SCRAPING GENIUS OFF THE YEAR: GARY SUAREZ’S TOP FIFTEEN HARDCORE ALBUMS OF 2011
No long-winded descriptions. No waxing poetic over 2011. I know you don’t read these things. Potato potato potato.
15. Earth Crisis, Neutralize The Threat (Century Media)
In a scene where “reunions” consist of one original member backed by an eager bunch of nobodies and also-rans, Earth Crisis stands out with essentially the same lineup that existed from the mid-Nineties until their 2001 dissolution. It stands to reason, then, that this, their second album since reassembling a few years back, furnishes a vibrancy and consistency on par with their defining Victory Records works, delivering once again with these ten pointed and totally pissed off moshfests.
14. Dead End Path, Blind Faith (Triple B)
My initial encounter with these Wilkes-Barre boys came during their opening set at a Trapped Under Ice show, and I quickly got on board. This so-fucking-tough album captures the intensity of their live sound, bad news breakdowns and all. An affinity for the Cro-Mags beyond Age Of Quarrel emerges when “Cathedral Bones” pitches a thrashier curveball than expected, but on the whole Blind Faith stays rooted in contemporary metallic hardcore and identifies them as a rising talent to keep watching.
13. Balaclava, Crimes Of Faith (Southern Lord)
In recent years, Richmond, VA hasdramatically altered the geography of hardcore with a seemingly unlimited number of acts and one of the scene’s most celebrated festival. Even there, Balaclava must seem like a strange bird. Their doom-laden blackened hardcore took me for a loop, a delicate yet heavy balancing act at play. Cuts like “A Prophet” and “The Geometer’s Hand” are on some chameleon shit and the cohesion on display throughout is alarming.
12. Rot In Hell, As Pearls Before Swine (Deathwish Inc.)
Maybe the rat skeleton artwork had something to do with it, but I knew I was going to dig this one before I heard a single note. Drawing influence from the Holy Terror tradition, these Brits blacken their thrashcore masterfully here. Guitars squeal, D-beats pound, and the vocals are suitably hellish and charred. Segues “Hallways Of The Always” and “Darkness Calls” offer beautiful reprieves before returning to the melee. And what a melee it is.
11. Agnostic Front, My Life My Way (Nuclear Blast)
Almost three decades in, these pioneers return with something unexpected: a second wind. Having Freddy Madball man the board here not only infuses the record with a familiar razorsharp guitar tone, it gives a good life-affirming jolt to the pioneers’ propensity for semi-poppy hooks (recall the Epitaph years). Perhaps inspired by the group’s recent Victim In Pain anniversary gigs, “That’s Life” recalls those bad old days when the guys could burn a hole in your ear in just over one furious minute.
10. Title Fight, Shed (Side One Dummy)
Imagine if Sunny Day Real Estate got, like, really mad. Whether or not that description appeals to you, assailing Title Fight for being insufficiently hardcore can be negated simply by attending one of their gigs. The record is hooky and emotive, sure, but no more so than Rival Schools’ classic United By Fate, and the Schreifels-ness of “27” or “Flood Of ’72” proffers welcome respite from the monotonously belched barks that pass for vocals in hardcore today.
9. Backtrack, Darker Half (Reaper)
While New York’s place in the hardcore tradition cannot be questioned, lately the city has produced surprisingly few universally hailed newcomers. Thankfully, Backtrack has emerged with a record that refuses to let the Big Apple go gently into that good night in wave after numbing wave of backwards-glancing reunions. Tough, nasty, and memorable, the quintet bring the city up to speed with chest-beating stage-diving ferocity.
8. Foundation, When The Smoke Clears (Bridge Nine)
Having lost none of the bite from last year’s Hang Your Head, this Atlanta straight-edge troupe virtually foam at the mouth over the course of this exceptional and oh-so-metallic album. “Devotion II” is that rare hardcore song that sends chills up and down my actual spine, which would otherwise be snapped like a twig in the pit this track inspires. In that instance, have a survivor pick your miserable paralyzed wreck of a body off the ground because the rest of the record wont stop stomping on you.
Steeped in sonic opacity, New Lows are as far as can be from the shopping mall bullshit calling itself hardcore these days. Unintelligible barks pepper this demoniac downtuned metal. The breakdowns actually break you down, and “Last Of The Rats” practically crushes skulls. One of the year’s first contenders for this list, it has held strong in the face of serious established contenders like Harm’s Way and Ringworm–and more than edged those two out in the end.
In these tough times for egomaniacal rockers, Danzig sure could use some champions. Unfortunately for him, winking references are as close as Mother Of Mercy get to defending the Dark Lord of French Onion Soup. Instead, the Pennsylvania act make brutal thrash with an old school crossover awareness. Had this been released on a label like Earache or Relapse, this would be on a hell of a lot more ‘Best of 2011’ lists. My favorite metal record of the year.
5. Skin Like Iron, Arrival (React!)
The coloring-outside-the-lines approach on this short album serves as a much-needed headbutt to the ridiculous argument that hardcore is out of ideas. Melodic meets menace in ways far more inventive than what emo, screamo, or metalcore so predictably deliver. Skin Like Iron aren’t operating in some sort of scene bubble. This is a glorious, dark, and stunning release that makes me hungry for more.
4. All Pigs Must Die, God Is War (Southern Lord)
Featuring past and present members of Bloodhorse, Converge, The Hope Conspiracy, and The Red Chord, this band had some pretty high expectations to overcome. And (un)holy shit, did they ever! Following last year’s essential EP, their full length debut boasts blast-beaten, blasphemous bombast that engulfs you whole. The first time I caught APMD live this year, someone lose–and then found–a tooth in the pit. No self-respecting or self-loathing metalhead should go a minute longer without this.
3. Trapped Under Ice, Big Kiss Goodnight (Reaper)
You don’t listen to Big Kiss Goodnight; you benchpress it. More to do with NYHC than that of nearby D.C., these Charm City denizens appear to be the long-awaited spiritual successors to Madball’s empire. The issues covered certainly aren’t the exclusive domain of Baltimore; they’re the same problems countless young Americans are struggling with today, where politicians’ inability to govern leaves an entire generation saddled with no foreseeable future.
2. Rotting Out, Street Prowl (6131)
True to hardcore’s past and present–and deserving of a wider audience than it will likely receive–this outstanding album boasts honest lyrics delivered over some of the finest hardcore I’ve heard all year. A sort of playfulness and upfront appreciation for bass and, yes, groove differentiate Rotting Out from many of its joyless, ever-posturing peers. Boasting one of 2011’s catchiest choruses, “Laugh Now, Die Later” challenges listeners to accept them, black eyes and scars, warts and all.
I don’t care if I get flack for this. I can’t think of a record this year that made such an immediate impact on me and intensified on repeat listens. And yet I’ve kept my strong feelings about it to myself for months, hardly even mentioning Touché Amore in any posts this year. I’ve been selfish and I’m sorry; this album is truly amazing. Jeremy Bolm lets loose a primal scream of apparently authentic emotional suffering, unconsciously continuing a hardcore tradition revealed in Henry Rollins’ Black Flag diaries. I’ve witnessed how his lyrics resonate with the fans. Still, for such a discomfiting chronicle of personal isolation and depression, the music compels and invites. This generation has a new Fugazi–if it wants one.