Band To Watch: Doubt

Arturo Zarate

Band To Watch: Doubt

Arturo Zarate

Baltimore’s hardcore scene, once the precocious little sibling of the one in DC, has become the spiritual capital of the genre in America. Maybe it’s just that punks will always chase cheaper rents, but the Maryland city just north of Minor Threat’s birthplace has produced a disproportionate number of the 21st century’s essential hardcore bands. The boom that arguably started with the founding of Trapped Under Ice in 2007 has continued unabated ever since, through feminist firebrands War On Women, TUI spinoffs Turnstile and Angel Du$t, and younger upstarts like End It, Jivebomb, and Sinister Feeling. The latest addition to that proud lineage is Doubt, whose first proper EP, Held In Contempt, is announced today alongside the release of “The Hard Way.” Like so many of their scenemates, they’re a band of Baltimore transplants who found themselves intoxicated by the energy of their adopted hometown.

“It’s super small and condensed, but it’s still just as bustling as DC or Philly,” says bassist Pocholo Itona, who moved to Baltimore from New Jersey when they were 18. “There’s that same intense ‘I’ve got to do something. I’ve got to create something.’ I feel like not being from here, I want to wave the Baltimore flag, but I haven’t been here my whole life, so it’s like, ‘What can I do? How can I ingrain myself in the roots of the city, to know that I’m giving as much to it as I can?’ So that I can confidently say, ‘We’re a Baltimore hardcore band,’ and people aren’t gonna call me wack and say, ‘No you’re not, you’re from New Jersey.'”

Doubt began in earnest when Itona, drummer Nijol Benjamin, and vocalist Claire Abila started sizing each other up at the coffee shop where they all worked. (“We all had tattoos and wore band T-shirts, and we were like, ‘Wait a second,'” Itona laughs.) After circling each other at local gigs, the trio decided to put a band together at the end of 2021. It feels fair to say that Baltimore brought Doubt out of them: Itona had played in other bands when they were younger but had stepped away from music to focus to photography. Benjamin, a native of upstate New York, was in other bands, too, but none of them played hardcore, despite it being his preferred genre. For the California-born Abila, Doubt was the realization of a long-held dream.

“I’d had other things in the past, where people would be like, ‘Let’s start a band,'” she says. “And you’re like, ‘Yeah!’ And then nothing would ever come to fruition. With Doubt, we practiced once, and never stopped, basically.”

Rounded out by guitarists Jon Haire and Logan Dorics (who has since exited the band), the newly christened Doubt started chatting about the shared influences that would help them find their sound. Playlists were made and shared between members, full of gnarly NYHC like Combust and Backtrack, indie-friendly acts like Turnstile and Ceremony, and metallic crossover like Power Trip. But it wasn’t until Doubt hit the live circuit that they started to come into their own. Again, Baltimore made its influence felt, making the self-proclaimed queer hardcore punks feel instantly at home onstage.

“The people who come to our shows, the queerdos are in the pit, the big boys are in the pit, the young kids and the older people, where it’s their first show, they feel like they can get in the pit,” Itona gushes.

“I think hardcore has really been shifting and changing over the past five to 10 years, and only continues to,” Abila adds. “I don’t know if, five or 10 years ago, I would have felt comfortable taking up the space I’m taking up right now. But I am grateful that I get to.”

Doubt’s first demo came out in September 2022, a few months after the band’s first show. It’s raw as hell, but the outlines of their scorching, ultra-efficient hardcore assault are clear enough. The demo’s three songs race by in less than five minutes, and the set they played on tour that winter topped out at ten. A split with Philly’s Harm Assist added two songs to the discography the following summer—the Cannibal Corpse nod “Make U Suffer” and a cover of the Rival Mob’s “Mind Over Matter.” There wasn’t a ton of music yet, but the band’s attack was already rounding into terrifying form. By the time they went into Show Me The Body’s CORPUS Studios in New York to record Held In Contempt, they felt like a well-oiled machine.

“When we went in in August [of 2023], it was very practiced,” Itona says. “Everyone knew their parts. Everyone could lock in on their own, not even needing Nijol to be playing behind it. We were very much on it. So then when we were there, it was a lot of trying to do some freaky shit. We had a lot of time for Claire’s vocals, and homing in on different deliveries and stuff, and adding a lot of effects and feedback in places.”

