By Jack Evans
Recently, legendary and ridiculously influential experimental hardcore band Refused announced (though somewhat vaguely) via their Facebook page that their reunion, which they announced early this year along with a Coachella headlining spot, will end on December 15 with a show in their hometown of Umea, Sweden. It’s only appropriate that a year full of great hardcore and metalcore, from the basest to the most forward thinking, should be bookended by the alpha and omega of the regenesis of the band so many owe so much to.
I suppose, then, that it’s also appropriate that the two best –core albums released this year have been by the bands who are Refused’s closest… contemporaries, I guess, though that doesn’t seem like the right word. Converge is, in addition to Refused, Black Flag, and perhaps a few other classic hardcore artists, one of the genre’s most important bands ever. This year is their 22nd as a band, an unbroken streak that rivals that of the most longstanding bands in music (except for the Stones, of course). Their 8th album, October’s All We Love We Leave Behind, is one of their best, right up there with Jane Doe and Axe to Fall. It’s an exercise in furious, odd-timed, thrashing metalcore, often challenging but ultimately rewarding. And you’re either lying or bald if you say the out-of-the-gate double bass smashing on “Trespasses” didn’t blow your hair back a little.
The same day as Converge released All We Love, North Carolina’s Between the Buried and Me released The Parallax II: Future Sequence, perhaps the most forward thinking, conceptual, and genrerific metalcore album ever recorded. It’s almost as good as 2007’s Colors, blending unpredictable melodies, unconventional influences, and the band’s most brutal moments since Alaska.
But to really see why hardcore in 2012 is so special, you have to look at the other end of the spectrum. Take a gander at Toronto punks Metz, who are putting the “hardcore” back in “post-hardcore,” a genre that today, for the most part, has a very different meaning than it did fifteen years ago; or at California’s Odd Future-affiliated Trash Talk, who practice the truest kind of flailing, smashing hardcore. Seriously, go do it. Why is it so special? Because when those came out on the SAME DAY as the Converge and BTBAM albums (October 9, and a beautiful day it was!), they cemented the realization that the (arguably) most furious and emotional form of music couldn’t just be pigeonholed into a four-chord riff and a shirtless vocalist. In one day, four bands – bands that could be called the same genre, but really have little in common – released four of the best albums of a year that’s been full of great hardcore. It may be the title of The xx’s new album, but the word “Coexist” pertains to hardcore now more than ever.
And that’s without even mentioning the good-to-excellent new albums from the likes of Every Time I Die, Enter Shikari, The Chariot and Cancer Bats. It’s easy to see why hardcore is so great right now. It’s also a big deal in that it could wind up being as important to my generation as any that has come before. That might be an audacious statement, especially in an age where heavy music – and -core music especially – has been reduced largely to mallrat teenagers wearing Asking Alexandria t-shirts and decked out in clothing strictly from Hot Topic. But when you think about it, some of us just have it in our DNA. For some of a certain age, the first time we even heard the word “hardcore” (at least in our memory) was when Jack Black, in his excellent role in School of Rock, belted out the immortal lines: “No, you’re not hardcore (no you’re not hardcore)/ Unless you live hardcore (unless you live hardcore)/ But the legend of the rent was way hardcore!”
Okay, maybe not exactly textbook badass. But if the circumstances were right, you know that your little-kid-self was like “Woah, ‘hardcore?’ I like the sound of that!” And, perhaps most importantly, this generation has evolved along with hardcore. 18 or 20 years ago, a band like Between the Buried and Me would have been unimaginable. Now, all kinds of different sounds have been woven into that hardcore quilt. Like Jack Black in School of Rock, the hardcore generation has gone from being unassuming, arrogant and angry to wiser and with more heart, having learned a thing or two about life. And I like where it’s going.
And so I wrap up my ramblings. I hope you’ll pardon me for using the word “hardcore” waaaaaaay too many times. I’ve actually typed it so many times that it doesn’t even sound like a word anymore. And maybe you’ll kind of see my point on why this genre is so important to the makeup of modern music and culture.
Oh, and a funny thing happened earlier today (from the time of writing, November 7). In a Facebook post, Refused announced that they’re en route to Australia after playing their last U.S. show at Austin’s Fun Fun Fun Fest. They also had a message for us over here in the states: “Until we meet again – stay curious, stay wild and stay fucking hungry.”
Refused are fucking dead. Or maybe they aren’t. But I can say with great certainty that hardcore is very much alive.