A Review of Distant Relatives, the New Record from California Cousins

It’s been a while since I’ve found myself intrigued by newer “emo” bands. I mean, obviously I’ll never stop loving screamo or emotive hardcore, but the glut of derivative, boring twinkle bands that flood the touring circuit have left me feeling cold for a couple of years now. That being said, this year has provided me with several of my favorite releases in the genre since I first got into it so many moons ago. From Darkle to Origami Angel to awakebutstillinbed, it’s been an amazing year for ambitious, creative, and arresting emo/sparklepunk/twinkle/whatever records. Distant Relatives, California Cousins’ third release, and their first for rising DIY champion Chatterbot Records, is no exception.

When I first sat down to listen to this record, I found myself slightly put off by the beginning to the opener, “Aspirin.” It kind of seemed like the type of thing that had been bothering me in emo so much lately– pleasant, and melodic, but bland and passionless. However, a couple seconds in and I was proven immediately wrong. The drop hit me like a freight train, and I was stunned by the variety of styles being incorporated: on one hand, there are the sparkly lead guitar lines, vulnerable lyricism, and plaintive vocals we’ve come to expect from the scene; on the other, there are sharp shrieks reminiscent of, say, Jeromes Dream, in conjunction with stomping, on occasion complex rhythms straight from the playbook of bruising hardcore crews like Vicious Embrace and Inclination. The latter is not exactly a shocker, as the members of California Cousins have also spent time in the gnarly, short-lived but hard-hitting Knife Culture. Much of the record’s strength comes from the way that these two styles clash and mesh, often producing something beautiful yet simultaneously antagonistic.

When you think you’ve got California Cousins figured out, though, they pivot straight into the second track on the record, and one of my personal favorites, “Hold This Coupon.” I may not always be up to date on what the kids are saying these days, but I feel fairly confident in saying that this song fucks. It would be easy for California Cousins to stick to the style that they introduced on “Aspirin,” but “Hold This Coupon” boasts one of the most infectious vocal hooks of the year. It’s not massive– quite the opposite, in fact, the chorus is one of the smoothest and least rowdy moments in the song– but I’ve been unable to get it out of my head since the record’s release.

From there, the band jumps back into frenzied chaos on “7 Minute Freestyle,” before pulling back in the closing moments for an absolutely mesmerizing passage, with a gorgeous guitar melody complemented perfectly by the bouncy bass, as well as the drums, which remain both energetic and completely danceable throughout the record’s duration.

The lockstep in which these musicians play with each other is completely admirable. Having been around for a few years, California Cousins are slightly more experienced and adept at playing with each other than many of their contemporaries, and it shows whenever they delve into one of their signature grooves, such as the aforementioned “7 Minute Freestyle” as well as the face-smashing rhythmic break that immediately follows the frantic solo on “Brockport 1995” and the fucked-up quasi-breakdown during the halfway mark of the otherwise catchy and mellow late-album standout “Sand In Pockets.”

Of particular note is the production on this album, which is unique in that it buries the vocals a bit (not to the point of being inaudible, but enough to provide an air of mystery) in favor of the bass and guitar. The guitar tone on this record is absolutely fucking nasty, able to pivot from memorable twinkles to crushingly heavy riffs in an instant without making it seem like a drastic mood shift. The rhythm section is also captivating. As I already said, the drums are one of the record’s biggest strengths because of their eminent danceability in the face of some of the songwriting’s dynamic changes, but the bass is just as prominent as the guitar here, and for good reason. Lots of fans of this genre like to gush over the intricacies of the twinkly guitar bits, but the bass lines on this record are just as involved and catchy, often completely carrying parts of the song that would otherwise be less kinetic (providing the thrust and drive for future crowd-favorite “Extendo Weekend”) or just flat-out empty space (the distorted bass fill right before the payoff in “Sand In Pockets” is something to behold).

If this record has one slow moment, it may be the closer, “Camp Shorts,” a tidbit of an acoustic track followed by some sound collage-type stuff. It’s cute and lo-fi, but lacks the strength or ambition of songwriting and presentation that the rest of the album has in spades. It’s not really something to worry about though, since the track is so short (the album as a whole flies by in a quite brisk 26 minutes).

I am not in the least bit exaggerating when I say that California Cousins have played a big role in revitalizing my interest in sparklepunk/what-have-you this year, along with a select few others. Their sound is fleshed-out, exciting, and executed with tons of precision and heart, and I guarantee when they come down to my neck of the woods this October that I will tear the roof off the place. Check out Distant Relatives here and tell ’em Ellie sent ya.

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A Review of the GHOST SPIRIT/FRAIL HANDS Split

As some of you may recall, West Coast legend/inventor of the word “skramz,” Alex Bigman, is back in the game after the dissolution of his classic and revered acts, Seeing Means More and Fight Fair. Aside from his more straightforwardly aggressive act, Tower of Silence, he is also in the screamo act Ghost Spirit, along with members of Lord Snow, Heritage Unit, and other skramz luminaries. Their first record, released on Will Swan’s (of Dance Gavin Dance fame) record label, Blue Swan, was one of my favorite screamo releases last year. A blend of raw early 90s emo, akin to Don Martin Three and Navio Forge, and early 2000s screamo, there was a lot of promise in their debut and I was excited to see how they would further cement their identity as a band with coming releases.

When they announced their split with Nova Scotia’s Frail Hands, I was doubly excited. Frail Hands are easily one of the most electrifying bands operating in screamo right now, a furious and gut-wrenching derivation of emoviolence with unreal drumming and some of the most frayed and unrelenting vocals in the game. Needless to say, putting legends like the skramz alumni in Ghost Spirit alongside the restless energy of the upstarts in Frail Hands would inspire both bands to push the boundaries of their songwriting past their already-stellar prior output.

With Ghost Spirit releasing the second single from this split LP yesterday, “Sick Dreams,” I thought it would be a perfect time to put my thoughts on this record into writing. Ghost Spirit takes the A-side, the aforementioned “Sick Dreams” being the first song on the record, and it immediately showcases their roots in both European screamo such as Daïtro as well as in bands of the American Midwest such as Sinking Steps…Rising Eyes and the Spirit of Versailles, the riffs full of expression, melody and emotionality while still matching the aggression of the vocal work.

Second song (and lead single), “The Guilt of Your Affection,” starts off in a far more gentle way, recalling the lighter moments of bands such as Raein and Suis La Lune, with a bit of a danceable edge a la After School Knife Fight. The music eventually crescendoes into a crunchier, distorted section, while still allowing Bigman to exercise a more gentle vocal range than what he showcases on the rest of the band’s side on the split.

Other particular highlights include the short-but-sweet “Skull,” which features an exhilarating moment of gang vocals (I’m always a sucker for gang vocals in screamo), as well as the A-side closer “In Parting,” a track which shows remarkable dynamic range and a particular skill in build-up. Throughout the entirety of the album, the drumming sticks out as the key force in the band’s sound, dictating each moment’s intensity and teasing out patterns and aggression in tasteful moderation. It would be tempting to completely show off during the more forceful moments of melodic hardcore, but drummer Taylor Jewell exercises restraint and it pays off beautifully, making tracks like the aforementioned “In Parting” feel like a master-class in build-and-release.

I would of course also be remiss not to mention Niko Zaglaras and Evan Henkel on guitar and bass, respectively. Their chemistry on these tracks is undeniable, and their fluid transitions during songs like “Dark Winter” make each moment feel seamless. Zaglaras in particular has an excellent grasp of tone and knows exactly how to make certain moments feel light, others oppressive, others melancholic. Meanwhile, Henkel’s skills shine equally bright whether they’re providing a thick backbone to each song or when the music quiets down and gives Henkel a moment to show off their subtle prowess, such as in the intro and outro of “A Hollow Peak.”

The Ghost Spirit side of this split is one of the most cohesive screamo releases of the year so far, packed with boundless enthusiasm as well as the artful, measured ear of pros who have become genuine experts in songwriting. The B-side also shows the maturation of Frail Hands, whose debut LP last year blew me away with its aggression and songcraft, firmly rooted in hardcore and yet desperate to push past those boundaries. Their side of the split here does not disappoint and proves that there is some truly interesting shit to come from this band yet.

“The Image of You” opens with a softer moment, along with some softer vocals, before segueing into some of the most brutal and chaotic screamo I’ve heard yet this year. Follow-up track “Mortar and Pestle” maintains the impressive momentum while simultaneously introducing some incredibly groovy riffs and showcasing yet more of the band’s insanely eclectic and compelling drumming.

In fact, one of the only potential flaws of Frail Hands’s side of the split is that, unlike Ghost Spirit’s side, it almost never relents. The atmosphere is unceasingly bleak and the music is heavy in the same way as a weighted blanket, practically suffocating you. Of course, I don’t think this is a flaw at all, so I’m all for it, and it also provides Frail Hands with a strong identity as one of the most unconscionably dark and sad bands working in an already dark and sad niche of hardcore. If you can stand up straight while facing the onslaught, you’ll be met with some of the most memorable riffs in screamo as well as potentially my favorite vocalists currently working in the scene. The songs get in, make their point, and then get the fuck out with reckless abandon, especially the swift banger “Collateral”, and songs like “Atonement” and the absolutely thunderous “In Conclusion” feel inescapable and cacophonous in the best possible way.

The closer, “Every Volatile Thing,” is my favorite song on this entire split. It moves through each segment of itself with an extreme effortlessness, and manages to feel heavy and visceral even when the guitar onslaught briefly stops for a bass-heavy, emotionally ravaged bridge. The punctuated, staccato guitars at the end of the song just absolutely ruin me; I must have listened to this track at least twenty times while trying to write this review.

