Step 2 Rhythm-February 2023
Posted: by The Editor
Hardcore is thriving, and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. As a way to document this current moment, we present Step 2 Rhythm, a monthly column rounding up the best in hardcore coming out right now.
All Out War-Celestial Rot
Modern hardcore would look a lot different without All Out War. They perfected the fusion of metal and hardcore on For Those Who Were Crucified and Condemned to Suffer. Since then, All Out War has slightly shifted, leaning more towards metal than hardcore. They’ve still released albums at a steady clip, helping maintain some relevance. What’s most surprising is that even their newest record, Celestial Rot, is far from embarrassing. The few times I put it on, I was enjoying myself. I’d even argue it rivals some of the output of recent metallic hardcore that I’ve heard this year.
Big Boy-Spring Promo 2023
There’s a certain expectation when you see a Bandcamp bio of “REAL BAY SHIT.” You’ll probably hear something on the metallic end of the hardcore spectrum. It will be full of heavy mosh parts that will try to rival Sunami or Extinguish. Big Boy only partially bends toward the recent Bay Area sound, and I’m somewhat thankful for that. I can only hear so much metallic hardcore before it glazes over me. Instead, I’d describe Big Boy’s recent release, Promo 2023, as surprising. These songs have a healthy bounce, infused with a groove embedded within delicate melodic phrasings. Fans of the last Regulate record will find a lot to love here.
Big Laugh-Consume Me
Big Laugh lovingly describes themselves as punks who listen to Judge, and while it may be a joke, Consume Me does seem to reflect that truth. You can feel that the band is inspired by Revelation Records’ early catalog but with a hardcore punk framework. It comes across most clearly in the opener, “Artificial Peace,” which features several rhythmic switch-ups that push the band toward its fastest tempo ever. But what keeps me coming back to Consume Me are the little moments that seem minor. I think of the lead riff on “Square One” that feels lifted from a revolution summer record or when all the instruments drop but the bass for three seconds on “Abomination.”
Blood Runs Cold-Residuals/Kill Yourself
I imagine chaos when I listen to Blood Runs Cold. Arms are swinging indiscriminately in the direction of those who dare to stand near the mosh pit. Standing with your arms crossed in the back of the room isn’t an option. Instead, Blood Runs Cold asks for crowd participation through the art of the breakdown. “Residuals” ends with a part so threatening that I can’t imagine not being driven to at least dance a little. “Kill Yourself” seems to taunt the listener by the song’s name. It makes you wonder what the context is for Joey Chiarmonte’s lyrics. The only insight you get is from a short quote from a piece from Brooklyn Vegan: “Most of the songs come from a frustrated or hateful place. Depression, mortality, frustration with the ways people operate both in subcultures and broader society inspired the lyrics for the record.”
Brain Tourniquet-…An Expression in Pain
The contours of a power violence record to record are similar. The opening track is usually instrumental before devolving into manic thirty-second pockets of aggression. Brain Tourniquet mostly fits this convention with ..an Expression in Pain. But in the context of fast hardcore, it feels as accessible as it can be, standing right alongside Regional Justice Center. Each song is distinct enough, making sure the experience isn’t one continuous mush of noise. “Behind My Eyes” and “Desensitized by Bloodshed” have these extended jam sessions outside the traditional power violence cannon. There were even a couple of days when I would play “Suicide Gown” on repeat because its construction resembled a well-crafted pop song.
Exhibition-The Last Laugh
On the opening track to The Last Laugh, Exhibition shows off all their trademarks and works as an encapsulation of what they do. There are background grunts; the band says its name; They show off their penchant for crossover, sprinkling in metal solos while smashing in the necessary mosh part. The rest of the record follows this pleasing formula, balancing where 80s metal and hardcore meet. It’s a sound we’ve heard more of with acts like Mindforce and Foreseen. Exhibition deserves to be spoken in the same breath as those bands, and The Last Laugh is the best example of what they have to provide.
