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.