Amusement Dead on the Inside / Repentance 7″

Two tracks of grandiose, big-riff melodic hardcore. The vocals are a little less shouty and a little more singy than usual. Likewise, the guitars split the difference between pop and thrash, alternating between a more harmonious, introspective verse and a chugging, cathartic chorus. The members of AMUSEMENT (AMUSEMENT? Really? Have we officially run out of band names?) have plugged away at this genre for years, so the music is precisely cut with a bow on top.

Cleons Down 1995–1997 LP

Wow, for a discography, this is a short record. Just a hair over thirty minutes! The sound runs from melodic, occasionally funky hardcore punk to noisier emo-tinged numbers, and even a stray thrash metal riff. The tracks are ordered from newest to oldest. While there’s no big stylistic changes, you can hear how much more confident the band are by the end (or, uh, the beginning?). The record has a simple but sharp sound, like something recorded with mediocre equipment but a good ear behind the controls.

Coffin Pricks Semi-Perfect Crimes LP

COFFIN PRICKS were a short-lived group from Chicago in the early 2010s. Featuring members of CIRCUS LUPUS, CAVITY, and DAYLIGHT ROBBERY, they made a bit of a splash in their time, but only managed to release a single three-song EP before disbanding. It turns out that the band had recorded a few more songs back in 2011, and following an apparent dose of friendly pestering from the good folks at Council Records, COFFIN PRICKS resurface in 2024 to grace us with all seven of their studio recordings, plus an additional seven cuts taken from a 2012 gig at Saki Records. While I’m often skeptical of both live recordings and posthumous releases by bands with abbreviated lifespans, Semi-Perfect Crimes upends convention on both fronts. COFFIN PRICKS embody the spirit of 1978 post-punk by striking a masterful balance between melody and aggression. The instrumentation is impressive without being too flashy and the vocal lines are catchy without being too obvious. I presume that the FALL is a big influence here, along with WIRE and MAGAZINE. This has me t-t-totally wired. 

Grey C.E.L.L. Cursing Every Lesson LP

Driving hardcore punk that eschews convention by injecting unexpected elements of metal and post-hardcore. The vocals are severe, brutal, and out front in the mix. There’s a complexity to the songwriting that makes me think of something that Ebullition Records would’ve released in the late ’90s, but a bit more straightforward and modern. The drum work on this album is stellar, complimenting the discordant guitars. Overall, a great fit for the revamped Council Records, as they revitalize an amalgam of genres that had grown quite stale.

Hourglass Atomic Clock LP

Atomic Clock packs a lot into each song. They sound well-rehearsed, but I’m not sure such a busy sound is a good fit for hardcore. Often, they’re playing dissonant, jazzy chords at a stop/start pace before a pummeling doom or sludge metal chorus. The songs feel very deliberate and arranged, a real contrast to hardcore’s stripped-down M.O. The vocals are mixed right up front, which ensures you’ll hear the similarly elaborate lyrics. The band sounds eager to push the genre’s constraints. Whether that’s good or bad is up to the listener.

Jade Dust Grey Skies LP

Why does this record make me think ”grunge and ’90s alt-rock”? Is it the way the rhythm alternates between shambolic and thrashy? The distorted rhythm and strong lead guitars? For whatever reason, I feel this would fit nicely on the No Alternative compilation. The vocals have a gentle sneer that goes well with the otherwise splashy songs. Those songs felt bigger and more realized than their two-minute running time might allow. JADE DUST does more than alternate between verse and chorus, the song structures felt very deliberate and well-edited.

Kirkby Kiss Ouroboros CD

The sounds on Ouroboros rotate between staccato, rapid-fire guitar and more trad HC/punk rhythms. There are quieter, prettier build-ups which provide an almost screamo tinge. The band packs a lot into each song but keeps things short. That’s a good choice, because even when they’re boundary-pushing, most punk songs petter out after the two-minute mark.

Kirkby Kiss It’s Gonna Cost You LP

I don’t know what’s going on here. Musically, this starts out as some decent post-hardcore-type stuff in line with Dead Reckoning-era SMALL BROWN BIKE with effects pedals, but when the vocals kick in, it’s wild. Like hardcore-as-fuck wild. Then a few songs later, it goes full-on DISCHARGE/HOLY MOUNTAIN, followed up by a song with spoken vocals that reminds me of some early ’90s Ebullition/DC-type vibe. This record is kinda all over the place while staying in a specific lane the whole time. It’s something that I could find myself revisiting on occasion, but not a lot.

