Welcome back to Rotten to the Core, fellow pit enthusiasts! This column was kicked around on a more informal basis by our good friend Matt in years past, and with the big relaunch, we figured it’s as good a time as any to hoist it up by its camo belt loops and shove it back into the sweaty fray of flailing limbs and blood-spattered Nike Dunks. In the future, expect monthly highlights of what’s really good in the wide world of -core, along with some other fun surprises.
Before we get started, it would be an egregious oversight not to use this platform, with this gathering of like minds, not to acknowledge the very dire situation happening in the United States right now. Hardcore has always been, from the very start, a movement built around social and political unrest in defiance of hatred, tyranny, and fascism. What we are seeing in the streets is precisely that. In the years of protests following the deaths of Michael Brown and the countless other Black lives ended violently by the corrupt and cowardly police of America, the people have rallied, and the time for direct action is here.
What we are witnessing are not protests or riots. We are witnessing the voice and the will of the people given form, a collective swelling of social consciousness, desperation, and pure righteous anger at the indignities and atrocities committed by the American oligarchy and its militarized goons on their own people. We are now at the stage where far-right militias have joined the fray to hunt us for sport in direct cooperation with the state. There is no longer time to sit and straddle a fence. This is not theoretical or political posturing. We all have a common enemy, and our brothers and sisters are dying in the streets every day fighting back against the injustices carried out by the ruling class. Do you carry the strength of your convictions? Have you truly listened and understood what brotherhood means? If not, the hardcore scene was never for you, and you will undoubtedly find yourself on the wrong side of history.
With that out of the way, since this hasn’t been a column you knuckleheads could regularly turn to for your monthly fix of fight riffs, we wanted to get caught up and take a deep dive into our favorite records of 2020 so far that haven’t gotten enough love. We know your attention span isn’t what it used to be from one too many concussions, so let’s cut the shit and start moshing.
Terminal Nation –Holocene Extinction
Let’s goooo!!! One of the most anticipated releases of the year just dropped this past month, and it is an absolute banger. Little Rock’s Terminal Nation have been on the rise the past few years, with two other notable releases since 2015. Their self-titled saw them playing an explosive brand of classic hardcore punk flirting with powerviolence that gave us the antifascist mosh anthem “Cop Drop”. They dove even further into that dark, feedbacky PV sound on their next release, 2017’s Absolute Control. For those tracking that trend, it came as no surprise when their debut full length was announced for release via 20 Buck Spin earlier this year. As new additions to a roster full of death metal’s finest rising stars, the band revealed their true form to a world entirely unprepared.
With Holocene Extinction, Terminal Nation assert themselves as reigning champs of big-ass, knuckle-dragging, death-touched metallic hardcore, snatching the heavyweight belt away from Fuming Mouth’s 2019 release, The Grand Descent. Simply put: this is music to brick cops to, giving voice to years of pent-up rage at the inescapable grasp of late-stage capitalism and the billionaire charlatans and warhawks it serves. This album is a righteous ode to the working class and other historically oppressed demographics of America, and it could not come at a better time. Also, Big Stan is a fucking monster, and I’m gonna need everyone to get on his level from now on.
Mortality Rate –Sleep Deprivation
I’ll be honest — Calgary’s Mortality Rate wasn’t on my radar until recently when vocalist Jess Nyx did a guest spot on The Acacia Strain’s Slow Decay, which just blew me away. It is a rare feat to upstage Vincent Bennett on his own song, so color me surprised when she put the whole track on her back. Sleep Deprivation is technically a rerelease of their first album pressing plus a few extra tracks they recorded as a split with Judiciary. It was all brand new to me though, and their aggressive, emotionally-charged, no-frills hardcore absolutely hits the spot.
This album is pure relentless energy given form. The first listen through felt like being flung against a concrete wall, and repeat visits have elicited the same response. Sleep Deprivation is personally going to be a big staple for years to come, and I would not be surprised to see this talented bunch opening some big name tours when those are a thing again. It’s time to hop on board before the train leaves the station.
Listen… I don’t want to hear it. Everyone is aware Emmure is a very cancelable band for past misogynistic lyrics and certain album openers about becoming a school shooter. Which, to be fair, still absolutely pales in comparison to a lot of deathcore and slam bands, not to mention the countless “nice guy” Warped Tour sex pests. They have also been bigtime trendsetters in the world of metalcore for a long time now, achieving godlike status for perennial classics like Goodbye To The Gallows, Felony, and Speaker of the Dead. The latter of those was released in 2011, and while they’ve dropped a few more albums since then, it’s been hard for the band to rival their own early output.
