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Hardcore Albums of 2018: No Echo Contributor Picks

Negativ (Photo: Michael D. Thorn

Over the last year, I've been honored to be joined on the site by some very talented people who contribute to this ongoing project. Since No Echo is about covering and chronicling the multitudes of hardcore scenes from all over the world, I thought it was important to start running a year-end list compiled from the other folks who help me make No Echo happen on a regular basis.

My Hardcore Album of the Year and Most Underrated Hardcore Album of the Year pieces are already up on the site, so here are the No Echo Contributor Picks for Hardcore Albums of 2018.

Adam Lentz's pick:
Waste Management, Tried and True

"I'm a sucker for anything from that Boston scene that gave us bands like The Rival Mob, No Tolerance, Boston Strangler, Breathing Fire, Mind Eraser, etc., and the recording style they all seem to get as well as a majority of the releases by long-time tastemakers Painkiller Records. Waste Management features the illustrious DFJ on drums, who seems to have a pretty high standard for quality hardcore, plus Cahms on vocals, a man who knows a thing or two about flannel shirts has his own very special vocal style.  Waste Management is fast hardcore punk played the way the good lord intended and while the influences are there (SSD, Agnostic Front), the band isn't just some throwback of younger dudes trying to recreate a scene and sound that came and went decades prior. Sucks it took them a full eight years to put this record out after their previous release. Dicks."
 

Gabe La Torre's pick:
Vein, Errorzone

"My AOTY pick is Vein's Errorzone for more reasons than just the ones enumerated in my review of the record over the summer. Because truth be told, this is the rare LP that continually provokes visceral excitement in me when I play it on my headphones. A lot of albums make me feel some excitement when I hear them for sure, but there’s only a few hardcore records that have given me real goosebumps ever and this is one of them. The blend of discordant chaos, raw emotion, and near-unrelenting heaviness makes this a very special album to me and one that will likely remain a favorite for years to come."

Michael D. Thorn's pick:
Negativ, Projections 

"Norway’s Negativ are so beyond perfect it is almost sickening—just a twisted, demented take that borrows from a more classic era of hardcore, while not sounding dated or archaic. Its records like this, that don’t lend themselves to sounding wedded to a particular era of punk that are the most vital and interesting. 

"A manic wild ride of infectious, creepy-crawly and madness inducing hardcore--they are a filthy, writhing beast that spirals from a staccato, percussive assault to sweeping melodic blasts which never allows you to feel settled—never at ease. It’s a dementedly pleasant, melancholy journey that you should certainly go on."

Kevin Hart's pick:
Wound Man, Prehistory

"Nine tracks of unbelievably swift and sweltering hardcore — In a word; pulverizing. The handiwork of Trevor Vaughan (XFilesX, Wolf Whistle, one thousand others) reached its full potential on Prehistory, the bands newest release on Iron Lung Records. Ranging from unstoppable trudge to breakneck pace, this record is in a class of its own in modern power violence."

Mike Musilli's pick:
Rule Them All, An Aligment of Polarity

"While I love the traditional styles that continue to permeate the hardcore underground, I constantly find myself drawn to the more idiosyncratic side of the genre. It’s surprisingly easy to get caught in the groove of listening to horse-hop riffs or drop-D breakdowns over and over again because, well, that’s what attracted most of us to this music anyway. However, it’s important to have bands offer up music that doesn’t quite fit into any category of the genre. It’s refreshing and it keeps us all moving forward. This year, Rule Them All’s An Alignment of Polarity provided just that. It’s a quirky and inventive release that is tops for me in 2018.

"Before even getting into the band’s music, I need to pause to appreciate their ‘nerd factor.’ The band’s name itself is a reference to Lord of the Rings. They have songs about particle physics. They get existential. They just nerd out. And, as a nerd myself, I love it. There’s a levity to those traits that many a more serious hardcore band could learn from.

"As for the music itself, Jon Gusman’s vocals are decidedly melodic as he straddles that line between talk/shouting and outright singing. He doesn’t delve too far in either direction, and in so doing manages to deliver harmonies without having to nail things on-key. He also avoids the more archaic screaming we’re used to in the genre. '(Error:Trial) So It Starts…' offers the listener a great example of Gusman’s capabilities as a singer who can lay down strong vocal cadences and well-placed sing-alongs.