Ghost Spirit and Frail Hands have put together one of the most essential splits in recent memory. If for nothing else, get your hands on this record for “Every Volatile Thing,” and stick around for what can only be described as a seminar on how to write a screamo split. Each band has a clear identity and point of view, and each band expresses those things with a deft hand and complete commitment. I have nothing but respect for this split, and it comes highly recommended— snag your preorder here.

BUFFALO WILD WINGS-CORE: A Chronology of Hardcore’s Symbiotic Relationship with Hard Rock

That amazing header image is a picture of Uniform Choice in the early 90s, which Carlos of Black Army Jacket wisely used in his article on the dreadful trend of 80s hardcore bands ripping off Aerosmith.

As you are reading this, East Coast metallic hardcore outfit Vein have dropped their first full-length LP for Closed Casket Activities, Errorzone. Whereas on previous releases they could sit comfortably alongside their peers in Typecaste and Jukai, playing ugly, fucked-up and pulsating hardcore that recalls late 90s bands like Coalesce, on this record they seem to be drawing from a much different template: Slipknot. One of my friends who has listened to their new material has likened it to a “more creative Emmure.” Unlike most people, I actually really like Emmure, and so the new Vein songs that have flexed more melodic muscles, such as “Doomtech,” really appeal to me. However, this begs the question: when did hardcore start taking such blatant cues from mainstream hard rock outfits? If you’ve read this blog before, chances are you already know that the answer is “fucking forever.” Let’s dive in.

The original basis for hardcore bands ripping off mainstream hard rock is probably Boston outfits from the 80s, like straight-edge militants SSD and DYS, and decidedly non-straight-edge folks like Gang Green. The members of these bands have been open about taking influence from bands like AC/DC, so this shouldn’t come as much of a shock. The only real surprise I get from going back and taking another listen to these records is how objectively fucking wretched they are. This song is five and a half minutes long. These bands are not good enough at their instruments to justify that. When they were playing one-to-two-minute bursts of immature, violent hardcore, it was thrilling because of how peppy and energetic they were. This is like two steps up from Old Skull. Uniform Choice, the FU’s, and Warzone were also all guilty of committing similar sins against recorded music.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have the very tail-end of Black Flag’s initial run as a band. This song still isn’t very good, but at least they can write a goddamn hook. You can definitely tell that Black Flag jammed mid-era Black Sabbath and ZZ Top in the tour van. Also, say what you will about what an awful, paranoid, cheap bastard Greg Ginn is, but in the 80s, the man truly did have a knack for interesting, atonal, free-jazz-influenced guitar work, and that lends the solo in this song an original, bracing quality.

Into Another were a really interesting band that had members of youth crew groups like Youth of Today and Bold, but this sounds nothing like those (thankfully, because I fucking hate Bold). Instead this band has some Alice In Chains-esque stop-start rhythms and downright virtuosic guitar work. The vocals take a hot minute to get into, but once they click, it’s possible to acknowledge that they wrote some of the most inventive and catchy post-hardcore/hard rock records of the era, especially this one and Ignaurus.

The grunge bands of the late 80s and early 90s took liberal influence from both hard rock and hardcore punk (never forget that Nirvana wrote a song called “Aero Zeppelin”), which helped open the floodgates for more bands that were more openly associated with hardcore to eke their way into the mainstream. Of these, the most popular and influential was probably Helmet, but the best was easily Quicksand. I’m a huge sucker for pretty much anything Walt Schreifels has been involved in, but the tight grooves and acidic vocal hooks of Quicksand are the closest he’s ever gotten to something that could garner legitimate radio play (which this song did get!) Obviously, there are some clear precedents to their sound, like early Shudder to Think and Jawbox, but Quicksand definitely expanded on and perfected that template.

Shift were a pretty unique band that sprouted out of the same scene and trend as Quicksand (one of their members was also in essential PNW hardcore band Undertow, and their drummer played in both Hole and fucking Motley Crue). They always jumped out as having really, really sophisticated and strong songwriting and they could have easily gone on tour with, like, Pearl Jam or something. Their second record was kind of a clunker, but this album has just banger after banger after banger (I’m a particular fan of the acoustic-to-electric slow-burner “Dress-Up”). It’s a real shame that this record was never on Morning Zoo Crew rotation at my local hard rock station.

Helmet and Quicksand inspired plenty of hardcore bands to break up and become alt-rocky post-hardcore in their day, including this band, which featured alumni of both Helmet and Quicksand as well as Cro-Mags and Jets to Brazil. The songwriting and production on this album are crisp and polished as fuck and this band could have been a bonafide crossover phenomenon, like a more concise and pummeling version of Hum or Far. This record boasts some really massive hooks and excellent songs like “Needles” and “Eden Complex.” It’s also painfully under-recognized today and I urge anyone to check it out. See also: Chavez, who were a bit more math-rock, but also had plenty of polish and groove and are woefully under-looked nowadays (or maybe they’re not, I don’t know, I’m old and out of touch).

To this point, most of the bands I’ve mentioned have fallen more into the realm of alt-rocky post-hardcore, but Vision of Disorder is probably the first band that I’m aware of to incorporate straight-up Alice In Chains vocals into really fucking heavy, metallic hardcore. They were signed to Roadrunner for a while and released some spectacular records (you should peep some of their late-period material like “Southbound” and “Living to Die,” which is achingly desperate and well-constructed straightforward hard rock) but never regained the steam they had with this self-titled record. It’s a shame, because they scratched a particular itch I had for hooky-but-heavy music drenched with painful and palpable regret. One of the most unique things about this record in particular is the bouncy nu-metal influence, which is cool because I always heard a little bit of Korn in the riffs of hardcore bands like Disembodied and it was neat to see a band that owned that influence in such an open way. The folks in this band went on to more mainstream pastures in Bloodsimple but VOD finally got back together a few years ago and released some solid albums.

Life of Agony were never quite a hardcore band, and drew more from groove metal and later on alt rock (on Ugly and beyond), but you can still hear some vestigial influence on this record. As far as I know, they’re still pretty revered, which is good because Mina is a stellar vocalist and the band has always had a knack for making unbearably depressing songs that resolutely rock the fuck out (and when I say unbearably depressing, I mean it– this record ends with the sound of a slit wrist dripping into the sink).

It’s a shame that Linkin Park is only now getting proper critical reappraisal after the tragic death of Chester Bennington, but it’s finally socially acceptable to say that the breakdown in this song breaks bricks. Like I said, I think that hardcore and nu metal had a somewhat symbiotic relationship in the riff-writing in the late 90s (something that comes through most strongly on songs like Limp Bizkit’s “Break Stuff”), but it was still extremely validating, if unsurprising, to see Mike Shinoda name-drop bands like Botch, At the Drive-In, Refused, Gorilla Biscuits, and Inside Out as influences on Linkin Park’s sound.

No Warning ascended into the realm of hardcore royalty with their spectacular debut LP Ill Blood, but the hardcore scene collectively shunned them when they released Suffer, Survive, perhaps the first hardcore record to take influence from Linkin Park. It seemed to me that their reunion record got similarly tepid reception, which is understandable, because it was a warmed-over attempt to unite the sounds of Ill Blood and Suffer, Survive. I would have been happy if they kept the sound of this record, because some of these hooks are goddamn entertaining! The groove drop at 2:50 in this song is fantastic, and the scene did a massive injustice to this band by turning their backs on them. Joke’s on us, though, because Vein is about to become one of the biggest bands in hardcore by copying this template with better production and more breakdowns.

It is I, Ellie, the world’s biggest Eighteen Visions fan, and I’m here to proclaim that Obsession is non-ironically the best Eighteen Visions record. To this point, this was the absolute furthest that a hardcore band had pushed the Buffalo Wild Wings sound before they just became part of that world entirely. I’m not as big on the self-titled album, which tread a little too far into UFC bro territory for my taste (and also didn’t have any breakdowns, like the greatest-of-all-time banger that is this album’s “Tower of Snakes”), but the reunion record that 18V put out last year was a slick fusion of the Ink era with the Obsession era. Also, I have to hand it to James for being able to put together Scott Weiland-quality vocal hooks here without becoming a complete and total yarling monster. I would definitely argue that it was because of the self-titled 18V record and the post-VOD band Bloodsimple totally bombing in the mainstream that hardcore as a whole began to pull back from this sound, which is why there’s such a huge gap in it from here until the 2010s.

If there is a band that was responsible for holding down the fort of hard rock influence in their gnarly-ass hardcore, it’s definitely Cold World. This band is pretty well-regarded but I never see anyone talk about how advanced they are. Their union of heavy-ass fight riffs with wailing hard rock vocal hooks is unparalleled, and they are definitely one of the only bands that manages to bring in hip-hop influence without it becoming completely contrived and cringe-worthy (I suppose it’s worth talking about Downset in that context, but they’re really a completely separate conversation).

The band that was mostly responsible for ushering blatant hard rock influence back into hardcore was Twitching Tongues. This song turns the riff from “Bad to the Bone” into a breakdown on this song, for chrissakes. But they definitely reintroduced the concept of mostly-clean vocals, and they also brought some straight-up boogie riffs to the table. They started jocking Type O Negative and Life of Agony’s steez much more on their next few records, and their most recent one is kind of a disaster, but there was definitely a time when Twitching Tongues made it somewhat cool for hardcore kids to admit that they had a soft spot for Bob Seger.

I know, I know, Balance & Composure are a pop-punk band, but if you were in the hardcore scene circa 2010-2013, then you remember that it was definitely a common trend to admit a “guilty pleasure” admiration for certain pop-punk bands of the day, like Fireworks. Balance & Composure were probably one of the earliest bands to bring that soft-grunge influence into their post-hardcore-oriented pop-punk, and they’re totally the reason that Citizen was able to write Youth as well as why Title Fight (another hardcore-approved pop-punk band) decided to become a Filter cover band on Floral Green and Hyperview.

