The History of Metalcore/Screamo
First things first: screamo is literally worse than the Holocaust in my book. With a few notable exceptions, I absolutely cannot stand this shit. That said, with bands like The Devil Wears Prada and Underoath selling out huge venues, putting out platinum-selling albums, and selling truckloads of cookie-cutter merch to every angsty suburban teen within driving distance of a Hot Topic, it’s hard not to pay attention to the genre. I might not like it, but Kids These Days certainly do. My biggest question: Where the fuck did this shit come from??
As someone who saw the birth of metalcore and “true screamo”/skramz firsthand in the 90s, I am highly confused when I listen to these bands. On the one hand, they are not so different from anything that could have been on Victory or Indecision in the 90s (Earth Crisis, All Out War, Bloodlet). Obviously there are some things that have changed over time, but the fundamentals of metalcore are still there (see my post “The 5 Kinds Of Music Teens Are Into” for more details). On the other hand, the kids in Alesana, August Burns Red, and possibly even As I Lay Dying have no fucking idea who those pioneering metalcore bands are, much less that screamy vocals were born in the tiny basement shows and vegan bakesales of the 90s DIY hardcore scene.
What is “the missing link”???
What is the mysterious subgenre connecting the skramz/hardcore scenes of my youth to the strange new world of modern screamo?? How did I get from watching Charles Bronson in a basement with 35 people in 1995 to seeing The Devil Wears Prada nearly crack the Billboard Top 10?! They sure as fuck have no idea who Charles Bronson or Bloodlet were, but if you do a little backtracking, the link is undeniable.
Note: For the sake of simplicity, in this post I will use the term “screamo” to refer to current Rise Records-style bands who play discordant metalcore (usually with singing choruses and lots of autotune). I will use “skramz” to refer to the 90s bands who played noisy DIY hardcore with screamy vocals.
PHASE 1: THE 90S
In the beginning, there was metal. Then hardcore kids listened to Sepultura, Slayer, Pantera, and Prong, and lo — metalcore was born. I grew up on the West Coast, and back then all the leading metalcore bands like Undertow, Unbroken, and Struggle/Swing Kids/etc. were on Morrisey’s dick in a serious way. I’m not really sure where it came from, but they had greasy pompadours like him, screamed forlorn lyrics about how their pussies hurt because some girl dumped them, combined that with riffs they stole from late-period Carcass, and laid the foundation for the legions of ghey, self-indulgent metalcore bands to come. While they may have acted like rockstars, they still played VFW halls and basement shows to audiences that rarely numbered over 50.
While not as frequently discussed these days, the so-called “noisecore” bands of the 90s were perhaps an even more direct influence on today’s shitty metalcore artists. Rorschach and their descendants Deadguy were perhaps the first band to put a discordant take on the post-Slayer metalcore formula, and once the mosher kids caught wind of it, scores of imitators followed: Nineironspitfire, Botch (I was at Botch’s first show and they covered “Firestorm,” lol), Coalesce, Converge, Acme, and so forth.
Note: The CHAINREACTIONCORE scene also bears discussion in this context (18 Visions, Throwdown, Bleeding Through, Adamantium, etc.), but I will save that for a future post, hopefully getting some input from key personalities such as CHAINREACTIONCORE legend Javier Van Huss
- Sarcastic, witty song titles (e.g., Coalesce ,”On Being A Bastard”)
- Fancy hair
- Singing about girls
- Discordant, angular riffing paired with tortured screaming
- Hardcore kids stealing riffs from past-their-prime metal bands
- Tooth & Nail starts putting out Christian metalcore records
Unbroken “Fall On Proverb” (1994). One of the sickest breakdowns of all time, beginning at 1:15 and lasting the entire remainder of the song. YOU’RE FUCKING MOSHING!!! Sadly, these clowns also introduced carefully-styled hair to the hardcore scene
Deadguy “Pins & Needles”– this song is basically the template for the first few Norma Jean records
PHASE 2: THE 00s
Much like scientists cannot pinpoint the exact moment at which the first lungfish walked on land, it is difficult to highlight any one artist, album, or tour that gave birth to shitty metalcore/screamo as we know it, but it’s clear that things changed at some point. Screaming vocals were no longer the exclusive domain of basement shows and DIY labels, but were a part of the mainstream TRL roster just like Xtina and Ursher.
