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Since its formation in the blood, beer, and various other liquids stained walls of underground clubs across East and West Coast North America - hardcore has always managed to reinvent itself. Sure, the amount of face lifts the genre has undergone has sometimes begged the question of what hardcore actually is: early adopters Cro-Mags sound nothing like late 90's extremists Converge. Ironically though, it's this level of shape shifting that has often made hardcore the most interesting sub-sector of the alternative conversation.
During the 80s boom period of heavy metal the loudest, sometimes most compelling beckons for anti-authority were coming from Black Flag and Agnostic Front. As guitar solos and some unnecessarily tight pants permeated the mainstream - there was a malignant, direct middle finger being pointed at metal conventions from the underground. It's a process that repeated itself come the late 90s, too. As Nu-Metal became a monolithic, major label force - Cave In and Earth Crisis amongst others were laying foundations for what would become metalcore, a sub-genre that though at times criminally dumbed down since, would far out-last its mainstream counterpart in longevity.
The alternative music landscape, though not dominating airplay/perception as it has in yesteryear, is in a healthy position in 2020. And just like in its previous lifeforms, hardcore is arguably the most appealing flag to pledge allegiance to. More varied, and just as pissed off as ever, the wheels of reinvention may make hardcore look like another new ball game today, but it might never have been more brilliant. Here's 13 bands that make it so.
This decade's greatest answer to Pantera, Sheffield five piece Malevolence have dominated the underground since they were teenagers. Writing monstrous tracks like 'Serpents Chokehold' and 'Turn To Stone' when they had barely finished their GCSEs, vocalist Alex Taylor and co have time on their side. New music is often scarce from the quintet, we've only received two albums and one EP in seven years - but thanks to a chaotic live show, and genius merch line, they stay in hearts and minds. Their latest three track effort The Other Side was released on their own label before they even hit 30 - you can't get much more hardcore/punk than that, can you?
Referring to Code Orange solely as hardcore is actually quite laughable, their footprint can be found over all walks of alternative music. With that said though, tracks like 'Back Inside The Glass' and 'You And You Alone' from this years outstanding new record Underneath undeniably have classic hardcore tropes running eerily down their spine. Their creative bravery knows no bounds, it's anyone's guess what their next musical step will look like - and that's the whole point of Code Orange: they're a symbol of hardcore, but they're not a slave to it.
Year Of The Knife
There's a brewed sense of unity within the walls of just how uncomfortable Year Of The Knife can be to ingest. That, more than anything else is driven by the bands personal traumas that their incendiary rounds of snapshot hardcore are laced in. Exploding out of Delaware, North America's smallest but one state, the imagery of the five piece being confined to a small bubble they can't wait to break out of is apt. This summer's Internal Incarceration is a difficult 30 minutes, but it's a brilliant one - over the last five years their message has continued to evolve, don't expect that to stop here.
Jesus Piece are a band that undoubtedly have prospered during their traversal down the road that Code Orange forged, but don't you dare consider them to be a cheaper knock off. Though their debut record Only Self was released in 2018, the Philadelphia crew can still be found basking in its success. That's not solely down to the fact that it's one of the hardest gut punches you'll ever be on the receiving end of, but also because the bands live show already precedes them. We know, hardcore band with a great live show, who'd have thought it, right? But Jesus Piece have almost become folklore before even their sophomore record. There's no telling where their brutality will take them next, but you'll probably hear about it regardless.
Employed To Serve
Employed To Serve's sophomore record The Warmth Of A Dying Sun landed with such a fervour in 2017 that you had to wonder whether the Woking crew had already found their ceiling. Abrasive, industrial, brutal - the five piece had struck gold. Of course, last year's Eternal Forward Motion if anything, showed us they were just getting started. Adding more groove to 'Harsh Truth' and 'We Forgot You', the band sprouted new legs in the form of a slight rhythmic shift. It showed a creative, and song writing nous we weren't aware they had, and now, they're one of the best acts the UK can boast.
