The Spirit of Screamo Is Alive and Well
The emotional sub-mutation of hardcore is more prolific now than it was in the days of Orchid and Jeromes Dream.
Infant Island, photo by Nick Seyler
Summer of Screamo is a month-long, weekly column spotlighting new, recent, and upcoming releases in screamo, emoviolence, and generally offbeat hardcore.
Screamo very easily could’ve died off and become a mere footnote in the history of hardcore. The emotionally earnest subgenre saw its rise and fall in the brief period from the mid 90s to the early 2000s, right before the boom of Myspace and streaming services could spread its reach to a wider audience. Without proper internet documentation, the music had to rely on good old-fashioned physical records to be preserved. The problem was, vinyl pressings were small and distribution was smaller. Most documents of this era fetch a high price on Discogs these days due to their rarity. But while screamo seemed to completely disintegrate after its most notable acts hung up their guitars, the genre has been kept at a simmer over the last decade by a few devoted disciples, and it’s now starting to boil over.
There’s currently an outright glut of new screamo bands cropping up all over the world, and the genre is arguably more active now than it’s ever been. No longer reliant on mailorder distros and touring bands to spread the word by hand, the internet generation has unprecedented access to screamo’s rising acts.
While screamo has long been defined by a handful of benchmark albums—Saetia’s sole LP in 1998, Orchid’s Gatefold LP in 2002, pg. 99’s [feel free to argue over which Document]—all of them pre-date 2005. Screamo’s new class is currently busy mapping out what comes next. These typically younger musicians pay respects to their forebears, albeit semi-ionically at times. They often wink at the genre’s sillier hallmarks, like its completelylowercasesongtitles, its period.heavy.band.names, and its Intro to Design-level of font usage. But self-awareness aside, the spirit of the movement remains the same. The subgenre still exists to buck against the worst and most lunkheaded tendencies that hardcore has to offer, whether it be its chugga-chugga breakdowns, its fashion trend fixations, or its machismo-driven circle pits. Screamo is an outright affront to the modern hardcore scene and all its goofy turns and styles.
Below is a list of bands revitalizing the genre. And before I get nailed to the meme cross in the skr*mz boards on genre technicalities, let me offer the disclaimer that I might expand the malleable “screamo” umbrella to encompass powerviolence, grindcore, emoviolence, and whatever other dumb signifiers get attached to generally unmoshable hardcore. So please, find it in your hearts to have mercy on me if my hyperspecific categorizations of music nerdery don’t precisely align with yours. Thank you.
Producer Jack Shirley is the Rick Rubin of independent rock. Actually, no, because Shirley works on a hundred records a year and Rubin just pulls his Tesla up to Eminem’s studio once a week, listens to a beat with his eyes shut, and drives away without giving any constructive feedback. While Shirley’s done an exceptional job with poppier punk records like Jeff Rosenstock’s critical darling WORRY., he’s really excelled with epic, sprawling hardcore and metal albums by everyone from Loma Prieta to Punch. (He also played in the defunct Comadre, which deserves a listen.) So when he got his hands on Toronto’s Respire, and the demos for their recently released LP Dénouement, he was probably like a kid in a candy store. The album gets whimsical and shoegazey at times, incorporating trumpets, cellos, and a glockenspiel (a fucking glockenspiel!), but these interludes crash head-on into earsplitting screams. In fact, it’s hard to tell if this album as a whole leans more towards its jarring heavier side or its soothing melodies. But either way, one thing is clear: Jack Shirley needs to produce an Envy record.
Yesterday, New Jersey's MASSA NERA teased on Facebook that they'd be dropping new material at 9 AM today. Well, I've been sitting here refreshing my browser like a lunatic since it's currently... [checks wristwatch which I still wear in 2018 for some reason] past 9 AM! WHERE IS THE NEW MATERIAL, MASSA NERA? Anyway, to hold you over, the band dropped an LP last year called Los Pensamientos De una Cara Palida that at times sounded downright sinister, but was punctuated by a vulnerable charm via the cracks in their vocals. [UPDATE: It's a four-way split with Thisismenotthinkingofyou, Yo Sbraito, and EF'IL and it's out now. Wonderful. A screamo miracle.]
Also out today (wow what a timely and vital column this is already turning out to be!): Florida’s Gillian Carter dropped the first song off their forthcoming album, ...This Earth Shaped Tomb. And while its title and album cover might make it look like something by Mastodon, it’s got more in common with the Robotic Empire catalog than it does with the metal behemoths. Immediately after this track, the album goes into a weird classical interlude before returning to a song that feels like getting punched in the back of the head repeatedly. There are a lot of those seismic shifts in sound on the record. And it’s not short, either. It’s 15 tracks long, so pace yourself.
Portrayal of Guilt
Portrayal of Guilt represents the bridge between modern screamo and the scene of yesteryear. This month, the band released a five-inch picture disc (that I will gleefully purchase and never listen to a single time). It was produced by Majority Rule’s Matt Michel, a fact that’s immediate from the start, as his familiar grimey sheen from classics like Emergency Numbers bleeds through. The band has also been readying a highly anticipated LP to be released this fall that is a downright astounding assault of various hardcore styles, from fast-paced screamo to chaotic doom, and everything in between. It might end up being the best hardcore record that comes out this year (although it’ll probably need to take a seat behind that bewildering record by The Armed, who somehow successfully took Genghis Tron’s pioneering electrogrind sound and mixed it with Kurt Ballou’s glossy Converge-like production). Just utterly jaw-dropping. In the meantime, the seven-inch they released last year (also mastered by Jack Shirley) offers all the primer you need on them.
