The 10 Best Hardcore Albums Of 2023

The 10 Best Hardcore Albums Of 2023

From a certain perspective, the hardcore band of 2023 was one that hasn’t released any music since 2017. Baltimore bruiser brigade Trapped Under Ice have long loomed enormous over the underground landscape. Turnstile, now the most popular hardcore band that has ever existed, essentially started off as a TUI side project. TUI’s blend of elements — knucklehead swagger, metallic crunch, irrepressible singalong parts, hidden vulnerability — remain hugely influential; their style is all over present-day heavyweights like Pain Of Truth, Speed, and Never Ending Game. When TUI returned at the beginning of 2023, it was an event.

Thus far, the return of Trapped Under Ice has been limited to five live shows. (There will be a sixth next year, when they headline Florida’s FYA Fest.) Most of those shows were spotlight sets at big-deal hardcore fests, and all of them look absolutely insane on video. In July, TUI closed out LA’s massive Sound And Fury fest, and Turnstile frontman Brendan Yates resumed his old post as that band’s drummer. I wasn’t there, but it was life-affirming just to watch that set on YouTube.

The hardcore nostalgia circuit is a real thing, and classic bands like Gorilla Biscuits will always get to play to the kids who never got to see them the first time around. It’s fun, and it’s healthy, but it’s not earthshaking. The Trapped Under Ice revival feels like something else. It feels vital and present — partly because the band’s music still fuels so much of the ongoing hardcore boom and partly because the band’s members are still so active. TUI didn’t release any music this year, but Angel Du$t, Justice Tripp’s other band, came out with Brand New Soul, their sixth LP. It’s not on this list, but it’s awesome.

Since I’m not writing a regular hardcore column this month, let me just say that I saw Angel Du$t play a DIY venue in Richmond last week, and they were a blast. Justice Tripp performed in a cast because he broke his foot earlier in the tour. After the injury, he didn’t cancel any shows. I talked to him after the set, and he said that doctors told him he’d need reconstructive surgery when he got home, but he thinks they were just trying to scare him. Cast and all, he was still jumping off the stage in Richmond. Some people are different.

With Angel Du$t, Justice Tripp makes a lot of music that doesn’t fit most traditional definitions of hardcore. He messes around with acoustic guitars, congas, saxophones, layered harmonies, proggy guitar interplay. I’ve gone back and forth on whether it makes sense to refer to a band like Angel Du$t as “hardcore,” but Tripp cleared that up in a tweet earlier this year: “Everything I have and everything I am is from hardcore music. If you see me playing love songs on an acoustic guitar you just saw hardcore. You don’t get to decide.”

He’s right. I don’t get to decide. Neither do you. Hardcore is a genre of music, and it’s an ethos. More than that, though, it’s a community. Sometimes, that community tightly monitors its borders. But someone like Justice Tripp — someone whose HC credentials are absolutely bulletproof — can go musically bucknuts without worrying whether the results fit anyone’s definition of hardcore.

In 2023, we saw hardcore continuing to thrive, intersecting with different parts of the music world without losing its identity, its status as a community. There’s no next Turnstile, and there never will be, but tons of other bands from that world are doing big, exciting things. Some of them are even challenging conventional notions of what hardcore is.

In putting together this list, I relied on a simple test. If a band used the “hardcore” tag to describe their record on Bandcamp, then that record had a shot at appearing on list. That means that some of the records on this list, including the LP sitting at #1, might fit better into the fabled “hardcore-adjacent” space. It also means that the great 2023 synth-punk records from MSPAINT and Home Front, two bands that I’ve covered in my monthly hardcore column, are not on this list. Those bands don’t call themselves hardcore, and I don’t get to decide.

As always, this list is limited to full-lengths, and hardcore is not necessarily a genre that thrives in album format. It’s live music, and it’s music that often shines brighter on EPs. This year, we got great EPs from Scowl, Dead Heat, One Step Closer, Anklebiter, Scarab, Slant, Wreckage, New World Man, Entry, Private Hell, Staticlone, Power Alone, Ends Of Sanity, and a whole mess of others. You should hear all of them, but they’re not on the list.

