What Records Best Capture the Last Decade of Hardcore?
An unofficial guide to newish hardcore for stubborn old fans.
Gouge Away. Photo: Spencer Chamberlain
Summer of Screamo is a month-long, weekly column spotlighting new, recent, and upcoming releases in screamo, emoviolence, and generally offbeat hardcore.
Each week this month, I’ve used this column to recommend recent and worthwhile releases in the amorphous realm of screamo, grind, and oddball hardcore, and, to my genuine surprise, there has been an audience for such a thing. If I had to guess, I’d estimate that the readership for this column breaks down thusly:
- 30 PERCENT: Cool skramz teens who come to dunk on me for not covering every single demo ever recorded.
- 40 PERCENT: Bands who want to be featured but don’t actually read it. (Please stop sending me your psych-folk Soundcloud links.)
- 29 PERCENT: Older hardcore fans who are genuinely interested in finding new music but are limited in time by the demands of day jobs.
- 1 PERCENT: My mom, who reads it so she can tell me at Thanksgiving that she doesn’t understand what I do for a living and that I should have been a notary public.
So I’m dedicating this week’s edition to that 29 percent—those whose record collections stop around 2008. Those who fell off shortly after Level-Plane folded. Those who got too busy with “work” or “starting a family” or “the weight of the world crushing their spirit until the simple pleasures derived from absorbing art no longer felt meaningful.” Life has gotten in the way and put you in a music coma for the last decade. It happens! Let’s get you caught up.
As mentioned, there’s been a rapid and prolific evolution in the world of screamo lately. A new generation has discovered the seminal records of the late 90s and has made the genre their own, particularly in the old Virginia stomping grounds of screamo’s pioneers. New scenes and collectives have been cropping up all over the world, particularly in Sweden, Canada, and France. And in screamo-adjacent genres, new bands continue to push boundaries in all directions.
Consolidating a decade’s worth of releases is a daunting task, as is trying to pinpoint those that define hardcore’s new canon. In any case, here is an incomplete, unofficial, just-one-jagoff’s-opinion list of essential, non-tough guy hardcore records released over the last few years.
Like a drugdealer trying to rope you in with the stuff you’re already hooked on, here are a few bands that have either come back from the dead, have endured for a long time, or feature ex-members of familiar retired bands.
First off, Jeromes Dream is back. The screamo veterans went the crowdfunding route to cover the costs of recording a new record at God City Studios with Kurt Ballou (their first new material in almost 20 years). Are people interested in such a thing in 2018? Well, 388 backers were willing to shell out an average of $51 to hear it, so... yes?
Ritual Mess - Vile Art (2014)
You’re in your 30s, your white belt no longer restrains your increasingly doughy center, and you miss Orchid. I feel you. But hey, listen: Shut up for a second. Orchid is gone. They’re not coming back. A bunch of the members teamed up as Ritual Mess, though, and released this staggering LP a few years back. Instead of shelling out an exorbitant amount of money on Discogs to get the 20th color variant of the Dance Tonight! ten-inch, do yourself a favor and buy this instead.
Envy - Atheist’s Cornea (2015)
Envy. Just. Keeps. Going. The Japanese powerhouse hit their stride around their 2001 LP, All The Footprints You've Ever Left And The Fear Expecting Ahead. It was the kind of record that made you think, “Well, this is groundbreaking, but there’s no way they can possibly sustain this pace forever.” Except that they have. Their most recent effort, 2015’s Atheist’s Cornea, showcased some of the strongest songs in their catalog. Envy don’t seem to slow down with age or lessen in sonic intensity. True giants in their field.
Failures - Decline and Fall (2014)
In case you’ve not followed the musical trajectory of Mark McCoy since the end of Charles Bronson, he’s been responsible for the release of dozens of truly unparalleled hardcore records through his label Youth Attack. On top of that, the inimitable originator just keeps starting new projects and letting others die as they hit their expiration date—Das Oath, Suburbanite, and the burgeoning Life Support, to name a few. With Failures, he released two LPs, with the second slightly edging out the first. At 14 minutes, it can breeze past you without much notice, but pay close attention and you’ll find a rich tapestry of hardcore intricacies. It’s the painstaking attention paid to the tiniest details that make McCoy’s work peerless.
Horsewhip - S/T (2018)
What have the members of grind greats CombatWoundedVeteran and Reversal of Man been up to? Well, some of them are about to release a trashy punk album under the name Horsewhip. These members of course do not include the infamous Steak Mtn., who wouldn’t touch an instrument if it were a fire extinguisher and he was engulfed in flames. (He did write a horror novel recently, though. He also designed a book I co-authored if you’re into punk memoirs and shameless self-promotion.) While there have been a few post-CWV/ROM projects (Meatwound, Holy Mountain), Horsehip best captures the bratty, obnoxious spirit that fans were initially so annoyed by.
die Huffnung - Elegies and Creation Songs (2017)
The Marburger brothers, who previously played in the seminal I Hate Myself, formed die Huffnung with guitarist Travis Fristoe, who tragically took his own life before the release of this album. It’s an incredibly sad story, but what they left behind was something special.
United Nations - The Next Four Years (2014)
While the future of United Nations is sort of questionable at the moment, they’ve built an impressive catalog of blistering hardcore considering all the cease-and-desists they’ve been issued. While purists might tout their debut seven-inch as the must-have, their 2014 LP was the most fully realized version of their sound.
