Step 2 Rhythm – January 2022

Posted: by The Editor

In many ways, It feels like hardcore is having a moment. The work that bands had put in the years before is finally starting to pay off. Glow On was universally praised, which would have been an impossibility three years ago. The same goes for The Armed and their onslaught of deafening pop on Ultrapop. And even despite a pandemic, the self-sustaining community of hardcore thrived, with fans continuing to support it. Smaller labels like Daze, From Within Records, and New Morality Zine thrived, helping new bands find an audience. We finally got the fifth installment of America’s Hardcore Compilation from Triple B Records, showing off the variety of current bands. Podcasts like Axe To Grind, Forum of Passion, and of course the blog No Echo continued to document the scene in real-time while introducing newbies to the community in a welcoming manner.

We also saw a proliferation of records that appealed to listeners of all types in 2021. SeeYouSpaceCowboy, Dying Wish, and Knocked Loose appealed to the metalcore kids. Bands like Slant, The Chisel, and Bootlicker satiated the listener who thirsts for 80s hardcore. One Step Closer, Stand Still, and Fiddlehead represented the burgeoning scene of melodic hardcore that lied dormant for many years. Metallic hardcore thrived thanks to God’s Hate and Never Ending Game. The list can go on forever but you get the idea.

It doesn’t seem like 2022 will be slowing down in any way. Hardcore fests and tours are still trying their best to push forward. Turnstile keeps on breaking barriers and was responsible for creating my favorite tiny desk session ever. So it would only be right to try to catalog some of the best hardcore coming out by naming the column Step 2 Rhythm after the breakout EP by Turnstile, which is almost ten years old. Now let’s get to the music!

Abrasion – “Born To Be Betrayed”

Many will recognize the vocals for Abrasion to be Angel Garcia of Orange County band DARE. The comparisons stop there though and instead channel more of the metallic sound of the northeast in the 90s, using Merauder and All Out War as reference points in a recent interview. To my ears, it seems to hit exactly what it’s striving for. If you close your eyes, you can imagine people stage diving and two-stepping to certain parts. Garcia’s vocals are just the right amount of shredded to help dial up the energy. It also does one of my personal favorite things, starting out with an instrumental opener on To Be Betrayed, which is the easiest way to get me stoked on a band. 

Age of Apocalypse – “Grim Wisdom”

Age of Apocalypse is this decade’s answer to Twitching Tongues. It takes the heaviness of metallic hardcore and reconfigures it a bit, abandoning the typical growl for melody. It results in parts that don’t feel so far afield from an Alice in Chains or Type O Negative song and are the closest the genre gets to nu-metal without fully committing to it. If it sounds like I’m complaining I don’t mean to come off that way. A song like “The Patriot” is already a favorite of mine. And after having to hear mediocre beatdown bands constantly at live shows, it’s a breath of fresh air to see a band like Age of Apocalypse take some genuine chances that could turn hardcore purists away on Grim Wisdom.

Comeback Kid – “Heavy Steps”

Comeback Kid is at this point is a hardcore institution. Now twenty years into their career, they’ve reached their seventh record, a rarity in this genre. Most of their contemporaries by this point had moved on. Melodic hardcore started to become out of vogue by the turn of the 2010s, as more bands yearned for the sounds of New York, thanks in part to the emergence of Trapped Under Ice. But Comeback Kid has never really dipped in quality and their newest record Heavy Steps is proof of it, showing it is still possible for bands to age gracefully in a youth-based subculture. 

Dead Last – “Where Do We Go From Here”

Dead Last is the latest addition to what has become a vibrant scene on Long Island. But unlike their peers on the metallic (Pain of Truth) or melodic (Koyo, Stand Still) side, Dead Last is reaching for something different. Where Do We Go From Here?, the band’s debut EP, is about as traditional as hardcore can get in 2022. It pulls from the straightedge revival of the 2000s, comparing themselves to Mental and Floorpunch. The songwriting is economical, cutting any excess fat. The end result is a blistering slab of fast hardcore, churning out eight songs in eleven minutes.

