Best Hardcore Records of 2021: No Echo Contributor Picks

The Chisel (Photo: Anna Swiechowska)

It's that time of season when music websites start posting their year-end lists, and No Echo is no different. I say it all the time, but without the help of so many great contributors, this site wouldn't be as strong as it is.

With that in mind, here is our Best Hardcore Records of 2021 list as chosen by No Echo's (excellent) contributors. 

(For the curious, here is last year's list)

Adam Yoe's pick:
One Step Closer, This Place You Know (Run for Cover Records)

In keeping with my relatively bold September declaration, I’m doubling down on my favorite record of 2021. One Step Closer had this same distinct honor two years back with their fully formed and impossibly perfect From Me to You

The Wilkes-Barre melodic hardcore band had it stacked against them, dropping their Run for Cover rookie record in the same calendar year as Turnstile’s GLOW ON and their stunningly incorrect allegiance in the Wawa vs. Sheetz conversation. As the aforementioned records have continued to duke it out for permanent turntable supremacy round these parts, I keep returning to one place… this place. 

From the moment I heard the hardcore masterwork “Lead to Grey” on One Step Closer's 2020 promo, I was left frothing impatiently for a relative eternity. This magnifies every superlative you’ve heard lobbed at the band and only adds more stunning songs to that collection, even tacking on more expressive and exploratory tracks like “Hereafter," which features gorgeous and lush tones. 

As a side note, I wanted to express how important it is to me to be a part of No Echo. To sit alongside some of my favorite writers, photographers, musicians, and artists is incredibly important. Thanks to everyone at No Echo and everyone that makes music. See you next year. 

Mick Reed's pick:
Anti-Machine, Anti-Machine (Toxic State Records)

Quite a few high-gloss and high-minded hardcore records dropped in 2021. However, there is a limit to how stimulated you can get off of others' ambition. Anti-Machine's self-titled EP is not a concept album, nor does it sound like it took longer to record than a single shit-faced afternoon. This is what we call a pallet cleanser, folks!

Led by Walker Behl and the viscose, vomit-like grain of his voice, Anti-Machine will swim down your throat like a fishing lure attached to a reel of razorwire, tearing you up the whole way like a pickup truck on a dirt road after a rain. The Brooklyn band's EP is a simple, sharp-edged little binge that will remind you why you got into hardcore in the first place. 

Ryan O'Connor's pick:
Section H8, Welcome to the Nightmare (Flatspot Records)

Somebody once said hardcore is all about taking everything in your life to the next level of aggression and Section H8’s Welcome to the Nightmare has done just that. This could be the soundtrack for a society on the brink of collapse, which if you take a look around isn’t too far off.

Destined for whirlwind circle pits that spin through the nine circles of damnation. Uniquely intoxicating breakdowns and coked up aggression spell the sounds of the apocalypse that the LA band blasts out in 25 minutes or less. Get ready for World War III in the pit.

Anthony Pappalardo's pick:
Illterates, Illiterates (Kill Enemy Records)

The Illiterates call themselves the "dumbest band in hardcore" and maybe they are. I dunno. I guess I should pay attention to their lyrics but since I first jammed this LP in the Spring, I've only thought about how much they rip.

I guess this is where I tell you what they sound like and that would be early Youth of Today influenced by Negative Approach if they lived in Pittsburgh, PA in 2021 and hated Boomers.. and were more mangled. Maybe State too. Who cares? Wait. Youth of Today were influenced by NA, yeah, I know but didn't I explain the difference?

Jesus Christ, why do I write these things?

Tom Morgan's pick:
Drip-Fed, Kill the Buzz (Head2Wall Records)

I’ve loved a ton of hardcore albums this year, some traditional (DARE, Man Dead Set, One Step Closer) and some more off-kilter (Hologram, Drip-Fed, Thirdface), but Kill the Buzz by Austin’s Drip-Fed has been the one I’ve taken to the most. It’s a tricky album to describe—the best comparison would be to say that it shares something of Drug Church’s smart lyricism and deconstructive songwriting.

