So you know metalcore yeah? That oft derided sub genre of metal and hardcore, probably your first step into the genre with the likes of Bullet For My Valentine, Avenged Sevenfold, Asking Alexandria etc etc?
Before it became the commercial behemoth and monster it did in the mid 00’s, it was one of the most interesting, intense offshoots of punk and metal, beginning in the early 90’s. It had something for everyone, the heartwrenching catharsis of Poison The Well, the delicate textures and tender bludgeoning of 7 Angels 7 Plagues, the doomy stomp of Disembodied, the hellraising, downright Satanic fury of Integrity, the mathematically precise attack of Botch. It would merge with the melodic death metal of Sweden to birth the likes of Killswitch Engage, taking heavy inspiration from the likes of emo, pop punk, death metal and even electronic music as it evolved and diverged into various forms, arousing both interest and disgust among heavy music fans. Yet some 20+ years after that sound emerged, it’s back again, played by a new crop of exciting bands.
What made this come about, especially considering how obscure many of those early bands were and how uncompromising their sound was? The over commercialised and sterile nature of contemporary metalcore would surely provoke a reaction from the underground, this interview with Rennounced's guitarist stating it was a long running feature of the UK scene. The current vogue of underground hardcore does largely tend to revolved around bands that bring older sounds into a new light, from Trash Talk hailing back to the chaos and nihilism of the early Southern California scene to bands like Backtrack and Expire bringing back streetwise New York hardcore. The prevailing trends in underground hardcore shortly beforehand tended towards the extremely fast and filthy grindcore/crust punk blasts of violence a band like Nails or Young And In The Way would deliver and the slow and sludgy battering of beatdown, with Desolated and Xibalba.
Additionally, when you look at the older bands who come to mind when discussing this new wave, it becomes pretty clear that they were well due their time in the sun. Anyone in the know about metalcore will be abundantly aware of how The Dillinger Escape Plan set the bar for technicality, how ripped off Botch were after they split, how Hatebreed laid out the blueprint for being a successful metallic hardcore band, how Converge became idolised by so many bands looking to do this style with an artsy twist. Here, the bands most likely to be namechecked may be revered by a select few, but the degree of their influence isn’t nearly as well documented.
It’s debatable as to whether it is even really a scene, while the term first wave metalcore revival has be gaining traction in various online communities, and we’ve seen Disembodied and Eighteen Visions (the band who followed the trajectory of every scene band before scene was a thing) reforming, it’s not a movement tied to any geographical location, or with a confirmed start or end date. Whether it is a proper scene or not though, it’s spawned some great bands and deserves your attention.
1) Code Orange
Though they are the biggest band from this scene of sorts. it would be fruitless to talk about whatever this thing is without mentioning Pittsburgh’s Code Orange. They signed to Converge frontman Jacob Bannon’s label Deathwish for two records, before delivering their finest work to date this year on Roadrunner with Forever. Their sound is an intriguing blend of very sludgy. very abrasive and occasionally metalcore indebted to the likes of Integrity, Converge, hometown heroes All Out War and Disembodied yet with a number of experimental turns woven throughout, owing to their love of indie music as well as skull crushing noise. Their real genius comes from how skillfully they can blend all the disparate parts of their sound into a finely tuned destruction machine, shifting seamlessly between violent bursts of fast paced riffing, pummelling breakdowns and eerie ambient textures, all while sounding raw, filthy, and not losing sight of the gut level punch that makes heavy music so compelling.
Hamilton, Ontario’s Counterparts have been active for quite a while, the band celebrating their tenth anniversary this year, with five full length albums out already, most recently You’re Not You Anymore on Pure Noise. Though they’re more often lumped in with melodic hardcore bands like The Ghost Inside and Stick To Your Guns, they’ve a different set of influences and a somewhat more advanced sound. The rawness of Poison The Well and Misery Signal’s technical but absolutely emotionally devastating take on metalcore are influences they wear on their sleeve, tied together with the tortured poetry of Breandan Murphy’s lyrics. There’s beautiful melancholic leadwork, complex riffing, pummelling breakdowns that come out of nowhere, a very keen sense of tension and release. To this wee table they bring technicality, energy, a very keen sense of melody and the most heart out of any band here.