You couldn’t ask for a better introduction to Doubt than Held In Contempt. Don’t let Itona’s promises of “freaky shit” mislead you — this thing is punishingly heavy, stacked wire-to-wire with crunching mid-paced riffs, pounding drums, and Abila’s venomous, raw-nerve vocals. The two re-records from the demo, “Muerde La Acera” and “The Hard Way,” feel about a thousand times more vicious, their rough edges transformed into honed blades. (Yes, that’s a Gel reference, a band that Doubt will likely be compared to endlessly — not entirely unfairly.) The band’s gift for ruthless economy is doubled down on, with six songs elapsing in a tidy nine minutes.

“Personally, as a drummer, I don’t like to play very fast for very long, so it kind of just makes sense to me,” Benjamin says. “I also don’t like going to a show and seeing a hardcore band or a heavier band that plays fast with super long songs, or a super long set. Get in and out. Get in there, say what you need to say, do what you need to do, get off the stage.”

One of the most striking moments on Held In Contempt comes about five seconds into the record. The first voice we hear on the badass, self-mythologizing “Doubt 2” isn’t Abila but Noble Spell, formerly of the short-lived NYHC crew Shawty. “My cemetery family/ Miles of dead me and you/ But I refuse to go out like that,” he barks, his voice somewhere between a staccato hardcore shout and a DMX-gruff rap. I thought it was pretty damn bold for a hardcore band to lead off their debut EP with a guest verse, but Doubt made it sound like the most natural thing in the world.

“My whole thing with hardcore and features, I think it needs to happen more often,” Benjamin says. “I think it needs to not be such a big deal. I also really like rap a lot, and there’s a lot of rap mixtapes and albums that start out with an intro where you’ve got someone talking their shit on the phone, being like, ‘Yo, tell ’em what’s up!’ I just thought it made sense to have Noble first, to break the ice and introduce us.”

“I’ve seen his energy, and how he always goes at a thousand percent,” Abila agrees. “And he’s a really good friend. I was like, ‘If I was gonna do this, who would I want to have up there with me onstage, giving it their all?’ And there was no question. It has to be Noble.”

“In my brain, originally, Noble was calling in from a payphone, talking wild shit,” Benjamin says with a laugh. “The verse works a little bit better than that idea.”

That verse also helps emphasize the familial vibe of Held In Contempt. Noble is an auxiliary member of Show Me The Body, who headlined the third-ever Doubt show, under a highway overpass in Baltimore. (Soul Glo and WiFi Gawd also played. Sick lineup.) The bands stayed tight, and when Show Me The Body’s in-house engineer Aidan Elias asked Doubt if they wanted to record at CORPUS, they considered it a no-brainer.

“It was kind of like summer camp,” Abila says. “We also slept there, because they’ve got a room for artists who are at the studio. So we were sleeping upstairs, then going downstairs every day [to record]. We were all doing everything together. We would eat dinner together. We would go out afterwards for drinks together. We just all spent all this immersed time together. It was a really special experience.”

“Just fucking being in the studio that Show Me The Body practices in, and does a lot of shit in, I was so gassed the whole time just to be there with them,” Itona says. “That was inspiring and made me want to play hard and push myself, for sure.”

The bond between Show Me The Body and Doubt runs a lot deeper than the strictly musical. CORPUS is much more than a recording studio; it’s a grassroots mutual-aid organization that clothes the needy, hosts self-defense workshops, and puts on Palestine benefits. That aligns with Doubt’s view of hardcore as a potentially revolutionary force, a stance they reiterate every time they step onstage as a group of primarily non-white, non-cis punks.

“Last year, when we toured, when I was talking to promoters, I was like, ‘Any band you have that has people of color or queer people in them, let’s play with them,’” Itona says. “I want to see more kids who look like us.”

That tour opened Itona’s eyes to how much more diverse and inclusive the hardcore scenes are getting all over this country. They openly wondered if they were in a bubble in Baltimore after the city so readily embraced the band, and they were relieved and empowered to find out that wasn’t the case. As Doubt grows and continues to play in more places, they won’t be “conquering” America, euphemistically or otherwise — they’ll be building a coalition.

“There’s a power in what you can do by building something so big and rooted in admiration and loyalty for one another, like there is in hardcore,” Itona says. “I feel like there are a lot of movements and revolutions that are built around the same thing. You can’t do anything alone, and you also can’t do anything in one day. I feel like as we’re building Doubt, and as we’re building a network, and a group of people that we can count on and fuck with and believe in, [we know] that at a moment’s notice we can all come together for anything would need to do.”

01 “Doubt 2” (Feat. Noble Spell)
02 “L.V.A.S.”
03 “The Hard Way”
04 “Delusion”
05 “Muerde La Acera”
06 “Forcibly Removed From The Game”

Held In Contempt is out 7/12 on Get Better Records. Pre-order it here.

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