Perhaps the most surprising addition to this list given the super group like status of the band, but END are already a name that we can't afford to lose. Counterparts vocalist Brendan Murphy and long time producer/guitarist Will Putney spearhead a seething assault on debut LP Splinters From An Ever Changing Face. Add former Dillinger Escape Plan drummer Billy Rymer and Gregory Thomas previously of Misery Signals, and END have quickly manifested into much more than a side project. It's hard to predict how the future plays out with the members' other commitments, but hardcore aficionados will, rightfully, demand their presence for years to come.
They're synonymous with breakdown videos and memes across the internet, but Sanction are a lot more than just a group of neck snappers. The New Yorkers modernise the classic, scratched Poison The Well sound without sounding like super fans who stumbled across a studio one day. Last year's Broken In Refraction managed to sell itself to hardcore veterans as well as it did to deathcore asylums, with 'Radial Lacerations' and 'Paralysis' the heaviest hitters in a record full of stiff uppercuts.
Probably the most chaotic band you'll find in the scene today (and good lord, that is saying something). The reason why Vein have toured with everyone from Twitching Tongues to Killswitch Engage is down to their rhythmic versatility. In their short career, the five piece have already managed to sound like Slipknot, Entombed, and Bodysnatcher to name a few. Likened to catching Converge live in 2001 - Vein seem like a band destined to reach Knocked Loose levels of popularity, listen to their 2018 record Errorzone and you'll see why.
The dull lit, dreary imagery that permeates the Leeched aesthetic isn't there because they think the filter looks cool. No, this trio surround their dealings in a cloak of darkness as a depiction of who they are. Two bleak, but open records in the form of 2018's You Took The Sun When You Left and this January's To Dull The Blades Of Your Abuse make Leeched supernaturally dark, but undeniably human, too. Their ultra extreme, violent nature on 'The Grey Tide' will push you right to the edge of your limits, exactly where they want you.
Part of an insane cohort of young talent on Sharptone Records, Aussies Alpha Wolf fly the hardcore flag in amongst the likes of Holding Absence, Loathe, Currents, and Polaris. Another outfit that tweaks the genre's boundaries (quite a recurring theme on this list), the down under crew use double bass drums and tech effects like no other. Recent singles 'Akudama' and 'Creep' from their upcoming record A Quiet Place To Die are so relentless that it's hard to decipher which set piece the band built the songs around. Early indications suggest you should expect to see Alpha Wolf appearing in 2020 album of the year lists.
There's something timeless about Turnstile. You get the feeling their punk danceathon style would have fit in with its current surroundings regardless of which timeline of hardcore you drop them in. Lead by a sneering, southern guitar tuning, the five piece throw so much groove into their song writing you're more likely to two-step than you are swing fists listening to them. They're the multi-lingual band that every genre needs: the uber accessible group that draw in hardcore fans from every corner. Time will tell just how big a landmark they'll leave, but right now - you'll struggle to find a more important up and coming band.
They're about as intense as it gets, Gulch. And if they were writing this article, that's probably all they'd want to say about themselves before moving on to the next band. You won't find them plastered all over social media, and guitarist Cole Kakimoto has even previously said that if you want to really discover what the band are about - you'd have to see them live. The recently released Impenetrable Cerebral Fortress can give you a pretty good idea too, though. Eight songs, 16 minutes of brain crushing speed and rhythm, the mystique around Gulch is cool, their music is much cooler.
Of course they're here, how could they not be? Although their stature has expanded at such a rate that calling them a new face of hardcore feels less appropriate than calling them THE face. Regardless, the Kentucky savages are just two records (believe it or not) into what looks set to be a star spangled career. It feels like a long time ago since Bryan Garris' now patented bark was spreading through social media like a pyramid scheme, but since 2014 the five piece have gone on to place themselves at the forefront of the genre. And if last years A Different Shade Of Blue is anything to go by, they'll be there for a while.