Dropdead are one of DIY hardcore’s most enduring forces, doling out whirlwind blasts of fury that merge anarcho and peace-punk politics with the in-the-red hostility of hardcore’s meanest, most unforgiving bands. Their career spans some three decades, three LPs, and a series of split EPs with acts that range from the seminal (Crossed Out, Totalitär, Converge) to those that are more under-the-radar but no less deserving of the discerning punk’s attention (Brainoil, Look Back And Laugh, Ruidosa Inmundicia). While many of their short, fast, and loud peers had fallen by the wayside by the end of the ‘90s, the Rhode Island wrecking crew remain a steadfast presence, soldiering ever on with unflinching, unblinking aggression. This year sees the release of their third LP, with a glut of archive material—a demo LP, 1995-2013 discography and remastered editions of their first two albums and 1992-93 discography—to follow.
More than just a band, Dropdead effectively became a minor cottage industry, with guitarist Ben Barnett running two physical record shops (one each in Providence, Rhode Island and Cambridge, Massachusetts) and a record label. Named, like the band itself, for a Siege song and album, the Armageddon stores and label serve as de facto extensions of the band itself: staunchly DIY; ideologically on-point; and committed to stark, savage sounds.
The Armageddon label rose from the ashes of Bartlett’s previous imprint, Crust Records, which was born at the tail end of the ’80s and put out a handful of Dropdead releases alongside hyperspeed material by the likes of Disrupt, Stack, and Slight Slappers. Armageddon was perceived as a fresh slate, and primarily a means of releasing and re-pressing Dropdead material. While these modest aims have been met, and the label has gathered a small but enviable roster of colleagues and collaborators, with releases running the gamut from heritage collections by some of punk rock’s greatest names and domestic reissues to demos, tour mementos, and full-length LPs. As you might expect, there’s no shortage of fast, vituperative hardcore to be had, but closer inspection reveal multiple shades of grey: sludge, grind, noise, and heavy metal pepper the label’s roster, which ultimately offers a glimpse into both Rhode Island’s extreme music scene and the band’s own circle of influences and allies.
It’s fitting, really, that the band who gifted Dropdead their name should ultimately find their way onto the band’s label. The legacy of Siege’s ragged, bulge-eyed hardcore can be felt across punk, grind, and death metal, no small achievement for a shortlived Boston band whose output was almost comically slight. While neither the first nor the last label to compile an iteration of the band’s discography (see also: Relapse, Off The Disk, Deranged, Deep Six, and, most recently, F.O.A.D.) Armageddon managed to slide neatly in to commemorate the band’s 30th anniversary with a disc collecting the original Drop Dead cassette, the tracks from Pushead’s legendary Cleanse The Bacteria comp, and three studio outtakes. The passage of time has not dulled the band’s razor-sharp edge nor lessened their intensity, and while many a punk will tip their cap to the insane blur of “Walls” or “Life Of Hate,” the sax-smashed shudder of “Grim Reaper” should never be forgotten—a song that might have been loathed by hardcore purists at the time but ultimately helped set the tone for weirdo punk and noise rock alongside Flipper, No Trend, and the B-side of My War.
If their first LP was a gutsy blast of teeth-baring hardcore, Dropdead’s second self-titled album—the release that launched Armageddon as a label—took things to the next level. Super-taut dynamics, keener songwriting, and a beefed-up sound saw the band positively explode; tracks like “Tied Down For Survival” and “Idiot Icon” put the band on the level of the likes of Hellnation when it came to breakneck velocity. Tellingly, even the band’s ‘long’ song—the two-and-a-half-minute album closer “What Once Was Life”—offers no slowdown or respite, choosing instead to dissolve into a blistering white noise meltdown. This was hardcore as it was meant to be played—merciless and forever in the red—and showcases exactly why the band are capable of holding their own whether at home among the sweat-slicked walls of the underground punk circuit or going toe to toe with big-budget metal acts at Maryland Deathfest.
Hard To Swallow
Hard To Swallow
The UK’s Hard To Swallow—Hard To Fuckin Swallow to their small circle—were something of an anomaly when they existed and, for shame, remain little-loved in their home country to this day. It’s both laudable and mystifying, then, that a U.S. label should choose to resurrect such an under-the-radar act for a partial discography some five years after they uttered their last gasp, but when the tunes are this good who’s complaining? Like a weirder, sneakier kid brother to the mighty Iron Monkey (with whom they shared members), Hard To Swallow twisted together caustic, limb-dragging sludge and sneering hardcore to fearsome effect. Sabbath-esque grooves rub up against frantic bursts of aggression, with the brief “Action On” sounding like Capitalist Casualties meeting their end in a tarpit while “Thrown” seems to predate the strange, desperate hardcore of Gas Chamber and “Dissolves Into” doses its splenetic thrash with a splash of Gravity Records.
