THINGS THAT MAKE U GO MOSH: SOME UBER-KVLT 90s METALCORE BANDS 4 U
“BIG PANTS WASTE PRECIOUS FABRIC”
Step into my Nocturnus time machine and take a magical journey with me into a time long, long ago, an excursion into a world that scarcely resembles our own. In this world — we’ll call it Moshtopia — hardcore kids are known for wearing giant, baggy pants, not skinny jeans; there are people under 30 that know who Black Flag is; and metalcore bands worship Krishna, not Christ. This is not a fanciful episode of Jojo’s Bizarre Adeventure fan fiction, my friends, — it is the strange and wonderful world of mid-90s hardcore!
For better of worse, I spent my teens and early 20s as a proud resident of Moshtopia. I went to high school outside of Seattle and grew up moshing my balls off to West Coast bands like Undertow, Unbroken, Struggle, and Strife (back then bands from the Midwest and East Coast rarely made it out West), and moved to Cleveland in 1996. To say Cleveland was a very different place than Seattle would be an understatement that approaches the level of Holocaust-denial, but I did get to experience another side of the hardcore scene — Clevo bands like Ringworm, Integrity, One Life Crew, and Apartment 213 in their mid-90s prime, as well as tons of touring bands who were able to make it to Ohio but not Seattle.
The 90s were very much a transitional time for hardcore, where it still had a strong connection to its punk rock roots, but began to sound more and more like metal. Basically, the story of 90s hardcore can be told by tracing which metal bands hardcore kids were copying: in the beginning of the 90s, it was entry-level thrash bands like Slayer and Metallica. Next it was the grooves of Chaos AD-era Sepultura, Heartwork-era Carcass, and the decade closed by introducing the plague known as Gothenberg-core, in which bands tried their best to copy In Flames and At The Gates.
Like any other snapshot of an era, a lot of the bands and records from the 90s metalcore scene were fucking terrible, especially because they didn’t have access to the recording technology we do today. Still, there was something special about it — it was the first generation of kids who grew up with their roots in more than one scene, a big departure from the 80s where you pretty much listened to either metal or punk, rarely both, and the attempts at merging the two were usually pretty primitive and shitty (see D.R.I. Thrash Zone). The bands I’m including in this post were full of kids like me who grew up listening to equal amounts of Youth of Today, Suffocation, and Black Flag (and maybe a little Guttermouth thrown in for good measure). Scattered across the country, only vaguely aware of each other, they were all basically doing their best to play pissed off metal with hardcore lyrics, and I think there are some genuinely groundbreaking, classic records to be found in the mixed bag of results.
I’m going to skip the obvious names like Integrity, Poison The Well, Earth Crisis, 18 Visions, VOD, and so forth. Those bands are all great, and I love them, but they’ve been covered plenty of times. These bands/songs are the smaller, mostly-forgotten pioneers who only released a couple demos or 7″s, and have fallen through the cracks but deserve to be documented — it was hard enough to find these records at the time, so if you weren’t one of the 500 or so people who managed to track one down at some basement show or random festival in 1996, you would have know way of knowing about them in 2010. I actually had to upload about half of these tracks to YouYube myself. Much like Von, Cynic, or Havohej, these bands mostly flew under the radar at the time, but pushed the boundaries of their genre much further than their more-popular counterparts.
See also my posts “The History of Metalcore/Screamo,” the “skramz” scene, and “5 Things I Miss About 90s Hardcore,” and for more details and downloads, visit the excellent 90s hardcore blogs Path To Misery, Coregasm, and especially X Stuck In The Past X. There’s almost no information about these bands on the internet, so I’m going off of memory — please make any corrections in the comments if you have them, and if you were in any of these bands, please email or hit me up on Twitter (firstname.lastname@example.org / StuffUWillHate) and tell me more!
FOR THOSE ABOUT 2 MOSH, WE SALUTE U!
I will begin with the epitome of awesome 90s metalcore, the one and only, the legendary ABNEGATION! Musically, they were over a decade ahead of their time, with some seriously sick thrash and death metal-inspired riffs (via guitarist Paul N, later of Creation Is Crucifixion) that are really head-and-shoulders above what all the other bands of their era were doing. I think the song above, from their 1996 split with Chapter, is maybe the best song from the entire 90s metalcore scene. It has the raw, pissed off edge of punk/hardcore, but sounds like evil thrash/death metal.
I am incredibly stoked that I got to see the band during the brief period that they sounded like this (before they turned into shitty death metal) — I think it was in December of 1996, in Erie PA with Brother’s Keeper? I wore huge Tommy Hilfiger Jeans and a soccer jersey :( The drummer was wearing a Machine Head longsleeve, which would more or less be like wearing a Slipknot shirt these days.
On that note, their image was as great as their music, rocking 90s hardcore staples like giant khaki pants, bleach-blond undercuts, and Krishna beads — put the two together and you have the perfect package!! On that note, until just recently Paul N lived with my friend Dan, who found a stash of his Structure sweaters from the mid-90s — please help me encourage him to put that shit on eBay!!
