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Power Violence

CVLT Nation’s Top 10 POWERVIOLENCE Records of 2023

Mad at the world: 10 of the best Powerviolence records of 2023

Thanks to the this year’s miraculous, “has there been a glitch in the matrix” reunion announcement of generation-defining “jock powerviolence” band Weekend Nachos, comment sections around the globe are in full Speech & Debate mode around the semantics of the historically divisive genre name. Is it two words or one? Is it more metal or more punk? Does it even exist anymore? Was it never a genre at all, but rather a “time and place”?

While genre discourse has, in essence, become the favored long-form strategy game for fans of all music heavy and esoteric, the label has stood the test of time. If anything, powerviolence is seeing broader fanship these days, and with that expanding appeal, the term is seeing broader application.

This list will certainly not settle any debates. What it should do, however, is to show just how expansive the powerviolence palette has become. With bands and fans hyphenating style descriptors more than ever, this year has produced some truly fantastic releases that fit within the admittedly blurry borders of the powerviolence landscape. Whether one chooses to call them powerviolence, grindviolence, deathviolence, doomviolence, mathcore, fastcore, speedcore, or simply fast punk with metal parts, each of these releases, listed in no particular order, qualifies as essential listening in a year prolific with amazing releases.

#10 CLOSET WITCH Chiaroscuro

Chiaroscuro is a lotus blooming out of murky waters. The sophomore album emerged five years after their debut LP and three after their last release, and it is an understatement to say that these years have been a challenging, painful, tumultuous period. Chiaroscuro is evidence not only of the power of violent music to serve as catharsis, but as a product of emotional and technical growth, for it is clear that the band, during those quiet times, was developing a thick and complex root system, allowing for this beautiful and startling work of art to develop. Like a runaway train from the start, the album is an apotheosis of the band’s special mix of math, emo, powerviolence, and grindcore. The album asks for an emotional and spiritual expenditure from the listener, to say nothing of the musicians themselves, and the result is a sort of cleansing, as if it purges the heart and soul of impurity. If, gods forbid, the band’s current hiatus becomes permanent, one could hope for nothing more from a group’s final artistic statement.

#9 BRAIN TOURNIQUET …An Expression In Pain

The members of Brain Tourniquet have been in more amazing bands than could fit on any standard fest bill. One could play a variation of that terribly douchey t-shirt game by asking a person in a Brain Tourniquet shirt “Name five other bands that Connor or Robin has been in,” and there would be a dozen or more from which to choose. Knowing this, it is no less impressive that they are able to weave so many styles together with such intricacy, facility, and honesty. Each of its songs a beautiful and brutal patchwork, …An Expression of Pain is, itself, a map of metal and punk from the past decades, all built upon a foundation of West Coast hardcore powerviolence projects like Neanderthal and Crossed Out. Eyebrow-raising in musicianship, risk-taking, and ingenuity, …An Expression of Pain has set a standard for itself that establishes its own school of songwriting, inviting and defying comparison one four-measure section at a time.

#8 BANDIT Siege of Self

“It’s better to have this self-hatred than to have nothingness, better to construct a concept of yourself as bad rather than yourself as nothing.” It’s fitting that Bandit’s Siege of Self opens with an excerpt from a lecture on psychonalytical theory. Bandit’s music itself is a Rorschach test so rich, complex, and abstract that the listener can’t help but interpret and project meanings, continuities, and connectivities onto their songs. Though the band made a name for itself early on for its catastrophically intense live shows, Bandit’s music resists simplification. Playing with tensions between violence and tenderness, humor and emotional vulnerability, Bandit exhibits sincerity through contradiction. Following five years behind Warsaw, an album crushingly angry and heartbreakingly tender, Siege of Self shows a band that is never content to be simply fantastic musically; they have to make an impact on the lives of their fans. Especially now that the band has joined forces with kindred spirits in the game-changers in Chepang and the Gurkha Commando Blast Team, Bandit has moved their creative powers into a new, more cosmopolitan sphere. Having long ago mastered the Prowler in the Yard style that is so lacking these days, Bandit now approaches their songwriting with an openness to experimentation, a zeal for collaboration, and a deep understanding of art’s power to heal what hurts.

