With My Friends International Vol. 1
Posted: by The Editor
Welcome to the first edition of With My Friends International, a monthly recap of the best new punk, hardcore, and metal from Asia. This column was birthed out of my other column, Friendship International, as I slowly realized I simply could not cover the amount of excellent new hardcore and metal I was hearing, and it felt increasingly squeezed out. I’ll say it up front: the world’s best heavy music scenes are happening in places like Indonesia, Malaysia, and Japan, and at a time when U.S. hardcore feels dangerously close to stagnating, I want to shine a light on the deserving bands overseas who are taking the heavy subgenres to ever more exciting places.
The conversation about international hardcore too often centers around Europe: Norwegian metal, Swedish d-beat, French screamo, etc. Bands that popularized a certain sound became emblematic of the style in The Discourse. Thousands of identical forum threads helped solidify this overwhelmingly white canon of hardcore, despite the foundational contributions of Black punk and hardcore in America, not to mention the bands in Asia and elsewhere who are frequently derided for “imitating” Western bands. My goal here is simple: to demonstrate exactly how bullshit that is.
Vol. 1 will be a little longer than normal, as I’m trying to cram in all my favorite releases from 2020. Next month will be a more concise wrap-up and a dive into the benefit and protest compilation albums coming out of every country in Asia right now. But for now, as my guitarist father always says: Crank it up and rip the knob off.
Split – 5/22/20
In many ways, the Japanese hardcore scene feels years ahead of everywhere else. Metal in Japan has evolved beyond the Norwegian influences, becoming increasingly experimental and avant garde, while tough guy moshcore has experienced an improbably fruitful resurgence. Screamo and skramz, however, is where the gap between Japan and the rest of the world is the most evident. Envy’s long shadow hung over Japanese screamo for a long time, but less in terms of the sound of Japanese skramz than the discourse. It became the easiest reference point for spectators outside of Japan, and countless excellent bands got lumped together unfairly as Envy acolytes.
Both Zeami and Gensenkan call their music emoviolence, with Gensenkan leaning more heavily on the emo and Zeami more on the violence. Gensenkan has riffs on “Blur” that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Mineral record, and even at their most chaotic, the songs are saturated with a bleary desperation. Zeami riffs with choppy urgency, and their side of the split is all crisp transitions and abrupt stop-start dynamics.
The split is available as a digital download right now, and I haven’t seen any signs of plans for a physical release, but hopefully a label scoops this up for distribution soon: this is a record I want to own. A great entry point in Japanese scramz beyond the basics.
Regrets Are Killing Me (Sapporo)
S/T (Remaster) – 7/13/20
Another one of Japan’s lesser known screamo acts, Regrets Are Killing Me recently had their 2018 EP remastered and released for digital download for the first time by Slow Down Records from Norway, who seem hell bent on remastering every Asian emo/screamo release they can get their hands on. Plenty of emo in the screamo here, and I dig it.
sans visage (Tokyo)
Split with Look At Moment – 6/1/20
sans visage’s screamo is measured and skillful, structured around carefully building and releasing tension without the frantic explosions of their more skramz inclined peers. Their side of this split finds exploring the downtempo corners of screamo structures as invigoratingly as they when they cut loose.
Strange attractor – 7/2/20
Depressive black metal/blackgaze with atmospheric post-rock elements. Towering, foreboding, and ultimately very pretty.
Tari Pemusnah Kuasa – 5/1/20
Pitchfork staff writer Arielle Gordon put me on to this, and I’m eternally grateful because it’s easily one of the best things I’ve heard this year. Sial’s searing punk is delivered in Malay, a language essential to the band’s music. From the band: “SIAL has always been using strong malay metaphors and proverbs in their lyrics, and more in this release to stress how important the Malay language is to them in expressing a structure that is broken in this modern capitalistic world. ‘Tari Pemusnah Kuasa’, which translates to ‘The Revolt Dance’ or ‘ Dance of The Power Crusher’, delivers a sense of mysticism and empowerment.”
Don’t sleep on this: it’s undoubtedly one we’ll be talking about when best of the year lists start getting put together.
The Segregation Will End – 4/17/20
Another highlight of the year for me from Singapore. Fuse is an all-female hardcore band that describes their sound as “punked up hardcore, hard but not like those tough guy hardcore bands.” The resulting sound has some distant echoes of DC hardcore, but their sound is their own: heavy, vital hardcore that doesn’t detour to mosh or thrash, barreling ahead with single-minded purpose.
Buried in Dirt – 7/25/20
Garapal’s fastcore/powerviolence touches on the political (“Alt Right,” “Privileges By Hereditary Nostalgia”) and the philosophical (“Illusory Truth Effect”) with equal amounts of furious brutality. Only the last song clears a minute, the rest hurtling by in a howling rush.
4 Singles – 7/7/20
The 90s hardcore legends are getting the band back together. Made up of members Rectify, Retribution, Tools of Society, Bind and Stompin’ Ground, the four new songs Shortfuse put on their Bandcamp have big Sick of It All energy, seasoned by years of experience.
FLUSH!! – Seoul
Put It All Back – 7/16/20
I want to be clear: my love for youth crew knows no bounds. FLUSH!! plays an especially energetic brand of youth crew, alternately stomping and bouncing. It’s fun, a little less self-serious than the genre tends to be, refreshing in the way the genre deeply needs.
Gardo (Cebu City)
Release – 6/12/20
U.S. hardcore was quick to distance itself from beatdown, the kind of gym-shorts-moshcore that birthed pits full of synchronized two stepping and ill-advised spin kicks. It became emblematic of Tough Guy Hardcore and the a bro culture that seemed at odds with the genre’s punk roots. Now, Japan is the undisputed center of beatdown, with bands like Tokyo’s Loyal to the Grave proving that there’s still life in the genre. If there is any other place on earth that can make a claim for the beatdown crown, however, it’s Cebu City.