The first time I heard this song, I was like, “Oh, shit, so it’s finally cool to admit that we like the albums Metallica put out after …And Justice for All.” The last two Cruel Hand records are a refreshing mixture of hard rock choruses, thrash metal riffs, and raw-nerved hardcore, and that’s driven home by the fact that they can all play their instruments really well. The solo in this song is a good example of that, but my personal favorite Cruel Hand jawn is probably the regretcore anthem, “Too Far from That,” which I unfortunately cannot find on YouTube.

The post-Trapped Under Ice bands Turnstile and Angel Du$t are maybe kind of corny, but both have done an able job of incorporating catchy-ass riffs into their functional, efficient hardcore. Turnstile go the extra mile and throw in some funk influence (via Red Hot Chili Peppers and Rage Against the Machine), which adds an extra kick of danceability to tracks like this, and they just sit in your fucking gut like lead. Sure, they’re kind of copping the steez of bands like Token Entry and Dog Eat Dog, but at least they aren’t latter-day Leeway, which was and should remain an extreme embarrassment to everyone involved.

Now, I realize that Code Orange have become quite the punching bag in recent years (“FROM THE BASEMENT TO THE GRAMMYS”), but hear me out: this song sounds like if Deftones were a hardcore band, and it’s fucking great. If every song on their next record sounds like this one and “Bleeding In the Blur,” I’ll be stoked. Code Orange have absolutely demonstrated a talent for crafting incredibly catchy tracks without sacrificing any of their innate heaviness. Sure, Jami is an asshole nowadays, but not everyone can be Jesse Price and continue to be an insanely nice, approachable person while their bands are blowing up.

Which finally brings us to Vein, and their ability to fuse skronky, bracing mathcore with the accessibility and groove of Slipknot. This song is my favorite from Errorzone, based mostly on the rousing clean vocals in the last minute or so of the song. The sound of their up-and-coming peers like Inclination, Sanction, and Buried Dreams is heavily based in writing irresponsibly heavy riffs, but perhaps Vein are paving the way for a complete and total hard rock/nu metal revival in the hardcore scene? It’s already happened several times over in the mainstream metalcore scene (see: bands like Emmure, dangerkids, Of Mice & Men…), so perhaps with the backing of a total hypecore band like Vein, this sound can gain some legitimacy and traction in the DIY circuit. I’d also like to point out bands like Cast In Blood, who are bringing back the clean-vocal-laden sound of bands like Bullet for My Valentine with a DIY-friendly layer of lo-fi production and spitfire performances. Will the new thing in hardcore be accessibility? As much as I like complete ass-kicking fight riffs, I’m okay with a little desperate, regret-filled singing in my hardcore. I’m pretty excited to see what a new wave of kids copycatting Vein would sound like.

Ultimately, it’s difficult to predict what kind of trends hardcore kids will cling on to. It’s an extremely cyclical scene, and the cycle seems to be speeding up every day; bands like Every Time I Die were cool to hate on as recently as 2012, but their most recent records have been in the rotation of every kid with a God’s Hate hoodie, so to say that the tastes of the scene are fickle is an understatement. However, I feel confident in saying that with the distance time has allowed us in between now and the days of hard rock and nu metal past, it’s finally becoming acceptable to admit that you want your band to be catchy. Here’s hoping we get some damn good songs out of it.

Ellie is begging you to follow her on Twitter, like her page on Facebook, and ask her questions on her Tumblr. While you’re at it, consider listening to her bimonthly podcast for /r/emo, the E Word. She’s moving to Texas in less than three weeks and your validation means more to her than your money.

A Review of the New Darkle EP, Pain Train

At one point, this blog was supposed to be something that updated at least semi-regularly. Believe it or not, I was actually planning on writing a new long-form piece at least once a week. It quickly became apparent that my life was simply not going to allow that to happen. If you’re wondering what’s been going on with my life and why this blog has been dead for so long, I’ve been struggling a lot with mental health and personal relationships, I came out as trans to my family and friends, I joined a podcast, and I’m moving from Las Vegas, NV to Austin, TX in three weeks to restart my life. I truly do promise that from now on I will make a legitimate effort to update this blog more regularly, and to all the people who have sent me reader mail that I have either not responded to or not incorporated into a blog post, I apologize from the absolute bottom of my heart. All your feedback means so, so much to me, more than you could ever know, and I’m so sorry for dropping the ball on my end. Maybe one day I’ll actually get around to that Reader Mail post.

Anyway, this post isn’t about me. It’s about how the new EP from my good friends in Darkle is so fucking good that it actually dragged this dead blog out of retirement.

Darkle is a sparklepunk (or, as they would say, darklepunk) band from the Chicago suburbs (specifically, New Lenox). I’ve written about them before and have interviewed the vocalist, Matt, on at least three separate occasions. Their most definitive characteristic prior to this record was their cleverly-arranged guitar riffs and Matt’s distinctive vocal hooks. If you’ve never listened to them before, I suggest listening to their songs “Millennial Trash” and “Clonazejam!” to get a sense of the slight jump in style that Darkle have executed here.

The first thing anyone should notice about Pain Train, if they’ve been previously aware of Darkle’s work, is that this record sounds amazing. The production is incredibly crisp and clear, as opposed to their previous record, Birds, Bees, and Sweaty Palms, which could at times sound tinny and inaccessible. Pain Train sounds both clean and warm, allowing the listener to hear the intricacies of the performances without sounding over-processed or too slick. In particular, the rhythm section, Dean on drums and Chris on bass, pop far more than they ever have before, allowing their dynamic and tightly-woven work to be heard. This in particular shows on “Chillantro,” one of the most diverse and immaculately-constructed songs on the EP, and one which would not work if the band weren’t perfectly in sync with each other.

It took Darkle somewhere in the neighborhood of eight months to get from the beginning to the end of writing, recording, and releasing this EP, and it shows, as not only does the record sound great from a production standpoint, the songwriting itself is at the most polished Darkle has ever been. They criss-cross genres with fluidity and confidence, easily creating a varied and complex listening experience. Particular standout moments in this regard include the burst of screamo in “Edward Manghetti & the Western Spaghetti,” the saxophone-laden post-rock build in “Chillantro,” and the intricate breakdown at the end of what might be Darkle’s best song, “Loser POV.”

I want to take a special moment to highlight “Loser POV,” which represents a huge leap forward for Darkle. The vocal hooks are less prominent on this EP and are replaced by atmosphere and a more progressive sense of song structure, and nowhere is that more apparent than on “Loser POV,” a song that seems to toss to and fro, teasing out tension and building intensity before scaling itself back. The guitar work on this track is especially commendable, as the climax of the song is pure, off-kilter math rock and it absolutely wouldn’t work if Andrew didn’t slide in and out of the complex riff with extreme grace and conviction.

Also of special note on this record are the vocals, which show lead vocalist Matt pushing themself past what they’ve demonstrated on previous Darkle releases. The emotional climax of the album, closer “I Refuse to Sparkle,” is a piano piece with string accompaniment that drips with sincerity due to Matt’s vocal performance, hitting the high register with passion and ease. Elsewhere on the album, Matt’s vocals are equally powerful, whether they be harmonizing on the eerie opener “Nothing Like A Good Feeling” or belting out screamo influence on “Edward Manghetti” and “Loser POV.”

And of course, this EP would feel a lot more hollow if it weren’t for Darkle’s pals coming in to help on select occasions, such as the aforementioned sax and strings on “Chillantro” and “I Refuse,” as well as Kathy P. of Girl K contributing her unique style of vocals to those songs.

Overall, this EP is splendid, and it makes me incredibly excited to see how much further Darkle will develop. Along with bands like Commander Salamander and Origami Angel, Darkle are some of the most intriguing and clever new songwriters working in the genre today, and if you feel burnt-out on emo or sparklepunk or whatever you wanna call it, I recommend giving this record a spin. It just might rejuvenate your interest in the music the way it did mine in the blog. Check it out below.

Follow me on Twitter, like me on Facebook, and ask me questions on Tumblr. I promise one day my update schedule will be regular. 

The Secret History of Deathcore

Full credit to MetalMonsterDSN on DeviantArt for this header image, which I blatantly stole from Google Image Search.

One of the most baffling things about the fact that we are almost finished with 2017 is that deathcore, previously thought to be completely dead and irrelevant, is suddenly becoming kind of cool to be into again. I would have never thought that Kids These Days would still be getting hyped about the new Thy Art Is Murder record but they put out Dear Desolation earlier this year and not only do people somehow actually give a shit, but they are also somewhat respected by the same metal nerds that refused to accept them just a scant few years ago.

It appears to me, though, that most deathcore bands who still have modern Scene Currency™ (in the “getting reblogged on Tumblr” sense, not the “jocked by losers in Facebook skramz groups” sense) are those bands who have kept the things fans liked about them in the first place while also adding in new, minor tweaks in order to directly appeal to modern audiences. For example, the latest Veil of Maya record, which alternates nose-breakingly heavy pick scrapes and rhythm changes with clean vocals that most closely evoke mid-period Vision of Disorder. See also: the new Emmure album, which combines Frankie Palmieri’s Fred Durst fetish with the mosh chops of his new band members, formerly of Glass Cloud and the Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza, to create an album that sounds like Disembodied and Mudvayne had a torrid affair and gave birth to this record outside a Nautica outlet.

