Tag Archives: List

Five New Chicago Punk Bands to Know and Love

Espejos

Espejos

Chicago has a long history of excellent DIY punk—the city was home to Naked Raygun and Bhopal Stiffs in the ’80s, Los Crudos and Charles Bronson in the ’90s, and The Repos and Raw Nerve in the ’00s, just to name a few. Still, it has an equally long history of being overlooked in favor of its coastal peers when it comes to the greater canon of U.S. punk and hardcore.

Well, enough is enough. In the past year or so, Chicago has been on a marked upswing in terms of producing exciting new bands that can easily go toe-to-toe with popular coastal punk bands. Whether they feature people who have been at it for years in other projects, or individuals who are new to the city’s punk scene, these new bands continue to breathe life into Chicago punk. Here are some of the newcomers that demand your attention.

Lowhangers

We live in a post-Hoax world, where stomping, mid-paced hardcore punk is still a dominant form of mosh fuel. There are plenty of bands in this style that aren’t especially memorable—then there’s Lowhangers.  Their first recording, Ulterior Motives, gifts us eight tracks of ear-splitting hardcore punk that, while fairly straightforward much of the time, also takes a fair amount of influence from noise rock, powerviolence (think the parts of No Comment songs in between the fast stuff), and sludge. These influences are incorporated with a deft hand, which is what makes this band work so well.  In the midst of a hard-hitting riff, a guitar part will appear that sounds like it could be on a Scratch Acid song, or feedback from a His Hero is Gone interlude. Add raw, vicious vocals into the mix and the result is a very promising first recording.

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Doom Metal: A Brief Timeline

sleep-600-2

Sleep “Dopesmoker”

The core sound of doom metal is instantly recognizable—and has been for more than 45 years. No one’s going to confuse doom with death, thrash, or black metal. And even though modern practitioners of the form have modified the structure, blended it with other subgenres, and sped up or slowed down the tempos, doom will always have its place in the lexicon of metal.

The structure of the music is rooted in the same scales as the blues, and doom’s emotional impact parallels the drained, downcast spirit of artists like Robert Johnson and Son House. But the sound is amped up and magnified so the tone isn’t just sad, it’s mean and disconsolate too. From the moment Black Sabbath broke through with their self-titled debut in 1970—essentially defining metal in the process—they laid the foundation for doom.

Doom affects the gut and the psyche, conveying sensations of darkness and foreboding with fuzzed out guitars, mid-paced tempos and generally morose vocals. Groove is paramount, as is a certain amount of repetition, generally achieved with crunching, palm-muted guitar chords complimentary, minor key melodies and rhythms that wax and wane, only to rise again. Sometimes there are organs, samples, and variations in musical complexity. These sonic shifts are what have helped sustain the genre from one generation to the next. But even without the musical modifications, doom is forever because dread and grief are universal—and musicians will always be drawn to express universal feelings of anger, hopelessness, fear, and sadness.

Once bands in the ‘70s heard Black Sabbath and Paranoid (which came out later that same year),  they were indelibly impacted; some started tuning down their guitars, plugging into overdriven distortion pedals and writing the loudest and ugliest dirges they could conceive of. Between the substances they were consuming, the wave of occult literature they were drawn to by Anton Szandor LaVey, Aleister Crowley, and Austin Osman Spare, and popular films like Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist, a sinister, depression-fueled spirit spread through the counterculture and stoked the growing flames of metal. And once doom had a foothold in the music form it would never be the same.

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Five Artists Who Are Keeping Bay Area Hip-Hop Strong

Otayo Dubb

Otayo Dubb

The Bay Area hip-hop scene has certainly had its share of notable moments over the years, but the last scene to find favor with a large audience outside the region was the Hyphy era, which slowly faded into obscurity around 2010. But that doesn’t mean the Bay has gone quiet; the area has a long history of making noise, whether it was Too $hort, E-40, Hieroglyphics, Living Legends, or any one of the number of critically acclaimed acts in between. That spirit remains strong and vital to this day.

