Step 2 Rhythm-Best Hardcore of 2023
Posted: by The Editor
A big part of my hardcore journey this year has been delving deeper into Japanese hardcore. The early exports from the country still sound relatively novel. The d-beat rhythms combined with a dash of metal feel distinct. One of those bands in the 80s hardcore wave in Japan was Crow. They put out several records in the 80s before reforming in the mid-90s. You would think that any band would run out of ideas after so many years. But Crow’s new EP Eye does not feel dated or dusty. It doesn’t seek to conform to any modern trends in hardcore. No ass-beating breakdowns will be found here. One song is just a harsh noise track, and the opener and closer are just the sounds of a crow. Side b was a bit surprising on the first listen, with vocals on par with any heavy metal record in the late 70s. There were many times I couldn’t help but grin at either a nicely placed guitar solo or the campiness of the high-pitched vocals clashing against the terse yelling on track six.
9. Brain Tourniquet-An Expression in Pain
With powerviolence, there is a certain expectation. It takes an aggressive art form and refines it even more, leaving little room for variation. Most of An Expression in Pain does adhere to the structure of the subgenre. You have a meandering introduction that feels like those first few minutes of what you hear in a practice space session. “Suicide Gown” then sets the template, fitting everything I want in 33 seconds. There were some times this year that I would just replay the song so I could hear the chorus a few more times.
What drew me to Brain Tourniquet’s record when I was on my first couple of listens comes at the end with the title track. Without it, I think an Expression in Pain is a fine to good record. I usually have one or two powerviolence records a year that I enjoy. When I am on Spotify, the runtime of the closer is staring you in the face: 10 minutes and 49 seconds. It is the same length of some iconic hardcore EPs. The first minute is a slow lurch with mostly the bass ringing out. For some, it may be a turnoff and antithetical to the powerviolence project. It is ultimately the kind of swing I respect and want more of. I’d rather Brain Tourniquet do something interesting than just play it safe and write another 10-minute record. They did that the year before, and I forgot it existed. Ambition over meekness every time.
I know it is hackneyed to call anything a pandemic record, but it is baked into Marathon. It is most apparent when you listen to the spoken word track of “Belle Epoque,” which serves as an ode to Riley Gale. But elsewhere, there is a pervading sense of loss that comes through. “These Days Don’t End” looks back at those younger years when the world felt limitless. In some ways, Mil-Spec falls in line with some of the best melodic hardcore. It is a vehicle for lyricists to be vulnerable and express things that can’t be said through conversation. It is a necessary flavor for anybody who spends enough time listening to hardcore yearly. If all there are “you stabbed me in the back” platitudes set against hard breakdowns, then what are we doing? We need that counterbalance of Marathon that has its distinct perspective.
7. Initiate-Cerebral Circus
Part of what makes Cerebral Circus so exciting is that you can feel different outgrowths of hardcore coming together. It is melodic without fully leaving behind the tropes of hardcore. You will have a singalong part next to a palm-muted chugging guitar line. “Amend” stands out in particular, reminding me of a lot of 2010s post-hardcore. The closer “Transparency” starts with an acoustic guitar, and some spoken word quickly follows. A guitar solo is interspersed as well. In some ways, Cerebral Circus is one album in a long line within hardcore that teases with melody. We can look at the past forty years as evidence. Initiate’s arrival at whatever you want to categorize them as does feel wholly theirs. Anyone who would try to approximate “Your Own Means” would probably fail and make something forgettable.
6. Destiny Bond-Be My Vengeance
In the Bandcamp description for Be My Vengeance, Destiny Bond describes themselves as offering “a brand of hardcore that is unafraid of melody but not completely enamored with it.” After listening to the first song (“Chew”), you internalize that ethos. The songs that follow are fast but never feel incomprehensible. You can make out the words clearly; there are clearly defined hooks in a song like “Losin.” Because of that penchant for melody, I could bring up a lot of different reference points, ranging from the emocore of Dag Nasty to the underrated Indiana hardcore of Zero Boys. But, to me, Destiny Bond feels like a true expression of ’80s hardcore punk. At its core, it is just sped-up rock music, and that connection feels clear when you hear a short guitar solo interspersed at the end of “The Glow.”