Do you see where I’m going with this? The most successful modern deathcore is that which takes elements of the past and vomits it out in a way that seems fresh. All this has gotten me thinking– how the fuck did deathcore even come about? It’s kind of an anomaly, in that unlike metalcore and scenecore, it has no clearly visible precursors in or traceable influences from the DIY hardcore scene that came before it. But that doesn’t mean those influences don’t exist; it just means no one has attempted to delineate them before. With that in mind, let’s begin an amazing journey, from the detritus-strewn battlefield of the 90s DIY hardcore scene all the way to the innovation happening within the genre today. Join me, friends, as this post becomes my moshterpiece.

PHASE ONE: THE 90s AND PROTO-DEATHCORE

I find this section to be the most interesting, personally, because most people think of deathcore as an exclusively post-2000 phenomenon. This could not be further from the truth; while the genre wasn’t fully codified until then, there are a ton of bands from the 90s that were combining death metal with hardcore in previously unprecedented ways and laying the groundwork for what we consider to be modern deathcore. Of course, none of these bands were consciously part of a movement within the genre; it was more of a disparate group of acts who were doing whatever unique things they could with what they had, and inadvertently formed the nucleus of today’s deathcore. I’d wager to guess that literally zero percent of today’s deathcore fans or bands are really aware of any of these artists, but they formed the blueprint from which many of them draw.

I know what you’re thinking: “But, Ellie, Assück are clearly a deathgrind band! Are you just going to be talking about bands like Phobia that everyone already knows about?” Well, cool your jets, smartass, there’s a good reason Assück is first on this list. While, yes, they did play deathgrind, which although a big stylistic influence on deathcore, is a fairly well-known one, Assück were unique in that they played a shitload of hardcore and emo fests, and therefore exposed a lot more hardcore kids to death metal much more efficiently than a band like, say, Terrorizer, who were playing to a much more metal and grind-exclusive audience. Sure, there were bands like Excruciating Terror and Iabhorher, who played a lot of LA house parties, and sludge/doom-indebted bands like Dystopia who were related to hardcore via their members being tagger-affiliated, but if you think anyone outside of a couple pockets of the West Coast gave a shit about those groups, you’re sorely misinformed. Assück were vastly more popular than those bands and achieved a wide amount of notoriety within a swathe of diverse scenes. It’s probably safe to say that without Assück bands like Cattle Decapitation wouldn’t exist.

Many people point to Suffocation as the true “inventors” of deathcore, via playing incredibly brutal death metal with occasional grooves that paid homage to NYHC, but in my opinion Suffocation were always a bit too jazz-influenced and Frank’s vocals were too low and “legit metal” to qualify as the progenitors. Instead, I’d like to point to this EP by fellow NYDM pioneers, Pyrexia. While there were other NYDM bands of the same era who had groovy riffs (Internal Bleeding springs to mind), Pyrexia brought the mosh in a much more sophisticated way, combining early 90s death metal-inflected shredding with straight-up breakdowns in a way that had never really been done before. Also, peep those vocals– definitely an influence on hardcore frontmen like Jamey Jasta and Scott Vogel, and the double-tracked wail at 1:48 sounds like it could have come straight off a Suicide Silence song.

As far as powerviolence goes, you don’t get much more brutal and negative than Despise You, except maybe No Comment’s Downsided 7″. In any case, that is a god-tier “BLEH!” at the beginning and then the straight-up death metal riff that follows is absolutely next-level for a hardcore band at the time. This was right before the sea change in powerviolence from SoCal to NorCal– the SoCal dudes were gritty, fucked up meth addicts and losers, and I feel like they owe a lot more debt to metal than the more punky powerviolence that was to come (see late-period Spazz).

In my opinion, bands like Bloodlet and Integrity, despite being referred to as “deathcore” at the time by zines, were less influenced by the musical aspects of death metal than they were by the bleak and oppressive atmosphere of it. This song, for example, is all hardcore groove and aggression with little-to-no death metal influence to be found. These bands were more about coming off as “evil.” However, I guarantee you that bands who came later took massive amounts of influence from these groups and for that they deserve to be given a bit of a shout-out.

Though Starkweather were the first metalcore band to incorporate clean vocals (as early as 1991!), Reno’s Fall Silent did it with more swagger and with more death metal influences. As Sergeant D points out in this article, Fall Silent thank Alex Marquez, of old-school death metal bands such as Resurrection and Malevolent Creation, for inspiration. That is a little unfortunate, since Malevolent Creation’s vocalist is, you know, a virulent racist and homophobe, but before the Internet (and before the 1998 album where Malevolent Creation dropped the n-word), I think this fact was a lot less well-known, and since I live in Nevada and have chatted with the members of Fall Silent and was told point-blank that they were unaware of that fact at the time, I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. Also, if you aren’t listening to this band, you’re truly fucking up.

Morning Again were dancey as all get-out, and there are several moments on this record in particular where they break from straightforward hardcore and delve into deathrash guitar work, most notably the groove at 0:36 here. For 1996, this is absurdly advanced.

I can’t find the exact Abnegation recordings I’m looking for on YouTube (specifically their 1996 split with Chapter), but this song works fine as well. This is basically primordial deathcore– the pick squeals, the insanely brutal breakdowns, the Morbid Angel-esque guitar work at around 1:30— and if it weren’t for the hissy, awful recording quality and more traditionally “hardcore” vocals, I could see this being on a split with, say, Glass Casket circa 2003.

Although musically this hews closer to the melodeathcore that was soon to be absolutely dominating the New England scene a la Darkest Hour and Shadows Fall– in other words, the face of straightforward metalcore throughout the early-mid 2000s– Catharsis were probably the first hardcore band to blatantly rip off At the Gates, and for that they deserve recognition in the pantheon of “deathcore pioneers.” Bands like Walls of Jericho, Undying and the pre-Between the Buried and Me band Prayer for Cleansing are pretty much ripping off this record wholesale, and I cannot think of a more succinct way of explaining deathcore than “hardcore kids ripping off death metal.”

That same year, Day of Suffering beat Catharsis at their own game by being perhaps the first ever hardcore band to copy brutal death metal. I mean, fuck, they’re named after a Morbid Angel song, and that bit at 1:40 sounds like it could have come straight out of a fucking Cannibal Corpse song. Apparently after this album they started to go into a more black metal-influenced direction, which, had they released an album of that material, would have been so far ahead of its time that it would have caused DIY hardcore to collapse in on itself. There had been other hardcore bands that had raised the bar for heaviness to an absurd degree, like Racetraitor and Killtheslavemaster, but literally none could match the pure fury that Day of Suffering were spitting here.

While we’re on the subject of hardcore bands copying black metal, any post on bands that pioneered deathcore would be completely pointless if it didn’t bring up the first two Underoath albums, which are absolute masterpieces of blackened deathcore while the members of Abigail Williams were still in diapers. It even features a hardcore band attempting to go full metal with the vocals, and while it’s a little dated and laughable now, I’m sure it sounded fucking insane the first time people heard this album. I think the only other hardcore band to so successfully rip off Dissection was Eighteen Visions on “Prelude to an Epic.”

Christian bands were really fucking ahead of the curve, weren’t they? This album came out in 1998 and is, as far as I can tell, the earliest example of contemporary deathcore. I would be absolutely shocked if the members of Suicide Silence or Whitechapel heard that bit at 1:30 and didn’t hang their heads in shame when they realized they were essentially stealing all of their ideas from this band.

Of course, many of the heaviest bands of the late 90s were to be found in the Showcase and Chain Reaction scene. Eighteen Visions’ Yesterday Is Time Killed and Until the Ink Runs Out LPs are unprecedentedly heavy, and no other band besides perhaps Bleeding Through and Atreyu were as much of an influence on deathcore’s later fashion sense. I and many others have talked to death about how very influential this band was, so I won’t say too much, but if you deny that they were on some next-level shit, you’re fucking deluded.

Adamantium were also absurdly ahead of their time, perhaps second only to Eighteen Visions. While their compatriots in Throwdown were basically investing in payoff riff after payoff riff without paying much care to strong songwriting until much later in their run, Adamantium strung together songs with impeccable structure and hooks without sacrificing any of their brutality. I’ve spoken a lot about deathcore poster boys Suicide Silence in this article already, but Mitch Lucker specifically cited Adamantium as an early influence on them, and if you compare that part at 2:00 here to, say, “No Pity for a Coward,” it’s pretty clear and undeniable.

As opposed to the vast majority of these bands, Disembodied are fairly well-remembered nowadays due to bands like Code Orange and Knocked Loose essentially ripping them off wholesale. This is very odd because anyone who went to shows back then can confirm that there were at most 15-25 people in attendance for Disembodied. I am positive that those people can also confirm how much Disembodied fucking ripped. 2:07 features potentially the earliest example of the tremolo-picked breakdown, and it still brings the fucking house down to this day. No 90s band was as heavy as Disembodied, period, and anyone who says otherwise is a fool. Disembodied are also, I believe, the only band on this list that had a woman in it, which is unfortunate. Commenters, help me out! Are there any other absurdly heavy, pioneering deathcore bands with women in them?

Though I was debating even including Human Remains on this list because of how unapologetically death metal they were, I think they were one of the most creative metal bands of the 90s. They played an absolutely demented mixture of death metal and hardcore that, in the long run, I think was more of an influence on mathcore than anything else (listen to that bit at 1:15 and tell me that the Dillinger Escape Plan would have existed without it– this was all the way back in 1995, which is unbelievable), which I think can largely be attributed to the maniacal genius of Dave Witte on drums, also of Discordance Axis and Burnt by the Sun, among many others. In the end I decided they were worth including on here because of the large DNA crossover of early 2000s deathcore and early 2000s mathcore (see: Ion Dissonance and the Red Chord).

I suppose if I bring up Human Remains it’s worth giving a shout-out to the pre-Dillinger Escape Plan band Canephora, too, who were more rooted in hardcore but also took an impressive amount of influence from technical death metal.