The list is also limited to 10 albums, which means plenty of worthy stuff didn’t make the cut. My list is entirely personal, and yours would almost certainly look completely different. But if you like the albums on this list, I’d strongly encourage you to check out recent records from Never Ending Game, Sunami, Magnitude, Diztort, Destiny Bond, Spiritual Cramp, Jesus Piece, Gumm, Brain Tourniquet, Buggin, Enforced, MOVE, Envision, Skourge, and Pest Control, among many others. Hardcore is in a beautiful place right now. Jump in.


Incendiary - Change The Way You Think About Pain (Closed Casket Activities)

Fifteen years after their first 7″, Long Island beasts Incendiary sound even more focused and purposeful than ever. The members of Incendiary are grown-ups with careers and families, and maybe that’s why they’re so angry on Change The Way You Think About Pain: They need to leave a better world behind, and that feels like a more remote possibility every day. Will Putney’s polished metalcore production makes the martial riffs land like stomach-liquefying punches, and Brendan Garrone’s clipped, syncopated bark imagines Zack De La Rocha as a drill sergeant. Prolonged exposure to this record might turn you into a soldier for a more just world.


Initiate - Cerebral Circus (Triple B)

Is a hardcore record allowed to be this catchy? Is that OK? California’s Initiate have excelled at raw, passionate rage since they first appeared on the national radar, and there’s plenty of that on their full-length debut. Crystal Pak screams like she just dropped a wrench on her toe, and the band plays with neck-snap bounce when the spirit moves them. But on their full-length debut, Initiate combine that intensity with soaring arena-emo melodies and theatrical guitar heroics. Cerebral Circus isn’t catchy in the way that a Turnstile record is catchy. Instead, it’s like if End It were magically evolving into My Chemical Romance and we somehow caught a glimpse of them at the exact midway point. It’s weird as fuck, and it’s also great.


Drain - Living Proof (Epitaph)

Drain are ready for figurehead status. This summer, the Santa Cruz band led a revolving lineup of hardcore heavyweights like Drug Church, Magnitude, and Gel on a massive North American tour. Very few other bands could’ve topped that bill, and fewer still could’ve brought the level of insane physicality that turns a package tour into a traveling spectacle. Drain’s second album, their first for historic punk giant Epitaph, displays the reasons that they became so important to hardcore. Living Proof has a couple of crowd-pleasing left turns: A rap interlude here, a Descendents cover there. Mostly, though, Drain bring the giddy big-stage mosh music that moves the masses. Even at their angriest, they sound like they’re having a blast.


Restraining Order - Locked In Time (Triple B)

This World Is Too Much, the 2019 debut from Massachusetts punks Restraining Order, seemed like a beautiful little miracle. Plenty of bands play around with old-school, bare-bones early-’80s hardcore, but one of them finally nailed the anthemic drive and berserker hooks of the best of that stuff. You couldn’t expect Restraining Order to do that again could you? Well, no. Not really. Not entirely, anyway. There are some true Minor Threat/SSD heaters on Locked In Time, but there are also moments where Restraining Order open their sound up to shimmy-shake tambourines, acoustic guitars, and Stone Roses-style psychedelia. That combination should be ridiculous. It is ridiculous. It also rules.


Gel - Only Constant (Convulse)

The most disastrous decision on Only Constant is also the one that gave the album its most enduring soundbite. With their interlude track “Calling Card,” New Jersey’s Gel pause their beautifully scummy 15-minute basement-bounce barrage so that some randos can leave voicemail messages complaining about whatever. It’s deeply annoying, but one of them signs off with this: “Hardcore for fucking freaks. That’s it.” That might as well be Gel’s advertising slogan, and it captures the exhilaration of this grimy scuzz-bomb transforming Gel into festival heroes. Only Constant doesn’t have songs as memorable as most of the other albums on this list, but it’s a total experience — Gel finding transcendent joy in surliness.


