Angel Du$t’s Justice Tripp Is Ready To Reinvent Hardcore All Over Again

Elyza Reinhart

Angel Du$t’s Justice Tripp Is Ready To Reinvent Hardcore All Over Again

Elyza Reinhart

Justice Tripp has only ever wanted to be one thing: a creative person in a rock ‘n’ roll band. The 37-year-old Baltimore native may not be the first name one thinks of when people talk about hardcore’s current mainstream push, but for the past 15 years, he’s been setting the pace of that scene and leaving people to wonder what he’ll do next. With the new Angel Du$t album BRAND NEW SOUL out Sept. 9 on Pop Wig Records — the label he co-runs with current and former bandmates Daniel Fang and Brendan Yates of Turnstile — it’s clear Justice is ready to shake up hardcore all over again.

Though Trapped Under Ice wasn’t Justice’s first band, it was the one he’d become synonymous with, and continually asked about, even as the band settled into the late-period, occasionally active status that so many hardcore bands often do. When Trapped Under Ice dropped their demo in 2007 and followed it with the six-song Stay Cold EP a year later, the scene couldn’t help but take notice. At the time, it was still a post-American Nightmare world, but slowly, the dominance of melodic hardcore began to take over. There were still new movements popping up all over, like the rise of powerviolence-inspired fastcore from Ceremony, Trash Talk, and Outbreak; the Integrity-inspired dark hardcore movement doled out on labels like A389; the call-in-a-wellness-check heaviness of Blacklisted; the rise of mysterious guy hardcore via Youth Attack. The scene had bent away from the heavy hardcore that Justice was reared on. After all, his first hardcore show, at the Sidebar in Baltimore, was Hatebreed, Death Threat, and Out To Win. It was an intense introduction, but what he saw was not just aggression, but an invitation into something life-affirming.

“I always say Death Threat is the band that was nice to me and my friends at that show when I was a kid,” Justice says. “We didn’t have money to buy a CD or anything like that, so they gave us a CD. They were like, ‘Yo, y’all gotta share this and go home and learn these songs.’ That made me feel seen. It’s important to feel seen and heard, you know? Being a part of a community like the hardcore punk rock community, you have a voice and, as long as you wanna put in the energy, you have a say in how it’s gonna be.”

It’s easy, in hindsight, to track Trapped Under Ice’s influence on hardcore. In fact, we’re still very much living in the ripples of it, with heavy, beatdown-adjacent hardcore likely having a very real rebirth. This has led a new generation of kids to revisit Trapped Under Ice, allowing the band to become the go-to headliner at nearly every marquee hardcore fest this year. But Justice is quick to dispel the notion that they were somehow immediately embraced for this. “There was never a Trapped Under Ice record that came out and just popped off right away,” Justice says. “We’d play a couple shows and a couple people would like it, but we’d just force it down your throat. We’re like, ‘Hey look, this is the shit. This is what’s going on.’ That’s why Trapped Under Ice has the longevity it does. What I’ve come to realize is that, exclusively, everything I’ve done in my life, when I do it from a real place and it’s authentic, people will come to love it.”

As Justice notes, that longevity was hard-earned. If you think online debates about hardcore are tiring now, I can’t stress enough how exhausting the banter was on the message boards back then, especially the B9 Board. Everyone caught it, but Justice was one of the main characters. People argued about whether or not his lyrics were authentic — themselves a modern update on subjects Crown Of Thornz and Bulldoze covered — whether Trapped Under Ice were serious about being from the parts of Baltimore they claimed, and even whether or not Justice Tripp was his real name (it is.) It even spilled over into real life, as I remember attending a DIY show in Northwest Indiana in the late 2000s and being handed a one-page zine titled “Trapped Under Ice is ruining hardcore” with the kind of screed you’d have expected to be pulled from a decade-old issue of Maximum Rocknroll or HeartattaCk. Trapped Under Ice weren’t even playing there any time soon. People were just mad at Trapped Under Ice.