I wanted to finish off this part of early deathcore history by shouting out early Hatebreed. It’s no secret that many of their most brutal moments are basically copycatted directly from the Obituary playbook– Jamey Jasta has said as much– and I think because of their immense popularity, many of those early-mid 2000s deathcore kids were first exposed to heavily death metal-indebted hardcore by the first few Hatebreed records. Obviously Hatebreed themselves are more of a moshcore band than anything else, but there’s enough death metal in their blood that I don’t think it’s at all ridiculous to slot them here.

PHASE TWO: DEATHCORE PROPER

As I brought up earlier, there was a good amount of crossover between what we now recognize as early deathcore and the early 2000s mathcore scene. Ion Dissonance, The Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza, and the Red Chord in particular are bands that I could comfortably place in either of those categories without much fuss. If I had to wager a guess, I would say that this is because of the immense influence grind had on both of these genres. Of course, it’s easy in retrospect to see how Daughters and Despised Icon were going in completely different directions, but it’s also easy to see how much crossover appeal those bands had with each other. If there’s one major difference that leaps out at me, it’s that the mathcore bands were much more heavily devoted to DIY hardcore (probably due to their vestigial sass influence), and the bands that became known as deathcore originators were much more comfortable playing to macho metal audiences (side note, how fucking hilarious is it that the vocalist of the Red Chord is a cop?).

At this point, just about everyone is familiar with the Holy Trinity of early deathcore– Despised Icon, the Red Chord, and Ion Dissonance– but it seems that it’s only now people are starting to give a shit about Glass Casket. This sounds completely at home with moshcore bands like On Broken Wings, but definitely has a technical, death-influenced edge that puts them squarely into deathcore territory. The members of Glass Casket have a very interesting pedigree, however, going on to bands like the Faceless and Between the Buried and Me, both of which are emblematic of the cultural shift that deathcore was soon to go through, as it became more and more acceptable for “real” metal fans to listen to those technically demanding bands now that they weren’t playing “bullshit for hardcore kids to ninja-dance to.”

Speaking of Between the Buried and Me, I think it’s criminal that they are overlooked as the early deathcore veterans they are. While both they and the Black Dahlia Murder have now transcended the -core label and are fully integrated into the “trve” metal scene, 0:50 in this song is a prime example of early deathcore, as my good friend Loren pointed out to me recently. Absurdly brutal breakdowns as well as a laughable attempt at low death metal vocals– NOW THAT’S WHAT I CALL EARLY DEATHCORE!

Good fucking god this is a heavy-ass album for 2002. A Life Once Lost and It Dies Today were the first bands that were doing the whole “songs that are insanely heavy breakdowns from beginning to end” thing, and they deserve credit for that, but the Acacia Strain came out with this record and unequivocally blew them the fuck away by finding the unspeakably heavy “brown note” that all deathcore from then on was rooted in. Major props to the Acacia Strain for continuing to be relevant in three full generations of deathcore (via 2010’s Wormwood, which was probably the heaviest record ever made at that point, and their most recent output, which is still fucking stellar). They also get points for coming up in the DIY hardcore scene as well as still considering themselves a hardcore band, while their deathcore brethren have mostly kept to considering themselves “metal bands.”

The Acacia Strain found the brown note, but Emmure arguably perfected it, and fused the bro-y, beatdown sound of Throwdown and Hatebreed with the aforementioned brown note as well as nu metal to create the insanely advanced 2004 demo linked above. I might be the only person I know who is an unapologetic fan of most of Emmure’s work (outside of their lyrics), and shit like this is why– people used to shit on Disembodied for kind of sounding like Korn, and then ten years later here comes Emmure playing heavy-ass hardcore that owes as much to Limp Bizkit as it does to Adamantium, and it is resolutely S-rank shit.

Job for a Cowboy are arguably the reason that metal nerds hated deathcore so much to begin with. This EP came out in 2005 and its mixture of brutal death, breakdowns, and hooky songwriting somehow coalesced into a perfect storm that resulted in deathcore becoming the sound du jour for MySpace kids. It doesn’t hurt that Job for a Cowboy also represents the complete abandonment of DIY hardcore by deathcore bands. In many ways, Doom is the apex of all of deathcore’s disparate cultural influences– sassy scene aesthetic, br00tal breakdowns, deathgrind, emerging Internet culture– and at the time, it all worked perfectly. I guarantee every deathcore kid loved the video for “Entombment of a Machine,” and it’s one of the earliest examples of a heavy music meme on the Internet (along with Waking the Cadaver’s legendary “I like shredded wheat”). Job for a Cowboy also came from the fucking desolate Southwest, which in the ensuing years became the hub for generic deathcore. For one more thing that made Job for a Cowboy such an essential influence on modern deathcore, by 2007 they completely abandoned the genre and went “full death metal” in order to appeal to metal nerds, and it fucking worked (much to the detriment of their overall popularity, though). If you want to know why deathcore is actually considered a viable genre to metal nerds today, Job for a Cowboy is why.

So here is Bring Me the Horizon’s one true deathcore album, before they fully embraced their melodic metalcore influences in Skycamefalling and Poison the Well for Suicide Season, and before they became a solid Linkin Park cover band. I have to admit that despite enjoying almost all of Bring Me the Horizon’s work, I’m not too stoked on this album, outside of a few bangers like, obviously, “Pray for Plagues.” However, one can’t deny that Oli Sykes was, for his time, the prettiest scene boy on the planet, and pretty much cemented deathcore’s transition from a niche thing that also appealed to the weirdos who were into white belt scene grind (Arsonists Get All the Girls, See You Next Tuesday, iwrestledabearonce) into a household phenomenon.

This record is so fucking pissed off. If Bring Me the Horizon made deathcore a household thing, Suicide Silence created a generation of kids who craved brutality more than anything else. I can’t think of a deathcore band in 2007 who were more brutal than them. Phil Bozeman’s vocals came close with Whitechapel’s Somatic Defilement, another essential deathcore record of the era, but they truly were just chasing Suicide Silence’s coattails. I suppose I should throw in a shoutout for Heaven Shall Burn and maybe early All Shall Perish, too, but they were already turning into a hard rock outfit (lol). The musicianship is just polished enough to be accessible while still raw enough to maintain a furious edge, and those vocals– fuck. The perfect example of a hardcore kid trying way too hard to sound like Corpsegrinder, but against all odds, they work. Bonus points for every girl you knew in high school who had that “Pull the Trigger, Bitch” hoodie.

Of course, it’s now been ten years since The Cleansing, and it’s not like deathcore as a genre had completely stopped innovating, but it’s at this point that the connections between it and the DIY hardcore that it was originally drawing from become less and less meaningful. Post-Suicide Silence, deathcore was as popular a movement in heavy music as they come, with bands like Carnifex, Chelsea Grin, and Abigail Williams even throwing in some black metal influence and still managing to appeal to a widespread audience. At this point, deathcore and DIY hardcore are completely separate and have absolutely zero crossover, and metal nerds also fucking loathe it with a passion. Because deathcore is neither “here nor there,” as it were, it appealed to a lot of kids who also felt completely out of place in their world, and I think that’s what makes this era so interesting to me. In the same way as nu metal, equally lambasted by metal nerds during its peak in popularity, appealed to the weirdo kids who didn’t really have another genre to cling onto and didn’t have anywhere else to fit in.

I suppose that is why DIY hardcore bands who took legitimate influence from death metal, such as Harms Way, Xibalba, Disgrace, and Harness, were never really considered deathcore bands, despite ostensibly fitting into that category (via being hardcore kids who were copycatting death metal). Deathcore became an entire aesthetic unto itself that was completely divorced from the DIY hardcore scene.

Like I brought up earlier, however, deathcore slowly became more and more accepted by elitist metal fans due to bands such as the Faceless, the Contortionist, the Agony Scene, and Between the Buried and Me becoming more and more technical as well as the fact that with age, metal fans will eventually embrace any good band no matter how much they were regarded as “poser bullshit” in their day. You can see this cycle repeating itself in many ways with djent. Where bands like Born of Osiris, After the Burial, and Periphery were once derided as Sumeriancore, their legitimately excellent musicianship as well as their enviable longevity have resulted in them being accepted into the metal canon. Some bands, like Volumes, aren’t there yet, and I think that sludgewave artists like Black Tongue, Yüth Forever, and Sworn In may never be, due to their heavy influence from mallcore, but nevertheless it’s an observation I’ve made and I believe I’ve pinpointed acceptance from the metal community at large as the point at which deathcore is no longer connected to the hardcore scene.

Which brings us to bands like Veil of Maya, whose new album was the impetus for me finally writing this article after teasing it for months. Twenty years ago, Eighteen Visions and Vision of Disorder alienated stalwart hardcore fans by bringing in clean singing and rock-oriented song structure, but now that Veil of Maya is doing the exact same thing, their long-standing reputation in the scene has lent them enough credibility to do so without being rejected wholesale from the deathcore scene. This is kind of adjacent to metalcore bands like Of Mice and Men and Bring Me the Horizon delving completely into hard rock territory, but I find that Veil of Maya don’t seem to be sacrificing their heaviness for more widespread appeal, like the aforementioned bands (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

Overall, I’ve found that death metal-influenced hardcore is still very much a thing (that new Left Behind record is maybe the heaviest thing I’ve heard in years), but it doesn’t call itself deathcore. Deathcore no longer even really calls itself deathcore, the bands usually just referring to themselves as metal, including genre stalwarts like Thy Art Is Murder and (ugh) Infant Annihilator. So perhaps, despite the continuing popularity of many ostensibly deathcore acts, the genre really is completely irrelevant nowadays. Nevertheless, it’s always fascinating to see how a genre grew and developed from its roots. Gone are the days when Rose FUNOral, ABACABB, Jerome, early Liferuiner, and other supremely ignorant bands brought the mosh, but also, when looking at the incredibly misogynistic and homophobic lyrics and attitudes of those bands, perhaps that’s a good thing. Maybe the end of deathcore is a result of the fans slowly growing more socially conscious. Or maybe it’s a result of the metal scene itself slowly growing more inclusive. I prefer to think that it’s because deathcore was truly just a moment in time, and it’s passed, like 77 punk or the Golden Age of Hip-Hop. Although there are still artists that take influence from those eras, the specific confluence of cultural factors will probably never happen again.

