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Best Hardcore Records of 2019: No Echo Contributor Picks

Wild Side (Photo: Wayne Ballard)

I wouldn't be able to do No Echo without the help of the many contributors. In this following piece, I've handed the reigns over them so they could tell you some of their favorite records of the year. Thanks again to all of them for their shared passion for music. —Carlos Ramirez

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Ace Stallings’ pick:
Wild Side, Who the Hell is Wild Side? (Triple-B Records)

Being constantly inundated with hardcore and punk that takes itself hyper serious, I was really ready for a record like Wild Side’s Who the Hell is Wild Side? It reminded me of hearing Righteous Jams for the first time as a high schooler and feeling a sense of personal power and confidence behind the lyrics without an overinflated sense of self and intensity. There are a grip of hits on this LP between “Street Action," “Supercharged,” “When It’s All Said & Done," and my personal favorite, the mosher’s anthem, “Past, Present, Future." I think many people forget that hardcore in many capacities is about having fun and I’m really happy Wild Side exists. Cool band, cool people, good vibes.

Mike Musilli’s pick:
Time & Pressure, The Gateway City Sound (Safe Inside Records)

Admittedly, Time & Pressure sort of caught me off guard. I’d heard of them by way of Travis’s other band, Better Days, and figured them to be another solid Midwest hardcore band. It wasn’t until I listened to their The Gateway City Sound LP that I realized how powerful Time & Pressure’s music is. The Gateway City Sound is a record that cohesively blends aggressive modern hardcore with thoughtful and introspective lyrics, and that’s never easily accomplished in the genre.

Interestingly, the record is a split of sorts in that the first six songs are newly records just for the LP and the last five songs are from the band’s 2018 demo. So the listener gets a timeline of Time & Pressure’s development which is cool in its own right. This LP is the best release of the year because it resonates with everything I look for in a hardcore record: it’s face-paced and heavy, it’s lyrically intelligent and antagonistic, and it’s well-written. “Hiroshima Lovers” and “The Lost Boys” are my favorite tracks on the LP, and are apt introductions to Time & Pressure. Give The Gateway City Sound a few listens and you’ll hear why it’s tops this year. 

Howie Abrams’ pick:
The Old Firm Casuals, Holger Danske (Demons Run Amok)

Long gone is this group's "Rancid side-project" tag. Holger Dansk, the Casuals' third long-player in six years, is a fully realized collection of quality tunes and inspired performances. The first single. "Motherland," is an unadulterated, tuneful rock n' roll banger. Other highlights include the straight forward rager, "Pendulum," the almost AC/DC-esque "Nation on Fire" and catchy-as-fuck "Casual Rock and Roll." Holger Dansk is good as any album released in 2019, and better than most regardless of genre. Can you tell, I dig it?!

Gabe La Torre’s pick:
Point of Contact, Commitment (Plead Your Case Records)

In 2019, I can safely say that the scene needed a band like Point of Contact. We’ve been artificially divided between different sub genres and debates over things like “horseshoes” and “crowd killing." As Freddy Madball once said, “now is the time for unity. Why? Cuz it means a lot to me”. I think this Point of Contact LP is the unity record 2019 needed. Yes. it’s a straight edge record (and very much so at that) but its core theme is clearly one of self-determination and staying true to yourself, whatever that may be. 

Musically it’s also the record of 2019 most likely to unite moshers and “OSPO” enthusiasts (author’s note: an acronym attributed to a zine article by Pat Flynn, short for old school pile-on). Yes there have been bands in recent memory that deftly combine having lyrics worth singing along to with hard riffs but I personally think it’s always worth recognizing when done this well. It’s catchy, it’s hard, it’s fast, this checks all the boxes for what I want out of a hardcore record and does so more thoroughly than any other release this year. It’s just a blast to listen to and if video of their record release show is to be believed, a blast to see live.

Ian Caramanzana’s pick:
Mil-Spec, DDM Sessions (Drug Doin Music)

Leave it to Canadians to challenge our perceptions once again. Riding on the heels of 2018’s excellent Changes, Mil-Spec presents another refreshing take on modern-hardcore through vocalist Andrew Peden’s ruminations on the utter complexities of our world. The re-recording “False Spring” is a highlight, with Peden reflecting on pain as the band ebbs and flows from punk fury to a melodic wallop. The quintet is indebted to Youth Crew and DC greats, and while those influences shine (listen to “Where I Was From” from their forthcoming 12” EP on Lockin’ Out), Mil-Spec makes it their own. There’s plenty of depth here, with guitarist Dan Darrah’s melodic Revolution Summer-esque leads paving the way.