The highest compliment I can give it is that I’ve listened to the album a lot since its release last March and I’m still discovering new things in it. These 13 tracks are all thrilling, eccentric and brilliantly-produced, and makes me seriously excited for where this relatively young band will go next.

Mike Musilli's pick:
Stand Still, A Practice in Patience (New Morality Zine/DAZE)

Stand Still’s A Practice in Patience is far and away my favorite release of the year. The band received much positive feedback on the EP, rife with references to Long Island hardcore bands of yore and true pedigreed emo. All of that’s fine and true. But A Practice in Patience is also a remarkably modern and mature set of songs, especially given this is Stand Still’s first release.

The layered musical melodies, the vocal patterns, and the lyrical content are thoughtful and infectious. With songs like “The Cave,” a seemingly direct reference to Plato’s famous allegory, and “Id,” a similarly clear allusion to Freudian psychology, Stand Still also offer a wonderful intellectuality to their songs. The only downside to A Practice in Patience is that five songs is not nearly enough from Stand Still.

Abbie Bateman's pick:
Intercourse, Rule 36 (Illuminate My Heart Records)

Intercourse came to me like an undertow. I wasn’t expecting it, and was swept away. When I listen to the band’s incredible 2021 release, Rule 36, I often wonder why we don’t worship these men as gods.  

True to form for the gang, every song on the album will absolutely scathe and delight you. The best writer I have ever come across, Tarek Ahemd (vocals), blesses the listeners with brilliant take after brilliant take. Writing about them, the best induction I’ve come across for severe imposter syndrome. 

If you like targeted, smart, sardonic shit, Rule 36 is for you. 

Lex Voight's pick:
Trophy Scars, Astral Pariah (Gruesome Twosome Records)

From the outset, Astral Pariah set themselves apart in the early '00’ emo-core/screamo crop, incorporating all sorts of odd influences on even their debut record, Darts to the Sea, acting as a sort of proto-La Dispute. But it wasn’t until 2009’s Bad Luck that the rails really came off the coaster. 

With their next three releases—Darkness Oh Hell, Never Born Never Died, and Holy Vacants, Trophy Scars created some of the most compelling and most unique takes on post hardcore--incorporating everything from blues, to vaudeville, to spazz, to you name a combination of the Dear Hunter and The Blood Brothers. When they announced their break up I was truly disappointed, because what they did sounded as if it came like dreamlike echoes from another dimension.

Therefore my excitement was at its absolute ultimate upon hearing whispers of not only a reunion, but of new music. Astral pariah is everything that I could have hoped for and more. It’s a cavalcade of noise, of bright otherworldy sounds, of strange melodies pulled from the aether through a two-wave radio. It makes the universe feel open and rich and wide and full of stories and planes as yet undiscovered. 

Todd Manning's pick:
Militarie Gun, All Roads Lead to Gun Parts 1 & 2 (Convulse Records, Alternatives Label)


Best known for his work on the power violence juggernaut Regional Justice Center, Ian Shelton graced us with two EPs from his new melodic hardcore unit, Militarie Gun. I am going to cheat and treat them as one full-length so I can sneak them both on to this list.

Ever wonder one what it would sound like if Ian Mackaye fronted Jawbreaker? Probably not but maybe we should. All Roads Lead to Gun parts 1 & 2 are abrasive and poppy all at the same time and chock full of great melodies. This is powerful stuff and for me, these both stayed in constant rotation.

Darren Nanos' pick:
Final Gasp, Haunting Whisper (Triple B Records)

Some may say “it’s a bit on the nose” (London May, for one), but if you ask me Final Gasp is filling a void that has been vacant since 1987. That door closed long before many modern day hardcore kids were ever even born, so I welcome it with blood-covered arms!