Anyway, that’s probably enough pretentious analysis of a dumbass scene phenomenon for one night. I think it might finally be time for me to let it die. In the immortal words of Mitch Lucker, “Pull the trigger, bitch.”

UPDATE:

A few people have told me that I missed a couple seminal bands, including my pal Jesse from Letters to Catalonia, who informed me that Through the Eyes of the Dead should have been mentioned, and that is fair– Through the Eyes of the Dead were around in the scene fairly early on and have had their share of influence.

If we’re going to bring up Through the Eyes of the Dead, we may as well also discuss the band that they came from, Deadwater Drowning, who are a lot more influential than they ever really get credit for, via members going on to join bands such as Through the Eyes, the Acacia Strain, Burnt by the Sun, Fit for an Autopsy, Shai Hulud (!), the Final Battle, and the Red Chord. As far as I can tell, outside of their demo, this EP is the only thing Deadwater Drowning ever released, and it’s absolutely fucking sick and should be looked at as a seminal stepping stone in the development of deathcore as a genre.

The first Elysia album is probably the closest thing you’ll be able to find to the pure, platonic form of MySpace deathcore. Contemporaries of Impending Doom and Killwhitneydead, among others, Elysia were the definition of scene kids playing the definition of generic deathcore, and it was fantastic. There’s some really aggressive, disjointed lyricism and song structure here that foreshadowed their follow-up, Lion of Judas, which was recorded by Kurt Ballou (!!), and which they were set to tour with Shai Hulud (!!! again!) in support of before they had to call it quits due to medical issues. They’re mostly forgotten now, which is a shame, because they were definitely leagues above their C-level peers like Salt the Wound, The Irish Front, Knights of the Abyss, and so on, but having to quit that Shai Hulud tour really cut their popularity off at the knees. Apparently they got back together a few years ago, but they immediately broke up again.

Animosity were often confused for a straight-up death metal act, which makes sense, considering that they were one of the few deathcore bands who actually knew how to write a fucking guitar solo, but one look at this music video makes it incredibly clear that Animosity were a deathcore band above all else. However, when they released their first LP in 2003, they were probably one of the only bands on the West Coast who were playing this brand of music, and it always felt a lot more slick and polished, songwriting-wise, than many of their Midwest and East Coast contemporaries. Somewhat predictably, given the fact that they could play their fucking asses off and always trended in a more “trve” direction, they were one of the first deathcore bands to be embraced by the more traditional metal community.

Although it’s not entirely appropriate to label Dead to Fall a deathcore band (they were more of a melodeath-influenced band, although they were certainly talented at writing murderous fucking breakdowns), I wanted to throw in a shout-out to this song in particular, because it came out in 2008 and the (fucking hilarious) lyrics really feel like ultimate kiss-off to the MySpace deathcore sound. So let’s end this song, and this article, with a fucking breakdown.

If you liked this article, please consider giving me a like on Facebook, and/or a follow on my Twitter or Tumblr. If you’d like to help me write more of this kind of high-quality content, I would love it if you considered donating to my Patreon— every little bit helps. Regardless, I hope you were at least entertained by this far too in-depth look at what amounts to a phase for most people. It’s more words than I’ve written on this blog in over a year, and it was very fun to write and research.

Love, Ellie

An Interview with Jesse Price (Letters to Catalonia, SeeYouSpaceCowboy, Recluse)

A few months ago, I went to go see SeeYouSpaceCowboy play in Las Vegas during their tour in support of Fashion Statements of the Socially Aware, a raging slab of sass and metalcore-indebted screamo. I was previously familiar with Connie through interviewing her (she also did the excellent artwork for this new Letters to Catalonia release and has done art for many excellent bands, such as Amygdala) but I also hit it off with the rest of the band, especially Jesse Price, who is one of the coolest people I’ve met in DIY, period.

Jesse’s other band, Letters to Catalonia, has been one of my favorite screamo acts in recent years, mainly because they’re actually exciting as hell. Their smart, conscious lyrics are split up in vocals shared among the members, all of whom play some of the most pissed-off music in San Diego since Struggle.

Recently, Letters to Catalonia released their first new material since their demo and split with Illil last year, a collection of songs called Fragmentary. Drawing from the political and melodic spirit of bands like Yaphet Kotto and fusing it with the bone-snapping heaviness of metallic hardcore, Letters have crafted an offering that is as dense and rewarding to listen to as it is brisk and exhilarating. Songs like “Manufacturing Optimism” feature guitar breaks that ooze with mournful bliss and the rhythm section absolutely rips (check out the bass during the bridge of “If I Hear One More…”). It comes highly recommended with the You Don’t Need Maps seal of approval.

I recently had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Jesse about Letters, the whitebelt revival, and radical leftist politics. Even if Letters aren’t your bag musically (although they absolutely should be), I highly recommend reading this interview, because Jesse had some incredibly insightful and thoughtful things to say and was frankly a fun person to interview. Check it! My questions are in bold; Jesse’s answers are in normal font.

-Ellie

Okay. So, first of all, thank you so much for agreeing to this. The new Letters to Catalonia is fantastic. How did this new material come together? It’s definitely a bit more progressive than your previous stuff.

Of course! I’m extremely excited to be doing this. Thank you so much! I’m really stoked on how the songs came out. These songs are about 6 months to a year old, Dom (our bass player) and I wrote them right after we lost our original bass player and drummer. I’m glad to hear that you think that the songs are more progressive. Moving forward after the split i kind of wanted to move away from the “whitebelt” thing a little bit and focus more on just being a screamo band with heavy parts.

Yeah, the whitebelt revival has pretty much reached full fruition this past year and it’s cool to see bands who are kind of doing a “post-whitebelt” thing. I’m definitely picking up on a lot of late 90s/early 2000s metalcore influence, especially Blood and Fire-era Zao. Were there any other particular influences on your current sound?

Yeah I mean, don’t get me wrong, I am all about the whole whitebelt revival thing. Obviously, you know I have another band that I get to use all the silly elements of whitebelt stuff in, so i can get all that stuff out in that band. For Letters, I would definitely say that we take a lot of influence from late 90s/early 00s metalcore, Zao definitely being one of the bands that i love from that era. I’d say that influences for our current sound would be June Paik, Loma Prieta, Republic of Dreams, Ampere, Drop Dead Gorgeous, Jeromes Dream, Orchid, Louise Cyphre, Arsen aka Konig Der Monster, I could go on for a while. But basically a lot of German screamo and metalcore with panic chord breakdowns.

I am absolutely all about that shit. It’s so cool to hear metalcore-infused skramz nowadays, especially after a solid decade of metalcore not being “cool” in the skramz scene.

Oh yeah, I got made fun of so bad for liking that stuff as a kid. Now it’s the “cool” thing to to in the DIY scene. The world is stupid [laughs].

Would you mind giving me a little bit of the history of Letters? You guys have been around for a minute now and are one of the hotter acts to emerge from the San Diego scene in recent years, and I find your name oddly prescient given what’s going on right now politically. How did the band itself come about?

So Letters to Catalonia started after the demise of my old band, Recluse, and PJ’s old band, allmywishes. At first it was just Julian and I (Julian was also in Recluse with me), and we were just super into Ampere, June Paik, and Battle of Wolf 359. We wrote two songs, then PJ started jamming with us and we finished writing and recording the demo. Then we wrote and recorded the split with Ilill and went on a tour to SXSW 2016. On the tour and shortly after, some things in certain band members lives started to come up and long story short, it ended up being me by myself. then Dom joined and we started writing our LP. Once we found a drummer we started practicing and playing shows again. We recorded the three songs on Fragmentary and here we are. I saw somebody made a joke on Facebook the other day about us having perfect timing with the release of Fragmentary because it was the same day that all the stuff in Catalonia started to pop off.

Ha! That is perfect.

I definitely lol’d.

That split with Ilill was one of my favorite screamo records last year. It’s great to hear that the band basically fell apart and reformed with a completely new lineup, and still is able to retain your unique voice.

Obviously, your name is inherently political. Do you consider Letters to be an explicitly political band? If so, has that impacted the way you’ve been received in the scene at all?

Hey thanks! Ilill’s side of that split is amazing. I love that band so much and I’m so bummed they broke up. I’d definitely say we’re an explicitly political band. I think the only difference now is we try to be a little less corny about it [laughs]. Honestly it’s really hard to tell. It may have had something to do with Lars (React with Protest) wanting to put us out. If so, I’m stoked because React with Protest is straight up my favorite “screamo” label.

Yes! React with Protest are fucking amazing. I don’t think y’all are corny about it at all; we need more outspokenly leftist bands in the DIY scene, there’s never enough. How do you put your political beliefs into practice with your band and/or in your personal life?

Thanks! I second guess everything I do so that’s definitely part of why I feel that way. In terms of application in our band I definitely take a lot of influence from European anti-fascist bands. I think the way bands like Fall of Efrafa implement anarchism into their music/art is really cool. Our band is definitely egalitarian in terms of the way we make decisions and write music. We try to play as many benefit shows as possible. I always feel like I fall short with my anarchism because I have to work every day to survive and being in two bands takes a lot of time from me so going out and organizing is difficult, along with my social anxiety with even leaving the house at all. I try my best to not take part in consumerism. I practice intersectionality theory in every facet of life and try to make space for others.

