Hardcore deserves it’s own thing. I was going to lump it with Metalcore but I thought I would separate them so I could go more into depth on things without running too long. Metalcore will be a separate spotlight. Hardcore is the birthplace of the breakdown and it’s been a consistently loved genre worldwide for decades. Here’s are my thoughts.
I guess the first time I heard hardcore was when I heard Cro-mags and Bad Brains in 1990 but at the time, it didn’t connect me with the genre any further. The first hardcore band that really drew me to seek out more was Biohazard. It was 1992 and the song I heard was “Shades of grey”. The same day, I also found a band called Helmet, their video for “Unsung” played right after Biohazard on the Power Hour TV show that aired at the time. I had both tapes in my collection quickly as I left the house in search of a way to listen to more of both bands.
I hadn’t really gotten too into punk rock yet but I think hardcore made the transition to punk a lot smoother coming from a metal background. Hardcore was like metal but more raw, less polished and the guys in the bands all looked tough as nails. This didn’t really send me into a frenzy looking for more hardcore bands, I didn’t really know there was a whole world of this music to be discovered so I just sort of lumped Biohazard and Helmet in with “metal” at the time. When I was introduced to punk a touch later, I was informed that the genre was called “Hardcore”.
When I was introduced to punk rock in ’93, a lot more hardcore came with it. The two genres are pretty closely related and have been since birth basically so it was so easy to find great new hardcore. Many punk rock labels also signed hardcore bands so when I would be checking out new labels, I would end up finding a few HC bands as well. The same thing happened with punk tours as well, there were often hardcore bands playing on punk tours and festivals. Sick of it all, Snapcase, Hatebreed, Throwdown, Shai Hulud, One King Down, Strife, Walls of Jericho, Earth Crisis, Agnostic Front, H20, Straight Faced, Madball, AFI (yes, the same AFI, look up their early stuff),
It actually took me a while but I eventually got into the bands that pioneered the genre like Minor Threat, Bad Brains, Rites of Spring, Minutemen, Circle Jerks, Youth Of Today, 7 Seconds, Gorilla Biscuits, Murphy’s Law, Black Flag and others. I think I was about 18 at the time. I don’t have an issue noting that it took me time to really get into the more raw and less refined era of hardcore because once I did, it was really easy to tell why these bands were so influential. I think many people listen to a certain band or genre and immediately compare it to the current state of music without taking the whole situation into account. So many bands that don’t seem heavy today were actually very heavy for their time so it’s important to see things that way. Hardcore has evolved so much that the specific time frames are relevant.
The fuel that ignited an otherwise calm fire for me was Swedish band; Raised Fist. I was already a fan of the genre and it really needed no reinforcement but when I heard Raised Fist’s album “Stronger than ever” (Burning Heart) in ’96, it took about 15 seconds of the first song to set my love for hardcore on fire. This was the fastest, most intense hardcore I had heard at that point and to be honest, they still hold that title for me. The vocals were more intense, the drumming was incredibly fast, the songs had riffs and it really blended styles instead of adhering to the traditional constraints of the genre. Hardcore had a formula and that formula worked just fine but when Swedish bands do things, they always add new complexities to the genre in question. Raised Fist are still cranking out albums and while they have evolved stylistically, the old ways are still easy to hear throughout.
As I mentioned in the punk rock spotlight, I lived in Montreal QC (Canada) in the late 90s and I loved every minute of it. The city was a hot bed and epicenter for punk rock but also for hardcore. I saw Strife play in a tiny record / skate shop packed to the roof with sweaty bodies, I saw Madball at the Rainbow and watched two dudes literally cage fight in the pit and then hug it out. I saw Sick of it all and H20 at the spectrum and There was an endless stream of incredible punk and hardcore plowing through Montreal in the year and a half that I lived there. I went to a Biohazard show alone my first night as an 18 yr old in the big city and my last night in town I saw Warped Tour ’99 and in between, I probably took in 110-120 concerts in the 500 or so days I resided there. It was first hand real life education on what was my personal favorite music movement in my lifetime thus far.