They added groove legend Josh Travis (formerly of Glass Cloud and The Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza) to their roster for 2017’s Look At Yourself, and the difference was immediate. It’s been obvious for a long time that they’ve been moving towards a more focused, hip-hop inspired, nu-metal-adjacent approach; no more riffs, just pure 8-string drop mosh. And with Hindsight, Emmure have achieved the exact sound that bandleader Frankie Palmeri has been trying to craft for years. While a slew of young hardcore outfits are writing half-assed nu-metalcore, Emmure has already dropped the alpha and omega of the new sound, and in true Emmure fashion, it is absurdly heavy and ignorant as fuck. When Hindsight came out, I listened in slack-jawed awe and dubbed it AOTY on the spot. Repeat visits and the onslaught of other great music dropping this year has knocked it down a few pegs, but consider this Emmure’s best record in a decade and a true crystallization of their final form.
Crow Killer – Enslaved to One
Here’s one that I’m positive has flown under too many radars, forgive the pun. Salt Lake City’s Crow Killer have been relatively quiet since releasing their 2016 EP, Becoming an Object of Fear. In that time, it seems they’ve not only been hoarding some of the best samples to ever grace a record, they’ve also been studying the blade. And by studying the blade, obviously, I mean dusting off the old OG proto-metalcore and first wave pioneers to craft a revivalist sound so punishing and genuine it could have been released in 2002 and we would be none the wiser.
Recalling greats like Disembodied, Botch, and the earlier sounds of Evergreen Terrace and Poison The Well, Crow Killer have written the best traditional metalcore album in a generation. Enslaved to One is wall to wall fight riffs, panic chords, and breakdowns galore. Sprinkle in a generous helping of fun samples, spoken word passages, thoughtful math bridges, an outro espousing the legacy of Creed, and of course a single instance of a featured female voice on “Bring Back the Blood II” and you’ve got yourself a winning recipe in my book. If you’re an oldhead like most of us, you absolutely owe it to yourself to give this record a spin.
Three Knee Deep – Three Knee Deep
These next two bands are near and dear to my heart. As a born and bred Southern man from the swamps of central Florida, Three Knee Deep are one of Tampa’s finest exports outside of classic death metal and cigars. I went to college at USF, so this self-titled album cover depicting local landmarks like the Tampa Theater, Sunshine Skyway Bridge, and Ybor City in stylized disrepair give me the warm and fuzzies. Nostalgia aside, the album just straight up fucking rips.
Do you like classic old-school hip-hop inspired hardcore? That true OG ‘90s sound? Do you like crowdkilling your best friends and tossing garbage cans and metal folding chairs across the pit? Going truly apeshit? Perhaps… smoking weed? Good, then this album is for you. If you’re not spinning 3KD, you don’t know shit, kid. You ain’t about it and you probably never will be. Sorry.
Swamp Stank – Swamp Stank
If you know me, you know I love few things more than some good old-fashioned dirty south metalcore. Maylene and the Sons of Disaster are the blueprint here; a legendary and often underrated band started by former Underoath vocalist and personal hometown hero Dallas Taylor about a piece of our town’s local outlaw lore. Maylene weren’t the first to base their sound around southern rock riffs reminiscent of old twangy steel slides and groovy bluegrass banjo, but they did perfect it, and few bands ever even came close to hitting the nail on the head quite like they did. That is, until a little outfit from Baton Rouge popped up a couple years ago.
Enter Swamp Stank, the spiritual successor and current torchbearer keeping southern metalcore alive and well. The name alone should conjure exactly what to expect — filthy, crunchy, mud-spattered lifted junkyard pickup, broken beer bottle bar fight music. It may not hit the same to anyone outside the southern US, but it’s musical soul food to me, and my trucker hat is off to these fellow gator-blooded brethren for releasing one hell of an assbeater.
