One of the great detriments to punk (in a broad sense) over the last couple decades has been its reduction to various micro genres. To me, there are only two kinds of bands—good bands and shit bands. I get it—people love to categorize and then re-categorize… to me though, while things like labels are symbols of pride, over time I’ve seen they’ve only served to divide, right?
For example, labeling Anti-Cimex a crust band would be like calling United Blood-era Agnostic Front a crust band. Both bands employ a simplistic, brutal, and raw musical attack as a backdrop to lyrics, which document a visceral and reactive assault on the world as they see it. Get it?
I feel like, as we move farther away from the origination point of hardcore as a musical style and as it further deviates and mutates into a slower, stomping, grooving, moshy and metallic form of music, its important to reset the ride from time to time and define what is meant when we throw around these descriptive terms like hardcore or punk or crust or good or shit. Of course, what do I know?
For what it’s worth, here are my favorite records of the past year in alphabetical order.
Dark Thoughts, Do You Dream/It’s Too Late 45 (Peterwalkee Records)
Philadelphia’s Dark Thoughts are the perfect pop P-U-N-K band. They are everything I could ask for in this style; short songs, perfect riffs, flawless melodies and a brilliant sense of exactly what makes a perfect tune through careful study of decades of music history. The A-side “Do You Dream” is an infectious slab of sugary sweet brilliance that you can’t help but play over and over again while the B-side, “It’s Too Late” cooks along at quicker clip a la Anthem for a New Tomorrow-era Screeching Weasel. An absolutely brilliant amuse-bouche for what will certainly be an outstanding LP come 2020.
Enzyme, Howling Mind LP (La Vida Es Un Mas)
I feel like I’m continually updating my mental list of best live bands—as remembrances of stellar sets wither and fade over time, fresher memories take their place and the trophy shelf in my cerebral cortex gets reorganized. Enzyme’s set at the Oakland Metro during 2019’s Manic Relapse was one for the record books—a swirling mass of studs, spikes and leather whipped into a frenzy of flailing bodies thrashing in an orgy of utter chaos. It was a perfect visual representation to the songs contained on Howling Mind—a juggernaut of distorted til deafness riffs, hectic drums and ferocious vocals. A pummeling, energetic assault of one-two hardcore bringing to mind the classic vigor of the likes of Chaos UK and Disorder paired with Japanese ragers like Framtid and Gloom.
Larma, Larma LP (Adult Crash/Beach Impediment)
One of the regular critiques made of D-beat is that it can quickly get mired into clichés of simplistic riffs and general lack of energy—Sweden’s Larma are not that. What makes them stand out is not only the complexity of the riffs and general song structures but also the manner that they soak them in a Minor Threat style level of energy and authority. They’re just this outstanding combination of speed bursting with raw power, breaking down into anthemic Totalitär style stomping sing-a-longs, then whipping themselves back up into explosions of vital sonic fury. Just outstanding.
Loose Nukes, Behind the Screen EP (Beach Impediment)
Guitarist Eric Montanez is a certified hardcore punk riff machine—perhaps you are familiar with his work in Government Warning, Direct Control, Blood Pressure and more. Loose Nukes continues this playing blazingly fast, stripped down and to the point hardcore--no mosh parts, no melodic pop bits, just unadulterated, unyielding ferocity. They released two EPs this year but for me, this is the champion—though you can’t go wrong with their debut, It’s... Loose Nukes either.
L.O.T.I.O.N. Multinational Corporation, World Wide W.E.B. LP (Toxic State Records)
Formerly just known as L.O.T.I.O.N. (thanks to a weird lawsuit) we find these NYC cybernetic mayhem merchants realizing the potential on their prior releases over the last six years—the production values have been sharpened and the lyrical themes more fully developed resulting in an end product that might be one of the most sonically devastating records I’ve heard in years. Technocratic paranoia melded with a fear of nuclear terror snarled over a soundtrack that would make the good years of the Feederz and Ministry bow down in reverence. Ridiculously good.
Physique, The Rhythm of Brutality 10” (Static Shock/Distort Reality)
Hard charging, dis-bones, chaos noise punk attack—if you know me, you know I love it. Total Disclose meets Atrocious Madness style hammer-to-face, brutal hardcore—seven songs of merciless noise-not-music. If you are a fan of their prior releases, this is a no brainer, but for the unfamiliar it’s a great starting point. As they put it, “Silence is Death, We Make Noise,” and what a beautiful cacophony of noise it is.
Protocol, Bloodsport 12” (11PM Records)
What is going on in Florida these days? The legion of brilliant hardcore bubbling out of the Sunshine State these days is just mind-boggling. Subtitled, A Celebration of Violence, Protocol’s debut slab of vinyl is a thunderously heavy and violent aural assault. Thick slabs of guitars and drums backing up a snarling, vicious vocal attack with lyrics exploring the implications of the racist history of the United States on the lives of people living in today’s world. At five songs, it’s almost too short a release but one leaving you wanting more.
Rocky & the Sweden, City Baby Attacked By Buds LP (F.O.A.D./Break the Records)
Well, its been 20 years since their last LP and thankfully they didn’t turn into navel gazing indie rock or grooved out mosh metal—instead, these Japanese hardcore legends release an LP filled with track after track of sweltering, riff soaked, Burning Spirits style hardcore. It cooks along at a relentless pace, soaked in hooks and powerful guitar licks—it bursts at the seams with energy, ironic given their affection for smoking gargantuan amounts of weed. Sure, they are former members of Headless, Bastard, Systematic Death, Idora but even without that pedigree you should be paying attention.
The Royal Hounds NYC, God Bless the Royal Hounds LP (Oi! the Boat)
This is one of those releases that I feel like just popped up out of nowhere for me and quickly became an almost daily listen. I’ve heard people refer to Oi! as pop-punk for tough guys and given the infectious pop sensibilities present on this album, I can certainly see why. Like the best of this style they marry melodic sensibility of '70s glam and pub-rock with the grit and musculature of early '80s Oi!—its like a party were Slade, Dr Feelgood, and Blitz have merged into one band to provide the soundtrack to an evening of downing bottles of wine and causing a bit of trouble with your mates.
Shrinkwrap Killers, Parents + FBI = Cahoots CS (Self-Released)
Maybe you’ve heard of Greg Wilkinson—he’s got a Grammy nod for engineering High on Fire, he plays in seminal Oakland bands Brainoil and Deathgrave, and if that wasn’t enough he might be the most affable person I’ve ever met in the music world. Well, this is his one-man band—a rather brilliant '80s dark-wave meets the Wipers meets All By Myself-era Rikk Agnew take that pretty much outdoes every band I’ve ever heard doing this style. Conspiratorial, paranoia induced lyricism layered over haunting melodies… I can’t get enough of this and hope someday it manifests into an actual live band.
Yleiset Syyt, Yleiset Syyt EP (Open Up and Bleed Recordings)
Finnish hardcore has long held a special place in my heart—especially if we’re going by the definition of the sort played by Riistetyt, Kaaos, Appendix, etc. this sort of frantic, speedy, careening and sloppy take where the beauty is in the imperfections. This is the road that Yleiset Syyt takes on this six-song follow up to their 2017 LP on Svart. Its brilliantly executed, for sure, but what makes it truly stand out for me is, in contrast to the raw/blown out production values many playing this style these days go for, they take a cleaner approach. The advantage is this allows the instrumentation to really shine and the songs to convey a more effective punch. Did I mention its dudes from Foreseen? Get into it!