. NEG’s Will Kaelin and TUI’s Sam Trapkin came up with the nasty-ass riffs together. Trapkin plays on the song, and TUI frontman Justice Tripp lends his ragged howl to the outro. Also, Never Ending Game drummer Derrick Daniel has been playing drums for TUI at their recent shows, since regular TUI drummer Brendan Yates is too busy being the frontman of Turnstile. At this point, it’s been years since we’ve gotten a new Trapped Under Ice song, but that band’s influence looms large over the entire hardcore landscape today. On a symbolic level, a song like this almost works as a passing of the torch, from one era’s greatest hard-ass band to the next. On a non-symbolic level, this song just whips ass. The narrative is cool, but sometimes you just need music for smashing yourself in the face with a cinderblock. [From Outcry, out 5/12 on Triple B Records.]

No Brainer – “Ain’t Your Answer”

At this point, there’s no hardcore band on the planet who sets it off more than Sydney’s Speed. Last week, Speed played a few American shows and cemented their rep as absolute ass-beaters in a live setting. There’s more where that came from. No Brainer are from Perth, not Sydney, but they’ve got that same gift for gang-chant vocals and swaggering stomp-your-face riffage. I don’t know how Australia became a global capital for psychotically reckless swandive-headbutt music, but I’m not mad at it. Shout out to the crucial hardcore site No Echo, the main thing that’s putting bands like No Brainer and Fight On Sight on my radar. [From Three Track promo, out now on Life Lair Regret Records.]

Scarab – “Last Day”

I don’t really understand why Tyler Mullen stopped singing for Year Of The Knife and then started singing for this band instead. He lost his voice and then got it back? Something like that? But it seems like the split worked out for everyone. Madison Watkins is singing for YOTK now, and she’s kicking ass. And Scarab, Mullen’s new band, have played a couple of shows that looked utterly insane. Their demo is hard, fast full-bore evildoer music — music for pulling a stop sign out of the ground and then using it to chop down other stop signs — and Mullen once again sounds like a dragon who’s been awakened from his slumber because someone’s trying to steal his gold. [From Demo, out now on Rebirth Records.]

Spaced – “Boomerang”

Nobody should ever listen to my predictions. I never have any idea what’s going to happen, in hardcore or any other genre. (I’m on record predicting that Asher Roth’s Asleep In The Bread Aisle would outsell Rick Ross’ Deeper Than Rap in 2009. This was incorrect.) But if Buffalo’s Spaced don’t become a household name, then someone severely fucked up. It’s all there in “Boomerang”: the huge charisma, the catchy-ass riffs, the weird noises that drive the song forward rather than being weird for the sake of weirdness, the bits of melody that don’t compromise the stomp, the total command of hardcore songwriting — all in less than two minutes. This isn’t an Asher Roth situation where I’m like “oh no, this is going to be huge, we’re doomed.” It’s the opposite. I really hope I get to see Spaced blow the fuck up. [From Far Out Hardcore two-song single, out now on New Morality Zine.]

Spy – “Big Man”

I missed the Spy and Sunami shows that came to Richmond last month, which kills me; that Sunami gig was apparently historic. Still, it’s been enormously gratifying to see videos of those two bands playing to gigantic crowds across the country, both together and separately. Spy and Sunami are very different bands, but they’re both strange and intense and hard, and they’ve both generated serious excitement without dropping an album. Now that Spy’s LP is on the horizon, we’ll all get to see how much bigger they can get while releasing nothing but disgusting, vomit-caked basement rippers like this one. [From Satisfaction, out 6/2 on Triple B Records.]

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