At this point, the “noisecore” subgenre had reached the ears of alternative Christians in b-level suburbs, spawning bands like Training For Utopia and Scarlet who essentially picked up where Deadguy left off, perhaps polishing it just a bit [via their parents buying them nice equipment]. They were actually pretty damn good, but didn’t really catch on since they were before their time by a few years. One of these bands was Norma Jean, who are still around. While they’ve never even sniffed the success or financial windfall of their many imitators, they are frequently cited as a seminal band by Christian metalcore/screamo bands today.
Like many other scholars, I believe the “missing link” is the cohort of bands that includes Thursday, Hawthorne Heights, Taking Back Sunday, The Used, and Saves The Day. Much like Nirvana and Pearl Jam before them, the jerks in these bands knew a thing or two about legitimate hardcore/metalcore, but created music that became popular with mainstreamers/new jacks who were in turn inspired to create several generations of soulless, derivative bullshit that resembled real hardcore enough to be annoying, but not enough to actually be good. A second wave of even worse screamo/metalcore bands followed them up, including notorious shit-merchants like Chiodos, From First To Last, and Aiden. At least they weren’t Christian.
- Bands with screaming become popular with mainstreamers
- Christians discover metalcore
- The internet/MySpace
- Tooth & Nail gets even bigger; starts metalcore imprint called Solid State
If I had the Nocturnus time machine, I would us it to kill Thursday in the womb to save the world from Blessthefall, Miss May I and Underoath
Norma Jean, the Christian Deadguy– actually a pretty good band, but must also be killed for the good of the world
PHASE 3: THE 2K10s
Which brings us to today: you can’t go ten feet without seeing a kid with swoopy hair, skinny jeans, DC high tops and a Bring Me The Horizon shirt, metalcore shows are full of popular, blonde mainstreamer girls, and it’s completely OK for “hardcore” kids to be Christian. Underoath and TDWP sell literally millions of albums and probably even more merch, making screaming vocals and breakdowns the second most lucrative musical vocabulary after Southern rap (and inspiring bands like Attack Attack! to combine the two).
Let me be perfectly clear: I’m not trotting out the tiresome old “These kids suck, they don’t know their roots!!!” meme. It is well-known that I hate many legendary bands like Iron Maiden and Metallica, so I could give a fuck about “honoring your elders.” I’m just saying it’s weird to step through time like this. For this old man, who once combed the classified ads in Maximum Rock N Roll, studied every word in Metal Maniacs/Pit/Terrorizer, and traveled hundreds of miles on a Greyhound bus to see Darkest Hour play Gothenburg-style metalcore to twenty-five people in a rented hall, it’s hard to imagine how we got here from there. I didn’t go to shows until 1989, and I’m sure the old guys who were there in the 70s said the same things about me and my generation, but I can’t help but shake my head in amazement.
As Axl and Vince pointed out in a previous post, I’m sure 99% of these bands have no idea that they’re stealing riffs from Unbroken, Deadguy, At The Gates, and Carcass. They’re just copying Norma Jean, As I Lay Dying and Chiodos, who were copying Thursday, The Used and Aiden. Which is all fine, because all art references that which came before it– the part that I miss is the DIY ethic that was such an integral part of the 90s metalcore/screamo scene. Also, less phony Christians.
- Nearly all screamo/metalcore bands are Christian
- Rise Records is the new Tooth & Nail
- Oldest member of The Devil Wears Prada was born in 1989, has never heard of DRI
- Keith from Deadguy fights the urge to throw himself on a sword when his kids listen to Attack Attack
Confide illustrate many seemingly-mandatory elements of contemporary metalcore: meticulously flatironed hair, covers of mainstream top 40 songs, and Truth drums
Trancecore is the future of “hardcore.” I’m not kidding :(
Has anybody in For Today ever listened to Death, Cynic, or Atheist, or did they learn how to do sweep-picking from watching Born of Osiris on YouTube?
What notable developments did I miss?? Do you think the members of Botch should kill themselves as penance for inspiring Underoath? How many “metalcore” bands today know who Earth Crisis or At The Gates are? Do I sound old as fuck? Do your kids make you buy Pierce The Veil shirts for them at Hot Topic?