Look, we KNOW it’s the mid-year review drop, but there was so much good new -core to cover from the past month, we just couldn’t help ourselves. Hope you’re ready for a jam-packed column full of June’s biggest hitters, plus a few of our favorite or most overlooked releases from 2021 so far.
The Wall of Death
Beartooth – Below (melodic metalcore)
For years I’ve been told Beartooth were (going to be) the saviours of mainstream metalcore and for years I’ve been racking my brain trying to work out what all the fuss is about. Not only were the band not really my sort of thing, but I really struggled to understand their broader appeal. With Below, however, Beartooth feel like real contenders.
Here, the band have finally found the balance between the melodic accessibility that made their name and a genuine, hardcore heaviness that has been sorely missing from their previous releases, despite their reputation as a supposedly harder-hitting mainstream act. Ironically, by leaning into the harder aspects of their sound, Beartooth have made their music catchier and more memorable. Beartooth’s production and songwriting style has always felt definitively “flat” to me in the past. Conversely, the riffs on Below actively grab my attention, sticking in my mind and making my body move. The thicker guitar tones suit the band to a tee, reminding me of fellow mainstream powerhouses Don Broco, while tapping into the deep electronic bass registers that dominate so much mainstream pop music these days while retaining and even emphasising the band’s rock aesthetic. Tracks like lead single “Devastation,” the title-track, “Dominate”, which even contains some dissonant, black metal style blasting, and the ungodly “Last Riff”, which should really have opened the album (into “Devastation”) and should open all Beartooth sets from now on—are by far the heaviest material the band have come up with to date and easily rank among their best.
Mainman Caleb Shomo (ex-Attack Attack!), who apparently produced, mixed, mastered and recorded every single part of the record, has also fully hit his stride as a vocalist. Sure, the debut Beartooth record, Disgusting (2014), contained more than its share of throat-shredding screams, but they didn’t carry nearly as much power as they do here and the ease with which Shomo slips into a series of anthemic, clean hooks – each catchier and more colossal than the last is genuinely staggering. He consistently pulls off feats of melodic songwriting that simply shouldn’t work. “No Return” blends the best of old school Papa Roach with The Used to surprisingly potent results and with “I Won’t Give it Up” he somehow manages to craft a mature and measured anthem of pop punk defiance that more than makes up for the tragic A Day to Remember record from earlier this year. “Skin” is perhaps a tad too earnest and mugging for its own good, but even then Shomo manages to blend it with a letlive.-esque, nu-hardcore bounce and, other than that, it’s smooth sailing.
Below is that fabled record that is both “heavier and more melodic” and lays to rest any doubts that Beartooth are masters of both approaches. If they weren’t deserving of the magnanimous praise heaped upon them in the past, then they certainly are now.
Death Goals – The Horrible and the Miserable (chaotic hardcore, screamo)
One of the UK’s most exciting new bands, Death Goals are hardcore in its most energetic and hectic form. Like the electrons of a helium element in science class, this two-piece whirls around in a dizzying display of explosive force. Fusing modern screamo with the likes of The Chariot or early Norma Jean, it’s a sound that feels both fresh and exciting, but they don’t shy away from showing their influences.
A lot of the breakdowns are based around the panic chord sound of the 00s, where they basically bounce back and forth between a chuggy low note and squealing high note in the sort of groovy rhythm that makes people jump around swinging their limbs in the air. If you’ve listened to “Memphis Will be Laid to Waste” you know what I’m talking about. Lead single “Shrike” is essentially a song built entirely around this idea, and is possibly the moshing-est mosh song that’s ever moshed. I can see why people might be tired of this trope, but hey, it’s fun! And effective at being a catalyst for releasing the frantic tension they accumulate from song to song. This really is the type of music that’s meant to be experienced live in a pit, so you can feel that frantic energy flow through you in unison with like-minded fans surrounding you in love and chaos.
While the style may be from the 00s, their tones and production quality are very modern. The more sharp crispness in the guitar gives it a little more bounce or bite and helps make The Horrible and the Miserable stand out from the newer slew of metalcore and hardcore bands pining for that throwback sound. They even dip their toes into a sort of melodic post-hardcore on tracks like “Nothing Left To Give” with some sorrow-filled clean singing. The wailing screams aren’t always my favourite, but they undeniably get across a certain anxious desperation. In a year full of great debut albums from new bands in the -core scene, Death Goals have graced us with one of the best.