Changes was one of those releases we’ll look back on as relic—a succinct, forward-thinking offering that honors the hardcore canon while simultaneously trying to reinvent it … during a time when chug breakdowns are a dime a dozen. These sessions are a continuation of that sentiment, and in that, it’s a bold success.

Adam Lentz’s pick:
Loose Nukes, Behind the Screen (Beach Impediment Records)

I was waiting for the drummer of Sickoids to pop up again once they broke up. Not only did he pop up again but he brought the guitar player of Government Warning and Blood Pressure and the vocalist of Dark Thoughts for a Pennsylvania all star lineup that not even Mike Schmidt, Allen Iverson or Eric Lindros could make. Loose Nukes are fast but tight and controlled all the while which is only possible when you have a beast of a drummer.

You can tell these guys listened to Pick Your King, Nothing Can Go Wrong, the first Amdi Petersens Armé 7", etc.  The last track on the 7" is the best 52 seconds of hardcore you will hear all year. 

Ivan Murillo's pick:
Restraining Order, This World Is Too Much (Triple-B Records)

For most hardcore bands, it’s tough to write a good LP that’s devoid of a few filler songs. Restraining Order have succeeded where tons of other bands have failed and done just that. They are truly a New England hardcore band with members who reside in Western Mass and Connecticut. After a well received debut EP on New Age last year, they signed to Triple-B to release this LP. RO’s sound harkens back to Boston hardcore OGs SSD and DYS without being a straight up bite of either.

There’s some Negative Approach influence in there, too. RO’s brand of hardcore also has a nice touch of street rock/Oi! influence that will make you want to pound your fist in the air and sing along. The band delivers a frenetic live show and translates that energy to this record. Standout tracks include "Never," "This World Is Too Much," "Something fo the Youth," and "Can I Please." But really, there isn’t one dud on here. The highest praise I can heap on this record is that it reminds me of the excitement of discovering new bands when I first got into hardcore as a teen. An LP like this could be a life changer to a new kid and a breath of fresh air to an old timer.

Ellie Kovach's pick:

Amygdala, Our Voices Will Soar Forever (Self-Released)

I have a sneaking suspicion that this release might end up being overlooked in many year-end lists in part due to being released on the same label as other screamo-adjacent heavyweights Wristmeetrazor and .gif from god (don’t get me wrong, both of those albums are excellent— but I digress). This would be a crime, because I can’t think of any other album from this year that straddles as many disparate subgenres of hardcore while also delivering incisive, eloquent, and painfully honest lyrics (although Soul Glo’s LP comes close). 

San Antonio’s Amygdala has roots in the screamo scene, but on Our Voices Will Soar Forever, they have developed a gnarly metallic influence (see the shredding that announces the climax of opener “Born Into Abuse”) and also benefit greatly from crystal-clear production, neither of which take away from the fury and desperation that drives their sound. Elsewhere, they spread their wings into more elliptical post-hardcore territory, as on the harrowing “18 Years and Counting,” which deftly balances a post-rock-inspired intro and bridge with speedy Touché Amoré-esque sections, a punishing groove metal part, and a finale that evolves from staccato to haunting. Its emotional counterpart on the record, the devastating survivor story “Why Can’t I Heal?” is equally effective.

The record bleeds with the passion that can only come from people who are often denied a chance to share their lived experiences. The pro-choice anthem “Our Bodies, Our Choice,” the way that “Semillas” effortlessly functions as both a screed against gentrification and the white-washing of history as well as an affirmation of Latino identity in America, and the calls for the destigmatization of mental illness in “We Exist/Yo Existo” work so well because they acknowledge that the personal is political, and vice versa. In this regard, they represent the truest distillation of the promise of screamo’s earliest progenitors in Washington DC’s Revolution Summer.

Nowhere are these statements more powerful on the record than in its denouement and my personal favorite song, “BPD vs Me.” Borderline personality disorder is one of the most stigmatized mental illnesses in popular discourse, which can be attributed to its unknowability. Here, Amygdala articulates the experience of having BPD with both startling accuracy and refreshing candidness. “Fear of abandonment... I’m unhappy with you but it’s not your fault.” In many ways, being a marginalized person in America today bears uncanny resemblance to the trust issues and emotional instability that BPD can cause.