Melodic hardcore fits right in here, it can basically be described as skate punk with more of an edge or hardcore with a warmer side. For good examples of the sub-genre, look to bands such as; Good Riddance, H20, Guy Smiley, Lifetime, early Rise Against, Early AFI, Pennywise (reaching a little), A Wilhelm Scream, Comeback Kid, Kid Dynamite, Misery Signals, Evergreen Terrace, early Alexisonfire and for a different look perhaps some Dag Nasty. The further progression of melodic hardcore became metalcore but melodic hardcore in the original form is very much still popular and probably more popular than skate punk and traditional hardcore in North America at this point. Melodic hardcore wasn’t always accepted in hardcore circles but the skate punk fans ate it up and I was onboard. It just fit in well since it was very close to metal influenced punk and skate punk.
The gear the backed hardcore bands was pretty much the same gear as metal and punk rock of the same eras. The genre was pretty much ruled by the 5150 series and the Mesa Boogie Dual/Triple rectifiers. The cab I saw more than anything in those days was the Mesa Boogie 412 OS. It was a fixture on stage with what seemed like every band in the hardcore realm. Normally the bands wanted a more chuggy and more raw tone so you didn’t see many boost/OD/dist pedals or really anything more than a tuner. It was rare to see a hardcore band with pedals but from time to time I a delay or wah pedal up there. You’ll notice in the research material that the majority of the tones is that they are hi-gain and quite raw and rough around the edges. Settings really vary from band to band but the brutality of hardcore guitar tones can’t be denied.
When hardcore bands in Boston starting monkeying with melody and clean vocals in the late 90s / early 2000s, things changed with a sonic boom and some hardcore bands turned into metalcore bands. However all of the hardcore sub-genres remain alive and very well but I will note that after while, I did lose touch with what was currently happening in hardcore outside of my go-to artists so if you have newer high quality hardcore you’d like to make me aware of, please don’t hesitate to email us. To read about metalcore, that’s for the next spotlight.
- Minor Threat – “Self-titled”
- Youth Of Today – “We’re not in this alone”
- Bad Brains – “Self-titled”
- Agnostic Front – “Cause for alarm”
- Gorilla Biscuits – “Start today”
- Dag Nasty – “Wig out at Denko’s”
- Iron Reagan – “Worse than dead” (newer band, old sound)
- Hatebreed – “Perseverance”
- Earth Crisis – “Gomorrah’s season ends”
- Strife – “One truth”
- Straight Faced – “Broken”
- One King Down – “Bloodlust revenge”
- Snapcase – “Progression through unlearning”
- Madball – “Look my way”
- Sick Of It All – “Built to last”
- Biohazard – “Urban discipline”
- Walls Of Jericho – “All hail the dead”
- Fucked up – “The chemistry of common life”
- Good Riddance – “A comprehensive guide to moderne rebellion”
- Lifetime – “Jersey’s best dancers”
- Lifetime – “Hello bastards”
- Rise Against – “The unraveling”
- Pennywise – “Full circle”
- Ignite – “A place called home”
- Comeback Kid – “Wake the dead”
- AFI – “Black sails in the sunset”
- AFI – “The art of drowning”
- A Wilhelm Scream – “Ruiner”
- H20 – “Thicker than water”
- Shai Hulud – “That within blood…. “
- Raised Fist – “Stronger than ever”
- Raised Fist – “Fuel”
- 59 Times The Pain – “Twenty percent of my hand”
- Refused – “The shape of punk to come”
- Wolfpack (now known as Wolfbrigade) – “Lycanthro punk”
- Disfear – “Soul scars”
- Born From Pain – “Sands of time”
- Facedown – “The twisted rule the wicked”
- Heaven Shall Burn – “Whatever it may take”