As a fellow anarchist I too have the constant feeling of falling short, and I always have to tell myself that there’s no ethical consumption under capitalism and that we are always doing the best we can. I can absolutely see the way that you put intersectionality theory into practice. The best way to fight the system is to keep pushing ourselves to become more independent from it every day and to treat other people the way that we would want them to be treated in the society that we envision.

It’s nearly impossible to live a life that is completely ethical. I’ve never met a single person who lives an entirely ethical life.

Kind of building on that, I wanted to briefly touch on something I’ve noticed. I’m always looking at the way that people interact within music scenes, and it’s always seemed that skramz has one of the most notoriously cliquey mentalities in the entire hardcore scene. Having the wrong opinion can be a death knell in the social circle; in a way, I feel like a lot of people pretend to be better people than they actually are for capital within the scene, and so focus on putting others down in order to avoid the focus being put on themselves and forcing them to self-crit and self-improve. Do you agree with this, and if so, how do you navigate that climate?

I agree 100%. I mostly just try to treat everyone like a person and don’t amount people to their scene credentials. I would like to think that I am very critical of myself and always open to criticism, but I can obviously always be more critical of myself. I think people who act like they’re perfect and are always shifting blame, are the people who won’t stick around in the long run and are only interested in being part of the scene for their own selfish gain.

I absolutely agree, and I find that to be very insightful as well, with regards to using the scene for their own personal gain. With that said, how did you yourself become involved with leftist politics, and DIY and hardcore culture in general?

So I started playing in Hot Topic-core bands around the age of 12 and played that style of music for years. I started getting into hardcore and punk when I was 15 but stayed in the metalcore scene until i was 18. Around that time my friends started to also want to start playing punk, so we started a band and through that band I met a lot of the people in the DIY scene that I’m still very close with. I started getting into leftist politics when I was like 19/20. At first I just dabbled in communist literature because at that point “anarchism” was still just for mohawk mall punks in my mind. Shortly after, my friend and Letters’ original bass player, PJ, was SUPER into anarchism and got me into a lot of anarchist ideas. I think at first I really latched on to anarchism through being vegan.

“Mohawk mall punks” is such a perfect description of the annoying people I hate being conflated with, thank you so much for that description. You brought up veganism. Is being vegan a moral thing for you? I know that to me being vegan just seems like a natural extension of anarchist politics, and most far leftists I know are vegan or vegetarian.

I’d say it’s a moral thing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not the type of vegan that thinks people who eat meat are pieces of shit, but I personally don’t want to eat meat or dairy because I think animal cruelty is fucked up, I don’t want to support those industries, and it’s terrible for the environment.

Yeah, absolutely. I think it, like DIY and anarchism, is just a natural ethical conclusion to the way we want to live our lives.

Alright, I think that’s all my questions. Anything else you want to add? Lesser known artists you want to shout out? Trap songs you’ve been bumping lately? Thank you so much for participating again, I really appreciate it!

Our LP should be out early next year, we’re doing a west coast tour with Senza in February/March. Honestly, shout out Senza, they are amazing.

Trap songs I’ve been listening to lately:

I don’t know if [Mykki] is necessarily trap but it’s similar and I’ve been listening to it nonstop.

Of course, this has been great! Thank you for having me!

Check out Letters to Catalonia’s new release, Fragmentary, on Bandcamp and feel free to give them some love on Facebook as well!

And hey, while you’re at it, if you like my material enough, why don’t you give me a follow on Facebook, or Twitter, or Tumblr?

EP Premier: Commander Salamander- Gross October

Artwork provided by the incredibly talented Oli Knowles.

After many months of not updating, I am extremely excited to announce that my first post upon my triumphant return is a premier of the new Commander Salamander EP, Gross October. I’m aware that it was dropped by surprise last night, but this is the official “announcement” of its release, as it were.

Commander Salamander are a self-described sparklepunk band from Fairfax, VA. They play a mixture of aggressive pop-punk with math rock-influenced guitars and harsh, throaty vocals to create what is one of my absolute favorite releases of this year so far.

Guitarist/lead vocalist, Claudio Benedi, lights the tracks on fire with his hard-hitting, intricate lead lines as well as his unique vocal style. Songs like “Lord Beer Me Strength” and “Gross October” rest on the strength of his performances, climaxes and bridges hitting like lightning strikes and vocals careening across the music with conviction and power.

The rhythm section is nothing to sniff at, either. Liam Crone’s agile, rubbery drumming coalesces with the more hardcore-influenced bass of Fernando Moyano in order to provide a bone-crunching bottom end, aided in no small part by the crisp, punchy production of Ryland Heagy of Origami Angel. The overall atmosphere of the EP is indebted to his production work, a perfect balance of clarity and fuzziness, showcased in the more ambient moments, such as “Yr Not Ramona Flowers, Yr Knives Chau.” The band themselves mirror this balance, veering from the rocket-science-precision and tight rhythm work of “Skeletor’s Revenge” to the frenzied, ferocious climax of “Really Expensive Toss” with aplomb.

The bottom line is that this record is incredible and you are doing yourselves a grave disservice if you sleep on it. You don’t want to be the person ten years from now, listening to the next generation waxing poetic about bands they never got to see, and have nothing to say when Commander Salamander’s name inevitably comes up. Listen now or pose forever.

ANNOUNCEMENT: I’m A Complete and Total Sell-Out.

First of all– this blog has a Facebook page now! Go like it!

Second of all, it’s official: You Don’t Need Maps is now on Patreon. If you like my work at all, please consider becoming a patron. This is demanding work that is the opposite of financially viable, and I would literally cry if someone became a patron of mine. Thank you very much in advance.

I will now be advertising my Patreon in an extremely aggravating manner at the end of all of my posts, until we reach my (for-now) highest goal of $1000 (which would mean that I would begin making a documentary on the history of emo, metalcore, and post-hardcore from the basements to the stadium– get stoked!).

I truly appreciate everything, from the people who have followed me since the beginning (the people from /r/emo and my good friends at The Latest Pit Beef especially) to the people who have encouraged me to take this more seriously and continue to create the kind of in-depth content that I pride myself on.

I love you all, and I hope that I continue to make the engaging writing that you all have come to expect from me.

An Interview with Connie Sgarbossa (SeeYouSpaceCowboy, Flowers Taped to Pens, René Descartes)

When you’re involved in DIY hardcore, you get the chance to meet a lot of cool people. That said, Connie Sgarbossa, the vocalist of SeeYouSpaceCowboy and alum of skramz superstars Flowers Taped to Pens and the stellar René Descartes (who just released their last recorded material, which rips and you should listen to it immediately), among others, is one of the absolute coolest people I’ve had the pleasure of talking to. They granted me the opportunity to interview them for You Don’t Need Maps, and of course I jumped on that chance, because Connie is super talented and interesting to talk to. This was a great, enlightening conversation, and I hope you all enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed having it. My questions are in bold; their answers are in regular font.

So, first of all, I’d like to ask you about SeeYouSpaceCowboy. I listened to that demo a few weeks after it was posted on bandcamp, and it’s very much a departure from your more melodic work with previous bands like René Descartes and Flowers Taped to Pens. What prompted this stylistic shift?

Well, I think it started from hearing releases like Bludgeoning Subculture Aficionados Demo Tape by The Cambodian Heat and the final Caust EP. I was enthralled by the return of this sound. [I’m] a huge fan of Me and Him Call It Us, Drop Dead, Gorgeous, and the Red Light Sting; along with that I had always secretly wanted to be involved in a metalcore project. So when I moved back to San Diego from San Francisco I met up with Taylor from Recluse and we started SYSC with my little brother Ethan, and then added Jesse from Letters to Catalonia.

It’s super interesting that you cite Drop Dead, Gorgeous as an influence right alongside Me and Him Call It Us and the Red Light Sting. I guess it’s become socially acceptable for DIY bands to admit they were influenced by scene bands. There are a few bands playing this style right now besides you guys, like .gif from god, for example; why do you think it’s being revived right now?

I mean yeah, totally, I think it’s tight that i don’t get as many weird looks for admitting I love Someday Came Suddenly by Attack Attack!, haha. Ummm, I am not sure, I guess people just decided that we all liked those bands for a reason and that it’s a great sound to build off of. On top of that nostalgia seems to be a very powerful thing these last few years, haha.

Yeah, if there’s one thing I’ve noticed about DIY hardcore, it’s that it’s super cyclical; things that were once for “posers” slowly become “authentic,” and trends come in go in phases. But for being part of a genre that seems to always be looking into the past, it seems like you’ve kept moving forward; just how many projects have you been involved in?

I think it speaks to how the superficial the scene/members can be in general. I think it’s ridiculous to even waste time assessing whether something is “authentic” or if someone is a “poser”, just make art and enjoy what you enjoy.

Well, counting some short lived high school projects, I have been in 7 projects that actually recorded and released something.

I know you just released the final recorded tracks by René Descartes; I thought they were all excellent. The bandcamp description said that it had been meant for a split, but that it never came to be; is there any story behind that?

Thank you.

Well, we recorded those tracks 6 months ago and they were meant to be a split with my friend’s band, but they never got a chance to record their side.

Did they break up before they could record any of their material?
From my understanding they just kinda stopped doing anything and started doing other musical projects, at least I think that’s what happened if I am remembering it correctly. I also just wanted the project to be done, so I asked if we could just release the tracks on our own and they were cool with it.
I’ve noticed that Flowers Taped to Pens seems to be the most popular of the bands you’ve been a part of; that band appeals to quite a wide audience, in my opinion, and I still hear people asking if there’s going to be new material from them. Do you have anything to say about that band’s legacy or their place in the scene?