Head Wound City - A New Wave of Violence (2016)
Looking back, it’s a true testament to the boom of mid-2000s indie rock that there was a place in its rapid expanse for both The Blood Brothers and The Locust. Hardcore is mostly back on the fringes now, but there’s still room for Head Wound City. Featuring Jordan Blilie and Justin Pearson, the band’s long-awaited 2016 LP carries lots of elements familiar to those who grew up on their respective brands of weirdo screechcore.
These are some essential (and personal favorite) benchmark records that paint a decent picture of the last few years of non-basketball jersey hardcore.
State Faults - Resonate/Desperate (2013)
A few years ago I heard Resonate/Desperate, an anxiety attack committed to tape by the Bay Area’s up-and-coming State Faults. In what ended up being his first interview ever, I talked to singer/guitarist Jonny Andrews and asked what the band’s influences were. Naturally, he cited local, established torchbearers like Loma Prieta and Comadre. Which leads me to....
Loma Prieta - Life/Less (2010)
Loma Prieta has been rightly praised for their two Deathwish-released LPs, 2012’s I.V. and 2015’s Self Portrait, but there’s nothing like their 2010 album, Life/Less. It’s a full-on, distortion-heavy assault of powerviolence—as disorienting as falling down a flight of stairs.
Comadre - S/T (2013)
Gone but in no way forgotten, the influential screamo band left behind a smattering of LPs, splits, and mixtapes in their eightish years together. Much of it sounded like it took influence from the Gravity Records scene with its brash, snotty delivery. Their final, self-titled album is a good place to start, and then work backwards from there.
Jungbluth - Part Ache (2013)
This German three-piece disbanded in October and left behind a relatively small but beloved catalog of noisy, ardently anti-fascist hardcore. They really let it rip on their 2013 LP, Part Ache, as the vocal styles oscillate between guttural growls and scratchy shrieks.
Touché Amoré - ...To the Beat of a Dead Horse (2009)
Since Touché Amoré have become the poster boys for impassioned hardcore over the last decade, it almost seems too obvious to even include them on a list like this. But in the recent evolution of hardcore, the band is an essential linchpin. And while Touché continue to push themselves as songwriters and set the benchmarks higher and higher for their peers, their debut LP was the one that started it all, taking the sounds of the bands the members grew up on and thrusting them into the modern age.
Gouge Away - , Dies (2016)
Speaking of Touché Amoré, Gouge Away is a favorite of its noted screamo historian frontman Jeremy Bolm. (See his underrated hardcore recommendations here.) Bolm helped produce the band’s forthcoming Burnt Sugar LP, which will unquestionably net the band a much wider audience, but in the meantime, their 2016 release, , dies, serves as a good introduction to their fast, manic style of antisocial punk.
Punch - PUSH/PULL (2010)
It’s hard to pick an entry point into Punch’s catalog. The San Francisco band turned out a lot of solid material before calling it a day in 2014, including a split with the aforementioned Loma Prieta, with whom they shared members. So I’m just sort of flipping a coin here on their full-lengths, but their 2010 album Push/Pull arguably does the best job of capturing their chaotic live sound to tape. (Vocalist Meghan O’Neil also went on to front Super Unison, who have a Steve Albini-produced album coming out this fall.)
Lord Snow - Solitude (2013)
The cover of Lord Snow’s 2013 album, Solitude, has always reminded me of Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde, strangely enough. While the iconic photo of Dylan is out of focus and blurry, it was a good representation of the transitional point in his career. Similarly, Solitude’s blurry cover is a fitting representation of the album's deliberate sonic imperfections. The vocals are often muffled, instruments drown out others at times, and it’s full of jarring starts and stops. A perfect mess, really.
I Hate Sex - World of Grief (2017)
Edmonton’s I Hate Sex called it quits this summer but left a mark on the Canadian scene. They went through a number of lineup changes but always featured vocalist Nicole Boychuk, whose impassioned, at times desperate sounding, delivery anchored their sound.
La Bella - Ides (2016)
Los Angeles’ La Bella hasn’t been heard from very much over the last year, but the aftershock of their 2016 album Ides is still reverberating.
Once in a while, a record comes along that sound ions ahead of its time, like it was sent back from the future through some continuum portal to destroy our unworthy ears. Here are a few recent releases that are moving hardcore forward at ludicrous speed.
HIRS - Friends. Lovers. Favorites. (2018)
More exciting than the gradual sonic progress hardcore has made in recent years is its rapid social progress. At the forefront is the trans/queer collective HIRS and their first proper album, Friends. Lovers. Favorites. Released earlier this year, the LP is a truly ambitious project, one that wrangled contributions from a number of guests (Shirley Manson, Laura Jane Grace, Alice Bag), and it could have easily been a disastrous mess. And maybe it is. It’s a cannon-blast of organized chaos barely held together by a single thread. While mixing a ton of styles together, it sounds like it could collapse under the weight of its own ambition at any second, but never fully does.
Respire - Dénouement (2018)
Respire’s Dénouement and Ostraca’s enemy were released just weeks apart this year and are both paving the way for screamo’s evolution. Dénoument in particular, with its stretches of sprawling ambience stuffed between violent blasts that resemble black metal constructions, will serve to inspire a new generation of kids who want to let off a primal scream in the artsiest manner possible.
The Armed - Only Love (2018)
I’ve sung the praises of this record at any chance I’ve gotten, but it’s like a Rubik’s Cube—the harder I struggle to wrap my head around it, the more confused I am. It’s been likened to an inverted pop record, and that sounds appropriate, though I’m not quite sure what it means. Just read this.
Dan Ozzi is on Twitter and would love to hear about your opinions on hardcore. He literally can't think of anything he'd rather do.