With each new album, Trapped Under Ice pushed their sound in ways that even fans weren’t ready for. 2011’s Big Kiss Goodnight, which is now considered a modern classic, was lambasted before anyone even heard it because it was produced by Chad Gilbert from New Found Glory. Nevermind the fact Gilbert had just done the same for Terror’s Keepers Of The Faith a year earlier. Big Kiss Goodnight was a sellout record, and people wanted to ensure it would exclusively be seen as such. Knowing this from the jump, the band traded their stare-and-glare posturing and drippy, graffiti font for some shades and a bright-pink album title made to look like an outtake from the Grease soundtrack.

In 2013, Trapped Under Ice broke up, albeit only for a couple of years (if you’ve never seen the footage from that final set at 2013’s This Is Hardcore, you absolutely need to) and Justice’s new band, Angel Du$t, released the Xtra Raw EP. The title was fitting, and 2014’s AD only backed it up. While bantering at shows, Justice always referred to himself and his band as “hardcore punk rockers.” That distinction was an important bit of context for Angel Du$t. Gone were the pummeling riffs and two-step mosh parts, replaced with an expediency of motion and hooks that you could sing along to without getting punched in the head.

“Sonically, the thing with Angel Du$t was, and I think it was pretty obvious in Trapped Under Ice too, but we were referencing a lot of pop music in the context of hardcore music and heavy music. With Angel Du$t we were like, we can do that a little more,” Justice says. “The name Angel Du$t was the idea that there were bands in the ’80s that were trying to write pop music, pop-rock, but they were on PCP. Fools were smoking angel dust heavy in the ’80s and it just made them play crazy. We were like, that’s the theme. We’re gonna make pop-rock songs and play ’em really fast. That’s really the overall musical theme.”

That ethos bled into every Angel Du$t song, and those pop elements became increasingly more pronounced with each new record. 2016’s Rock The Fuck On Forever lived up to its title, rarely slowing down and packing in hooks while the backbone of ’80s hardcore gave the songs a distinct urgency. It was 2019’s Pretty Buff where things noticeably changed. It still felt like Angel Du$t, thanks in part to the propulsive backbeat of Daniel Fang, but acoustic guitars came to the forefront. “I think Pretty Buff is easily our least aggressive record, but the drums are what makes it,” Justice says. “When we play those songs live and people stage dive and sometimes we catch people spin-kicking in the mosh pit or something. It’s like, dude, what? That song was recorded on an acoustic guitar.”

While it’s easy to look at hardcore and assume what makes it are loud, crunching guitars, that’s only one tool in the arsenal. As Angel Du$t prove, what makes a hardcore song truly feel like a hardcore song is the swing behind it, the energy that can make anything feel like a mosh part. The ones that don’t? They’re missing the thing that actually makes hardcore songs feel urgent and alive. “What is important about the music we make? What separates it from the rest of the world other than just bad recording and screaming,” asks Justice. “It’s the drums. The drums are so important. Riffing on the drums and treating them like their own unique instrument and not just the tempo to what the rest of us are doing.”

It helped that Fang had been behind the kit for every record up through 2021’s YAK: A Collection Of Truck Songs, though his attention has shifted to Turnstile in the wake of Glow On‘s massive success. While Fang still plays percussion in spots on BRAND NEW SOUL, as does Pat McCrory, who started playing guitar in Angel Du$t before joining Turnstile, the new lineup of Angel Du$t was put together with the express purpose of maintaining the band’s unique energy.

“At the time when Turnstile got really busy, those guys were playing in the band and it was decided that we had to do something different to promote YAK and, specifically, get other people playing the band. Me and Daniel [Fang] — he’s who’s still really involved with the band, he has a lot of input — we discussed what a theoretical Angel Du$t band would be in order for it to be authentic,” Justice says. That new lineup features Daniel Star and Steve Marino on guitar, Zechariah Ghostribe on bass, and Thomas Cantwell on drums, but Fang and McCrory still pop up on select songs on the album. Though this core lineup has been together for roughly two years, they play on BRAND NEW SOUL like they’ve been part of Angel Du$t from the very beginning. There’s a deep understanding of both the band’s material and influences, but also Justice’s newfound role as producer, allowing Angel Du$t members both past and present to seamlessly join together to create a cohesive whole across the record.