In the summer of 2021, Triple B delivered unto us the stellar follow up to their already stellar demo - the 5-song 12-inch EP, Haunting Whisper. It’s more tracks of fiendish fury so fantastic you can almost smell autumn in the air on every listen. Flick the lights off and set the jack-o-lantern’s candle ablaze.

There are obvious nods to their predecessors, be it tonally, in the mix, or in the songwriting (for example, you may hear “Misery Tomb” howls mashed over the primal beat of “Unholy Passion” in the album’s title track), but Final Gasp have a way of making it the sound their own. Lead vocalist Jake Murphy finds his way from crooning to growling across the whole album, setting his vocals in that familiar range to good ol’ Uncle Glenn. Add in the last ingredient of gothy syths for the full effect and you’ve got yourself a perfect recording. 

So say what you will, but from where I stand we’ve got countless UK82 cosplayers, plenty of Big 4 bores, and swarms upon swarms of YoT/BOLD wannabes then we can shake many, many sticks at—I’ll take what Final Gasp is doing over all of them any day!

Billie Page's pick:
Thought Control, Shock to the System (Not for the Weak Records/New Morality Zine)

Thought Control's Shock to the System EP was released digitally towards the end of 2020 but the 7-inch came out in 2021 so I think it qualifies as a 2021 release. It is one of my favorite hardcore releases either way. Very catchy and aggressive fast hardcore.

These songs are ear worms that will stay stuck in your head. It’s not often that I hear band for the first time online and buy a t-shirt right away but I did for this New Jersey outfit. Everything about Thought Control is on point. If you haven’t heard them yet do yourself a favor and absolutely check them out.

Gabe La Torre's pick:
C4, Chaos Streaks (Triple B Records)

Combining the speed of early '80s hardcore, with the hard grooves that hit the scene later in that decade, plus a cheeky lyrical approach that is very much unique to them, C4 is uncontested for the most fun hardcore record of the year. And if we’re not having fun then what are we even doing here?

Because while we could always look to a more serious approach when dealing with life’s frustrations, who among us hasn’t wanted to tell their landlord “if you want the monthly rent you can lick my balls”?

The banger on this record, however, is definitely “Health Freak Head Stomp," a joyous ode to overindulgence in greasy foods complete with an appropriately head stomping mosh part. Even a vegan such as myself can’t deny it.

Connor Fitzpatrick's pick:
Wanderer, Liberation From a Brutalist Existence (Entelodon Records/Bad Mouth Records) 

The debut LP from these Minneaplois D-beaters was a mainstay for me in 2021. Wanderer play a spastic brand of hardcore that is dripping in sludge, perfect for bridging the gap between punks and metalheads. One moment, they’re hammering out rapid fire riffs, the next they’re stomping through fetid dirges. It’s foul, evil, and filled with joy. I can’t wait to see what they do next.

P.S. Who doesn’t like a band that sells their own spice blend

Andrew Orlando's pick:
Enforced, Kill Grid (Century Media Records)

I loved Enforced's debut At the Walls release on WAR Records, so I was getting really pumped this year about this release. Even though it’s technically a metal record through and through, Enforced come from the deep-rooted DIY scene of Richmond, Virginia where labels don't matter, and it just has to rip.

The cornerstone of any great thrash, crossover, death metal record is the dual guitar attack, and here they have the perfect blend of distortion and clarity. One thing I noticed right away is that the influences lean more towards classic thrash and death metal and slightly away from hardcore and crossover (think Slayer Reign In Blood meets Death Spiritual Healing).

Thomas Vanderpol's pick:
Overexposure, California '98 (War Against Records)

So it should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that this is my album of the year. Not long after it came out, I did a full review of the record here on No Echo and although a lot of great records came out this year, there were none that really scratched me where I itched like Overexposure's California '98. Maybe it's because I'm from Northern California where Bay Area hardcore has cast a long and historical shadow.

Maybe it's because the Nerve Agents have been one of my favorites once I found a band that topped AFI in an arena all their own.

