Virginia Is for Screamo Lovers
Years after the state became a prolific mecca for hardcore bands, a new generation is now carrying the torch.
Photo via Ostraca's Bandcamp
Summer of Screamo is a month-long, weekly column spotlighting new, recent, and upcoming releases in screamo, emoviolence, and generally offbeat hardcore.
Virginia has long been America’s underappreciated wellspring of punk, hardcore, and metal. Detached from the reach of the tri-state area and often kept in the shadows of the insular DC scene, the state has always paved its own path, creating something wholly unique where there was nothing before. In the 90s, AVAIL traveled the world relentlessly to spread their Southern-blooded version of punk, and put their hometown of Richmond on the map in the process. For almost 20 years, their neighbors Municipal Waste have been the crown jewel of the thrash metal scene. And at the turn of the century, Virginia became a powerhouse for screamo, birthing a collective of bands whose output is unrivaled to this day.
The family tree of Virginia bands had many branches, all rooted by Sterling’s pg.99. And while pg.99 never much cared for the “screamo” tag themselves, they accidentally became the lifeblood of the genre. As their many, many members and associates started other projects, chunks of their sound splintered off into dozens of records. There was the sprawling approach of City of Caterpillar, the blistering destruction of Crestfallen, and the anything-goes folk hybrid of Pygmy Lush. Enemy Soil, Mannequin, and Forensics begat others like Majority Rule, Pig Destroyer, and Waifle—the list goes on and on. This interconnected group of musicians was so expansive, and their influence so ingrained in the area, that it seemed like their stronghold on the local hardcore scene would never dissipate. But there has been a shift in recent years as the old guard has died out and a new generation has taken up the torch.
Alexander Rudenshiold, guitarist of the Fredericksburg band Infant Island had yet to even be born when pg.99 formed in 1997, but he takes inspiration from the area’s history as well as its present state. “Virginia’s screamo scene is full of some of the most supportive, talented, and hardworking people currently active in heavy music,” he says. “It feels surreal to be in this place surrounded by such amazing people—the kindness extended towards anyone in need throughout VA screamo is constantly humbling.”
Mitchie Shue, who helps run the Great Dismal collective and plays in a number of bands, views the scene as being held together less by a congruous hardcore sound and more by its collective values and capacity to enact positive change. “To me the music pales in comparison to the community we are actively working towards creating,” they say. “I believe what makes the VA scene most notable is not just the quantity of cool screamo bands but the community’s capacity to organize and mobilize together for each other and the communities we are a part of. I believe the scene is invested in creating and maintaining platforms for marginalized folks and creating environments that foster collective and individual growth.”
There’s something in the water in Virginia—or more likely the Waffle House coffee—that is fueling a tight-knit community of prolific artists. Here are a few that are leading the charge.
.gif from god
A weird beef seemed to spring up this year between Richmond’s .gif from god and Boston hardcore up-and-comers Vein after the two bands released a split EP together. "Those kids are weird. I don't know where to begin,” Vein’s singer said of them in an interview with Exlaim!. He also called the band “whiny fucking kids.” And while the rivalry doesn’t seem to be at a Born Against/Sick of It All boil just yet, .gif from god clearly come off like the Born Against in the situation. Punk beeves aside, though, their side of the record is devastating. With their all-out, kitchen-sink approach to hardcore, the band sounds like Daughters did way back on their 2003 album, before they morphed into whatever you want to call that new song they released last month. But however you feel about their warped take on metallic hardcore or about their Vein saga, you’ve got to respect the band for being on the right side of the .gif pronunciation debate. Hard G or GTFO.
Listening to Ostraca’s newly released LP, enemy, feels like trying to calm a toddler down. At times, its quieter melodies create the feeling of being lulled into a nap, but when it’s woken up, it’s prone to violent outbursts. The shifts happen quickly and without much warning, and they are jarring. The three-piece has nailed the loud/quiet dynamic, settling into dreamy melodies reminiscent of Mineral before punching the gas and lettin’ ’er rip.
Billy Werner, vocalist of the seminal screamo scorchers Saetia, was once a guest on my podcast [raises eyebrows braggingly to no one in particular]. He mentioned that one of the reasons the band has never reunited, among a number of other solid reasons, is that he doesn’t think he could still sing the way he did at 21. It’s a young person’s game, letting your vocal cords rip with reckless abandon and trying to hit ranges that don’t actually exist. 60659-c picks up where Werner and the genre’s other retired vocalists left off. Featuring members of Ostraca, 60659-c released an LP last year, The Next Part Is a Blur, that is at once both frail and crushing. It kicks off with a 30-second blast of blistering speed and high-pitched vocals and after that, well, the album title is true to its name.
The aforementioned Infant Island (whose screaming faces graced the previous edition of this column) released a promising debut last month. Screamo bands don't typically come out of the gate sounding this cohesive, so this LP could very well serve as a linchpin for modern screamo—Virginia or otherwise.
Truman features Mitchie Shue of Great Dismal (who also plays in .gif from god, Samarra, and This land is now dead.). The band released a three-song EP last year. Each of its tracks feels like it’s building towards a climax that it never really reaches, all while screams and shrieks come from every directions to fill in the gaps.
Samarra’s sound features pretty straightforward post-hardcore singing in the foreground that’s very direct and in-your-face, but it’s backed up by distant, high-pitched yelps that make it sound haunted. It's a weird dynamic. Sometimes it works, sometimes it's off-putting. But maybe that's the point.
Richmond’s Majorel released an LP last year, and with its minimal approach, shakey recording, and desperate screams, it could’ve fit in with Angel Hair, Heroin, or any of the Gravity Records bands that pushed riffy post-hardcore into new directions. The band was also featured on a four-way split that came out this year with Cady, Agak, and Coma Regalia that’s all over the place in terms of style and location, with the bands hailing from the UK and Japan.
FROM THE ARCHIVES
As always, this is the section of the column where I pull an old record out of my collection to recommend for your listening pleasure and wax poetic about “the good old days” and generally sound like I am 95 years old. OK here we go…
Malady - S/T
Since we’re on the subject of Richmond hardcore in this week’s edition, I’ve got to make mention of the absurdly overlooked gem that is Malady. Featuring pg.99 vocalist (one of them, anyway) Chris Taylor and City of Caterpillar’s Jeff Kane, the band did not last long, and their output was limited to their sole LP in 2004. But it is easily among the strongest, most relistenable albums to ever come out of the scene. With its poppier post-hardcore sound, the record was a whole lot catchier than its peers. There was such an insatiable cultural hunger for indie rock at the time of its release that, had they held it together, Malady could’ve usurped At the Drive-In or Rival Schools’ place in the rock landscape. But instead, all that's left is this LP. At least we've got that.