“While I say that I wrote the songs and I produced it, it might sound like it’s like my record, but it’s just not the case. Everybody really made it something special and I’m grateful for my team,” Justice says. It’s easy to see why he feels the need to clarify that Angel Du$t is a band and not a solo project. After all, he does have a solo project, the electronic-forward Cold Mega. “Obviously there’s a layer of me in everything that I do but Angel Du$t is collaborative, spiritually. Without some collaborative element, it just wouldn’t be Angel Du$t,” Justice says. There’s truth to that, as each player leaves their own distinct mark across the material, but it’s impossible to listen to BRAND NEW SOUL and not hear elements of every era of Justice’s creative life inside of it.

There are breakdowns here that hit as hard as Trapped Under Ice (“Sippin’ Lysol” is going to get someone knocked out), and there are flashes of the entire Angel Du$t catalog synthesized into nearly every song on BRAND NEW SOUL. In seconds, a song will go from sounding like major label-era Bad Brains — but with better production and actual crossover potential — to elements that hint at what would have happened if Odelay-era Beck decided to make a punk record. Live drums become a swirl of sample-replaced sounds, vocals get run through all manner of effects, and the guitars change from downstroke punk jams to strummy acoustics without a moment’s notice.

It’s a whirlwind 29 minutes, with each of the 13 songs — even the interlude, “Muck Motors” — feeling like a necessary piece to understanding Justice’s creative energy and unending drive to push his bands forward. Collaborators like Mary Jane Dunphe and Citizen’s Mat Kerekes pop up on songs, and the tandem mixing work of Steve Wright and Rob Schnapf — who Justice speaks of with the absolute highest reverence — bring new colors into Angel Du$t’s palette. It’s remarkable how consistent that progression-at-all-costs mindset has been for Justice. All the way back in 2011, he was discussing how he didn’t want to do the same thing twice with Trapped Under Ice, and now, with BRAND NEW SOUL, his goals are even more emphatic.

Ahead of BRAND NEW SOUL‘s announcement, Angel Du$t released two standalone singles, “Very Aggressive” and “Love Slam,” both of which appear on the album proper. Today, they’re also dropping “Space Jam,” a song that lives up to its title. The track rips open at a velocity not seen since Angel Du$t’s earliest days, with Cantwell kicking the music into warp speed while keeping the song’s assorted diversions anchored. The dual guitars from Star and Marino spin out wildly, tossing in mosh-ready riffs and blazing, ’80s crossover-style solos that never relent. At the center is Justice, shifting from chest-beating shouts to borderline falsettos, even letting his vocals get interpreted through vocal effects to better match each moment. It’s a hyperactive, unflinchingly bold step as Angel Du$t return to their original creative goals and distort them in ways that match what they did on their last two albums.

For those worried that the power-pop tendencies are lost on BRAND NEW SOUL, fear not, as tracks like “Don’t Stop” and “Born 2 Run” are among the most hook-laden tracks the band has ever recorded. Imagine YAK‘s “Big Bite” or Pretty Buff‘s “Big Ass Love” interpreted by Justice, a man who now looks and sounds like if the cover of David Bowie’s second album was incredibly jacked, wore gold fronts, and had a Mentally Vexed tattoo on his chest.

“I always wanted to progress and push and try. That’s the fun thing. Playing the mosh part that you know is gonna make people move over and over again in every song gets exhausting. But finding a new way to challenge people, that’s the energy of music,” Justice says. “Nothing stays cool forever because it’s a moment. We’re all existing in a moment and the moment’s always changing. To be an artist, I think you have to change with the times. You have to grow. An artistically conservative mindset, I don’t think will stand up and survive.”