Diversity is the key: The Bay Area is host to a wide variety of of hip-hop styles, from ‘hood vibes to backpacker to the live band approach — there’s even some pop rap. Ironically, the result of all this variety is a spirit of camaraderie: artists support one another, keeping the Bay fresh by showing that an intimate scene can achieve longevity simply by covering all of the stylistic bases. That’s one of the reasons Bay hip-hop is still here, and still healthy and relevant.

These five artists are a perfect example of how fresh and versatile that scene remains.

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Five Flawless Punk Sets Live on the Radio

Punk Live Radio artwork

What is the best way to experience music: live or recorded? It’s an age-old question with a multitude of different defenses, explanations, and rationalizations. A live band is more visceral and immediate. A recording is exactly how an artist meant to represent their art. Live shows are spontaneous and unpredictable, a measure of an artist’s true skill. Records are made for the ages. Live shows have a communal nature. Recordings are often listened to in solitude. This question is especially relevant to DIY punk bands, known for their wild live energy and well-known lack of resources when it comes to recordings.

In-studio radio sets are a natural blend of the two experiences, through which listeners can experience both the live energy and immediacy of a band playing together and the controlled, dialed-in sound of recorded music. They capture the band at a specific moment, have the spontaneity of a live gig, and have a technical professional at the helm making sure it sounds good during the performance and for future listening. Many DJs, such as the legendary John Peel, have built their legacies around capturing sets that would often come to be considered essential parts of bands’ catalogs.

Bandcamp is packed with radio sets that have been recorded for both physical release and/or for plain posterity’s sake. Here are a few of the great punk and hardcore selections that are well worth investigation to get you started.

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Eight Bands Re-Inventing the ’90s Hardcore Breakdown

Moshpit at Sick Of It All - Berlin S036 - 1996 - photo by bhrgero.

Moshpit at Sick Of It All, Berlin S036 (1996). Photo by bhrgero.

The 1990s began as a prosperous time in hardcore, as countless formalized styles splintered off of punk’s most popular subgenre. The Revelation Records-sponsored youth-crew movement, headed up by Youth of Today and Gorilla Biscuits (and predated by BYO’s 7 Seconds), overlapped with a greater straight-edge hardcore uprising, helped by the militant likes of Judge, Bold, and Chain of Strength. There was also the New York-bred mid ’80s toughness of Agnostic Front, Sick of It All, Warzone, and Cro-Mags that was threaded through each raging mass.

Though plenty angry, the brazen, gutsy hardcore from the early part of the decade lacked some of the metal-tinged sophistication of some of its predecessors and went straight for the jugular—specifically, making the center of the song the chug-chuggin’ hardcore breakdown (the universal instrumental call to “open this pit up,” thick palm-muted rhythmic guitar jogging alongside the clicking, pinpointed thrum of a double-kick pedal and quarter-notes on the crash). Guitar tuning dropped to the fifth circle of hell. Lyrics became directives along the lines of “Listen up, shit is about to get violent.” It was all muscle, and about as nimble as a boulder.

The beatdown-hardcore sound (though the term “beatdown” itself derives specifically from the ‘90s New York hardcore scene, it grew to encompass a larger variety of mosh-friendly, breakdown-fixated groups) began to flare out near the decade’s tail end as nu-metal adopted its hamfisted intensity, and the Hydra Head and Relapse catalogs of intricate, complex metalcore grew larger. But as of late—and thanks in part to the cyclical nature of decade-defining trends—the ’90s hardcore sound has come back with a vengeance. These artists are leading a new generation of hardcore kids to pledge allegiance to the days of yore.

Absolute Suffering

From Springfield, Massachusetts, Absolute Suffering deliver a healthy-sized cadaver of classic beatdown hardcore. Their 2015 EP Death Is Guaranteed is dark in concept via title alone, and fatalistic title-track lyrics like, ‘There is no way out/ But beneath the surface / All hope is gone/ There’s no purpose’ do nothing to lighten the mood. Sludgy breakdowns are augmented by hot metal squeals and licks and are often slowed down to such a slog that you can feel the snapping boom of the snare deep in your guts. It resonates in such a way to make you think that maybe the tracking setup was hijacked from 1995. They’re out on tour in January with Jesus Piece.

Axis

AXIS. Photo by by Dana Nichols.

Axis. Photo by by Dana Nichols.

