The Monsters Of Melodic Hardcore Roll Through Town

Madison Stern

The Monsters Of Melodic Hardcore Roll Through Town

Madison Stern

They don’t look like emo bands. They don’t act like emo bands, either. I’ve been through I don’t know how many different waves of emo, and I’ve seen a lot of different ways that emo bands can comport themselves on stage, but none of them were quite like this. There’s a certain pugilistic swagger that only a hardcore band can bring. Through most waves of emo, even when we’re talking about Fall Out Boy or whatever, the musicians often come from hardcore. But they never bring that pugilistic swagger over with them — or if they do, I’ve just never seen it. But when Koyo, One Step Closer, and Anxious came to Richmond, all three bands were ready to throw down, even though their music mostly demanded a different kind of reaction.

Context matters. Koyo, One Step Closer, and Anxious are hardcore bands because they come from hardcore, even if the music that they make generally leans hard toward pop-punk harmonies and heart-on-sleeve sentiment. The three bands all started around the same time in different parts of the Northeast, and a couple of One Step Closer members used to play in Anxious. The groups all got going in the moment just before the pandemic, and they often shared bills early on. They’ve got similar influences and aesthetics. All three released early music on Triple B, probably the most important hardcore label of the moment, before moving on to bigger and more professional indies. These days, each band has one album apiece, and they’ve all built up audience — or, more likely, they’ve all plugged in with the same audience. Often enough, all three of them get booked as token not-that-hard bands at hardcore festivals. (They’re all playing this weekend’s LDB Fest in Louisville.) Now, they’ve made the connection official.

A triple headliner tour is a funny concept, since someone has to play last. But with this tour, the three bands really are about equal. On Spotify, they’ve got roughly the same number of listeners. The bands are still maturing into fully professionalized touring machines, often opening for bigger emo or metalcore bands — Silverstein, Movements, Oso Oso. On those tours, the three bands serve the same function. They make fun, bouncy, energetic, accessible music that still has a direct connection to the hardcore underground. Koyo singer Joey Chiaramonte pretty much said as much from the stage: “We’re all kinda doing the same thing at the same time on the same level.” None of them wanted to take another support slot on another tour, so the three bands just banded together.

It’s truly fun to hear someone yelling all the standard open-this-pit up exhortations before launching into something that sounds like one of the sadder Blink-182 songs. “We’re a band called Anxious,” says Grady Allen, and it’s kind of funny that he has to phrase it like that. If Allen introduced the band in the regular way, it would sound like: “We’re anxious.” And I’d be like: “Yeah, me too. Isn’t everyone?” But Anxious don’t seem anxious when they’re playing. They’re focused and locked-in, and Allen really knows how to strut across a stage. This was the second night of a long tour, and Anxious were ready to go.

Anxious took the stage after openers Life’s Question, the only real straight-up hardcore band on the bill, and even they are getting more melodic these days. (Right now, the second half of the tour is already underway. The Life’s Question stint is over, and California’s Stateside, who fit much more comfortably into the other bands’ emo-adjacent lane, have taken that spot.) I only caught the end of Life’s Question, and they sounded as tough as ever. But Anxious were the band who set the tone for the evening. The show happened at the Canal Club, a Richmond venue that almost always feels half-empty. The crowd was young, and it was totally energized. Grady Allen seemed offended that anyone would be on the sides of the room, doing anything other than dancing, and he made it his mission to get people moving. Kids mobbed the stage, jumping and stagediving and never settling into the hard-mosh horseshoe formation that bedevils so many shows.

It made me so tired. I can’t explain it. Maybe I’d had a long week, or maybe that’s just what happens when you’re the oldest person in the room. Maybe I made a mistake by smoking a joint outside a profoundly non-stoner show. Anxious are a good band. They sound tight and crispy, and their backing vocals are so polished that they almost don’t sound real in person. They play with verve and excitement, and they get the kids around them to respond in kind. But they didn’t give me the apocalyptic fuck-shit-up feeling that I get from the hardcore bands that I love. When they were done, I was so worn-out that I couldn’t even hang out with my friends at the show. I had to just find a seat and recuperate.

One Step Closer are a hardcore band that I love, one that I’ve seen a bunch of times. Of the three headliners, OSC are my favorite, and their sound is easily the most traditionally hard. It draws more from prototypical melodic hardcore bands like Turning Point than from the ’00s pop-punk and MySpace emo that clearly inspired both Anxious and Koyo. But One Step Closer don’t project toughness, the way their tourmates do. The day before the Richmond show, OSC dropped “Leap Years,” their most radio-friendly song yet, and they talked about how they couldn’t wait to come back to town to play more of the songs from their forthcoming album. (Hardcore bands almost never play unreleased tracks live. They want you to jump around and sing along, and they know you can’t do that if you don’t know the words.) But OSC’s set hits hardest when it goes back to fiery, dramatic ragers like “The Reach” and “Lead To Grey.”