There’s always a lot of discussion of what constitutes real hardcore. It’s a silly argument that only nerds care about, but it is pertinent to the Never Again/Cutdown split. Rebirth Records, who is releasing the split, positions the release as the antithesis of “corporate punk and metal masquerading as ‘core.” All that quote means is that this is hardcore without any trace of metal influence. It’s hardcore derived from punk and is interested in exploring that terrain. Never Again starts their side with a grunt, exclaiming their name. “Operation Clean Sweep” continues with a diatribe against those who are not loyal to the “core” (Don’t go to the shows/Your worthless to the core/1 year in, and you’re full of shit). Cutdown sits in a similar lane of hardcore punk with parts that seem inspired by Negative Approach in a higher vocal range.
OPENHEAD understands the power of a good demo and how to structure it. Keep it short; the fewer songs, the better. Each track should be at most two minutes. You should leave your listener wanting more. The first track is called “Introduction” and mostly lurches very slowly. The only words you hear are a sample from something I’ve never heard before. Mainly, the opening track functions as crowd work, looking to get people to turn those crossed arms into flailing bodies. “Boiling Core” is the official start to the EP and does a good job meeting the description of “four minutes of irreconcilable violence.” The centerpiece of the demo is “Birch Skin,” which is the ending track. The breakdown that it ends on seems to be lifted from deathcore more than any hardcore record, and I imagine this is a trend we’ll see popping up more in the future.
Something is refreshing about listening to hardcore from Singapore or any non-English speaking country. I can’t project any narrative onto Sial outside of the music. I can gather from research that they speak native Malay and identify Singapore as a police state. But that’s about the extent of it, leaving me to engage with Sangkar on its terms. The EP begins appropriately with a scream before moving into an uptempo and barreling verse. The rest of Sangkar sits in a similar pocket of hardcore punk cacophony. The moments that stick out the most are parts that felt built for singalongs and repeat the song’s name, like on “Sia-Sia.” If I had one complaint, it would be that the vocals have an effect that doesn’t work for me.
Year of The Knife-Dust to Dust
While Year of The Knife has released several EPS, Dust to Dust is the most important yet. It’s the first with Maddy Watkins, who has moved from bassist to vocalist. It’s a move that changes the shape of the band forever. A front person with no charisma can ruin everything, leading to Year of The Knife losing momentum. Instead, I feel like Dust to Dust is the strongest material yet. Watkins’s vocals match the furious attack of metallic hardcore that the band provides and is a compelling future for Year of The Knife. The lyrics also don’t stray too far from the original goal of the band, which is explicitly straight edge. You can feel the anger behind a line like “Fuck your past, fuck you too/burning those who care for you” on the title track.
Reissue/New To Me Corner
Reissues are just as important as anything that comes out of the hardcore scene on a monthly basis. It’s the way bands become remembered and reaches a younger audience. Without it, they could be relegated to the dustbin and forgotten. A whole swath of bands is only available because of Youtube, limiting their reach. This lack of access matters because, for some, if it’s not on Spotify, it might as well not exist. To alleviate that reality, I’ll try to give a shoutout to one reissue or a new album I discovered each month.
I did the worst thing a music writer could do on Twitter and asked my followers a question: what was the best hardcore release of 2003? From the minimal responses, I could already tell it was an important year for the genre. You had bands like American Nightmare releasing their last record, and new ones like Modern Life is War were just starting. But the point of the question was to help me uncover some blind spots. I was only ten years old in 2003 and hadn’t even started my discovery of punk music yet. I was hoping to break myself out of a music rut.
Out of all the stuff I’ve listened to so far, First Blood jumped out to me. My knowledge of them is minimal; I knew them as a band that put something out on Trustkill. Almost immediately, I can see the appeal of First Blood. They understand who they are and aren’t trying to do anything more than make people mosh as much as possible. The EP starts with a classic hardcore trope and takes a quote from the Rambo film series. From there, First Blood delivers some of the most menacing hardcore I’ve heard and would make sense alongside any band on DAZE records in 2023.
Hugo Reyes | @hvreyes5
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