It’s a telling perspective. With this being the first Angel Du$t record since his former bandmates have become the rock band on the tip of everyone’s tongue, no one would look sideways at Justice if he decided to get in on that action. After all, a cursory listen to Trapped Under Ice’s 2017 reunion record Heatwave (another album that people have only recently warmed up to) proves that Justice is one of the few artists capable of coming close to that band’s aura. Just listen to “XL” and tell me Trapped Under Ice didn’t have the Glow On sound down before Turnstile themselves — “Boom, boom, boom” and all. But while others would see this as a chance to capitalize on that sound, that’s just now how Justice operates.

“I’ve been with people creatively where that’s the conversation. It’s like, ‘Well, what do kids like right now? They like this. Let’s do this.’ And I don’t think you can authentically do that,” Justice says. “If you listen to 100 Gecs, it’s very accessible to young people; young people love that shit. But it’s not because they’re trying to do something that young people like, they’re just being themselves, authentically. But they’re doing something that’s theirs. And there’s people now that are imitating that shit. And people, and especially young people, aren’t stupid. They can see the sales pitch, they can see the fucking fake business bullshit attached to that. You just gotta do what you do authentically and that’s what wins. That’s what matters.”

It’s a claim backed up by the choice to cover the Coneheads’ “Waste Of Space” on BRAND NEW SOUL. The short-lived Northwest Indiana band were at the forefront of the wave of punk bands mutating the sounds of Devo into short, fast, otherworldly punk songs. And really, that’s the exact thing that Justice is trying to do with Angel Du$t. Only replace Devo with the totality of ’80s American hardcore. “I do feel musically connected to anything that’s creative and challenging and pushing boundaries,” Justice says. “When I discovered that scene of people and bands, my vibe was like, ‘Oh man, these people do with punk what I want to do with hardcore.’ That’s inspiring to me. Taking it and making it theirs, undeniably theirs, and forever impacting music. I truly am very influenced by the Coneheads.”

Over the course of his career in hardcore, Justice has become the kind of person that so rarely finds a home there anymore. He’s an outsider in all senses — a guy known for heavy hardcore who now artistically resembles the weirdos who used to rail against his earlier bands. “It’s created a desire for me to make people feel welcome, to give a place to people who are different in the ways that I’m different,” Justice says. “I see it a lot in the musical environment, at shows or at home, I meet younger people who I can tell don’t belong in the outside world. People who, for whatever reason it is, they’re as uncomfortable in society as I am. So for me, it’s created a desire to create a bridge for those kind of people.”

There’s no home for Justice other than in his bands, because he’s always willing to chase his muse, no matter what the world wants from him. Thankfully, his only real muse is rock ‘n’ roll. “I think with music, but I speak most specifically about rock and roll cause that’s where I exist and what I understand most, but there’s just no rules with this,” Justice says. “Rock ‘n’ roll is not a lifeless, stagnant genre of music that exists; it’s not defined. It’s very much alive. It’s constantly moving. It’s evolving.”

Whether you love him or laugh at him, Justice is on his own path. Regardless of your knee-jerk reaction to him, his track record proves that you better not doubt him. Because if you do, in a year or two you’ll just be playing catch up. “I’m past the point of worrying about what people think about stuff and just doing my thing and confidently putting it out there,” Justice says. “The reality of the situation is, don’t sleep on it, ’cause it’s gonna be cool in a couple years. Or maybe a couple months, depending on how hard we push.”

If there’s a central theme to BRAND NEW SOUL, it’s stated plainly right in the first lines of the album-opening title track: “Brand new soul/ I’ve been washed clean with the blood of rock and roll.” By now, it’s clear the only thing Justice has ever been loyal to his rock ‘n’ roll. When I ask him what, if anything, he wants people to take away from his music, he pauses, telling me he wants to choose his words carefully. “I think the statement of this record is: Do what you want and allow yourself to submit to rock ‘n’ roll music.”