More akin to the hyper metalcore of Deadguy and Buried Alive than, say, Bulldoze’s rough-and-tumble breakdowns, Orlando’s Axis is representative of the strand of ’90s hardcore that relied on crazed timing and harmonics scorched into breakdowns. Their 2015 full-length for Good Fight, Show Your Greed, is meticulously constructed from the manic rhythms up, with the collapses of each track coming at obtuse angles rather than head-on. The changes are fierce and frequent, and frontman Rafael Morales manages to keep in sprint with every new twist like it’s no sweat whatsoever. Check for their collaborative EP with Seraph/The Light that’s dropping December 9th.

Bent Life

Bent Life. Courtesy of Bridge Nine Records.

Bent Life. Courtesy of Bridge Nine Records.

One of the list’s most loyal to the “all-in” crew vocal, Omaha’s Bent Life represent steadfast meat-and-potatoes hardcore, replete with me-against-me motifs. They shift from fiery thrash-treated wildness to hard, chugging breakdowns, offering front man Andy Voorhees enough space to stomp around stage.

Blistered

Tampa’s Blistered are one of the tightest in the new breed of metallic hardcore bands. Their 2015 record, The Poison of Self Confinement, includes triumphant Maiden-true, metal-riff harmonies cruising over torpedoing breakdowns. Near the end of “Path of the Coward,” a rolling tom rhythm transitions into a chugging turmoil that clicks along in a unison much adopted by hardcore bands like Earth Crisis in the later half of the ’90s. And let us also please look to the album’s glorious artwork: part fantastical ode to vintage metal, part grim foretelling.

Knocked Loose

KnockedLoose. Photo by Trevor Sweeney.

KnockedLoose. Photo by Trevor Sweeney.

The Louisville fivesome are one of the fastest-rising of the new crew of beatdown bands, having just released their acclaimed debut full-length Laugh Tracks via Pure Noise. Sharp and crisp, their drubbing double-kick rhythms and slow-snaking riffs direct the thrum of the mosh pit that splits open on the first track, first breakdown. Maybe more so on their 2015 split with Damaged Goods than on Laugh Tracks, Knocked Loose’s massive guitars subsume the clatter into a black hole, shoving tracks till they practically collapse in on themselves. On “Billy No Mates” you can pretty easily envision the 20-feet-deep semicircle of space being cleared out from the front of the stage as a swarm keys up.

Jesus Piece

Jesus Piece. Photo by Dustin Genereux.

Jesus Piece. Photo by Dustin Genereux.

Maybe the rawest and most hyped in the new hardcore legion, Philly’s Jesus Piece weld together beatdown grooves with occasional blasts of grind and Coalesce-esque metalcore flourishes. A track like “Coward’s Way” from their self-titled EP from 2015 isn’t afraid to stop on a dime and explode in an entirely different direction, practically changing rhythm with each fresh spin kick. This year’s Summer 16 Promo—pretty much two tracks and an interlude—is a greater, more congealed beast, with Aaron Heard’s vocals hammering at rumbling, subterrestrial guitar chugs and tight, flailing rhythms. The sky’s the limit with these dudes.

Mercy Blow

Self-described as “Music for the reckless youth,” Mercy Blow is a special kind of violent rage. Never too technically swift in attack, the foursome lurches forward together via a hellish fusion of smoldering low end. From their most recent EP Secondhand Suffering, the best cut, “Purge,” rains down in waves of cymbal whirr and filthy, thick guitar before pausing along the fault line to rejigger the breakdown and begin again. At the end of the track, when the rhythm is stymied and dragged down to a slow-motion deep stomp, frontman Zachary Wilson seems to be screaming in defiance of the song’s implosion around him.

Momentum

In the late ’90s, too many metallic-hardcore bands fell victim to the over-compression—and damn near digitization—of their guitars and drums. Records began sounding as though they had been tracked in panic rooms; there was no soul, and tempers felt thin. On their reckless self-released EP Bliss, LA’s Momentum writhe in wide-open space while rhythms feel so on the brink of tattering and unraveling that you have to keep on high alert just in order to keep a hold of something. A volatile mix of technical hardcore and crossover thrash, Momentum have only been in existence since July, which makes this record all the more impressive.

—Kevin Warwick