ZOMBIESHARK! – I Will Destroy You, Myself, and Everything I’ve Ever Loved
Electronic music and –core have had a volatile past together. From revered acts like Genghis Tron and HORSE the Band’s approaches to what have been coined as cybergrind and nintendocore, to the …more controversial approaches of groups like Eskimo Callboy and The Browning. What seems to make the former bands stand out, is the more experimental approach to the type and way those electronics are incorporated. One of said styles is breakcore, or breatbeat – one of the more underappreciated electronic music forms. ZOMBIESHARK! (the name fits the music okay) tread that line between more accessible EDM/trance electronic flourishes, and these spastic breakbeat, glitch, and bordering IDM sections. All of this of course is frighteningly mashed together with metalcore and deathcore vocals and instrumentation, including a few digitized “clean”-ish vocal choruses.
One of my favourite aspects of I Will Destroy You, Myself, and Everyone I’ve Ever Loved is its unpredictability. They have a knack for incorporating pop sensibilities, with a surprising amount of emotional maturity for an album with track titles like “Computer Kidz Unite” that comes through in some of the melodies. The album is highly varied in tempo, from blistering blast beats, mid-tempo choruses and ambient sections, to syncopated breakdowns with Danza-esque tapping solos. ZOMBIESHARK! have emerged as a powerful new force in a genre that needed invigorating, with dense, mechanical aptitude.
CHAVER – A Cellar Door
CHAVER’s A Cellar Door is simply one of the hardest punches in the face of a release you’ll hear this year. It’s truly a sounds-like-how-the-cover-looks kind of album. While just six tracks and 22 minutes, they refer to it as an album not an EP. I think that’s valid for this genre really, as the impact crater left in you is just as deep as any “full-length”. A Cellar Door is swirling, festering soup of all of the heaviest influences in metal and hardcore. Chaver are a hardcore punk band at their core, but that feels too dismissive of their overall sound. The D-beat hardcore, HM-2 death metal, metallic hardcore, and even sludge metal influences thrown in all come together for a truly gruelingly heavy product. The sludge elements especially, in conjunction with some of the distressing industrial-noise screamed vocals towards the end of the album really add to the abrasiveness.
This album is meant to be hard to listen to. Conceptually, they drew from the Kübler-Ross five stages of grief. Over the course of the six tracks, you can feel a sort of shift from violent anger to suffering and helplessness, to finally acceptance. With their previous release and debut LP just dropping last year, these Germans have some hefty momentum going for them right now and I can’t wait for more from them – and hopefully to someday see them live.
He Who Would Swallow God – Ett porträtt av förfall och fördärv
While in many ways a progressive metal album, this release harnesses an ominously evil atmosphere that at its core is undisputedly rotten. The obvious comparisons to He Who Would Swallow God’s new EP Ett porträtt av förfall och fördärv would be their fellow Swede’s Vildhjarta and Humanity’s Last Breath. This of course is due to their patented “thall” guitar tones/riffs incorporated into deathcore. I don’t know if it’s the proximity to the magnetic pole, but it seems only Swedes are able to pull off this sound well. Something about this relatively unique take on the djent style, through the use of unusual string bends, pick scraping and mathcore-leaning chord choices emits this dark energy that just screams evil.
This is the sort of deathcore that relies a lot on production. While it isn’t quite up to the standards of their predecessors, you still get that sunken void feeling that they excel at so well. Vocally, Dennis Andersson generally operates in a similar spectrum as well, with a mix of low and mid deathcore growls that accent the guitar tones. At one point however he hits these almost Metal Gear Solid boss type shrieks that definitely catch you off guard.
If you’re a fan of those aforementioned bands and more atmospheric, darker deathcore in general this EP is certain to be a rewarding experience. The EP format and 25-minute run-time is really perfect for this style, as the dizzying rhythmic syncopation never gets repetitive yet it’s long enough for the brooding darkness to fully set in.
Stepping Stone – Escape From the Junkyard
When I listen to hardcore, I want it to be fast, tough as nails and fun. A band that checks off all items on that list are Canadian rockers, Stepping Stone. Look no further than the cover of their recent output and you can tell you will be in for a treat. A graffiti style plucked straight out of the 80’s with a wolf wading through pink, electronic waves chasing what looks like a Cadillac with two green reapers riding alongside it. Does it make sense? Absolutely not but who cares? This music fires on all cylinders from the intro to the final track. A solid release from the San Diego based Safe Inside Records.
They made a name for themselves playing various hardcore festivals all over the country and have opened for heavyweights such as Knocked Loose and Indecision to give you an idea of their sound. They also draw comparisons to bands such as Cruel Hand and Down to Nothing. I admire when a hardcore band goes heavy but has the restraint to keep it dialed back enough to keep them from getting too serious and dipping into “metal” territory. That is exactly what these Canadians do.