Amygdala’s synthesis of these ideas is equal in finesse and power only to their ability to synthesize screamo, metallic hardcore, and dreamy post-hardcore. Our Voices Will Soar Forever is a portrait of a band at the height of its powers, musically and lyrically. Amygdala demands your attention and wholeheartedly deserves it.

Benedetto Manzella’s pick:
Combust, The Void (Edgewood Records)

2019 was a chaotic year for me in many ways, to the point that I've had my interest in hardcore decrease to a certain degree. With that said, the number of bands releasing music has only increased and it makes it exhausting to sift through everything. One of the few bands who has stuck out among the noise is Combust. With The Void released this past March, the excitement I'd felt since hearing their demo in 2017 was surpassed beyond expectation. New York hardcore and hardcore, in general, isn't about reinventing the wheel; but unlike too many bands, Combust are clearly not imitators. After seeing them perform this past August, I'm eager to see what the future of Combust will be.

To end here's a favorite lyric of mine from the song, "The Devil's Crown":

"We all know how the story unfolds 
The powers in their hands when you’re staring down their barrel
Years of disgrace can never be erased
But the knowledge we gain can end their twisted reign"

Nicholas James’ pick:
Life Force, The Impact (Blind Rage Records)

2019 marked my 30th year of sobriety, inspiring a serious chunk of reflection on my life to date. 2019 also saw the highest number of overdoses within my social circles. The combination of these factors has pushed a renewed interest in my straightedge resolve. 

At this time of reflection in my life, along comes this newish youth crew band from OK/TX called Life Force that sum up the things I love most in a hardcore band. The lyrics are SO FUCKING POSITIVE, but the riffs are dark and heavy. To my ears, Life Force sound youthful, but clearly they have been tempered by witnessing and experiencing our unjust economic and social system. Below their lyrics on their bandcamp page, they have included elaborations for each track, and I am a sucker for bands who waste no chance to hammer home their message. 

My band got to play with Life Force in September this year. Disappoint us they did not. As a bonus, Flint delivered a speech between each song, touch on topics like mental health, police brutality, and rebuking social norms involving substance abuse. When spending time with them, I noticed that even though these folks had answers, they did not present as though they had all the answers. When speaking with others that weekend, the Life Force cats did the listening. 

Blind Rage Records (Dayton, OH) put out The Impact on vinyl in two US variants, a Euro variant, and a special variant for the record’s release at New Age Midwest in St Louis. New Age Records has announced they will be putting out the next release from Life Force.

Michael De Lorenzo’s pick:
Black Anvil, Miles (STB Records)

My favorite hardcore record of 2019 is a black metal record. New York black metal band Black Anvil teamed up with Steve and STB Records to release Miles in memory of Selim Lemouchi of The Devil’s Blood, who had taken his own life in 2014. This record is a labor of love from both the band and the label and is truly a heartfelt tribute. The record starts out with two original tracks – “Iron Sharpens Iron," which comes at you at full speed and relentlessly pummels you in under 3 minutes, followed by the more melodic and mid-tempo “Miles." Both songs perfectly showcase the band’s talents.

Next up are two cover songs. “Everlasting Saturnalia” by The Devil’s Blood which is beautiful and atmospheric. Bassist/vocalist Paul Delaney really threw himself into the arrangement, instrumentation and vocal performance in ways we’ve never heard from him before. Then, “A Corpse Without a Soul” by Mercyful Fate, which features drummer Raeph Glicken on lead vocals doing a spot-on King Diamond impression. I cannot fail to mention that original guitarist Gary Bennet plays on the Mercyful Fate track as well as “Miles” as they were recorded while he was still an active member and guitarist Jeremy Sosville , nails the lead guitar work on this one! 

Now, the packaging. This is hands down one of the best packaged records, if the not the best packaged record I own. The band along with STB put many hours of work into this release and it shows. It’s an obvious labor of love. The artwork on this release is stunning, and to top it off, the red and clear vinyl, limited to 200 and 300 respectively, have etched B-sides, housed in a heavy duty di-cut jacket and di-cut inner sleeve. Printed with UV gloss and red foil stamped. The black vinyl test press, limited to 25 pieces, also has an etched B-side, housed in a poly vinyl sleeve that is screen printed with the release specific custom Black Anvil "NYBM" Sigil. Every test press is sealed shut by hand with wax.

