Sometimes one needs a dose of anger and frustration in audio form. The angst-ridden slip-and-slide of maintaining one’s responsibilities as an adult (or younger) is littered with financial hardship, poor life choices and the inescapable reality that, no, that book depository wishlist is never getting any shorter and you’ll never have read quite as much as you’d have liked to. That’s why we have hardcore punk, the “hardest” of metal/punk’s myriad of subgenres. It’s music built on the grind, on the ever-growing knowledge that people are a little bit crap a lot of the time. It’s often fast, often slow and always heavy, and here’s a brief history of its riffy walkways!
Black Flag – ‘Police Story’
They weren’t the first hardcore band, but they’re far and away the most influential. Black Flag are a crude boiling pot of punk rock noise with an angular approach to riffage. They’re an essential starting point, even if what they inspired is more readily associated with hardcore today than they are.
Dead Kennedys – ‘Nazi Punks, F**k Off’
The Dead Kennedys are a band who transitioned from traditional punk into pure hardcore, going deeper on the political messaging and hard as nails, feedback infested drums and guitars. One of my favorite films of the year so far, Green Room, is a neo-nazi, punk rock horror movie that features a band covering this onstage. On the nose it may be, ‘Nazi Punks, F**k Off’ is a once-in-a-lifetime perfect portrait of a depressingly idealistic sentiment – “You still think swastikas look cool, The real nazis run your schools, They’re coaches, businessmen and cops, In a real fourth reich you’ll be the first to go.” Couldn’t have put it better myself.
Bad Brains – ‘Attitude’
No discussion of hardcore is worthwhile without a nod to beacons of positivity, Bad Brains. One of the most distinctive hardcore bands, the Brains would merge reggae an hi[-hop into their mix of punk rock, heavy metal and straight hardcore over the years. Their earliest record, self-titled, is a zooming listen through a whole bunch of different avenues punk rock hadn’t really touched yet. But beyond merely merging genres, Bad Brains are good for reminding ourselves of one of the real greatest treasures we hole – positive mental attitude. PMA forever.
Agnostic Front – ‘Existence Of Hate’
The great Agnostic Front are one of the longest-running pure New York hardcore bands. You can smell the piss-filled, tiny venues they would’ve inhabited in their early years from their first couple of albums. Cause For Album is the very definition of HARD, complete with bridge sections that sound like they’d give you a concussion if you listened loud enough. I mean, they won’t, but they SOUND like they would, and that’s enough, really.
Cro-Mags – ‘Street Justice’
Masters of New York hardcore, Cro-Mags are infectious. Keeping a little bit more of that punk rock sing-ability, The Age Of Quarrel is filled with chants and anthems amidst its firey, mosh-ridden flare. Do not listen on public transport, you’ll embarrass yourself getting too into it.
Sick Of It All – ‘Pushed Too Far’
That opening bass and drums should tell you everything you need to know about Sick Of It All – just HUGE. Big riffs, big drums, big sing-alongs, big everything. Admittedly, ‘Pushed Too Far’ is the very definition of an album track: short and uncaring if this is your first time listening. That’s why I chose it though, because I want you to listen to Blood, Sweat and No Tears. If for nothing else, listen to it for the Fantastic Four reference – one of the tracks is literally called ‘It’s Clobberin’ Time’.
Hatebreed – ‘A Call For Blood’
Hatebreed are way fast-forward here, but I only have seven slots and talking hardcore without mentioning Jamey Jasta and co. just doesn’t work for me. Hatebreed are easily the biggest hardcore band ever and the gateway for most modern fans. They’re unrelenting heavy in a way most never quite achieve and they spew hatred (surprise, surprise) in a wonderfully crushing manner. Heavy.