I’m hoping to do a more detailed interview/history of Abnegation and Creation is Crucifixion if I can get Paul on board- in the meantime, there’s more info and the full discography available on the excellent 90s hardcore blog Path To Misery.
KILL THE SLAVEMASTER
As many readers already know, the members of Fallout Boy came up in the 90s vegan straightedge hardcore scene, just like I did. Pete Wentz was in a few shitty bands (Extinction, Arma Angelus, and a washed-up version of Vegan Reich) but seemed like a cool guy. FOB drummer Andy Hurley had a much better resume, most notably the awesome Chicago band Kill The Slavemaster. Obviously, this is the epitome of 90s metalcore Slayer-worship, but I think it’s pretty fucking great. He seemed like a nice guy, too.
Perhaps the most absurd band of the entire 1990s vegan sxe scene was the notorious, infamous Racetraitor, also featuring Andy Hurley of Fallout Boy (and sometimes Pete Wentz). I won’t go into too much detail about this band, but suffice to say that if there was a contest to see which band could take the mega-uptight PC politics of the 90s to the most ridiculous extreme, they would win. Not only were they vegan and straightedge, they also went on and on about how awful white people were (yes, the members were all white), and I think the singer ended up being one of those weird Muslim hardline guys or something. He seemed like a real dick.
I saw these guys at a fest in Indianapolis in 1998 with (get this) Charles Bronson and Hatebreed — can you think of a fucking stranger lineup than that?? Andy (the drummer who is/was in Fallout Boy) was wearing a Judge shirt, which I thought was pretty cool.
More details on how insane and hilarious this band was are available via Wikipedia.
Apparently there are piles of unsold Turmoil CDs back at the Century Media warehouse in beautiful Hawthorne, CA. This is both surprising and disappointing to me, because they were not only fucking awesome, but pretty popular at the time. Of course, being a “pretty popular” hardcore band in 1996 probably translates into selling 500 7″s over the course of two years, so I guess it does make sense. In any case, they took the noisy, discordant Deadguy style, added a particularly pissed-off edge to it, and could actually play their instruments (unlike most of the bands who copied Deadguy). Both of the albums on Century Media are sick, probably still available, and Mick Deth will probably be stoked to see your order come through the CM Distro, so pick them up ASAP!
Objectively speaking, this band is horrible, but they hold a very special place in my heart. For the black metal fans in the house, this is the 90s hardcore equivalent of the Von demo: super kvlt, underground, raw-as-fuck, and 10000% awesome. They were basically a shitty, super grimy version of Earth Crisis, releasing only this 4-song 7″ in 1993 or so.With angry, ridiculous vegan-warrior lyrics, enough divebombs and E-chug riffs to sink a battleship, this record is the absolute blueprint for generic 90s metalcore, and that’s exactly why I love it. I had both versions, the original with the photocopied cover, and the glossy version that Very re-released, although AFAIK the recordings are exactly the same?
While I think Deadguy is pretty well-known these days (thanks to being on leading independent music retailer VICTORY RECORDS), their predecessor Rorschach does not seem to enjoy the same level of recognition. Although short-lived (1989-1993 or so), Rorschach released two LPs that were very groundbreaking, with a progressive, metallic take on noisy hardcore that was completely unique at the time. Anyhow, both the Rorschach LPs are great, but I think their second (Protestant) is the best, with some absolutely throat-shredding vocals that still give me chills. This song is from their (final?) 7″ and is my personal favorite Rorschach song, with a kind of meandering, melancholy and neurotic quality that gets me every time — and the opening riff = SHEER BRUTALITY (as well as the foundation for all the Euro bands like Acme who shamelessly ripped them off).
If there is a single 90s metalcore band who is underrated and underappreciated, it’s MAYDAY. They were one of the very, very first bands to combine brutal moshcore with legit thrash-inspired riffs, and when you consider that this recording is from fucking 1992, it’s pretty amazing how ahead of their time they were — with a modern recording, this could be released on Victory today and sound totally current. This is from their split with Integrity, and the contrast between the two bands is obvious in my eyes. Yes, Integrity did something similar, but Mayday was much better — more polished songwriting and performances — whereas Integrity’s popularity was largely based on their image and shit-talking, whereas Mayday let their music do the talking. Anyhow, Mayday did a couple 7″s and a 10″, but never toured (that I know of) or really even played shows out of town, so they definitely flew under the radar.
Andrew at Aversionline did a nice review of their 10″, and if you know more about this band, please email me (email@example.com)! I randomly got an email from Mayday’s singer Lance years ago via eBay, and sadly lost his info, but I’d love to write more about Mayday since there is basically no information about them anywhere on the internet.
By 1997, there were literally hundreds of vegan straightedge metalcore bands popping up all over the country, and most were absolutely horrible. While they never really did much beyond play a few regional shows, Indiana’s UPHEAVAL were one of the very best of the post-Earth Crisis mosh bands. I don’t know much about them other than that, but this EP was sweet! The main riff in this song reminds me of early Suffocation (starts at 2:00), and I love the Seasons In The Abyss-style ‘eerie clean-guitar intro riff’ that many bands used at the time. Also, you have to LOL at the cheesy late-90s “desktop publishing” cover art, which became very common as hardcore kids learned how to use Photoshop and Pagemaker.