The last thing to take note of is the lyrics: they are so positive and really inspire you to take life by the horns. We could all use a dose of positivity in the year 2020 right?!
Sunami – Sunami
I mentioned before that music has to be fun. Sometimes you just need an outlet from your everyday job and to not care at all. Sunami is THAT band. The band is composed of members of San Jose hardcore acts, Hands of God and Gulch, and to put it simply: THEY PLAY STRAIGHT UP BEATDOWN HARDCORE. This music is just pure violence and borders on being a gag band but it’s actually pretty damn good! The music brings to mind the aggression of older acts like Blood for Blood or Hoods.
If you are looking for something complex and introspective, this is not the record. But if you are looking for something to just help you get it all out, this is the record. There is not a lot to say about this short EP other than it’s a ton of fun and if you are a fan of the sounds of the bands mentioned above with the humor of bands like The Hell and Good Clean Fun, then this is a great one to check out. Although, I think the topics they talk about are worth mentioning such as police brutality so they aren’t exactly in it just for laughs. I am interested to see where they go from here as they recently signed a deal with Triple B records.
Year of the Knife – Internal Incarceration
We can’t go through 2020 without talking about possibly one of the most highly anticipated bands from within the hardcore scene: Year of the Knife. Their recent album, Internal Incarceration, is in many ways a record that combines so many of the things I love about hardcore and music into one.
The album art is a conversation piece on its own and it brings up so many questions. What I took away from it was that it’s a person that came from a broken home and they feel trapped. The band is very open to the fact that they are all straight-edge and all share the common bond of losing someone close to them from addiction. This bond is clearly heard throughout this record in the palpable energy that emanates from the songs.
The memories of getting into hardcore coming flooding back when listening to this record and bring up the first time I heard a lot of the early Trustkill bands and their crunchy, metallic riffs. Bands like Eighteen Visions, Nora and Disembodied while also combined with the sheer brutality of current bands like Jesus Piece, Vein, Harms Way and Converge. To top it all off, the record is produced by the Converge mastermind, Kurt Ballou, whose production is perfect for the sound that is contained within the record.
This record combines thoughtful lyrics with pure aggression in a perfect marriage that will have you breaking down the walls of the world you feel trapped within in no time.
Gulch – Impenetrable Cerebral Fortress
I think it is safe to say if there is one record that has garnered a large hype train behind it and steamrolling right into your ears, it’s Gulch’s debut Impenetrable Cerebral Fortress. So much hype in fact that Pitchfork would go so far as to review it.
This album is only 15 minutes but it is a WILD ride. Blistering vocals that could be mistaken for Dylan Walker of Full of Hell fame coupled with a mix of hardcore breakdowns and mathcore insanity that could fit on a Dillinger Escape Plan or Botch album. Not to mention the production on the album. It’s so raw and gives the band an even dirtier and murkier sound than they already are.
The band throws a lot at you in the 15 minute length and keep your ears chasing what they will do next. I think it’s really impressive how the final song on the album, Sin In My Heart, just slows things right down and is triple the length of any song on the album at three minutes. This band is truly impressive one you must see live in order to get the full effect. I am truly excited to see what they do next!
Be Well – The Weight and the Cost
This album is hardcore but more in the melodic, no… emotional sense. It’s not about the aggression but thinking about our actions and our consequences that occur no matter how big or small they may be. Sometimes these are the perfect records to sit and take count of what we are doing in this great big world.
On top of being an emotionally driven hardcore record the band is a supergroup of sorts with various characters from within the independent scene. The band is spearheaded by none other than producer Brian McTernan who has worked with bands like Thrice, Hot Water Music, Circa Survive and Turnstile. Rounding out the band are Brian Tsouras and Shane Johnson of Fairweather, Mike Schleibaum of Darkest Hour and Aaron Dalbec of Bane. I know we have talked ad nauseum about the success and failures of supergroups with the expectations behind them but I can assure this is one of the wins.
Musically, the band straddles the line between post and melodic hardcore and could be compared to acts like Embrace, Rites of Spring, Shelter, Good Riddance and Modern Life is War. Brian does a great job of leading the band, winding in and out various emotional passages, with the band right behind him. It feels extremely tight for a band with members coming from varied backgrounds.
This is a great starting point for someone looking to get into hardcore without being too in your face.