Love Interest Motherwound 12″

I was immediately drawn to the illuminated sheer drape on the cover and thought, “Is this going to be a moody, dark catharsis?” Yup. This well-presented debut EP comes from Detroit’s LOVE INTEREST, and is “a meditation on motherhood within a hostile world” (from their Bandcamp page). Tom-heavy drums set the undertone for icy guitar lines, punchy bass, Houses of the Holy-esque synth, layer upon layer of operatic backing chants, and a strong frontwoman with a killer range. By no means is this paired-down or sparse—it’s that wall-of-sound production that works really well with this dreamy, gothic, darkwave-in-sound, post-punk-in-lyricism styling. These four songs have meat to them, are on the longer side, and require your attention. Lovely music for the fall season.

Kirkby Kiss / Medicinal split EP

Great split EP here. MEDICINAL sounds like a modern rendition of the lost wave of emo that no one really ever talks about, which featured bands like CAR VS DRIVER and BOYS LIFE. Noodly riffs in a minor key with a vocalist who appears to have worshiped at the altar of Guy Picciotto. This is what I think about when someone references post-hardcore. KIRKBY KISS plays a more stringent version of hardcore, but their singer really stood out to me. Very raw and real, sounding like they blew their voice out before they even got into the studio. My only complaint is that it’s over too soon!

Omega Glory Offerings LP

New York project that mixes death metal with hardcore moments, fulfilling satanic rituals. Steady gloom and sludgy cadences face strident strings tied to the lower tones of the bass lines. Solid vocals and solid riffage, reaching dense sounds. Recommended.

Ottawa The Third Age 12″

This rerelease sure has a musical time stamp. Listeners will find plenty of mid-’90s USHC hallmarks: fast, occasionally breakneck tempos, blastbeats spliced in, and forays into crossover thrash territory here and there. The two vocalists trade high-pitched screams and a hoarse shout respectively. And of course, there are lots of (maybe too many) movie soundbites.

Pilau Pressure EP

Pretty standard hardcore affair, but man, is this heavy as hell. Grindy and doomy with a little bit of black metal thrown in as well. Very nuanced, which is important when you’re writing a hardcore record in 2023. Has a little bit of a Southern groove to it, which is unique for a band from D.C. Recommended for all raucous pit-goers.

Schedule 1 Crucible LP

It’s hard for me to avoid the CURE comparison here, so I’ll just embrace it. Yes, SCHEDULE 1 is more than a touch faster than most of Smith and co.’s work, but the lower-register melodies and lines like the titular “You melt me down, just like a crucible” make this sound like an aggro version of Disintegration. It’s propelled by an anthemic quality which felt almost glam or like some early Oi! bands. Not a combination I would have predicted, but here we are.

V/A Err02 EP

Four-way split between four different hardcore bands that all sound pretty similar. Typical gruff, tough-guy riffs written solely with the pit in mind. HUNDREDS OF AU stands out from the other three with more of a classic ’90s emocore sound similar to GRADE and early THURSDAY. The rest are reminiscent of the slew of Victory Records bands that were huge in the late ’00s. I’ve always loved this type of compilation 7”, but you really gotta diversify the sound if you want to make it interesting.

Wrong War On Further Reflection EP

A strong effort from Chicago’s WRONG WAR. This three-track EP leans more on the melodic and (pun entirely intended) reflective side of hardcore music. All three tunes on here are super solid (I am particularly fond of “The Call”)—the title track is the star of the show, sprawling off into a repetitive mantra towards its conclusion. Overall, a very solid release that I would recommend to anyone who likes a hint of melody in their hardcore.

Wrong War Fixed Against Forever LP

Debut LP from Chicago’s WRONG WAR, this HC album is fast, tight, and angry. The socio-political tension can’t be missed, from the band’s moniker to each and every song. The opener “Words Were Mere Words” shouts in its chorus, “And how I / Long for / Those days when / Words were mere words. / And how I—let it align.” A reckoning with cancel culture, as in we should be responsible for what we write and say and how it makes one another feel? Or an actual desire to not be accountable? Although the lyrics are all shouted, they are clear and you don’t need the liner notes to make them out—that said, the messages are vague and trope-y…the war machine (“Count the Days”), religious falsehoods (“Direct Function”), foolish patriotism (“Escape Clause”). But I don’t know, maybe I’m just oversaturated with being reminded of how shitty everything is, was, will be, etc. Anyway, if this fuels your rage, they released a second LP (Once Upon a Weapon) earlier this year, and I can only imagine what they’ve got to say since this release came out in 2020.