Quick And Deadly: 10 Of The Year’s Best Powerviolence And Grindcore Offerings
It is great news for fans of fast hardcore and metal that powerviolence and grindcore have found such a strong footing in our current musical landscape. These genres, once especially niche, are finding fans all over the world and in all walks of life. In the best circumstances, these fans become musicians themselves, and they dedicate their energy to the musical styles that have brought them light and meaning during dark and meaningless times.
However, this great news for fans, this great news for the health and longevity of these genres, is not great news for people responsible for trimming down the embarrassment of riches that has been 2021’s musical hardcore and metal output to a list of only 10. A positive side effect of the year-and-a-half-long quarantine was that so many artistic minds suddenly had nothing to do but to create. Once the world more or less opened back up, the backlog of brilliant, innovative, risk-taking songwriting came out in a gush.
The powerviolence and grindcore releases this year were legion, and it is a painful process to narrow the numerous into the few. That said, these ten releases stand out as especially excellent, influential, and/or ambitious releases, ones that are likely to stand out if future generations look into a grind/pv time capsule for the year 2021.
These albums are listed in no particular order, as all of these are considered equally great.
#10 FULL OF HELL Garden of Burning Apparitions
On paper, Full of Hell shouldn’t have become the monumental pillar of heavy music that they are today. Any marketing director, any talent promoter, would have looked at early Full of Hell, an anomalous mix of early emoviolence, lo-fi harsh noise, Norwegian black metal, and Canadian crust, and they would have said the band was “neither here nor there.” To whom do you market a band that borrows from nearly everything but fits in nowhere stylistically?
Fortunately for the band and even more fortunately for the world of heavy music at large, the band has persisted and survived, grown and thrived, due in large part to their DIY punk ethic, their artistic ingenuity, and their ability to stay focused on their own vision without allowing it to be clouded by the ebbs and flows of musical trends and stylistic gatekeeping. Consequently, on Garden of Burning Apparitions, the long-time listener finds a group of musicians who, 12 years after their debut EP, are freer than any artistic collective can hope to be, unaffected by the vicissitudes of the mercurial musical masses and bound only by the limits of their own creative ambitions.
#9 YAUTJA The Lurch
Yautja is your favorite band’s favorite band. For ten years, their unique mélange of sludge, grind, math, death metal, and hardcore has earned them dedicated followers from every area of the heavy music landscape. After some years of silence, their return to releasing new music in 2021 is surely something to celebrate.
Earlier this year, the band released two new songs on a split with the equally masterful musicians in Chepang, and those two brilliant tracks only served to whet further the desires of eager fans for a new Yautja release.
The Lurch, their first full-length since 2014’s Songs of Descent and their first release with Relapse Records, is the most powerful, elaborate, and daring thing the band has produced in a career with no weak spots. Well worth the wait, not only do the songs on this record deliver on the promise of previous Yautja releases, but they also dwarf the creativity of many other songs in the metal and hardcore genres right now.
#8 INGROWN Gun
There are some bands whose music is such a t-bone crash of a listening experience that you’re never quite ready. With each release—2015’s Dirty Demo, 2017’s Meathead, and the newest release, Gun—Ingrown have again and again caught the hardcore fanbase unawares and unprepared. In fact, even after dozens of listens, restarting Gun at track one is like obliviously wandering back onto the track of a monster truck rally in your bare feet and being caught off guard when you are once again fully pulverized by heavy objects moving at high speeds.
One of the reasons the band continues to surprise its listeners and earn new ones is its work ethic, its ability to work harder and more tirelessly than most musicians are willing to do. This effort goes not only into their strenuous touring but also into honing their songcraft. Too many bands give into the instant-gratification-driven pressure from fans and media outlets to put out more material than they’re really able to develop and finetune. With only three releases in six years, Ingrown have demonstrated that they are willing to dedicate the time and energy necessary to make their releases real diamonds, multi-faceted, beautiful, and with an unparalleled hardness. With God’s Hate‘s “combined weight of 2000 pounds” condensed into the speed bag punches of Scapegoat and No Comment, Ingrown songs are industrial cutting edges and drill bits. While their demo and debut EP drew unanimous and enthusiastic praise from hardcore fans and critics, Boise’s Ingrown have outdone themselves on the vertebrae-powdering Gun.
#7 REGIONAL JUSTICE CENTER Crime & Punishment
In less than four years, Regional Justice Center has become one of the most respected outfits in hardcore, fastcore, and powerviolence. Created and led by the indefatigable Ian Shelton, the band combines the raw aggression of the genres’ forebears with airtight musicianship and brilliant innovation. RJC‘s rapid ascent to “household name” status in the powerviolence world is due largely to their bombastic and perfectly-paced approach to hardcore, which combines the various punk sounds of California, New England, and the Pacific Northwest. What the casual listener may miss, however, is the great thoughtfulness that Shelton dedicates to his songwriting.
On Regional Justice Center’s new LP, Crime and Punishment, Shelton works as an auteur, putting his experience as a filmmaker to use and telling a passionate, well-crafted story of a life of causes and effects. While the themes of trauma, growth, resentment, and regret are universal, Shelton’s lyrics are deeply personal, turning his life’s experiences and lessons into meaningful art.