Rise Against – Nowhere Generation (melodic hardcore, punk rock)
This band needs no introduction. The political punk band by way of Chicago have released their 9th studio album and overall it feels like a proper return to form and energy we haven’t felt or heard from the band in years. I would say personally since Siren Song of the CounterCulture.
Being a punk band, let alone a political one is a tough one. There are only so many topics to discuss until it sounds old and tired. On top of that, the band suffered from being accused of writing the same record time and time again, which I definitely agree with. Look, it happens to some of my favorite bands. Looking at you August Burns Red. It happens to a lot of bands and they eventually either just accept it or try to reinvent themselves. A great example of this is Anti-Flag and their 2015 record, American Spring, which was undoubtedly their most pop oriented record to date. I know a lot of people that talked about that record that had never even heard of the band previously. Do I think Rise Against wrote a pop record and reinvented themselves? NO! This is very much a Rise Against record but a newly reinvigorated band with four years worth of the Trump era behind them.
I will say it again, but the band and especially Tim just feel like they have a ton of pent up energy and just need to let it out. I have not heard Tim sound this good in years and the way he sings it’s extremely contagious. Even when they strip it down in ballads (which they are masters of by the way, just listen to The Ghost Note Symphonies, Vol. 1) it just sounds so good. I also think the production is incredible and utilizing the talents of Bill Stevenson again was brilliant. At this point, if you don’t know who Bill Stevenson is, stop reading right now and google him! (Hint: he was in Black Flag and currently in The Descendents to start).
Musically this record definitely feels like a mix of older Rise Against with mid to late tier AFI, before they went all New Wave on us (totally not a bad thing!) This is definitely a fantastic album in their discography and should not be missed!
Wanderer – Liberation From A Brutalist Existence (progressive metallic hardcore)
Though they’ve been around for a while now and opened for some of the hottest acts in the scene, Minneapolis quartet Wanderer finally dropped their first full-length, Liberation From A Brutalist Existence, earlier this month. Claiming influence from acts like Converge, The Chariot, and Norma Jean, Wanderer combines the underpinnings of that seminal chaotic hardcore sound with sludgier tones and a healthy dash of grindcore grit. Tracks like “Hellhole”, however, make the best use of their fuzzed out low end, delivering a good old low and slow riff ride to hell. Vocalist Dan Lee’s death growls really round the sound out to something more akin to modern outfits like Fuming Mouth or Wolf King, which are not bad company to be in bed with at all.
Truthfully, some of the best riffs of the year reside within this record, which is a feat I was not expecting. Whether it’s the dissonant War From A Harlots Mouth inspired “Frost Cage” or its beefy successor “Bourn”, be prepared for some truly groovy, grimace-inducing filth. Each track is a thrill ride and never overstays its welcome, making for a very enjoyable spin you can come back to time and time again. That’s a quality quickly becoming a rarity in this scene, so I’m happy to heap credit where credit’s due. While technically their debut album, a slew of EPs over the past several years and real stage experience with the pros have given Wanderer a hefty leg up over the competition. Liberation From A Brutalist Existence is a shining entry in this year’s hardcore canon, and the band’s future potential is clearly evident in its performance. If you haven’t given it a listen yet, it’s time to do yourself a favor.
Wristmeetrazor – Replica of a Strange Love (retro-metalcore, screamo)
Although their aesthetic might draw more readily from the likes of Aiden, Atreyu and My Chemical Romance, Wristmeetrazor’s second full-length outing, the aptly titled Replica of a Strange Love, draws from a far more metallic and aggressive set of influences.
Opener “Our Distress Entwined” recalls the glory years of early As I Lay Dying and I Killed the Prom Queen (though hopefully neither band’s personal politics), its follower “Last Tango in Paris” (featuring Knocked Loose’s Isaac Hale) perfectly blending the rabid, thrash infused hyper-aggro hardcore stylings of later-period Bleeding Through and The Agony Scene. Standout track “Nietzsche is Dead” brings in some Dillinger Escape Plan and Norma Jean-isms, “Anemic (The Same Six Words)” sounds like Zao mixed with Deftones, with a chorus reminiscent of early Glassjaw, just like its name suggests – the influence of the former two artists coming to fruition on the sullen “This Summer Sorrow II: Growing Old in the Waiting Place”. As with Beartooth above, Wristmeetrazor have become a far better band by significantly upping the heaviness of their sound.