The first time I saw One Step Closer, they were touring down to the FYA Fest in 2020, jumping on a DIY-venue bill with Integrity and Fuming Mouth. They were just kids. Since then, they’ve become a completely different band. Their confidence has grown in ways that are almost baffling. They’re not just happy to be here anymore. But the earnest determination behind their anthems remains. One Step Closer have the rare ability to sound vulnerable while making music that makes me feel like I could punt a Kia Sonata at least 60 yards. At that Richmond show, the breakdown on “The Reach” still gave me that blood-smeared-barbarian feeling. I hope their new music still has that.

Musically, Koyo might be the most outwardly sweet band on the bill. They’ll openly talk about how they wanted to pay homage to past generations of Long Island hardcore and emo, and they’ll even namecheck a band like Taking Back Sunday as an influence. They’ve got the singers from Glassjaw and the Movielife on their album. But everyone in Koyo is a heavy hardcore veteran, and most of them are big guys. Joey Chiaramonte used to be in Typecaste, and how he leads the knucklehead side project Blood Runs Cold. He’s probably about the same age as the singers of Anxious and One Step Closer, but he looks like he’s way more likely benchpress something extremely large. And when Koyo play live, they get people windmilling.

The records don’t sound that hard. Maybe that’s by design. On their LP Would You Miss It?, Koyo fully embrace the bright, shiny sound of the bands who used to play the Bamboozle Festival. In person, though, I started to notice that their songs have actual breakdowns. The melodies are still there, but they also bring a level of physicality that can be downright inspiring. Kids stagedive and crowdsurf all through Koyo’s set, and the band shows flashes of the heaviness that they bring to their other projects.

The three bands on that triple-headliner tour are all going places. Lately, I’m seeing this weird phenomenon where giant nĂ¼ metal fests, the ones that book Slipknot and Korn as headliners, are filling out the bottom lines of their posters with the biggest and most professional hardcore bands out there — Drain and Militarie Gun and the Chisel and Fleshwater and Gel, all hanging out together at the far-flung Sonic Temple stages in the middle of the afternoon. I would love to know what that’s like, whether those bands are able to generate any kind of reaction from Disturbed fans. Is that fun for the bands? I hope it’s fun. Koyo, One Step Closer, and Anxious don’t currently have plans to join that rotation, but it seems like that path is open to them. I wonder if they’ll take it.

Canal Irreal – “Watch Me Burn”

I’ve written dozens these columns, and I’m still not sure how to qualify what counts as hardcore and what doesn’t. In lots of ways, Chicago’s Canal Irreal are a tough, angular, propulsive post-punk band. But they scan as hardcore to me because they’ve got someone up front just screaming. More specifically, the guy up from screaming is motherfucking Martin Sorrondeguy, from Los Crudos and Limp Wrist. Something about the grain of that voice makes everything he sings on into hardcore. He could be making late-’90s Max Martin boy-band music, and it would still sound like hardcore to me. Also, I would probably be really into it, just as I’m really into this. [From Someone Else’s Dance, out now on Beach Impediment Records.]

Collateral – “We Still Know”

There are so many different things that you can do with hardcore. You can play around with different genres. You can go faster or heavier or freakier or more experimental. But there’s still a particular kind of magic in deciding that you don’t want to do anything fancy, that you’re just going to rip a fastball down the middle of the plate. South Florida’s Collateral are a new band, and they’ve got people who have already made a mark in groups like Be All End All and Result Of Choice. They’ve apparently collectively decided to pretend that it’s still 1987, and that fucking rules. A song like “We Still Know” can last for less than 90 seconds and still make you feel like Godzilla stomping through Tokyo. What a gift. [From We Still Know EP, out now on Fortress Records.]

Conservative Military Image – “Guilty Until Compliant”

Just as the Koyo/One Step Closer/Anxious tour united all the biggest emo-flavored, melody-heavy hardcore bands under one roof, another upcoming tour promises to do the same thing for the recent wave of oi. When the Chisel tour the US this spring, they’re bringing Home Front and Conservative Military Image with them, and those shows are going to be some shit. Conservative Military Image have that old-school skinhead stomp and that tough-to-define catchiness working for them, but they also play fast as fuck and throw in mosh-part breakdowns. Like the best oi songs, “Guilty Until Compliant” is equal parts fun and threatening, and it makes me want to break bottles over my own head. [Standalone single, out now on Triple B Records.