"The guitarwork on this EP is similarly well done, and doesn’t seek to do too much. Richie and Zach deftly navigate layering guitars without adding so much that the recording gets crowded. 'Sad to Die' is a good example here, as the song has melodically chugging riffs that lead into a breakdown part that is neither whimsical nor hokey. The guitar tracks add harmonics and octaves at just the right moments. They know how to write songs with balance and structure, and what they come up with are riffs that pound with energy and enthusiasm.

"The band had a banner year in 2018 with this release and a slew of shows all over the East Coast. True to form, Rule Them All defy a particular subset of the hardcore genre and thus can rock shows with everyone from King Nine and Cro-Mags to Somerset Thrower. Admittedly, an EP as record of the year is sometimes frowned upon. Whatever. An Alignment of Polarity is a stellar first effort from a band who seems destined for great things. There’s simply too much to enjoy on these five song to discount. Plus, the digital download comes with their demo recording.  I can’t wait for more new music from the eccentric but powerful Rule Them All."

Mike De Lorenzo's pick:
Fucked and Bound, Suffrage

"Not a 'hype band' but deserving of ALL the Hype is Seattle's Fucked & Bound. This record is everything a great hardcore record should be: fast, ferocious, heavy, honest, and believable. Perfectly executed chaos captured on a 12" slab of vinyl."

Howie Abrams' pick:
Madball, For the Cause 

"Best hardcore album of 2018? That’s easy: Madball’s For the Cause. Very few bands who’ve been doing it as long as Madball has continue to expand their horizons, as well as the horizons of hardcore itself. The group takes some well calculated risks on For the Cause, yet still manage to deliver an LP chock full of gritty, groove-heavy street level hardcore. Not your older sibling’s Madball!"

Ellie Kovach's pick:

HIRS Collective, Friends. Lovers. Favorites. 

"Nearly-undefinable emo-grindviolence collective HIRS appear to have finally reached the notoriety they’ve deserved this year after a seemingly endless stream of sonic terrorism since their formation in 2011. Although features from the likes of Laura Jane Grace and Shirley Manson are sure to grab attention, they never distract from the fierce excoriation of personal demons on tracks like the personal favorite 'It’s OK to Be Sick.' 

"Songs are compact and razor-sharp, stacked with breakdowns that alternate with furious blasting, which would get formulaic if not for both the crystal-clear production as well as the memorable songwriting. Making songs this abrasive sound hooky is an art, and one that HIRS have mastered. And even in a year that has seen hardcore become intensely politicized once again, it is still somewhat of a welcome shock to read such confrontational song titles as 'Assigned Cop At Birth' or to listen to the sample that sits in the middle of 'Looking for a Fight/Outnumbered.'"

Freddy Alva's pick:
Winds of Promise Album, Winds of Promise 

"This albun is a brilliant mix of the ‘85 Revolution Summer sound with Unity/Uniform Choice vibes (both bands members of Winds of Promise have played in). As powerful and passionate as their influences, I also dig the nuanced lyrics from people that have clearly been around this punk/hardcore thing for a while without becoming jaded or complacent. The last, more atmospheric song with violin ('The Circumstance'), is a direction I’d like to see them pursue but for now this album is a worthy keeper of the flame. Kudos all around!"

Dylan Chadwick's pick:
Fucked Up, Dose Your Dreams

"Call them 'pro core' or 'art-core' or 'the band that was in Vice' or uh call them whatever you want because it's the internet, and you can! Fucked Up is creeping on 20 years of existence, outlasting most of their original contemporaries, taking sonic risks (indulgences?) at every turn of their record-collector-nightmare of a discography. Dose Your Dreams is huge, kinda like a microcosm of that discography. Kinda. Its 18 tracks span a mess of genres, incorporating psychedelia, electronics and a shifting cast of vocal performers. That sort of album you can isolate in scads of glorious moments, undeniable riffs and pop hooks, but taken as a whole it's like...Screamadelica? I hear it.

"There's not as much ravin' goin on, but it's just as much a breathless, sprawling song-to-song journey. Dose feels like the big ass conceptual piece they've been trying to nail since David Comes to Life. I hear it! But whatever. I revisit this album almost daily and discover new moments in every song. That's what all of my favorite albums do for me. Don't yours? Give this thing a listen. Or don't! There is a ton of shit on the internet. I have a hard time focusing on it all myself." 