#7 WORLD PEACE It Is Written

Self-imposed constraints can, ironically, serve a liberatory function for creative minds. The French experimental writing movement OuLiPo knew this, and assigned constraints to one another, such as having to write a whole novel without the letter “e.” Similarly, many traditional Japanese artforms such as flower-arranging and calligraphy, involve taking a task that many take for granted as simple, and dedicating total focus to it for a lifetime. World Peace, at nine releases in around six years, exhibits this kind of religious hyperfocus and wild innovation. Using a similar bass-drum-vocal formula throughout the career, the band shows no sign of exhausting the possibilities of their sonic matrix and, instead, has demonstrated release after release that they are only growing more creative, more intuitive, and more capable. As their imagery suggests, they approach their version of powerviolence with monastic austerity and religious fervor, spurning the extra ornamentation that so often stands in for real artistic ingenuity in artists who are seeking to build on what they’ve already done. Instead, World Peace continue to explore all that their existing framework has to offer. The result is some of the most rhythmically interesting music to come out in any genre of metal or punk for a long time. Deceptively simple, the band’s bare-bones approach leaves nowhere to hide, exposing the brilliant syncopated and polyrhythmic and irrepressibly groovy domain that these musicians have dominated. This album is the perfection of their formula. At least until their next one inevitably refines it further.

#6 VIOLENCIA Viviendo Tiempos A​ú​n M​á​s Oscuros

¡El poderviolencia no esta muerto! Since 2018’s El Odio Me Hizo Hacerlo, Tijuana’s Violencia has been charitably providing clinic after clinic on what modern powerviolence should look like. Gritty, empassioned, furious, sincere, and catchy as hell, the songs on Viviendo Tiempos A​ú​n M​á​s Oscuros provide a breath of fresh air in a time when bands seem to be in competition with one another to be more brutal, more grinding, more nihilistic, or more merch-savvy. Violencia’s heart is everywhere in this release. One hears the voice of whole voiceless populations in Gobi’s roar. The lyrics are lucid and timely. With song titles like “Mundo Polarizado,” “Paranoia Colectiva,” and “Cuerpo Dócil,” the album is a blade through the issues plaguing modern society, and with years of touring under their belts, they have lost none of that demo-tape, houseshow energy that makes a young band so special. Their live shows are a testament to their love for punk, hardcore, and powerviolence, and this album does as good a job as any in recent memory of capturing the live energy of a band with fire under its ass and a bone to pick.

#5 SUPPRESSION WITH BASTARD NOISE Infernal Legions

Listening to Infernal Legions is like listening to time wrinkle in on itself. It joins two of the genres most important creative forces, both of whom are more artistically powerful today than ever before, and it shows them showing just how potent and flexible the style’s elements can be in the hands of those who know exactly how to bridge this musical landscape’s origins with its futures. Embodying that early Deep Six and Slap-A-Ham sound that so many have tried and failed to replicate over the years, this collaboration also shows just how the integration of experimental and aleotoric noise elements can add rich dimensionality and nuanced emotional complexity to the furious aural bludgeoning offered by the more traditional instrumentation. Suppression are, of course, legends in this realm and sound so charged with high-potency angst and omnidirectional rage that it would be easy to believe that these were found recordings from their early days, recently recovered and immaculately preserved. Eric Wood, arguably the one person more associated with this highly contested and ever-emulated genre than anyone else, is at the peak of his creative powers. Having collaborated recently with artists as diverse and amazing as Merzbow, Transient, Demonologists, +DOG+, Amps for Christ, Saira Huff, Unglee Izii, and Like Weeds, it is clear that he does not sacrifice quality for quantity, having only expanded and enhanced his thoughtful and special approach to harsh noise and circuit-bending with each project. This collaboration is the perfect example of the timelessness and the creative potential of powerviolence as an artform in its own lane.

#4 PIG CITY Untitled

Four years after Pig City grabbed the world by the hair on Terminal Decline, they have returned with Untitled, an album whose composition and vision is so well-realized that 11 minutes easily turns into an hour as the listener cannot help but to keep it on repeat. At this point, thanks to their incredible performance energy and their keen blend of crust and powerviolence, hardcore fans who haven’t been tuning in by now have started to lose their credibility. Show by show, song by song, Pig City manages to provide testimony to what raw punk is capable of. Guitarist Dylan writes riffs that merge the best of DFJ-era Boston hardcore and capital-D d-beat, and frontwoman Delivan reminds fans of a time when every singer was a household name, dissolving the line between performer and audience. Masterfully paced, passionately delivered, and exquisitely written, Untitled is a neutron star of dedication and talent.