Replica of a Strange Love’s accentuate aggression doesn’t mean Wristmeetrazor are afraid to let their goth side shine through. The band’s moodier and arguably more “adolescent” aspects come out in some of the lyrics, and especially on the recharge interlude “Love Labor’s Lost” but, even then, they simply hark back to an era, where bearing your soul in such a melodramatic manner was considered the epitome of hardcore posturing. Moreover, the industrialised “9.99 & 44/100”, which sounds like the blueprint for a 3TEETH single, and synth-infused, new wave closer “All the Way Alive”, ironically mix in some of modern hardcore’s most “cutting edge” ideas, showing how one day they too will be dated (if they aren’t already), while also suggesting a promising direction for the band to perhaps follow in future.
Replica of a Strange Love is pure pastiche, but it’s one crafted knowingly, passionately and, dare I say, expertly. How much enjoyment you get out of this album will depend greatly on how much reverence you have for early-2000s, second wave metalcore, but if you have any attachment to that scene or sound, then this one’s going to hit you hard. Repeatedly. Right in the face. Now, open this shit up!
Elision – There’s More To Us Than You and I (progressive metalcore, djent)
Time for another memorable debut, this time a groovy EP from down under. Seriously, what is it about Australia and pumping out kickass metalcore and deathcore? Put bluntly, There’s More To Us Than You and I is essentially Currents meets Humanity’s Last Breath. But what’s wrong with that? It’s a really engaging middle point between the energetic passion of bands like Silent Planet, accented by those smothering grooves and ominous atmosphere. However, where Silent Planet’s writing feels really structured around the vocals, the guitar writing seems to be the more driving force here.
The more upbeat tempos on “The Spirit” give it a slight melodeath feel that’s unique for this mostly djenty metalcore. The Buster Odeholm effect is really prevalent from start to finish. Not only did he of course produce this, but even has a guest feature on the opener. They spice in those angular bending “thall” that hit really hard with syncopated brutality. They’ll forever be tied to Vildhjarta of course, but hell, they hit like a brick. The subtly used clean vocals are also a surprising treat in their Thomas Giles-like eeriness. This feels like one of those bands that if they were the first to do this sound, they would be among the most popular acts in the scene. Unfortunately a lot of this territory has been tread in some manner of fashion already, but that doesn’t take away from the quality of the music itself. Can we also talk about that artwork? Really striking and refreshing for the genre.
Quiet – …and so it was (progressive metal, metalcore)
When a metalcore album opens with bagpipes you know it’s at least going to be a little bit… unusual. When the blastbeats kick in over the bagpipe, you get the next stage of the Vince McMahon reaction meme, and as the album continues, that joyous exhilaration grows exponentially. …and so it was, the debut full-length from Florida based progressive metalcore trio Quiet is not only one of the strongest debuts of the year, but frankly some of the most genuinely progressive metalcore you’ll find of late.
This is not just a glorified djent-core band being shoehorned into that “progressive” label, in fact there is very little djent even on here – it’s reserved exclusively for well-timed breakdowns and to pump in some groove. But no, this is more in the early to mid-era Between the Buried and Me vein where the “prog” is equally integral to their sound as the metalcore. That’s not to say they’re trying to be BTBAM clones or worship them, but there’s the notable use of non-metal instruments like the circus organs (or calliope) in “Dark Sky,” a similar vocal style incorporating harsh and clean singing, and the obvious technical proficiency. Other comparisons could be made to Cryptodira, but with less death metal emphasis. They have that same free-wheeling lead driven verses full of dancing melodies, but they’re frequently interjected with interesting breakdowns that don’t feel forced. They wear a lot of their influences on their sleeve, with a definite ode to The Contortionist‘s “Oscillate” later on that’s too close not to be on purpose. Perhaps a bit cheeky, but hey it’s a cool riff and they give it their own spin. If you’re looking for some metalcore that brings a legitimate progressive presence without just sounding like Periphery, you really can’t go wrong with …and so it was, hopefully the first of much more greatness from Quiet.