Adam Yoe's pick:
Fiddlehead, Springtime and Blind

"Grief is amorphous and forever recalculating, a distasteful and unpredictable business. 'Spousal Loss—the opener of Fiddlehead’s Springtime and Blind—is a melancholic monument to loss and love, in itself a deep look at the passing of singer Pat Flynn’s father. It immediately managed to locate a place inside I reserve for the conflicted memory of my younger brother who passed away in 2015. Strangely enough, two of my other more recent year-end favorites (Pianos Become the Teeth's Keep You and Touché Amore's Stage Four) plumbed similar emotional depths with a similarly brave sensibility. This completes an inadvertent trifecta in grand, albeit brief, fashion. There’s a nakedness to penning songs this brazenly open and vulnerable. 

"Musically, Fiddlehead double down on everything that made their 2015 Out of the Bloom EP so promising. Jangly but ripping, embers of their hardcore resumes remain subtly smoking beneath it all. Still loaded with soaring '90s vibes that recall Spanaway-era Seaweed, Archers of Loaf, and Superchunk; there’s an emotional heft to both the tone and the lyrical approach that Chapel Hill’s slacker scene never quite conjured. File this masterwork next to your well-worn copy of Floral Green

"It’s records like this that make me so grateful for the platform to thank and promote artists this important. 2018 was damn near impossible to choose a favorite and I’ve been brainstorming ways to sneakily fit in references to the albums that could just have easily been here. Yet, I couldn’t figure out a way to slyly refer to Trail of Lies, Candy, True Love, Blind Justice, Regulate, Ecostrike, Warfare, HIRS Collective, King Nine, City Hunter, or Mindforce, Ekulu or Turnstile. Oh well. Thanks for the record, Fiddlehead."

Iván Murillo's pick:
Battle Ruins, Glorious Dead

"Is it hardcore in the literal sense? Not really but Battle Ruins is comprised of longtime scene veterans that have made up some of the heaviest hitters of the Boston hardcore scene for well over a decade. Members have been in such bands as The Rival Mob, Mental, Mind Eraser, Soul Swallower, Boston Strangler, and tons more. So, in my book, it counts.

"Glorious Dead continues in the sound of their 2014 self-titled album and somehow improves upon the greatness of that record. For those who aren’t familiar with Battle Ruins, I’ll describe their sound as 'skinhead glory metal.' The best parts of Oi! mixed with a classic heavy metal sound. Vocalist Brendan Radigan is by far the most versatile hardcore/punk vocalist of his generation. Every song on this record showcases a craftsmanship lacking from most bands of any genre. These guys have taken their time and songs like 'Glorious Waves Lay Under Waves,' 'Same Enemy,' and 'The Day The Idols Fell' showcase this. Glorious Dead has a driving energy that will result in repeat listens." 

Ace Stallings' pick:
Candy, Good to Feel 

"This is the record hardcore didn’t deserve but desperately needed in 2018. New, undeniably hardcore and urgent in every way, from the sound to the visuals."

Furn Zavala's pick:
Suburbanite, S/T

"Plenty of solid releases by various punk/hardcore/power violence bands this past year. It's easy for certain releases get passed by or overlooked due to the constant activity of newer bands putting out demos and older bands who continue to create new music. I was quite fond of many releases that 2018 had to offer Paranoid, Wound Man, Regional Justice Center, Candy, Fixation, etc., as well as non-punk/hardcore releases Lovesick, Mitski, Aphex Twin, Westside Gunn, etc. but one sort of stood out the most. I wouldn't say it stood out above all others but it definitely did not leave my daily rotation and was the first record that came to mind when compiling a list of favorite releases of 2018.

"My introduction to Suburbanite was when they released a 7" on Youth Attack a few years back that I truly enjoyed. Angry. Lo-fi. Dirty. It left me wanting more. I'm not a YA label dork but I do like their steady level of depth when it comes to Void-esque screechy/noise/harsh style of punk/hardcore, so whenever YA does a drop I'm always interested & the Suburbanite LP is exactly that. The S/T LP dropped in January of this year and unlike most LPs that get lost as the months go by, for me, this album never lost its luster. 12 tracks of fast-pissed off punk with harsh vocals that I would compare as a solid pairing of Creem meets 86 Mentality musical stylings with Think I Care vocals. Highly suggested for anyone who loves HarDCore '83 vibes to '90s fastcore (ala Los Crudos)."