Mil-Spec - Marathon

Generally speaking, it’s a bad idea for hardcore bands to make six-minute ambient spoken-word tracks. But “Belle Époque,” the one that appears on Mil-Spec’s Marathon, makes sense with the rest of the album. It’s the story of the Toronto band making the long drive down to Dallas to play Power Trip’s Evil Beat festival and to hang out with frontman Riley Gale. That was the beginning of 2020. A few months later, the world would shut down, and Gale would be dead. Mil-Spec’s fiery, ambitious, melodic sound has always burst with emotion. On Marathon, they turn mournful and reflective. There’s a crushing sadness to many of their songs, but they also bring the kind of ferocious catharsis that helps so many of us deal with crushing sadness.


Zulu - A New Tomorrow (Flatspot)

Zulu aren’t scared of anything. On their debut album, the LA band plays around freely with genre. Within their barrage, they find room for dusty-organic rap, jazzy funk, impassioned spoken word, and Nina Simone and Curtis Mayfield samples. But when it’s time to throw down, Zulu are a total machine — absolute virtuosos at sprinting through rabid punk gurgles and lurching into breakdowns that land like safes dropped from second-story windows. Zulu reclaim hardcore as Black American music, and history agrees with them. (Without Bad Brains, you’re not reading this article.) If that’s all it was, A New Tomorrow would still be a worthy intellectual exercise. But the album is bigger than that. It’s raw and urgent and exciting — a true testament to the expressive power of hardcore music.


Fiddlehead - Death Is Nothing To Us

Among other things, Death Is Nothing To Us is an album about hardcore — about the depression and anhedonia that leads people to the music and the fierce companionship that the related subculture brings people. When you get Justice Tripp to sing on a track called “True Hardcore (II),” that means something. Death Is Nothing To Us isn’t knucklehead mosh-music. Its guitars gush, and its melodies soar, but the record earns its catharsis. Every time Pat Flynn opens up his throat and screams at the heavens, you can feel the weight of his fury and his fear, and you can hear his ride-or-dies converging to support him. If that’s not hardcore, nothing is.


Pain Of Truth - Not Through Blood (DAZE)

Here it is: 27 glorious minutes of proudly unlicensed samples and disrespectful riffs and reckless breakdowns and guys yelling about ripping the souls out of the bodies of their disloyal friends. Long Island’s Pain Of Truth aren’t trying to expand the hardcore vocabulary. Instead, they’ve perfected the fine art of goon music. If you’re in the mood to swing your elbows around in a rhythmic, dangerous manner, then nothing could possibly be better. If you play it loud enough, you can almost taste the blood in your mouth. Pain Of Truth’s full-length debut may or may not be the best hardcore album of 2023, but it is unquestionably the year’s most hardcore album. In its bracing violence, you might find something resembling liberation — the kind of immediate physical danger that can make you feel more alive.


Militarie Gun - Life Under The Gun (Loma Vista)

Ian Shelton started Regional Justice Center because his brother was imprisoned for assault and the only way he could deal with it was to make raw, frantic powerviolence. In 2020, when a pandemic shut down all of RJC’s touring plans, Shelton started Militarie Gun to deal with all that boredom, and Militarie Gun turned him into something resembling a rock star. After Militarie Gun’s many early releases, the joyous alt-rock crunch of Life Under The Gun is not a surprise, but it’s still a total fucking gas.

The album sounds like Agnostic Front trying to become Guided By Voices, or like Sugar if Bob Mould was an actual pro wrestler and not just a former WCW booker. The gorilla-grunt vocals, the serrated guitar tone, and the fizzy bubblegum melodies don’t contradict each other; they work together to make everything hit harder. Ian Shelton’s brother is out of prison now, and maybe it’s a coincidence, but Life Under The Gun finds Shelton sounding like a blast of positivity for the first time in his career. Even when the songs are pissed-off or disillusioned, which is pretty much always, the feeling is ebullient. Anger feels good in a place like this.

We rely on reader subscriptions to deliver articles like the one you’re reading. Become a member and help support independent media!

more from 2023 In Review