Submit or don’t; the choice is yours.

01 “Brand New Soul”
02 “Love Slam”
03 “Don’t Stop”
04 “Racecar”
05 “Space Jam”
06 “Born 2 Run”
07 “Muck Motors”
08 “Very Aggressive”
09 “Sippin’ Lysol”
10 “I’m Not Ready”
11 “Fuel For The Fire”
12 “Waste Of Space”
13 “In The Tape Deck”

09/06 Cardiff, UK @ Clwb Ifor Bach *
09/07 Bristol, UK @ Strange Brew *
09/08 Torquay, UK @ Burn It Down Fest *
09/09 Brighton, UK @ Patterns *
09/10 Bedford, UK @ Esquires *
09/12 Huddersfield, UK @ The Parish + *
09/13 Manchester, UK @ Canvas + *
09/14 Glasgow, UK @ Slay + *
09/15 Blackpool, UK @ Bootleg Social + *
09/16 Newcastle, UK @ World Headquarters + *
09/17 Liverpool, UK @ District + *
09/19 Sheffield, UK @ Leadmill + *
09/20 London, UK @ New Cross Inn *
09/21 Tunbridge Wells, UK @ The Forum *
09/22 Norwich, UK @ Waterfront *
09/23 Birmingham, UK @ Asylum *
11/03 Baltimore, MD @ Baltimore Soundstage ^ ~ =
11/04 Cambridge, MA @ Middle East Downstairs ^ ~ =
11/05 Montréal, QC @ Le Foufounes Électriques ^ ~ $
11/07 Toronto, ON @ Lee’s Palace ^ ~ $
11/08 Detroit, MI @ Edgemen Printing ^ ~ $
11/09 Chicago, IL @ Metro ^ # $
11/10 Minneapolis, MN @ Underground Music Venue ^ # $
11/11 Omaha, NE @ The Waiting Room ^ # $
11/13 Denver, CO @ Marquis Theatre ^ # !
11/14 Salt Lake City, UT @ Beehive ^ !
11/15 Boise, ID @ Shrine Ballroom ^ !
11/16 Seattle, WA @ Neumos ^ ! %
11/17 Portland, OR @ Hawthorne Theatre ^ ! %
11/19 Reno, NV @ Holland Project ^ !
11/20 Berkeley, CA @ Cornerstone ^ & !
11/21 Los Angeles, CA @ The Echoplex ^ !
11/22 Anaheim, CA @ Chain Reaction ^ !
11/24 Phoenix, AZ @ Crescent Ballroom ^ &
11/25 Albuquerque, NM @ Launchpad ^ &
11/27 San Antonio, TX @ Paper Tiger ^ & < 11/28 Austin, TX @ The Mohawk ^ & < 11/29 Houston, TX @ Warehouse Live Studio ^ & < 11/30 Fort Worth, TX @ Tulips ^ & >
12/01 Oklahoma City, OK @ Resonant Head ^ & >
12/02 Lawrence, KS @ The Bottleneck ^ ~ >
12/03 St. Louis, MO @ Off Broadway ^ ~ >
12/05 Columbus, OH @ Skully’s ^ ~ >
12/06 Cleveland, OH @ Beachland Ballroom ^ ~ >
12/07 Morgantown, WV @ 123 Pleasant Street ^ ~ >
12/08 Richmond, VA @ The Warehouse ^ ~
12/09 Philadelphia, PA @ Underground Arts ^ – =
12/10 Brooklyn, NY @ Elsewhere Hall ^ – =

* w/ Powerplant
+ w/ TS Warpaint
^ w/ Candy
= w/ Loosey
~ w/ Dazy
$ w/ 9 Million
# w/ Bib
! w/ Mary Jane Dunphe
% w/ TV Star
& w/ Restraining Order
< w/ On Being An Angel > w/ Steve Marino
– w/ Missing Link

BRAND NEW SOUL is out 9/9 on Pop Wig. Pre-order it here.

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