The Red Die Hard Edition as well as the test presses come with custom made NYBM, die cut sigil pins in screen a printed jewelry box. One more thing that stands out, which I’ve never seen before, is the label on the record. It is printed on both sides so you can see the graphic through on the etched B-side with the paper label only having to be affixed to the A-side. This 4-song, single-sided 12” EP is perfect from beginning to end, inside and out. An amazingly heartfelt tribute, physically and sonically. 

Matthew Green’s pick, 
Lurk, Electro-Shock (Pure Noise Records)

Pulling from a range of genres that don’t sound like they should blend, Lurk’s punchy, aggressive blend of punk, hardcore and powerpop had me hooked since they dropped their demo in 2017. The chorused guitars, relentless hooks and Jello Biafra-esque vocal vibrato make for an addictive sound that’s hard to ignore. They’ve since toured with bands across the subcultural spectrum (Devil’s Den, Modern Color, Hot Mulligan to name a few), and dropped two releases, including 2019’s Electro-Shock via Pure Noise Records. 

Their grab-bag stylistic diversity made it hard to expect what direction their development would take, and I was beyond pleased with what the new songs offered. Adding Devo-influenced choppy guitar riffs, upping the vocal harmonies and experimenting with new sounds made these tracks pop, and I can’t wait to hear what they come up with next.

Adam Yoe’s pick:
One Step Closer, From Me to You (Triple-B Records)

As Anxious I was making a decision of such Magnitude and, initially, having no Inclination as to what I was going to choose, one could easily Envision a battle for the AOTY top slot. Even Renè Descartes’ famous Method of Doubt wouldn’t help answer the ultimate Life’s Question… what was the raddest of twenty nineteen? If you’re looking to Antagonize, you could attempt to take this off my turntable, though it’d likely result in our Mutually Assured Destruction, a visit to the Hangman, or at the very least land me a Restraining Order.

As much as I’d like to keep you guessing, it’d be an Abuse of Power, journalistically speaking, were I not to tell you my favorite LP of the year. I’d call the members of the band myself and tell them, had I a Point of Contact or e-mail, but I’ll assume they’ll see this anyway. Triple B dropped this in January as if it fell from heaven, Knocked Loose from the Hands of God herself. Damn my recency bias, this is still the one. Guess I’m still supposed to tell you what my favorite record of 2019 is, seeing as year-end lists are a Dominant Force on Hardcore Twitter this time of year.

If you guessed this melodic hardcore masterpiece was from Wilkes-Barre upstarts, you’re One Step Closer to figuring it out. From Me to You is perfect, intense, and epic. Until next year, Seeyouspacecowboy(s). 

Ned Kelly’s pick:
Cunts, Cunts (Ipecac Records)

1. The Los Angeles-based band Cunts, formed in 2018 and consisting of members of Dead Cross, Retox, and Qui, among others, released their first album in November, 2019, on Ipecac Recordings. Which of the following blurbs about their recently released debut album will hype them into red hot stardom and guarantee them an appearance as guest judges on ABC television’s The Masked Singer next season?  

A.) Cunts’ self-titled debut album is a goddamned ferocious hairy beast of a record. It should come in a cage instead of a sleeve and be accompanied by professional wildlife handlers armed with tranquilizer guns and electric cattle prods just to keep its snapping jaws and slobbering tongue at bay whenever it gets hungry and starts to snarl and bark through your speakers like a pack of hounds racing around your turntable. Keep a copy as a pet at your own personal peril because all you’ll get out of the Cunts tamers after you’re found strewn across your kitchen floor, half-eaten and mangled and lying there on the linoleum, is one final “I told you so, asshole,” as both epitaph and obituary.

B.) Cunts’ debut album is witty, wicked, and mean. Angry and obscene. Defiant and bitter. Casually cruel. Unrepentant and uncouth. Chewed up and spit out and served up to the listening public in heaping scoops slopped onto a vinyl platter. Dig in motherfuckers.

C.) Cunts showcase the surging electro-emo sound that first made them Hot Topic heartthrobs on Cunts. Now, it is easy to be cruel about a band like Cunts but this record is a soul-destroyingly easy listen; by that I mean it fails to offend your ear on any level whilst maintaining the miraculous feat of not holding your curiosity for even a single minute of its running time.

