Step 2 Rhythm-January 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.


Though bonded by a California connection, Firestarter and Madhouse encompass two very different areas of hardcore. But those divisions in 2023 don’t matter as much as they once did, and a split like this makes sense. Firestarter comes from the youth crew section of hardcore, naming their demo Los Angeles Straight Edge. The album art even features the singer of Firestarter with an X on his hand. Their songs are relatively fast, existing in one-minute bursts. Madhouse feels much more frantic in comparison. Both of their songs veer between propulsive and manic opening moments before shifting to a groove that’s more built for moshers. It helps strike a delicate balance where the intensity feels somewhat purposeful and not a 30-second blur of power violence.


In this column, I talk a lot about hardcore as dance music. The songs primarily work as stage directions, telling the listener what to do in a live setting. Juicebox, a new band from Houston, Texas, is living proof of this. Their demo starts with a simple directive, telling everyone hearing it to dance. As you listen to both tracks on the demo, you can imagine people stage diving and moving side to side to certain parts. They describe the band as hardcore with a capital H and take influence from bands like Scowl, Bad Seed, and GEL. But the project isn’t fleshed out yet, as it should be on a demo. It feels like you’re peeking into a jam session you just heard on accident.

One Step Closer-Songs For The Willow

When One Step Closer started, they were like any other hardcore band full of teenagers. I imagine they were inspired by the music surrounding Wilkes Barre and wanted to contribute to the scene. But the songs weren’t quite there yet and were unmemorable. They were still recreating their influences, channeling the rough-hewn emotive hardcore that Turning Point helped forge. It’s been over five years since that debut release, and One Step Closer feels like an entirely different band. Songs For The Willow feels like they could only write it, fully outgrowing their influences. Vocalist Ryan Savitski is stretching his capabilities, leaning into clean singing a bit more. The songs themselves, too, feel a bit denser and are epics in the context of a hardcore song. I wouldn’t be surprised if One Step Closer makes a jump similar to Anxious on their next record, moving towards something resembling post-hardcore.

Primitive Fucking Ballers-You Gotta Do Somethin’

Within seconds of You Gotta Do Somethin’, you will know whether Primitive Fucking Ballers is for you. The low rumble of the bass on the opening track is a classic hardcore punk mosh call, inciting a directive for people to move. Standing still with your arms crossed isn’t an option. From there, the following songs lead me to use cliche descriptors like no frills or manic. But I still feel like those adjectives are apt, as many pieces fail to reach the one-minute mark. How else do you describe music that is this compact?

Riot Stares-Sounds of Acceleration

For the seasoned listener, the touchstones of Riot Stares are deeply familiar. Even the album cover of Sounds of Acceleration conjures memories of the 90s when hardcore collided with alt-rock. I can imagine seeing a jewel case CD of a fast car in 1998 at a local record store. The comparisons for Riot Stares may vary, but Chaka Malik of Orange 9mm on the album shows Riot Stares’ influences. But while I enjoy genre pastiche as much as the next person, I don’t feel like Sounds of Acceleration rises above its influences. There are still some good tracks here, like the lead single “Relief Technique” and the closer “In Motion.”

SCALP-Black Tar

Categorizing SCALP as just a hardcore band is limiting. While plenty of identifiable parts come from hardcore, the goal for SCALP is wider. Black Tar was created to look at negative past experiences such as psychosis and trauma. While that may sound like press release fodder, you feel that SCALP is trying to release some pent-up frustration. For twelve minutes, your senses are bludgeoned, seeking to drain every ounce of energy within you. They use many approaches to accomplish that goal, integrating death metal and hardcore to create one cacophonous whole. It gives me a similar feeling to when I heard Unsilent Death by Nails years ago.


Coming from New York has expectations that one expects in hardcore. Maybe you’ll get the bouncy groove of Breakdown or the metallic churn of Madball. Sirkka doesn’t conform to those preconceived notions and instead feels like they could come from a different country. Their reverence is for Finland in particular, choosing to sing all the songs in that language. But even if you didn’t know the inspirations behind Sirkka, there’s something immediate about Vivvytelly. Like all hardcore punk, it’s succinct and to the point, never wasting too much time. The lyrics are simple, closing the EP with an anti-cop song, fitting nicely alongside the anti-Regan posturing of 80s hardcore.

Wreckage-Our Time

Though Wreckage has been a band for a few years, Our Time is an announcement. Earlier releases still found the band searching for a distinct voice. The Only Way and II were too indebted to the crowded field of youth crew. But by the time you hear the title track of Our Time, you get a sense that Wreckage is staking their claim in the history of Connecticut hardcore. It’s a song that would make forebears like Wide Awake and Cornerstone proud. The lyric “Our Scene, our time/We gotta see it through” is an instant singalong and as definitive a statement as a hardcore band could have. It centers on what’s happening in hardcore right now as the most important thing as opposed to what came before.

XL LIFE-The Boogie Down South

There’s something undeniable about XL LIFE. They’re the type of hardcore band that could appeal to anyone. It’s as pop as hardcore can be without sacrificing the aggression central to the genre. Lazier writers would call it genre-bending. I imagine XL LIFE could appeal to someone who just got into hardcore because of Turnstile or someone deeply entrenched in the scene. The songs on The Boogie Down South burst with energy, bringing the same vibrancy that Bad Brains brought over forty years ago. They invite the listener to join in, dance as hard as possible and forget whatever worries they may have.

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.

Judgement-No Reason Why

Even as someone who listens to too much hardcore, I still have my blind spots. Japanese hardcore has always been something I wanted to learn more about, but I never knew where to start. A recent article by David Anthony gave me the entryway I needed. Out of all of the bands on the list, Judgement has stayed with me. The barrier to entry is relatively low for them. All they have are a few EPs, and the one that stuck with me is No Reason Why. While it is part of a Japanese hardcore lineage, it reads familiar to US hardcore audiences. It has the same fervent energy as Brotherhood or early Boston hardcore.

Hugo Reyes  | @hvreyes5

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