#6 GAS CHAMBER/BLACK IRON PRISON Public Humiliation II
An outlier on this list because it is collaborative and live, Public Humiliation II would be an outlier even if every other album on this list were collaborative and live. Gas Chamber and Black Iron Prison, two one-of-a-kind bands, combined forces for a one-time set to celebrate Iron Lung Records 10-year anniversary, and the child they sired is unlike anything else in the hardcore/metal tapestry.
While one can hear the bands’ connections to sister groups Running for Cover, They Live, Endless Blockade, and Column of Heaven, the songs on this live performance weave in and out of styles, rejecting any efforts to categorize the pure, unbound artistry of the musicians. With bass-forward riffs and ambient arpeggiating guitars as a backdrop and as interludes, with more melody than most punks give themselves license to use anymore, there are comparisons to be made to Rush, Nomeansno, Jesus Lizard, and King Crimson. With the knowledge that they can still produce some of the most unhinged and aggressive violence and grind, and with the knowledge that this would be Gas Chamber’s last performance, they display a bravery in experimentation and a precision in execution that fans can only hope will catch on among newer bands.
#5 WORLD PEACE Come and See
World Peace has built a powerful reputation on four years worth of stellar EPs and splits. The San Francisco trio’s reputation for no-frills, heavier-than-gravity powerviolence meant anticipation around their debut was feverish. Not only does Come and See deliver on the promise of those earlier shorter releases, but it confirms the suspicions of fans that this is one of the most potent acts in hardcore right now.
Over the course of twenty under-a-minute tracks, the bass- and drum-centric band focuses its fury with uncommonly inventive rhythms and with a paint-stripping power of a high-psi pressure washer. The innovation in all the ways a rhythm section can affect a song’s pacing is stunning, as the group somehow manages to make these dense diamonds feel like sprawling anthems. World Peace accomplishes with this LP what the best artists in every medium have done: by stripping their tools to the very bare essentials, they manage to generate more ideas than most bands with three times as many musicians and instruments.
#4 CELL ROT Slowly Falls Apart
Since their early demos, Cell Rot have curated a reputation as a vicious and volatile hardcore act. Whether live or on wax, the band dedicates its energy completely to a dynamic and destructive cacophony that is as thrilling as it is threatening. Following up 2018’s Violent Spirals and 2019’s split with World Peace, their eagerly awaited new EP, Slowly Falls Apart, is another masterclass in aggression and righteous power.
Their most violent release to date, Slowly Falls Apart captures the gut-levitating sensation of one’s brakes failing as one hurtles down switchbacks on a rail-less mountain freeway. These six songs are hazardous and immediate. Nominally powerviolence, the songs on this fantastic and relentless EP owe as much to Anti-Cimex, GISM, and The Impalers as they do to the old-school powerviolence of their fellow Californians in Crossed Out, No Comment, and Neanderthal. In the capable hands of this cadre of experienced hardcore musicians, the mania of these songs is perfectly executed, a densely focused cannonade of musical ire.
#3 KIDNAPPED Nowhere Is Sterile
Kidnapped have been an “if you know, you know” band since their first demo in 2017, and while in some ways the world is finally turning to notice the powerviolence golem lurking around Connecticut, it is more like that golem grabbed the hardcore world by the lapels and headbutted it in the nose. If you aren’t listening to Kidnapped, you haven’t been paying attention.
With a quartet of musicians this skillful and this good at communicating with one another, the complicated changes in tempo and style and the ingenious dissolution of genre borders feel totally natural. Aggressive fastcore blasts give way to some of the grooviest, in-the-pocket breakdowns of the year, only to shift to old school death metal and again to thrashcore. This band makes the impossible seem easy.
#2 DAUNTED Intimidation Tactics
Daunted reinforces the idea that there is something special about California. Bridging the gaps between Infest, Despise You, and ACxDC, Daunted’s gritty instrumentation combine with vocalist Hugo’s anguished vocals to deliver an experience that, instead of healing your negative emotions, amplifies them.
This album rages against ignorance, selfishness, punk consumerism, cowardice, and, most of all, it rages against the self. Feelings of depression, hopelessness, and self-hatred are faced with a raw vulnerability that gives extra depth to the anxious musical cacophony. Like that of early Spazz, Daunted’s clever placing of and choice of samples leaves the listener wondering if the voice-overs are ironic or all too sincere.
#1 INTERNAL Primal State
More amazing than the fact that all of Internal’s instruments are played by one person–anyone who knows much about Trevor Vaughan is no longer surprised by his ability to do pretty much anything–is the fact that he can make it all sound like the listener is listening to a live house show.
In less than two years, Internal’s brand of “someone cast a spell on the Man is the Bastard/Crossed Out split and it became its own band” powerviolence has earned the project fans the world over. On Primal State, Vaughan puts decades of hard-earned hardcore stripes to work in a way that makes the writing and performing of some of the most finely-tuned powerviolence songs in recent memory seem as easy as getting out of bed. If Internal and Scrape were introductions, Primal State is “you know who I am!” and it shows that, though Vaughan follows his many creative whims in many different directions, Internal is no dalliance, no side project. It is a reminder of what this genre sounds like at its very best.