Dull Morning – “Ugly Flame” 

One of my favorite scenes to emerge over the course of the last few years is in North Carolina. It really has a wide variety of stuff that I’m looking for, from the 90s metallic hardcore of Magnitude to the Bridge Nine indebted melodic hardcore of No Longer At Ease. Dull Morning is a part of that community of bands and pulls more from the post-hardcore of the early 2010s than traditional hardcore. They would sound right at home in the group of bands that specifically emerged in 2011, calling themselves “the wave” as a joke. Even though it was originally said in jest, what bonded them all together was not using aggression for aggression’s sake. And on Ugly Flame, Dull Morning does something similar, using the framework of hardcore to contemplate the struggles of daily existence all while creating pleasing pop songs.

Invertebrates – “DEMO”

Invertebrates are hardcore at their most primitive. It is noisy, weird, and without any trace of a metal influence. The songs are lightning quick, sometimes only barely reaching the one-minute mark. There are some traces of melody but it’s almost as if it emerges by accident. It’s really an evergreen approach that will never really go out of style and is always needed as a counterbalance to the metallic fare. Hardcore originated out of punk and bands like Invertebrates are a good reminder of that.  

 Mikau – “Abandonware”

This is only the first edition in the column and I’m already stretching the definition of what you would call hardcore by including Mikau. They describe themselves as synthy metalcore, using Bandcamp tags like mallcore and whitebelt. Songs vacillate from being incredibly heavy to clean vocal singalong parts. This dichotomy is most apparent on their newest EP Abandonware. “Spellglow ” isn’t too dissimilar from what got pegged as hyperpop a few years ago, mostly abandoning guitars for synths. But the closing track “Undernet” is much more familiar, buoyed by those huge chunky guitars that are necessary for any metalcore band. It makes for an extremely fun listen, standing out in a genre that is at times way too self-serious. 

Riesgo – “La Edad de la Violencia”

A key feature of Chicago hardcore is that many of the players people associate with its heyday in the 90s are still around. If you’re lucky, you can see Martin Sonderguy shooting a show on the southside. It helps that the music they make today is just as necessary as the stuff from over twenty years ago. You get to see this phenomenon firsthand with Riesgo, combining members of Sin Orden and Los Crudos to create a frenzied d-beat extravaganza. After releasing a demo in 2018 we finally have their follow-up in La Edad de la Violencia, a seven-song EP that satiates all your hardcore punk cravings. 

Shapeshifter – “Dark Ritual”

I like to think of Japanese hardcore as the more intense sibling to the United States. In the 80s, it picked up on the crust scene of the UK and created something even darker. You can look at Shapeshifter as an example. Their newest record Dark Ritual is a buffet for all things heavy music. The title track is 50 seconds of just sustained feedback before delving into these manic pockets of powerviolence for good measure. It really satiates all of what I’m looking for in heavy music, knocking me on my ass afterward to the point where I need to take a little breather before putting anything else on. If you were a fan of the latest Portrayal of Guilt records, I would definitely recommend you listen to Shapeshifter immediately.

Si Dios Quiere – “Sol y Guerra” 

Chicago has always had a large Latinx contingent in the scene thanks to the bands that converged around Chicago’s south side in the 90s. And as long as we live in a capitalist system, there will be a need for marginalized voices to have a place to scream out against injustices. Si Dios Quiere is definitely a reflection of that reality and expresses that on their debut A Hell Like No Other. “Urban Guilleria” directly confronts gentrification, culminating in the singalong section when they all sing “take back the hood”. Their newest EP Sol y Guerra is no different, dialing up on their metallic hardcore influence that was there the entire time.

Twin Tombs – “4:23”

I don’t necessarily have the vocabulary to talk about Twin Tombs and powerviolence in particular. It’s a style I enjoy but is incredibly niche, which is saying a lot about a subgenre in the already insular world of hardcore. Songs are generally intense pockets of 30-second bursts with very little attention paid towards traditional songwriting structures. Occasionally bands will sprinkle in slower parts to give the music some variety. And despite my lack of knowledge I really find a lot of enjoyment out of 4:23, the newest release from Twin Tombs. The vocals are really memorable and it’s got the same heaviness as Regional Justice Center’s recent record. And thanks to it being a runtime of just four minutes, I usually end up listening to it a few times whenever I revisit it. 

Hugo Reyes  | @hvreyes5

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