Splintering off from punk-rock in the 1980s, hardcore took the toughest edges of punk and fashioned them into a bludgeoning device. Now, nearly forty years after its inception, it’s music’s greatest sub-culture, defined as much by its community as its crushing breakdowns. Wrapped up in countless progressive political movements, from straight-edge culture to veganism, there’s a heart to the heaviness.
What’s more, as the genre moves forward, it’s smashing through barriers left, right and centre, with all the zeal of the most mosh-hardened old-timer. From more female faces breaking through the previously bloke-y exterior of the genre (relative newcomers Krimewatch are ones to keep a steely eye on), to turning the ears of everyone from Diplo to the GRAMMY Awards, there’s no telling where hardcore could go next. Consider this your pit primer – a who’s who list, to get you up-to-date with some of the genre’s very best.
Arkangel – Dead Man Walking
Belgian group Arkangel’s crossover thrash is one of the most notable examples of global hardcore’s political bent. Espousing their vegan straight edge values with an honesty as brutal as their breakdowns, 1999 debut album ‘Dead Man Walking’ is still held up as one of the genre’s finest – a chug-heavy demonstration of how hard old school metalcore used to hit.
Bad Brains – Bad Brains
Released back in 1982, Bad Brains’ self-titled debut album arrived at the apex of hardcore’s evolution out of punk – as such, it’s one of the genre’s best primers. A quick-fire half hour of chaotic drums and scratchy, blown-out guitars, it’s a world away from the band members’ alternative lives as reggae-loving Rastafarians, and all the more fascinating for it.
Black Flag – Damaged
Almost certainly hardcore’s biggest icons, Black Flag are responsible for launching Henry Rollins to rock ‘n’ roll royalty. With all Rollins’ subsequent, extra-curricular endeavours, and the ubiquity of Blag Flag t-shirts at almost any gig on the planet, it’s easy to forget to how heavy ‘Damaged’ could be. Unlike anything released at the time, it’s still enough to incite a riot at a moment’s notice.
Code Orange – I Am King
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While 2017’s ‘Forever’ LP might have taken Code Orange to the GRAMMYs and beyond, its predecessor is what laid the groundwork. The first record from the group after they dropped the word “Kids” from their moniker, the punishing atmosphere conjured up by the Pittsburgh group on their second full-length ushered in a new era of hardcore’s dominance. One of modern heavy music’s absolute finest records.
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Converge – Jane Doe
The spasmodic, guttural twists and turns of Converge’s bile-packed, visceral take on hardcore are yet to be rivalled, 17 years after ‘Jane Doe’’s release. They’re modern icons of the scene, with vocalist and graphic artist Jacob Bannon helming hardcore mega-label Deathwish Inc., and guitarist Kurt Ballou the go-to recording engineer for countless groups looking to fine-tune their heaviness. While each record finds Converge shape-shifting, it’s ‘Jane Doe’ that still stands up as their most influential.
Cro-Mags – Age Of Quarrel
Inspiring everyone from fellow hardcore icons Earth Crisis (below) to Hatebreed, Cro-Mags’ debut album epitomises the clattering sound of hardcore’s New York arm. Arriving just as the ‘MTV generation’ were turning their heads towards their TVs, it inspired a generation of youths to invest themselves in hardcore, and had an impact easily rivalling that of the nuclear test that adorns its front cover.
Dead Swans – Sleepwalkers
Brighton bunch Dead Swans channelled the confusion of young love and mental illness into heart-rending, ear-splitting audible imperfection on their 2009 debut. Its follow-up, the ‘Anxiety & Everything Else’ EP, might’ve worn that mental ill health on its sleeve, but it’s Sleepwalkers that enraptured a generation of disillusioned British youths – expect to see catharsis incarnate when they tour the album in full next month.
Earth Crisis – Destroy The Machines
The ultimate in vegan straight edge hardcore, Earth Crisis are the finest example of hardcore’s politicised mindset. Crumbling the boundaries between metal and hardcore at the turn of the ‘90s, the likes of ‘Destroy The Machines’ are empowering odes to the collective, compassionate human nature they promote. Since then, they’ve had a profound effect on everyone from young kids first discovering a more holistic way to live, to Fall Out Boy drummer Andy Hurley, who even once filled in on drums for a tour.
Fucked Up – The Chemistry Of Common Life
Capturing imaginations the world over at the mid-point of the ‘00s, Fucked Up’s second album bottled the buzzy energy of their early, hype-fuelled days, and turned it into something richer and more varied than anyone would have imagined. “There’s a musical and lyrical depth that warrants attention above and beyond the circus-act curiosity that inevitably accompanies them,” wrote NME at the time, and it’s a sentiment which stands up – to date, they remain one of hardcore’s most imaginative, creative crossover groups.
Gallows – Grey Britain
There are few conversations that are sure to ignite arguments in the modern hardcore community quite like which of the Frank Carter-era Gallows records was superior. While snotty debut ‘Orchestra Of Wolves’ brought them fame and infamy (and a million quid major label record deal, prompting some purists to turn their noses up at the group), Gallows’ second LP was like nothing else. Much like ‘The Chemistry Of Common Life’, ‘Grey Britain’ took hardcore to places most could only dream of – a truly epic documentation of modern British malaise, that’s as vital now as the day it was released.
Gorilla Biscuits – Start Today
Gorilla Biscuits’ amped-up hardcore-punk hits out at everyone from the Nazis that populated the fringes of the 80s scene on ‘Degradation’, to those that belittle the Black Lives Matter movement in subsequent reunion slots – “In 2016 people still have to wear shirts that say ‘Black Lives Matter’. No shit. Brown, white, yellow, black, we all fucking matter,” announced vocalist Ciravelli at the 2016 edition of hardcore fest This Is Hardcore. “Everybody here matters. Do not let the media, schools, institutions, influence you. We are one family, one people.” Primary songwriter Walter Schriefels also had a huge influence on the melodic development of the post-hardcore, appearing in Quicksand, Rival Schools and many more bands alongside his Gorilla Biscuits days.
Minor Threat – Out Of Step
Minor Threat’s sole album is an ode to feeling alienated. From the timeless, black-sheep-adorned artwork, to the sentiment encased within, ‘Out Of Step’ fizzes with the fury of feeling different to those around you. Existing for just three years, their impact was nevertheless seismic, with frontman Ian McKaye subsequently setting up Fugazi. The rest, as they say, is history.
Punch – They Don’t Have To Believe
A furious, grisly cut of grinding punk, Punch’s ‘They Don’t Have To Believe’ comes off like razorblades in a blender. Proof that a social conscience can co-exist with crushing brutality, singer Meghan O’Neil rallies against injustice with an incomparable fury. A few months after the record’s release, O’Neil left to form Super Unison, a more melodic alt-rock group that are equally worthy of your recognition.
Trapped Under Ice – Big Kiss Goodnight
Trapped Under Ice frontman Justice Tripp is a modern-day hero of the scene. From fronting TUI and Angel Du$t, to co-running Pop Wig Records and releasing a whole host of younger, upcoming groups, his impact on hardcore is huge. ‘Big Kiss Goodnight’ is TUI’s modern masterpiece – a stomping ode to individualism amongst a sea of conformity.
Turnstile – Time & Space
The most recently-released record on our list, Turnstile’s latest is the perfect hint at where hardcore could go next. With guest spots from artists as diverse as Sheer Mag’s Tina Halladay and Diplo (no, really), and a kitchen-sink approach to experimentation, it’s one of the most exciting heavy records in years, all delivered without losing sight of the authenticity hardcore thrives upon.