Bruce Hardt-Valenzuela's pick:
Cult Leader, A Patient Man

"Cult Leader has that sound that just strikes all the right aesthetics for me, with their debut Lightless Walk being among my favored 2015 albums. A Patient Man is no exception, in fact, it raises their crust-laden murder music to bloodier echelons. Opener “I Am Healed” is a breathless surge of unyielding violence that shames all other attempts at heaviness made this year. 'To: Achyls' is a cathartic, downtrodden Nick Cave-inspired heart render exemplary of the slower extremes that Cult Leader works comfortably within. 'Isolation in the Land of Milk and Honey' and 'A World of Joy' operate these extremes with preposterous care, easing from moody passages to cacophonous death blows with calculated, phlegmatic songwriting. Yet these ten songs are far from stoic, with every painful itch or arterial stab laid bare, then magnified a hundredfold to ensure that no matter how wrathful or aching, Cult Leader ensures that you fuckin' feel it."

Eric Pocock's pick:
Sunstroke, Second Floor/Seven

"This may be cheating since the record is comprised of two separate recordings, separated by just about a year, but it’s all on one 12” record, so I am counting it. Sunstroke’s Second Floor/Seven LP on CoinTossRecords checks literally every box I have when evaluating a record. Interesting instrumentals? Check. Thought provoking and relevant lyrics? Check. Catchy songs you can listen to on repeat without getting bored? Check. I can turn on this record at a softer volume and just vibe out, listening to the spacey guitar riffs, or crank it and scream along and feel the emotions of the singer that come through so strongly. No matter the mood, this record is something special."

Devin Boudreaux's pick:
True Love, The Pact

"What makes the Hardcore Album of the Year for me? Whatever came out in 2018 that got the most listens for me. The answer is True Love's The Pact. This album embodies everything I want in a hardcore record. It’s short, it’s fast, it’s heavy, and it’s lyrically creative/smart. It’s not trying to be anything that it’s not. Sonically it’s pulling from my favorita era of hardcore and builds on their previous records. You can tell the addition of Michael Cesario with the new songs going slightly heavier without compromising their foundation and writing style. Dominic Vargaz's vocals are slightly lower too but still maintain that punch and poetic charm. The word flow and speed of the album really stand out as something I want in a hardcore record.

The Pact is my favorite hardcore release this year because it knows what it is and it delivers. The songs get stuck in my head and I keep going back to it. A lot of great records came out this year, but often, I’d only revisit a few tracks, whereas with The Pact I’d return start to finish. 

"Dear bands, keep it fast and to the point to keep everyone’s attention."

Greg Polard's pick:
Red Hare, Little Acts of Destruction

"2018 seemed to be a very fruitful year for hardcore. You had solid releases from heavy hitters (Madball, Sick of It All and Terror) as well as killer full-lengths from newer groups (Turnstile, Jesus Piece, Candy). My pick for Hardcore Album of the Year falls somewhere in a grey area between these two categories.

"Enter: Red Hare's Little Acts of Destruction. For the unaware, Red Hare are comprised of three members of the final lineup of the legendary Swiz, plus former Garden Variety drummer Joe Gorelick. They first came onto the scene in 2013 with the 8-song Nites of Midnight LP. They followed this up in 2016 with a 3-song 7” titled Lexicon Mist, which was released to much praise. 

"Little Acts of Destruction takes the groundwork laid on these two releases and builds on it, giving us the best Red Hare record to date. Shawn Brown (who also does time with the recently reformed Dag Nasty) quite possibly sounds the best he ever has. His voice has a confidence that commands your attention. Jason Farrell is easily one of my favorite guitar players in hardcore and he does not disappoint - the guy straight up shreds. Add in the great rhythm section of Dave Eight and the aforementioned Gorelick, some cool artwork and a stunning production/mixing job by J. Robbins and you have a release that will not be leaving my turntable for quite some time." 