Orphan Donor – Unraveled (emoviolence, mathcore, post-metal)
Ever listened to screamo but wish it was heavier? Or wanted dissonant mathcore, powerviolence, screamo and shoegaze all in one? But instead of bouncing from one style to another they just somehow overlap in disturbing brilliance? That is essentially the fascinating and unique product of Orphan Donor‘s new full-length Unraveled, which has launched itself into my top 25 of the year for its ambitious and rewarding assault of the senses. To be quite frank, this album is a lot. It’s dense, it’s abrasive, and if you’re not too familiar with noise- related subgenres it might be a bit too much. But if you can open yourself up to it there’s a certain radiance to it that consumes you. Jared Stimpfl, drummer of quality mathcore group Secret Cutter is behind all of the instrumentals here and damn does he let his diverse talent shine.
Unravelled is the sort of album that shouldn’t work, but just does. Sure there are moments where a more atmospheric, almost blackgaze approach takes centre, and there’s even some Isis-like post-metal touches, but even these are generally accompanied by the raging despair of Chris Pandolfo’s vocals. These softer touches like the outro of the title track do offer a slight reprieve to breathe before the cataclysm returns. Comparisons could be made to meth or KEN mode, but the total package here is unlike anything I’ve heard before.
For an album that does so much with atmospheric noisescapes, it’s also frequently just punishingly heavy. Like rivaling dissonant death metal and the heaviest of mathcore levels. Really can’t say enough good things about this, it’s ambitious as hell and it paid off. If Ulcerate gone screamo sounds appealing to you, or you just want to hear the universe collapsing on itself, prepare to get Unraveled.
Focusrights / The Sound That Ends Creation – Intercontinental Split (mathcore, avante-garde cybergrind)
Look… I like to get weird, okay? I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. Neither do Focusrights and The Sound That Ends Creation, two absolutely deranged experimental mathcore projects that are redefining the space in recent years. The mere fact that they’ve teamed up to release what will likely become one of the cornerstones of the genre in 2021 is an astronomical occurrence. Descendents of infamous MySpace-era progenitors like Heavy Heavy Low Low (who are back with a new band we cover later) and The Number Twelve Looks Like You, these acts have taken what was an already insane blueprint of chaotic, dissonant, wacky, out-of-the-box, sassy screamo and stretched it to its furthest ends. Combining elements of industrial cybergrind, free jazz, hip hop, calliope, IDM, and whatever else they conjure up in their little goblin brains, both Focusrights and The Sound That Ends Creation have carved very clear niches for themselves through their full throttle, maximalist, avante-garde approach.
Intercontinental Split features two new tracks from both outfits, each its own fresh psychedelic nightmare. While none of the songs venture past 2:35 in length, they’re so jam-packed with different movements and ideas, you’re tricked into feeling like each track is longer than it actually is. This mesmerizing disorientation and musical sleight-of-hand is where both acts shine. The entire split is less than ten minutes, every second of which you’ll feel like your brain is made of drunk bees speedrunning the Olympics. That’s a special kind of weird I feel privileged to have experienced, and I sincerely hope you’ll consider subjecting yourself to it as well.
Borf – Borf EP (hardcore, metalcore, grindcore, powerviolence)
I am here to present you with possibly the most blistering record you will hear this year. Ok, Yautja is close. I will get right to it and if you enjoy bands like Full of Hell, All Pigs Must Die or Candy then this record is for you. Other than the brief intro that is completely misleading and full of pop filled electronics, the record pummels you and never allows you to take a breath until the last few seconds that have a hip hop beat that wouldn’t be far off from being on a Cold World album. I don’t know what is going on in Portugal but Borf is pissed off and ready to completely set fire to anything in front of them and I am here for it. If you like any of the aforementioned bands then this is for you!
Drug Church – Tawny (melodic hardcore, alt rock, punk rock, post-hardcore)
I love this EP. It is four songs of just fun alt rock with a melodic hardcore swagger. To those unfamiliar, this is Patrick Kindlons’ of Self Defense Family, other band. While both bands do have some similarities, this band definitely has the more commercial appeal of the two. This was essentially written to bridge the gap between their old and new full length with three new songs and a cover of Arcwelder’s “Remember To Forget”, which fits their sound perfectly. Patrick continues with his unique barking vocal style which seems to have gotten so much better with time and the band does a great job of keeping up with him and mesh very well. I am very excited to hear what’s in store for them next with the upcoming full length and especially since they will direct support for Citizen on the record release tour.