#3 SEA OF SHIT Self-Titled LP

One has to pity those listeners with synesthesia who encounter Sea of Shit’s Self-Titled LP. If those of us with average neural pathways can experience so much darkness, misanthropy, misery, and destruction from these recordings, those with extra connectivity and myelination must find themselves in physical and cognitive distress when this is playing. Sea of Shit erupts from a near-decade hiatus to remind powerviolence fans of what hatred sounds like. Unwilling to let metal bands like Primitive Man and Dragged Into Sunlight lay claim to sonic desolation and damnation, Sea of Shit channels negativity into frenzied blasts of hardcore energy with carpal tunnel-inducing guitar and drum sequences, all hovered over by dichotomous voices of humanity and cruelty. Rhythmically, it is everything all at once, sounding nervous, sweaty, and trembling, teetering on the edge, like a person one impulse away from punching their boss. On this LP, Sea of Shit is Godzilla, monstrous and abyssal, emerging from a long slumber to level cities to ensure that we puny humans continue to know our own fragility. This album is an unforgettable work of art, and one hopes it inspires more new artists to explore this darker powerviolence territory once again.

#2 SPINE Ra​í​ces

It is no simple statement to say that Ra​í​ces is the best thing Spine has done. With a career full of highlights, and especially with two “all-time greats” LPs under their belt, Spine could have stayed the course, they could have stuck to what has worked. Instead, they reached deep into themselves and pulled out the most intense and personal work they’ve ever constructed. While Spine have always managed the impressive balance of The Repos-style raw punk with OG West Coast-style powerviolence, their style over the last two releases has been far less synthesis and far more special. Ra​í​ces further develops the masterful inclusion of Cuban musical influences and cultural perspectives they began in earnest on Himnos Mambises (covered by Cvlt Nation here). While vicious, snarling dogs have become a trope in hardcore, vocalist Antonio provides perhaps the most convincing impression of clear and present danger. And with the who’s who of Kansas City hardcore that makes up Spine’s musicianship, it is no wonder that the creatively daring and bombastic songs compiled on Ra​í​ces manage to move so deftly from style to style, mood to mood, without ever sounding contrived or disingenuous. Both a progression and a return, Ra​í​ces summons the pissed-at-the-world energy from their earliest releases, though that energy is now filtered through the perspective of an adult. One has deeper reasons to be angry, to be dangerous, when one factors in family and legacy, themes central to the record. The final words of the tornado that is Ra​í​ces capture it in a gem: “Nunca olvides a tu familia y también a tus prioridades.”

#1 WOUND MAN Human Outline

The following was originally printed with a full-stream for the album’s debut. Read the full review and interview here.

Four years after releasing a split with Regional Justice Center, a MITB/CAPCAS of its era that will, no doubt, be listed among the greatest splits in hardcore history for the rest of time, Wound Man’s Human Outline shows a band whose songwriting has matured. Knowing their legacy is secure, that no one can threaten the place they have carved out for themselves in the powerviolence pantheon, the all-star lineup that makes up Wound Man sounds effortless and passionate while playing a batch of songs that have been workshopped for years.

What sets Human Outline apart from so many contemporary hardcore releases is the confidence to play with tempos in a real and intentional way. While the fast-slow-fast trope is definitive in modern powerviolence, Wound Man gives these songs room to breathe fire with Infest and Despise You and to spew smoke with Eyehategod sludge and Candlemass doom sections that bend the walls. Instead of just slowing down the fast parts or just speeding up the slow parts, Wound Man is thoughtful about just how much venom can be wrung from tonally monstrous notes, about how to induce cardiac arrhythmia with counter-intuitive drum patterns, and about how best to effect a feeling of vengeful catharsis in the listener.

These songs have been marinated in a thick molasses of blood, bile, and bone marrow for years. They are ugly, they are misanthropic, and they are, above all, real. Beyond being the strongest hardcore powerviolence release in modern memory, the dedication, sincerity, and raw talent on Human Outline is a new textbook in angry music that will provide course material for new punks for generations.

The following was originally printed with a full-stream for the album’s debut. Read the full review and interview here.

Written By

Evan lives in Arizona and works as an English and History teacher. He loves to learn new things and meet new people.

“IRON
Sentient 51423

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