3) Knocked Loose
They’ve been the buzz band of the last couple of years, with a well received debut EP in 2014 and a modern classic with 2016’s Laugh Tracks under their belt. Their take on this sound is a lot more straightforward than many of the other bands on this list. However their knowledge of dynamics, how to switch from that punchy riff to that breakdown guaranteed to leave you worse for wear and the anguished screams of Bryan Garris help set them apart from the rest of the scene. They’ve only bigger and better things along the way so keep an eye on them.
4) Jesus Piece
Now this is a band with all eyes on them. They’ve only two EPs and a split with Malice At The Palace under their belt but they’re releasing their 2018 debut album with acclaimed underground label Southern Lord, have gotten some pretty sweet touring slots and are widely regarded for their violent live shows and equally violent music. Their sound is the grinding metallic battery of that early wave, with flecks of sludge metal’s strung-out horribleness and the occasional freak-out that recalls the likes of Coalesce. If I had to peg any band as the next to break from this scene my money would be on them, hopefully that full length lives up to the promise of this early material
Renounced are quite an abnormality in this list. Though not sounding much like any of these bands, they sit perhaps at the midpoint between Jesus Piece and Counterparts, combining the raw destructive chaos of the former with the delicate nuance of the latter. They combine that very unpolished metalcore attack with bursts of melody, spoken word, piano and a very heart-on-sleeve approach that harks back to bands like Poison The Well, 7 Angels 7 Plagues and much of the bands like Killswitch but with a far more complex and uncompromising approach. Little known outside the UK, they are a truly rare gem.
6) Employed To Serve
Though chaotic is an adjective used for many of these bands, few capture that idea more than the UK’s Employed To Serve, whose take on this sound is very much on the mathematical end of things. The frantic, technically complex and frankly terrifying racket owes a bit to bands like Botch, Coalesce and Deadguy, but with their latest album, one of this year’s best in The Warmth Of A Dying Sun, they veer into more atmospheric, sludgy territory, in the vein of Will Haven. They’re my personal favourites after Counterparts, a genuinely stunning addition to the genre of mathcore, which can all too often merely ape the past or end up too hung up on its own technical brilliance.
Blistered really love the 90’s, carrying the influences of bands like Unbroken, Buried Alive and Integrity into the new generation, with all the breakdowns, thrashy riffs and throat shredding vocals that entails. Yet much like Knocked Loose, they take a straightforward template and add their own unique spin to it, in this case harmonious, melodic breaks that seem to be foreshadowing what metalcore would become in the 2000s after that had happened. Their debut album, The Poison Of Self Confinement is available on Bandcamp, and my god, it goes oh so very hard.
Honorable Mentions (Bands I didn’t have enough on to fully incorporate into the list, but are still great):
A Needle Under The Nail: Released their demo this year (available on YouTube and Bandcamp), vicious, with a very dark, nightmarish quality that hasn’t really been exploited much. Hoping they give us more than just this demo for it is a tasty demo indeed.
Key Track: A Needle Under The Nail 2017 Demo
Kublai Khan: Around the block for quite a while, they’re pretty similar to Knocked Loose but more beefy, angry and less chaotic in terms of song structures, but still very much worth your time. Their third album, Nomad, came out recently on Rise Records, and is a force of nature.
Key Track: Belligerent
Varials: In a similar spot to Kublai Khan but with added slam riffs, it’s very apparent they came out of the beatdown scene but they’re a nice middle ground between the punky fury of Kublai Khan and the dark metallic nastiness of Knocked Loose. They’ve a debut album on Fearless.
Key Track: Savage
So there you have it, 7 bands of an exciting new movement in heavy music, presented here for your listening pleasure. Though it may not be a fully-fledged scene, and I feel most bands here would baulk at the idea of being a first wave revival band, there is enough common ground uniting these bands, and it’ll be exciting to see where it goes next.