5. Restraining Order-Locked In Time
Writing a second hardcore record is difficult and almost impossible in Restraining Order’s case. Some bands that I assume are influences for them barely made it to the first one. And though it may seem like hyperbole, This World is Too Much is one of the most important records for hardcore punk in the last decade. I would go so far as to call it perfect. I’m a bit biased as someone who has felt the call of “What Will You Do” and taken a boot to the face by an excitable stage diver. On Locked in Time, Restraining Order seems aware of those expectations and slightly nods towards them on the opener “Addicted,” which includes a reprise. But the changes are slight; you aren’t about to hear some clean singing and an awkward chorus that seems out of place. You still have the stompy aggression on “Inmates” and “On The Run.” There are points, though, where you can feel Oi inflections begin to pour through (“Another Better Day”). It feels very slight in a good way. It ends up being a better move than rehashing what Restraining Order already did four years ago.
4. Never Ending Game-Outcry
While there are plenty of heavy, chugging ass beaters to choose from in the world of metallic hardcore, Outcry by Never Ending Game is the standout. It has a little bit of everything. There are sturdy breakdowns with occasional metal lead sprinkled throughout. There are singalongs like “Never Die.” “Tank on E” is the most adventurous, which sees the band try to write the approximation of a pop-punk song. But what keeps me coming back is Mikey Petroski’s lyrics. He is diaristic and is using hardcore as a way to express something extremely personal. I was so moved by “Goin Thru Some Things” that I was on the verge of crying the first time I listened to it. It feels ridiculous writing it, but it feels true and speaks to the power of Outcry. You can feel both anger and sadness simultaneously.
3. Envision-The Gods That Built Tomorrow
Last year, Envision put out one of my favorite releases with…And Still. Along with bands like Magnitude and Broken Vow, it felt like an update on the metallic hardcore predominant in the 90s. The songs on that EP were forceful and heavy but layered with a sense of emotionality that drew me to listen to them repeatedly. Even if I am not as indebted to straight edge as Envision, I could still tap into the feeling of the song, which is what matters to me. The Gods That Built Tomorrow finds the band delving deeper into some inclinations they’ve hinted at in interviews I’ve read online and in zines. There are still thudding and taut breakdowns centering each song. But you will get linking passages like the one near the end of “In Spite of Faith” that show off a more pronounced metal influence. It gives the listener a couple of different pathways to experience The Gods That Bult Tomorrow. There are plenty of breakdowns if you want to go full empty brain enjoyment. The lyrics are vague enough to attach any meaning you want to it and sometimes have a religious sentiment. There are also plenty of chanty singalong sections as well. It may be a cliche, but there is something for everyone.
2. Balmora-With Thorns of Glass and Petals of Grief
When I think back to 2023 in a couple of years, Balmora will stick out for me. It wasn’t just because their debut EP is a wonderful piece of metalcore. When I saw them at a This is Hardcore aftershow at Bonks Bar, which is about the size of a living room, I could feel genuine danger. It was not metalcore that you could comfortably watch from afar. I wondered if my head would hit against concrete as the whole room transformed into a dancefloor. That feeling is sometimes transferred when I listen to With Thorns of Glass and Petals of Grief. On “Angels Final Prayer,” there are several moments where the metalcore shriek transforms into a deathcore growl. It shows an update on the sort of metalcore that thrived heading into the 2000s. Prayer for Cleansing or Undying didn’t have the same reference points two decades ago. The breakdowns are more intimidating and menacing at points, balanced with some occasional melodeath leads. And when I saw the closing track live, there was a moment where I wondered when the song would end. Not in a bad way, but because I was looking for relief.
1. Buggin-Concrete Cowboys
The common refrain throughout Buggin’s time in Chicago has been to keep hardcore fun. In an interview in 2019, singer Brianna Roberts said, “We wanted to form a band that’s not a beatdown band, because so much of Chicago is beatdown bands.” That idea is present throughout Concrete Cowboys. “Get it Out” synthesizes that ideology, making the point that sometimes it gets forgotten that hardcore is dance music (“It doesn’t matter who you are/get in the pit, just go hard). You also have even sillier material with “Snack Run,” which lists a bunch of food to grab on a snack run and is capped off with Roberts burping at the end. You still have some of the typical hardcore fodder of diss tracks on “All Eyes on You,” which features Chicago local Jordan Motten (Kharma). But it never lingers on self-seriousness for too long; a thrashy guitar riff will enter at any moment and subliminally ask the listener to respond to the directive. And in my experience of seeing them in Chicago, people will enthusiastically respond, whether at a Turnstile headliner at Metro or a packed show at a 400-capacity venue on a Sunday night.
Hugo Reyes | @hvreyes5
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