Not really, haha, it was just a high school band we used as a way to cope with all the changes in our life happening/looming on the horizon. I mean I am happy that people are still into it and even liked it when we were around, but it’s kinda just a past part of my life at this point.

 

Like I said earlier, it seems that you’re always interested in moving forward. On the subject of the scene as a whole, to me, it’s always seemed like one of the more progressive scenes, but I’m sure it has its problematic aspects like any other. Do you ever feel pressure in regards to representation of queer and marginalized folks in your music or stage presence?
When it comes to representation, it comes down to a fine line between representation and tokenization. I don’t personally feel pressure to be involved in things as some form of representation and try to stay away “forced representation” scenarios, though I do feel like it’s important to do what you can to include marginalized individuals in the scene. Like I said it comes down to that fine line between representation and tokenization so I think it’s kinda tricky thing to address within the scene.
You said that there is a fine line between representation and tokenization. Would you care to elaborate on that?
Well when everyone talks about having more representation in the scene and bringing more marginalized individuals, there seems to be two reactions, one being people (usually people who are not marginalized) will say that there already is representation/inclusion in the scene and will bring up big band x,y, and z. I think that this is a form of tokenization, being that those bands are being put forward as symbols and a way for people to detract from the issue by saying “hey marginalized people, you may still be a minority in the scene and under threat, but look at these bands! You feel included now, right?” which is bullshit in my eyes. I personally think to bring more representation into the scene for groups we need to just make things more accessible/welcoming, working with people to make them feel safer and more comfortable. I consider myself lucky that I feel as comfortable as I do in this scene being a queer individual, because I know for a fact that is not a feeling that is echoed with a lot of other queer individuals and other marginalized folks.
So you would say that as a queer, nonbinary person, you feel comfortable and welcomed in the scene? If so, that’s wonderful. Are there any words you have for marginalized people who feel a lack of representation for themselves within the scene?
With the people and collectives I have been involved in, yes. When I go on tour or interact with other groups I definitely have some initial concern that is usually overcome after talking with them. Hmmm, all I can say would be I guess make art, get involved if you would like, and reach out to people. If a collective is truly rooted in DIY or is a safe(r) space you will most likely find they will be welcoming.
Are there any up-and-coming bands that you want to shout out?
Letters to Catalonia of course, Heritage Unit is bringing elite emo to Kali, Fuck White God for holding down the lower Bay grind scene. There are a bunch more I could mention but it would go on and on and on, haha.
Yo, thanks for giving Fuck White God some recognition! I love those guys. Just one or two more things before I let you go– first, I ask everyone this question, but how did you get into DIY hardcore?
They are awesome! Well, I guess it kinda started when i went my first show at The Ché Café. It was 2009 and Ceremony was playing with some other punk bands. My friend took me to the show and I remember being blown away that modern punk bands existed and they were actually way better than the shit from the past I had been listening to. So after that for the next year or two me and my friends would take the bus down to Che to see crust punk shows or whatever was playing every weekend. Eventually i started my first shitty hardcore band and went to a collective meeting to play a show there and after that we learned that it was volunteer run and so we started going to meetings and volunteering at shows rather than just going to them.
If someone were to ask you how they were to get into their local scene, what would you tell them?

Find your local DIY show spot, if it’s a collective find out when thenmeetings are, go to them, and start volunteering if it’s an option. If it’s not a collective just try to get to know the people who are booking/putting them on. Most important is just meeting people and getting to know those who are already involved the scene. I am sure they would also have more to say on the topic with each specific situation.
Solid advice– that’s pretty much what I did, too. And one final question: when is SeeYouSpaceCowboy putting out a full-length?!
Hmm, I am not sure about a full length, we really haven’t put much thought into that yet. As of now we are planning on doing a little spring tour tape for SXSW, but outside of that nothing concrete. Wish I had a better answer haha.
I’m just glad to know you guys are still together– skramz bands have an average lifespan of three months, haha. Well, thank you so much for talking with me! It’s been a good conversation. Any final words you want to add?
Haha, oh yes. Hmmmm, not really, thank you!

How to Be Cool: A Primer On Kittencore

I know what you’re thinking. “I already read your State of the Scene Address, and I’ve already done my best to copy the Skramz Elitist in your emo dork article; how much cooler can I be? When will I ever be true enough to not be regarded as a poser?”

The truth is, you will always be a poser. At least until you get into kittencore.

I can see you already, scratching your head, eminently puzzled. “What on earth is kittencore?” you ask, on the verge of tears because of your own poser-dom. Allow me to explain, gentle reader, what kittencore is.

(Timeline by Grizz).

Kittencore is, to put it in the most simple terms, screamo music made by young kids– usually around 16 to 18 years of age– who haven’t broken in their screams yet. Therefore, they sound high-pitched and mewly, like kittens.

The progenitors of kittencore are widely agreed to be Portraits of Past, who put out a demo in 1993 as well as a split with Bleed, which featured agonizingly high shrieks that remain unmatched to this day. “Journeyman” and “NYC” are probably the apex of these screams. In many ways, it could be argued that Portraits of Past invented the archetypical screamo vocal style. The Reach Out/Honeywell split is also widely regarded as influential in the invention of kittencore-esque vocals.

The style was developed further throughout 1998-2000, featuring a who’s-who of popular, well-remembered skramz bands, such as The Spirit of Versailles, I Have Dreams, In Loving Memory (whose ferocious style often gets them tagged as “kittenviolence”), …Of Death, Rue Morgue, and the debut album of Love Lost But Not Forgotten, all of which feature this type of vocal style as well as quite young members.

However, kittencore didn’t really come into its own as a genre until 2002, with the advent of what I like to call kittencore’s Holy Trinity: Oh, You Skeleton!, Phasma Phasmatis, and Seeing Means More (disclaimer: I am friends with Alex Bigman, but that has no bearing on Seeing Means More’s place within the kittencore pantheon).

I’ve always loved the part at the end where you can’t tell whether the vocalist is shrieking or it’s just piercing feedback.

screen-shot-2017-01-16-at-3-23-12-pm

Only 341 listeners on last.fm? Now that’s what I call elite kittencore!

Oh, You Skeleton! are probably the most “kvlt” of the kittencore bands. Not much is actually known about them; laughably, it has been postulated on last.fm that they are from Germany (they are from Philadelphia). It’s unfortunate that they are so unknown, because they could actually write some killer fucking riffs. Their demo is worth tracking down; eight or so years ago I had it on a burned CD-R (along with a comp track by September, some random songs from Atmosphere’s Overcast!, and some Tenacious D bootlegs from ’96), but I think it’s relatively easy to find now.

Phasma Phasmatis are one of those bands that the CMHWAK forums always cream over; this may be because Chris, their singer/guitarist, used to post a lot there, circa 2010 (jigsawchris, what up). Funny enough, they were set to record a split with Oh, You Skeleton!, but it fell through completely and both bands broke up less than a year after forming. Short-lived bands are easily the norm in screamo, but kittencore bands usually bring it a completely new level. More to the point, Phasma were excellent songwriters, which is probably the key to their lasting popularity.

If you can get ahold of any material Seeing Means More put out before 2006, it’s apparent that their earlier stuff is far less indebted to metalcore than their later stuff. Seeing Means More were basically just babies when they began in 2002 (they even had a keyboardist, how cute), and so slotted in neatly to the kittencore scene. I’ll be honest, their later material, especially their Clouds Obscured to Hearts LP, is far superior, but their early scrappy energy is enjoyable and fun. Also, Bigmin went on to some fucking great bands, including the highly elite power pop outfit Fight Fair (“Jeromes Dream Orchid 10-inch skull split UH”) and his new project, Ghost Spirit, which hasn’t released anything yet, but I can personally tell you absolutely fucking rips.

If there was any kittencore band that vied for the status of the three I’ve just mentioned, it’s Vincent Black Shadow. Nowadays they are so woefully obscure that even YouTube can’t find them, but if you manage to track any of their stuff down, “Dearest Despondency” and “Broken Promises” are sick.

There’s also a ton of other bands that never got anywhere and then disappeared: Eclipse of Eden, She Notes the Chariots, and Deadseraphim, for example. Besides the Spirit of Versailles, the entire Init Records roster could qualify, as well, especially Dispensing of False Halos. And of course, no discussion of kittencore is complete without mentioning the popular Johnny-come-latelys in iwrotehaikusaboutcannibalisminyouryearbook.

This is absolutely fucking dreadful.

At some point, this terrible prog band called Oscar Explores the World Outside hijacked the term “kittencore” to refer to their awful, pretentious brand of pappy shit, and it’s somehow become the most widely-recognized application of the word. This is absurd and disappointing, and my hope is that by publishing this article, the classical meaning of kittencore will become more popular and better-known. Sure, it means that I am now a bit less elite for sharing my knowledge, but if that’s the price to pay for re-popularizing the term kittencore, I’m willing to do it.

Starting around 2013, there’s been somewhat of a kittencore revival: bands from the San Diego clique like Flowers Taped to Pens, Nayru, and Meryl Streaker; RVA bands like Swan of Tuonela and Kaoru Nagisa, who somewhat overlap with blackened skramz; close neighbors Weak Wrists; and many, many more, who are reviving this absurd vocal style, although not all of the members meet the requisite age requirement. This is perhaps because 16 year olds nowadays are smart enough not to listen to terrible music like skramz. Either way, I’m just happy that whispy shrieks are back in vogue once more. If you’re underage and are unlucky/miserable enough to be into skramz, do everyone a favor and start the next kittencore band. Maybe you too will one day have 341 listeners on last.fm. One can hope, right?