If Discharge defined an entire subgenre and served as a sonic and aesthetic linchpin for 40 years’ worth of spiky jackets, Sweden produced several of the next best things—notably the ever-deadly Totalitär. Barnett’s earlier Crust Records imprint reissued the band’s explosive 1987 vinyl debut, Multinationella Mördare, back in 1996, and this compilation smashes those five tracks together with the band’s Vänd Dig Inte Om and Luftslott EPs and their 1986 demo. Barely in control, and incredibly raw, this 30-track collection serves to explain why one in three punx seem to have a tatty Totalitär patch stitched to at least one item of clothing—stick a (safety) pin in the track list and you’ll find your own slice of kängpunk perfection.
“Long Island” b/w “Supersyn”
For a time in the early 2000’s, punk rock’s fickle focus rested firmly on Denmark, with K-town bands like No Hope For The Kids and Young Wasteners sending fanzine writers into paroxysms of sweaty hyperbole while the price of Lost Kids 7-inches skyrocketed. These bands have since fallen out of punk vogue, and many of the early ‘00s Danish scene’s releases are now available for chump change online and in-store. One such release—and one that’s ripe for rediscovery—marks Armageddon’s most melodic venture: a two-track EP from Copenhagen’s Gorilla Angreb. Released (alongside the band’s split with Lokum) to coincide with a U.S. tour, this single sets out the band’s style with no muss or fuss: “Long Island” is mid-paced and gloomy, making optimal use of the band’s dual vocalists as it slouches its way through three surly minutes, while “Supersyn” ups the tempo and halves the running time with irresistible barroom swagger.
Anyone listening to The Body in their earliest incarnation would’ve been hard pressed to predict the warped, genre-defying oddity they’d go on to become, but this four-track demo shows that even at their most larval they were still a decidedly odd proposition. Opener “Always Waiting” clangs morosely along with the weary hollowness its title would suggest, but then things take a left turn with the lingering rattle and papery drums of “I Died” and the borderline emo guitar twinkles of “Empty.” Perching atop it all is the unmistakable, inimitable voice of Chip King—a bereft crow-caw of doom that links this protean Body with the grandiose avant-metal bitterness they’re known for now.
While this list alone contains a couple of exceptions to the rule, it’s nevertheless undeniable that hardcore acts are prone to losing their vitality with age: muscles sag, passion dwindles, and the fire that once seemed capable of burning a hole through one’s breastbone sinks a few inches to become indistinguishable from indigestion. If there’s one scene that bucks the trend more often than not, however, it’s Japan, whose bands seem to have tapped some mysterious cosmic power that helps them maintain their burning spirits year after blighted year. Systematic Death, for example, were heading towards a quarter century together by the time Systema Seven was released, but the EP’s barnstorming mix of huge chalky riffs, blown-apart vocals and hailstorm drumming showcases a band in the very rudest of health. As with Avskum’s truly epic Re-Crucified By The System collection, this release was born of a friendship forged while Barnett was driving the band on tour—a punk enough reason to release a record, and a communitarian principle that has helped steer the label for more than 20 years.
Seein’ Red / Hammer
Despite releasing records for taste-making punk labels like Deranged and Ugly Pop, Japan’s Hammer never quite seemed to make the dent they should have, and have remained sorely overlooked since their last release in 2012. The two tracks here tap a vein of frantic, gnashing hardcore—think Gauze circa Equalizing Distort—and serves as a fantastic point of entry for anyone wanting to take a deeper dive into Hammer’s discography. Despite sounding fabulously unhinged the urgent, turn-on-a-dime stops ‘n’ starts of “Defeat War” show just how in control of their faculties they are. Here the band are paired with the legendary Seein’ Red, a Dutch punk rock mainstay whose roots stretch back to the early ‘80s and the legendary band Lärm. Here they offer up three tracks of white-knuckle thrash. “The Bastards In Power” boasts an introductory bassline that sounds like it could almost have been grabbed from a Revolution Summer song, but the full-bore ferocity that follows is a quick, sobering reminder that this is thrash of the highest order.
With former Dropdead drummer Brian Mastrobuono turning up in vintage thrash act Hell Bent and Armageddon releasing their Apocalyptic Lamentations full-length, it’s clear that Armageddon’s orbit encompasses more metallic material, too. Boston’s Malleus are another case in point: a band with a resolutely heavy metal sound—imagine the serrated riffs of Bathory colliding with the protean ruthlessness of early Celtic Frost—powered by people with punk rock form. Armageddon co-released the band’s debut LP with cult Swedish metal label Blood Harvest back in 2017, and this 12-inch follow-up shows the band in rare form. Clashing swords and the wild whinnying of horses set the barbarous tone, before the band launches into the EP’s title track: a galloping thrasher that somehow makes eight and a half minutes feel like a sprint for survival across a medieval battlefield. “The Wretched” is similarly lengthy but slows the pace down to a slower grind, the band’s Hellhammer/Celtic Frost influences coming to the fore for a track that’s doom-laden but still triumphant.