Ekulu – Unscrew My Head (hardcore, metal)
It would not be a month without something in the hardcore realm from me right?! New York’s Ekulu do not disappoint in that regard. They have that New York hardcore swagger and bring to mind old school acts like the Cro-Mags or even a current act like Mindforce. They have the riffs but restrain themselves enough not to dip into crossover territory. Although, I could absolutely see them opening up for acts like Power Trip (RIP) and Enforced. At this point, the band is gunning for hardcore album of the year in my ears but there is still a lot of time left to knock it off the throne. Much respect to these guys for killing it and I hope I get to see them when they are out on the road.
Stand Still – A Practice In Patience (melodic harcore, pop punk, emo)
One of the best upcoming labels that I have to give a shout out to is New Mortality Zine out of Chicago. They are consistently finding incredibly talented bands and sit alongside great labels such as Triple B, Closed Casket and Run For Cover.
On that note, their latest release is Long Island based band, Stand Still. I am not sure what it is but there is certain style that is distinct to that area that combines the elements of melodic hardcore and pop punk emo. Bands that come to mind are The Movielife, Silent Majority and maybe some Quicksand. I love bands like this because they are nice change of pace from standard hardcore but could absolutely go toe to toe with them. There is so much catchiness and melody to them but at the same time you feel the punk rock/hardcore energy. The only downside to this album is that it is so short and I would love more but here is hoping they give it a full length in the near future.
2021 Highlights / Overlooked
Fucked Up – Year of the Horse (progressive hardcore?)
Calling this a “hardcore” record is a pretty insane stretch, really. Sure, Fucked Up have traditionally been more of a hardcore band than not, and there is some hardcore on this album… along with literally everything else! Western Americana, gospel, folk, punk, garage rock, desert rock, stoner metal, prog rock, atmospheric/synth pop, avant-garde soundscapes, jazz, lounge, dub, funk, thrash, doom, drone, trip-hop, you name it! It’s all here and, somehow – incredibly – it all works.
Sitting down and listening to Year of the Horse (which is some kind of Western concept album or something) in one sitting is a tall order. And, you know what? You shouldn’t! (Damn thing has more endings than The Return of the King!) There’s a reason the band released each of its four, roughly twenty-minute “Acts” individually, over a period of four months. These “songs” and the story they tell are episodic. Treat them like you would a television or book series, taking in one at a time before moving onto the next. Or however you want. Who am I to tell you how to listen to your music? Especially when Fucked Up clearly have no interest being told what music, let alone “hardcore”, is or should be. All I know is this is one of the best albums of 2021, and maybe ever made.
Kaonashi – Dear Lemon House, You Ruined Me: Senior Year (progressive post-hardcore)
Trent already wrote this one up when it came out, but I’m here to second that recommendation, since not nearly enough people seem to be talking about how utterly incredible this album truly is. Kaonashi boast a very singular, confronting sound, blending the chaotic, unhinged approach of Sikth, early letlive. and peak At the Drive-In with a hyperreal high-school aesthetic and concept that sets them up as either a Persona protagonist or villain (probably). It took me a while to work out who they really reminded me of before I stumbled upon the answer: my beloved Art Far Away, but if they were more into MySpace-era post-hardcore than progressive death metal. The vocals are going to put a lot of people off this record but, if you can stomach them, this one is definitely worth revisiting.
Bone Cutter – Bone Cutter (mathcore, sasscore)
It feels like a big oversight that we didn’t give this proper coverage back on our April column. The return of anything involving Heavy Heavy Low Low members deserves some attention, especially when it lives up to expectations as Bone Cutter have. Comprised of original HHLL members Robbie Smith, Chris Fritter, Andew Fritter and former producer now on guitars Sam Pura, the project was essentially born out of an idea from Sam and Rob, and blossomed into a furiously sassy EP of some of the best mathcore of the year. It’s disturbing, manic, and pretty downright heavy at times, and if you’re longing for more HHLL this is really the next best thing.
The Circle Pit
Basterds – A Place To Call Hell (metalcore)
Black Lotus – Epicenter (deathcore)
Colour & Shade – Hostile Grounds (post-hardcore)
Confessions of a Traitor – Press Start to Play (metalcore)
Distant – Aeons of Oblivion (deathcore)
Hacktivist – Hyperdialect (djent, alt-metal, rap)
Mindfield – Seclusion of Sanity (hardcore, metal, crossover)
The Hell – Joris (A Hardcore Opera): Pt. 2 (comedic hardcore)