CREATION IS CRUCIFIXION
Out of the ashes of Abnegation came the incredible Creation Is Crucifixion, with guitarist Paul N as the brains behind both. They picked up where Abnegation left of as far as playing heavily death-metal influenced grindy hardcore, but instead of the lyrics being about how the fetus is a life, they were about robots taking over the world and making subversive Gameboy cartridges (seriously!). Basically, the hardcore equivalent of Nocturnus — I think Nate and Paul were going to Carnegie Mellon for robotics or some shit at the time?? Total weirdos, in the best possible sense of the word — I didn’t know them well, but they were really friendly, fun guys whenever I talked to them at shows.
Anyway, CiC were head and shoulders above anybody else in the hardcore scene in terms of shredding, and totally blew everybody away with how ridiculously fast and hard-to-follow their songs were, especially live. I think the original drummer (Mike?) replaced Dave Astor in Cattle Decapitation? Also, their guitarist Adam DJ’d my friend’s wedding last year. He is a huge Nitro fan, so him and I will always share a special bond.
(P.S. — Note how high his guitar is in this picture — to this day, I play a Jackson with the strap up high as fuck, exactly like that, because I thought it looked so cool with Paul and Nate did it in Abnegation/CiC!)
Canephora was a great example of the first generation of bands made up of people like me who grew up listening to equal amounts of Youth of Today, Cynic, and Napalm Death — kids who liked the sound of grind and technical death metal, but identified more with hardcore or punk lyrics. While they never really got any traction, Canephora were pioneers of the technically, discordant style that came from that kind of (then-uncommon) background, and I worshipped this demo at the time.
Note the sick, weird little jazzy breakdown at 1:08 in the song above — the production a little different than the cassette demo I have, but I think it’s from the same recording, just mastered differently. More detailed history of this band and its descendants (DEP etc) here — I think the guitarist, Brian Benoit, is/was in Dillinger Escape Plan, which makes a lot of sense.
Anybody else who grew up on the West Coast in the 90s will remember that there were a ton of ridiculously brutal Christian metalcore bands who you had to recognize for completely bringing the mosh, whether you were Christian or not. Focal Point and Overcome were two good examples, but in my personal opinion, nobody did it better than UNASHAMED. You have to admit, this song is pretty fucking awesome and brutal for a mid-9os hardcore band — sounds a whole lot like Demolition Hammer if you ask me.
Another pioneering-but-underappreciated band is Reno’s FALL SILENT. They combined the sick mosh grooves of bands like Excessive Force and Crowbar with the polish and technical ability of death metal, added a little touch of wiggerish rap elements, and ended up with something that was way ahead of its time. They released three albums, all of which are great, but for some reason never really took off. I think a lot of people struggled with the vocals, but I always thought they were very cool and unique– and as anyone who met him will tell you, Levi Watson was a very nice, friendly guy. I also think it’s pretty legit that they thanked “all Alex Marquez bands (for inspiration)” on the liner notes of their first LP — not too many hardcore bands were giving props to Resurrection and Malevolent Creation in 1995!
Also of note are the pre-Fall Silent bands New Blood and Bludgeon. While they are definitely not as polished as Fall Silent, if you’re a vintage 90s metalcore pervert like I am, you should definitely track them down. Anybody know what Damon Watson is up to these days? He was one of the best drummers of the time.
Perhaps because of their larger-than-life image, there’s a fair amount of information about the infamous, mysterious Gehenna — most of it is bullshit, though. With that in mind, I won’t go into too much more detail, but you can read more about them via Aversionline and an interview I did earlier this year with Mike Cheese that clears up a lot of the nonsense about them. All their records sound different from each other, but they’re all great- my personal favorites are the demo and split with Apartment 213 (see “Swarm“). They are still around, and I think have some new record out which you can probably find out about via their Myspace.
DAY OF SUFFERING
Finally, we have the mysterious, criminally-underrated, semi-Hardline quintet DAY OF SUFFERING, formerly known as Falling Down. These guys were one of those bands that kind of came out of nowhere, yet blew everybody away with their 1997 album The Eternal Jihad (the title track is above, also check out “Visualize Industrial Collapse“). That record was one of the most polished, tight, and overtly-metal releases the hardcore scene had given birth to, and although everybody jizzed over it, the band never really toured or took advantage of the hype. I saw them once in 1998 at the same weird Charles Bronson/Hatebreed-headlined fest, then they pretty much vanished off the face of the Earth. Last I heard they had turned into more of a black metal-influenced thing, but I never actually heard anything recorded.
What other mid-90s technical metalcore bands did I forget?? Do you miss the days when every hardcore band had short, bleached hair, huge pants and played Jackson guitars?? Younger readers, what does this stuff sound like to you? Will this be my least-interesting post yet??? Does anybody give a fuck about this era of hardcore?