Speaking of Majority Rule, longtime hardcore fans were pleasantly surprised by their recent run of reunion shows with fellow Virginia legends pg.99 (and rumor has it there might be more shows in the works), but fewer noticed that all three members have started a new band with Michel’s partner Maha Shami fronting it called NØ MAN. The band is not as ominous and brooding as Majority Rule tended to be, but instead swings for a faster, punkier sound. It also does something the late 90s/early 2000s screamo was embarrassingly delinquent about: It gives a woman the goddamn microphone.
While we’re on the uncomfortable subject of the glaring diversity shortcomings of screamo’s first wave, this seems like a good place to mention a band proudly bucking against that norm: Soul Glo. The Philly band is turning hardcore on its head and might just be the most exciting band around right now. And while naming a band after a fictional Jheri curl product from an Eddie Murphy movie might make the band seem a bit flippant, they’re anything but. The band was recently on tour when two white Missouri state troopers pulled them over and arrested one of them, they say. Their gofundme quickly raised the bail money and then some. Still rattled by the experience, they dropped a blistering EP two months later called Case Closed by Migos (brilliant SEO strategy, by the way) that packs a lot of brutal but necessary truths into its six songs. “31,” for example, kicks off with the line: “Them white n-ggas you fuck with turn tiki torch real quick.” And then after the song reaches a frenetic breaking point, it stops abruptly and shifts into a hip-hop beat.
On the subject of Philly bands, Supine released a three-song EP a couple weeks ago that creeps up through a low rumble of doom before launching into seven minutes of what the band does best: fast-paced blasts of hardcore punctuated by dueling vocals that make it sound like some otherworldly mashup of Orchid and Yaphet Kotto.
What of Us
Anyone who spent any time at shows in the VFW Halls of New Jersey in the early aughts is probably familiar with Tom Schlatter, since the guitarist played his home state roughly 98 times a week as a member of bands like You & I, The Assistant, and This Ship Will Sink. After all of those acts dissolved, Schlatter started Capacities, who put out a slew of records between 2012 and 2014 that are worth checking out. (There Is No Neutral was my favorite.) Now he’s keeping the fire burning in What of Us. The band has released a handful of split records—one with Hive Mind, and one with Coma Regalia. They put out one this year with Sur L’eau who, despite their French moniker, are actually from Germany. The opening riff gives way to a line about the All Lives Matter crowd being full of shit. And after that it’s all pretty much a blur.
Hundreds of AU
Speaking of Tom Schlatter, he also plays in this band Hundreds of AU. The four-piece released a promising demo last year and followed it up with an impressive debut LP in May.
The Ultimate Screamo Band
Full disclosure: I haven't had much of a chance to listen to this record, but shout-outs to this Québec outfit for cutting to the chase and just naming themselves The Ultimate Screamo Band. They don't have a single song on this record that clocks in at more than 90 seconds and it looks like they searched for "default screamo font" on dafont.com so I'm inclined to agree with their moniker. Not sure if this is parody or a loop in the screamo time-continuum that brings it full-circle. Touché, The Ultimate Screamo Band, touché.
Chicago’s Crowning clearly have a sense of humor about themselves. Case in point: Their Bandcamp page claimed the url crowningpool.bandcamp. They also describe their band’s story on Facebook as “forged in the fires of a thousand posers.” But that cheeky nodding gets burned up the second the needle drops, at which point they’re all business, and their business is brutal chaos. Let the bodies hit the floor, etc.
Frail Body is an appropriate name for this Rockford, Illinois, band since their body of work is rather scant. They’ve only got eight songs to their name on Bandcamp, mostly from a limited-run cassette. But what they have released has an intense sense of urgency that they’ll hopefully apply towards recording more music sometime soon.
“...and its name was Epyon”
I say this with the utmost reverence and self-identification: Screamo fans are a bunch of virgin indoor kids. That said, the band “...and its name was Epyon” released a three-song EP this May that serves as Gundam fan-fic, complete with audio samples and artwork. I still can’t tell whether I should be ashamed of this or whether it’s the logical conclusion of this genre that I love so much. Probably both.
FROM THE ARCHIVES
In this section of the column, I will recommend some older things from my collection in hopes that their value will skyrocket on Discogs so that eventually I can sell my records off and use that as my 401(k).
The Neil Perry side of the Usurp Synapse split
I truly don’t know if there’s a better five-minute distillation of screamo’s glory days than Neil Perry’s side of their split seven-inch with Usurp Synapse in 2000. It’s even better on vinyl [looks at camera while putting sunglasses on: which I own, by the way] because they got rid of the phone call samples when they included these songs on their discography CD. I don’t even know what the Usurp Synapse side sounds like. I’m not sure I’ve ever cared to flip the record over.