Dollhouse – “I Hate You Don’t Leave Me”

This is that real New York freak-punk, that pet-rat-on-a-leash, dirty-mattress-on-the-warehouse-floor music. I don’t know who’s in Dollhouse or what they look like, but I would prefer to imagine that they’re the type of people who you see when you’re out at three in the morning — twitching, yelling to themselves, making people uneasy enough to scurry into different subway cars. So how are they this catchy? How does this song sound like one of those proto-punk glam-rock anthems that crushed the UK charts in the mid-’70s? This combination of hooks and grime feels downright dangerous. Anything could happen with this. [From I Hate You Don’t Leave Me EP, out now on Toxic State Records.]

Dynamite – “Dynamite Stomp”

I love it when hardcore bands yell their own name. I love it when they have theme songs — just a track named after the band, one that tells you everything that you need to know about this group of people. Mission-statement songs? Give me that shit. It’s my favorite. To have a song that’s just your band’s name with “stomp” after it? Like you’re inventing a new dance move? That’s the shit I like. Dynamite come from London, and they make old-school youth crew singalong music in the simplest and most direct way. In every drop of blood, they will bleed hardcore. It occurs to me that stomping dynamite is probably a bad idea, but that just makes me like this even more. [From Blow The Bloody Doors Off! EP, out now on Quality Control HQ/Northern Unrest.]

Excide – “Dis(re)member”

In the post-Nirvana gold rush of the ’90s, a few straight-up hardcore bands found themselves major-label contracts. Sick Of It All were on East West. CIV were on Lava. I’m sure there were others that I can’t remember. None of them became stars, but they were going for it. With this single, the Carolina band Excide propose a fascinating hypothetical: What if Snapcase jumped ship from Victory to, say, DGC? What if they tried to make an Alice In Chains record? (Now that I think of it, it sounds like I’m describing Life Of Agony, and there’s some of that in this Excide joint, but that’s not really what I’m going for here.) The answer is: That would be pretty fucking cool. [From Humdinger two-song single, out now on SharpTone Records.]

Knocked Loose – “Blinding Faith”

They didn’t have to go this hard. I mean this in the most literal sense. Knocked Loose are a titanically popular band. They have more Spotify listeners than Turnstile. They could make a radio record if they wanted. Instead, for the lead single of their first proper album in five years, Knocked Loose have made some of the ugliest fuck-shit-up music that I can imagine a band of their size making. “Blinding Faith” goes pit-to-pit, with mutiple breakdowns that could transform mobs of teenagers into mouth-foaming packs of human dobermans and hasten the total collapse of an already-moldering society. Let’s hope. [From You Won’t Go Before You’re Supposed To, out 5/10 on Pure Noise Records.]

Public Acid – “Ignorance”

Public Acid’s new album is a thing of vile, corrosive beauty, and I could’ve honestly picked any song. You don’t really think of Public Acid in terms of songs anyway. You don’t go to a Public Acid show like “man, I hope they play this song.” You go like “man, I am about to see some crazy shit.” The live experience will always annihilate the on-record one, but the new album still feels like a 14-minute dip in a swimming pool that has broken glass and dirty hypodermic needles instead of water. I simply selected the longest track because it’ll give you more of a chance to let that gutter-scuzz stink sink in. [From Deadly Struggle, out now on Beach Impediment Records.]

Sinister Feeling – “Poisoned Mind”

Sometimes, powerviolence can sound like hardcore’s weird, obnoxiously arty cousin. Sometimes, it can sound like grindcore that’s being played by people who smell even worse than the typical grindcore musician. Sometimes, the abrasiveness can feel intentionally off-putting the same way electronic noise can sound intentionally off-putting. But that’s not what I get from Baltimore’s Sinister Feeling. Instead, Sinister Feeling give off the sense that their songs are so short because they would otherwise cause too much violence. “Poisoned Mind” lasts for all of 24 seconds, but if you’ve ever been in a physical altercation, you know that 24 seconds is plenty. You can get your shit rocked in 24 seconds, and Sinister Feeling are here to rock your shit. [From Sinister Feeling, out now on Delayed Gratification Records.]

Wild Side – “Hardcore Music Machine”

I’ll be honest: I thought Wild Side were done. They were fun as hell, bouncy and mean and fired-up, when I saw them in 2020, and they seemed like they were ready to take on the world. But then the pandemic happened, and they went dormant. Now, they’re back with their first song in five years, and it’s got an intro that sounds like “Welcome To The Jungle.” Can you imagine how much confidence it must take to even attempt some shit like that, let alone pull it off? I couldn’t tell you what “Hardcore Music Machine” is about, but it sounds like that weird late-’80s moment when some hardcore bands were flirting with the idea of going full-on hair-metal without actually abandoning their old gang-chant fight-music style. I love it. [Standalone single, out now on Triple B Records.

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