The city’s musical identity has taken on many forms in the last 20 years–Cebu City is regarded as the birthplace of Brisrock (Bisaya rock), a term coined by Cebuano writer Januar E. Yap in 2002 when writing about the band Missing Filemon. It refers to Pinoy alternative music sung in the Cebuano language rather than Tagalog or English, and encompasses a melange of rock, ska, and reggae. Bisrock faded in popularity by the late Aughts: Missing Filemon distanced themselves from the term, and less radio-friendly alternative music became the dominant subcultures.
Cebu City is currently populated by a host of punk bands, dreamy indie, and damn beatdown. You’re more likely to hear English and some Tagalog than Cebuano, but Cebu City’s hardcore has a personality and an identity all its own. Elsewhere in the Philippines, the hardcore scene is dominated by straight edge and youth crew, spearheaded by labels like xThinkpositivex Records in Pagbilao. Gardo’s debut full length, Release, is a great entry point: thick chugging guitars and bellowed fury in the vein of Terror, Next Step Up, or Grimlock.
Thought (Cebu City)
3 Songs – 5/17/20
Another luminary in the Cebu City scene, Thought play fast, open-hearted hardcore that recalls Have Heart and Bane. The band describes themselves as “Four regular guys and a gal with day jobs” who play hardcore on the weekends, but they don’t sound like dabblers. Their new three song EP is driving and triumphant, equally appealing for True Heads and amazingcore fans.
dolorosa – 12/31/19
dolorosa’s self-title full length technically came out in 2019, but it was so close, and I can’t in good conscience write about heavy music in the Philippines and not include dolorosa. The 8 songs, each simply titled with a sequential Roman numeral, are high-order, sinister skramz that borders on emoviolence—less chaotic than your Orchids, but more technical than your pagenintynines. There’s hints of Dillinger Escape Plan’s mathematical precision, and there’s dour spoken word interludes that give way to frantic shredding. It’s the whole package, and it’s highly recommended.
Wrath – 7/18/20
As far as I can tell, I’m the first person to buy this record on Bandcamp. If that’s true, then my only goal for this month’s volume is to change that. The sinewy riffs in “Senyap” point to some influence from the chaotic hardcore/metalcore of the late 2000s (We Are the Romans, etc.), but the head-down energy recalls nothing quite as strongly as the punishing crust of Cursed or Tragedy. The song’s back half veers close to a breakdown that never quite materializes, just getting more crushing as it slows down. There’s almost nothing about Knife online that I’ve been able to find, just that they’re from Bogor and they clearly rip. Something about Warthog’s success in the last few years makes me think the time is right for Knife. Somebody tell them to make a Twitter account.
Panorama Tanah Api – 5/20/20
The label’s page for this 7 song release (only two are streaming on Bandcamp right now) describes it simply and elegantly as “PURE FUCKING GRINDCORE.” And you’re damn right it is. The record is a barrage of blast beats and churning guitars that isn’t afraid to do a little thrashy riffing.
Demo 2020 – 7/3/20
Tanhad is a brand new powerviolence band whose sludgy sound hews a little closer to black metal in places, and considering their cited influences (Weekend Nachos, Nails, eyehategod), that makes perfect sense.
Self Titled EP – 7/26/20
Raw throwback hardcore punk with a vocalist who sounds weary from being so pissed off. A fresh take on a classic sound with a lot of personality, and a big step up in production quality from their 2018 demo.
One Family – 3/8/20
Outcast’s long out of print debut LP is finally seeing the light of day again on Toxic Noise Records. The Bekasi band formed in 1999, and their debut from the early Aughts, One Family, has a lot of parallels to the NYHC sound at that time. Lyrics are a mix of English and Indonesian, and the gang vocals in the choruses go the fuck off every time.
Piet Onthel (Kuantan)
split w/ Amitie – 6/24/20
I’ll keep writing about Piet Onthel whenever he puts something out, because it’s uniformly excellent. The band is a solo screamo project, and their side split Amitié, from Providence, Rhode Island finds Piet Onthel ripping with the same cacophonous furor they’ve maintained over the last few years Fans of Orchid and Ampere should take note.
rect. (Kuala Lumpur)
NON HUMAN LEAGUE – 1/19/20
My eyes lit up when I heard it. These two tracks from powerviolence act rect. are the kind of skull-collapsing, chest-caving shit that had me losing my mind immediately. A band coming out the gate on top of their game.
Terderitha (Kuala Lumpur)
EP, seperti Asal-nya – 3/2/20
Terderitha’s approach to skramz is more experimental and metallic than the genre tends to be, full of sections flavored with doomy metal.
Split Tongue (Selangor)
Collections Tape – 5/7/20
Raw punk with plenty of d-beat and a song called “Fuck You Nazi Scum.”
Chute du Soleil
The Gate of the Void – 6/23/20
From the band’s Facebook: “Occult black metal band from China. We ascend through dissolved flesh. As above, so below.”
I believe that sums it up.
Worldview – 7/22/20
Worldview is a rich mix of depressive black metal, post-rock, ambient, and jazz. Lush and expansive.
Incoming – 7/17/20
Big, chuggy beatdown that goes hard the entire time. The breakdowns are nasty, and there’s a lot of them.
Torturing Nurse (Shanghai)
“sound for the people who died in the coronavirus pandemic” – 6/5/20
Iconic noise act Torturing Nurse is back with a 14 minute tribute to those who have died due to COVID. It is exactly as harsh as everything that has come before.
Keegan Bradford | @franziamom
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