ANSWER KEY: None of the above. If you’re really punk your answer sheet is still blank because you skipped class to go do dirt ball teenager stuff in your friend’s suburban basement while listening to Cunts debut album on repeat because it’s fucking sick dude. Incidentally, I stole answer C from a Panic! at the Disco review.  

Nikki Roberts' pick:
Time & Pressure, The Gateway City Sound (Safe Inside Records)

As a regular attendee at hardcore and metal shows across Chicago, I consider myself well-versed in Midwest hardcore releases, which is why I was embarrassed to admit I finally gave Time & Pressure’s The Gateway City Sound — an album from a St. Louis, MO band that was partly tracked and mastered at Bricktop Studios in Chicago — a thorough listen over two months after its July 2019 release.
 
The album’s opening track, “No. 75” comes to an end with the lines, “sometimes you need an empty sky // sometimes you need to see your heroes die.” This intro sets the entire album’s lyrical tone about watching those you love die — your heroes, your young friends, your problematic lovers and relationships and, most importantly, parts of yourself.
 
If you’re like me and feel more stressed than excited about catching up on all the music that fell just outside your listening radar in 2019, allow me to give you my highlights from The Gateway City Sound (although, with just 11 tracks that clock in under 20 minutes in total, you have no excuse to listen to this high-energy LP in its entirety.)
 
Favorite TGCS Songs:
“The Lost Boys” was the first song on TGCS that prompted me to immediately re-listen with the Bandcamp lyrics in front of me — an impressive indication of the strength of the album’s track list, considering it’s only the second song. A driving bass line prefaces the opening line — “an abundance of black clothing does not make you ready for a funeral” — which hit me like a punch in the stomach or a nail in a dear friend’s coffin. Each time I hear this song I think of my friends who are forever 17 or those who are still here but are mere shells of the people I once knew — “the lost boys never get to grow old.”
 
“Arrhythmia” & “Hiroshima Lovers”
If there’s anything better than a killer song that elicits a visceral sensation each time you hear it, it’s when a succession of songs perfectly pair together to create that response. This pair of tunes mirrors the cyclical nature of abusive relationships — irregular and unpredictable, like a romantic arrhythmia of the heart.
 
My favorite part of these two tracks is the way they directly acknowledge each other. The lines “so let’s cut this off before the next song starts // But these words I say are the words I say // when I just can’t find the words to say // “Leave me alone. Let me go.” in “Arrhythmia” are suggestive of someone attempting to cut off an abusive relationship, wanting nothing more than to be left alone, only to find themselves back in the relationship a short time later.
 
If “Arrhythmia” is only a temporary break up, then “Hiroshima Lovers” is the explosive, final end to this “beautiful tragedy” of a relationship. The song begins with the speaker saying, “I thought I’d closed // the book on you so many years ago” before he details the way the two took joy in tearing each other down. The most haunting lines, in my opinion, are “No one will ever love me like you did // I hope no one ever loves me like you did.”
 
“Love + Trash”          
In contrast to the previous tracks which are essentially good riddance tracks disguised as love songs, “Love + Trash” is a self-depreciating song where the speaker blames themselves for entering and staying in a dead-end relationship. Ceaseless drums paired with vocals laced with ample amounts of self-loathing tell the story of how one relationship threw away parts of the speaker that he will never get back, and how he blames himself for putting himself in that situation he felt he should’ve known to avoid.
 
This is my favorite song lyrically on TGCS for many reasons. The literary nerd in me fawns over the parallelism between “You’ve got a habit of kissing empty bottles // searching for love down at the bottom // you know it’s not hiding below the swill // but that never stopped you from trying” and “I’ve got a habit of kissing empty people // searching for love in the back of their mouths // I know it’s not waiting for me back there // But that’s never stopped me from trying”
 
Because I am so fond of this song’s lyrics, I struggle to highlight just one line or verse when I feel I could ramble about the great metaphors embedded in these lyrics all day. However, I believe the last lines of the song summarize its theme best: “I’ll still remember the smell of the trash // When I hated myself enough to keep loving you.”

I realize it may be a bit overbearing to highlight four tracks on an 11-song record, but if anything, my refusal to pick just one favorite song is a testament to the impact TGCS had on me. I also believe we find a piece of music when we need it most, and because of that I am unable to separate my own emotions and experiences from music. These lyrical interpretations are strictly my own, but they are a large part of why I chose this as my AOTY. 

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