Step 2 Rhythm-April 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.
Jesus Piece-…So Unknown
…So Unkown represents a change for Jesus Piece but not in the ways you would expect for a hardcore band. Yes, there are still pummeling breakdowns and a metallic crunch that rivals anyone else right now. You aren’t about to hear a turn towards something indistinguishable from Only Self. Aggression is still at the forefront for Jesus Piece. But vocalist Aaron Heard is now a father, and …So Unknown reflects that when you closely read the lyrics. As he said in an interview with Revolver, “I’m trying to avoid being a negative fuck on these songs.” You can feel the intentionality of a song like “Silver Lining,” which functions as a love song (Nothing I won’t do for you/You’re my foundation).
Though plenty has mined metal for inspiration in hardcore, Killing Frost’s inspirations differ. You won’t hear many breakdowns that feel lifted from the first wave of death metal. Instead, you get something closer to ’80s metal, referencing bands like Discharge and Killing Frost. But you can still feel like it’s packaged together by people who come from hardcore. The first two songs on Killing Frost’s EP are relatively lean, doling out only the occasional guitar solo. “Wilkman’s War II” is the most indulgent piece, lasting nearly five minutes. It features a boisterous guitar solo and even a keyboard line. But even in this one, you can still feel the hardcore structure peeking out. Instead of ending on a solo, it quickly transitions to mosh part. On the surface, it seems like such a little thing, but it’s what makes Killing Frost feel distinctive to me.
Initiate’s approach to hardcore on Cerebral Circus is kaleidoscopic. You can feel multiple different eras of hardcore embedded in the record. “Amend” and “Transparency” feel ripped out of a Touche Amore B-side from over a decade ago. Other times you can feel the post-hardcore of the ’90s oozing through. It’s an album you could spend hours trying to pick apart the disparate influences of each song. I won’t do the hackneyed thing of calling Cerebral Circus genre-bending. It’s hardcore with an eye toward melody without becoming something else entirely. This has always been Initiate’s approach dating back to its formation. And even when they do write a traditional chorus (“The Surface”), the verses feature vocalist Crystal Pak’s shredded scream.
Inner Peace-’23 Demo
Rap and hardcore have always intermingled, sometimes resulting in what becomes called rapcore. And though we have gotten plenty of examples of it recently (Bayway NJ, Gridiron), Inner Peace is the most unique. It helps that the vocalist is a rapper by trade under the name Drayco Mccoy. But even without that information, you can feel that Drayco comes from a rap background. His cadence on ‘23 Demo strikes me as someone who spent hours on Datpiff rather than obsessing over E Town Concrete. This slight shift makes for hardcore that feels a bit more dynamic. I don’t anticipate the predictable mosh parts that become rote at a certain point. It proves there’s still room for discovery in a genre four decades old.
Even though I’ve heard plenty of bands run around in the familiar terrain of hardcore punk, I have yet to tire of Lasso. They have enough eccentricities, like cloaking vocals or the guitars in reverb, to make it a little different. Most of their songs are bottled-up minutes of mania, with the occasional aside to break up the tempo. Ordem Imaginia is no different, starting with a propulsive drum beat to begin the chaos. You get an occasional mid-tempo song with “Tecido Social,” but mostly, Lasso will satisfy those who want your hardcore a little faster and punkier. It’s the kind of hardcore you’re likely to see in a crowded basement during the boiling summer.
Pure Bliss-The Age of Judgement
Just looking at the album art for The Age of Judgement is a sign of what’s to come. A hooded figure holds an axe with a bit of blood on it. Within seconds of The Age of Judgement, those suspicions are confirmed. The first sound out of the guitar is a walloping down-tuned guitar part. The opening track crests with a singalong section saying, “In no uncertain terms, I will fucking end you.” It’s “smooth brain” hardcore for when you don’t want to think too hard. But I challenge you to listen to The Age of Judgement without feeling the urge to spin-kick or mosh in your living room once. Not all music needs to be groundbreaking; sometimes, making fun songs to dance to is enough.
Scowl-Psychic Dance Routine
Since I first heard Psychic Dance Routine, I’ve been unable to stop thinking about it. I had been waiting for a new hardcore band to take a chance and possibly be polarizing. I wanted to hear something as audacious as Suffer, Survive by No Warning. Scowl doesn’t fully go commercial rock but at least steps its foot in that direction. “Shot Down,” the opener of the EP, is composed like a pop song, abruptly shifting to clean vocals during its chorus. Other tracks like “Opening Night” and “Psychic Dance Routine” are essentially alt-rock channeling Hole and The Breeders. But Scowl still retains its hardcore punk framework on other songs, satiating the hardcore kids who need to stagedive and go feral for a few minutes.
Where others reach a bit farther back for influences, Spaced feels especially modern. When the band first formed, vocalist Lexi Reyngoudt would practice by singing along to Nonstop Feeling and Big Kiss Goodnight. Those reference points carry throughout the short discography that Spaced has so far. It has that same bounce and charisma that Turnstile and Trapped Under Ice had. But you can see Spaced carve out its own lane on the newest two-song promo. “Boomerang” starts with a finger-pointing singalong before moving into an uptempo section. What stands out, though, is “Cycle Killer” and its unabashed embrace of pop structures in the context of a hardcore song. It doesn’t feel abrupt and makes sense for a band with healthy pop sensibilities. I can only imagine what a full-length in the style of this two-song promo would sound like.
If you spend enough time on hardcore Twitter, you’ll eventually come across the phrase “Ohio on Top.” Even if you shrug it off as internet-brain nonsense, the state has been an incubator for hardcore punk, as evidenced by any footage you see at Durty Dungarees, a laundromat that hosts shows in Columbus. And if you want more proof, just listen to the most recent split from SOUR and S.M.I.L.E. on Delayed Gratification Records. Both have their distinctive takes on hardcore punk that differentiate them from the random demo you’d find while Bandcamp surfing. SOUR’s vocalist is verbose, packing as much as possible into the confines of a compact hardcore punk song. You even get something like “Wishing Well,” which features a clean-sung chorus that works as a fun aside. S.M.I.L.E.’s approach is a bit different, featuring lyrics that resemble the kind of shit-talking you’d expect to hear on a hardcore record (Motherfucker, so sick of your lies/All they do is lie). But sometimes familiarity can be a pleasing experience. There’s something enjoyable about hearing a competently written two-step part after a fun sing-along phrase like “Life is gunna sort you out.”
There are certain expectations you create when you decide to name your band xNomadx. The content of the lyrics will deal explicitly with straight edge and hew closer to early metalcore than hardcore punk. xNomadX delivers on those suspicions immediately on their demo. “Now” starts with a healthy metallic crunch paired with a melodic guitar line before the vocals come in. It’s a song that advocates for action for animal rights, accentuated about halfway through with “we cannot wait for a return/we must bring the justice ourselves.” “Future Primitive,” the closing track on the demo, is a bit clearer about the project’s goal, ending the release with the phrase “vegan straight edge.”
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.
The style of hardcore that Wasted Time plays is hard for me to tire of. I don’t care how often I’ve heard a version of the opening riff on “Shameless”; it just taps into something primal in me. And though it may seem easy, doing competently done hardcore punk is a skill. Making me want to pace around my creaky living room to the annoyance of my neighbors isn’t easy. I hear plenty of demos obsessed with ’80s hardcore that inspire no feeling in me. But listening to Wasted Time’s demo does, leaving me only to imagine what a live show in Richmond for them would be like.
Hugo Reyes | @hvreyes5
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