Lucas Anderson's pick:
King Nine, Death Rattle

"Death Rattle is a brutal and honest portrayal of living in the real world, and fighting to stay alive amidst the chaos. In my opinion, King Nine is the the definitive sound of modern New York hardcore. This takes my Hardcore album of the year because I’ve been waiting for it ever since there was talk of a second lp. Hopefully we won’t have to wait five years for the next." 

Dave Williams' pick:
Fiddlehead, Springtime and Blind

"There aren't many 'resurgences' in hardcore that I get excited about. I was always a bit suspicious of the '00s Youth Crew revival. Too few bands accurately nail the '90s vegan sXe renaissance. The crossover thing in recent years is just painfully stale and vapid for the most part. And don't get me started on the dorks who're growing their hair out and taking a crack at the "grunge" thing... That said, when bands started reaching into the mid-'80s DC bag of tricks - beginning, for me at least, with End of a Year's Sincerely — I was admittedly intrigued, and, dare I say, borderline thrilled.

"While arguably somewhat dated in sonic terms, the seminal LPs from Embrace, Rites of Spring, Rain, Gray Matter, Dag Nasty, Jawbox, even early Fugazi, 3, Ignition, One Last Wish, and others have retained a timelessness in their lyricism, sincerity and delivery. So, when more and more bands began incorporating those elements in their songwriting (rather than, say, starting yet another twinkly 'Midwest emo' tribute band or vomiting up a third-rate J Mascis solo) to varying-yet-mostly-high degrees of success, I got right on board.

"Luckily, in 2018 there was no shortage of great records that hearkened those particular 'revolutionary' vibes. Killer discs from Sunstroke, Rule Them All, Mil-Spec, Self Defense Family, and Winds of Promise all tipped their hats to the emotional hardcore forebears, but the top of the heap, for me at least, was Fiddlehead's incredible Springtime and Blind

"A musical eulogy for vocalist Pat Flynn's late father, Springtime and Blind is a sad, hopeful, angry, melodic and cathartic journey through Flynn and his mother's grief, as well as a celebration of the Flynn family history. This trip is set to a backdrop of song that unabashedly conjures the spirit of the aforementioned bands while looking to such '90s acts as Farside, Sense Field, Texas Is The Reason, Seaweed, and other genre-blurring bands of the era without ever sounding remotely derivative (y'know, in the negative sense).

"Fans of Flynn's other work may not recognize his surprisingly pleasant and skillful croon, and certainly the intensity here is different from that of Have Heart, Free, Wolf Whistle, etc. — but it's no less weighty. And while Springtime And Blind might not fit quite as cozily within typical hardcore parameters, there's no question that the passion and magnitude employed here belongs under the genre's ever-growing umbrella - which truly began its broadening with the artists that Fiddlehead collectively nods to.

"An absolutely awesome and moving tribute. Congrats".

Ned Kelly's pick:
The Armed, Only Love

"CAUTION: Turn your speakers or headphones or hearing aids way down right now before hitting PLAY. Fair warning given! Hell, you may even want to put in some ear plugs before indulging in this sonic experience for the very first time. Seriously, if you've got your volume dimed out when this aural explosion goes off it won't just blow your speakers and ring your ears, it may actually blow your mind. You may not even notice the shattered windows, screeching car alarms or the frenzied barking of the neighborhood dogs, having been struck dumb by it all.

"This is the rattle of the broken speaker, the feedback of the misplaced mic, a recording console with every single meter reading straight up red mixed up together with catchy repetitive riffs and even some mellow melodic singing buried in the mix. It's absolutely exhilarating and fascinating immerse yourself in. Bits of pulsing electronica and frantic synthesized sounds race along together with crunching guitars and a beast of a drummer behind the kit in Ben Koller (Converge, Cave In, etc.).

"The challenge to the listener is to try and process the cacophony of competing elements that are blasted at you in a relentless and noisy barrage as if they were testing some experimental sonic weapons on the embassy in your brain. This is sublimely conceived and truly creative weaponized art."

***

*Homepage photo: Keith Baillargeon

Tagged: battle ruins, candy, cult leader, fiddlehead, fucked and bound, fucked up, hirs collective, king nine, madball, negativ, red hare, rule them all, suburbanite, sunstroke, true love, vein, winds of promise, wound man

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