I think it mostly has to do with the fact that a sound such as this is so heralded, but has not found such a worthy predecessor until Overexposure dropped this carefully crafted masterpiece. Often imitated, but never duplicated...until now. If you find yourself with an east bay hardcore shaped hole in your life, I highly recommend you fill it with Overexposure's California '98.

Vince Guglielmi's pick:
Ekulu, Unscrew My Head (Cash Only Records)

In 2021, Ekulu released the Cro-Mags record we all wish came out in 1987. Unscrew My Head is a perfect mix between the punk energy of The Age of Quarrel and the thrashy riffing of Best Wishes. I love this record so much that I'm not only picking it to be my top album for the year, I'm also taking it over any Cro-Mags record post AoQ.

Freddy Alva's pick:
The Chisel, Retaliation (La Vida Es Un Mus)

The explosive summer of 1982 in the UK has reverberated musically throughout the decades and two seemingly polar opposites from that period: the politically charged anarcho punk sound, along with the working-class protest Oi! movement, have found a worthy heir in The Chisel’s astounding debut LP, Retaliation.

Not to say this an exercise in retro posturing but a rare example of the end result matching and exceeding its influences with an urgent vibe that reflects the here and now. This is hands down the best punk/hardcore/Oi! album I’ve heard in decades, the ungovernable force of voice of a generation will not be denied, shit life syndrome be damned. 

Vince Callum's pick:
Violent Spirit, Fire (Young Guns 2 Records/Rebirth Records/Vinyl Conflict Records)

Previously featured in an International Hardcore Bands You Need to Know About feature on No Echo, Finland's Violent Spirit features dudes who have also been in Foreseen and Hard Action. The material on their Fire EP is like some kind of twisted hybrid of Death Side meets Angel Witch, and I'm here for it!

If you love tasty twin-guitar parts over roaring hardcore punk, Violent Spirit will scratch that itch. I hope these guys release something new in 2022 because an EP just seemed like a tease to me. 

Dan Volohov's pick:
Takafumi Matsubara, Mortalized (Poison EP) (Roman Numeral Records)

For the former Gridlink guitarist, the release of Mortalized (Poison EP) became a sort of “executive summary” of his career. Bringing various artists, Takafumi Matsubara has been working with over the years, he faced with a certain challenge—how to reach contiguity having all these various collaborators on board ?

From the former Gridlink colleague, Jon Chang to the members of Mortalized, Warmrot and SWARRRM. The effect is pretty much possessing you. With the technicality of Marsubara’s guitar-chords and bridges, and the overall feel. While Discordance Axis had bucked the edge of genre limit, it seems like Takafumi Matsubara is the one who’d push it even further.

Thomas Vixxer's pick:
Slant, 1집 (Iron Lung Records)

Although I wanted to choose a VAHC or NCHC band to rep my set, my heart is with Slant's 1집. The South Korean band packs everything I’m looking for in a hardcore record and more.

Honorable mention: Fading Signal's Long Ago and Far Away. That intro sends me into a whirlwind of heck.

Ned Kelly's pick:
The Armed, Ultrapop (Sargent House)

There are moments on The Armed's Ultrapop that summon up from within me waves of joy that very reliably send me stomping around the room and singing along with my heart in my throat and a smile on my face. Listen to ‘Bad Selector’ and you will encounter one of them at the 3-minute mark. Don’t skip to it. Listen. Unless you are a robot you will know exactly what I’m talking about when it happens.

Ultrapop is a masterpiece with deep roots in hardcore. It shows that hardcore is the outcast-iconoclast defying or subverting all musical tradition we’ve always hoped for. Hardcore came from us and it can go with us to new and strange places too when bands as brilliant as The Armed are around to take it there by putting out an album that is so good it’s almost disorienting and bewildering until you know its twists and turns. Listen up and tag along.

Allix Johnson's pick:
At the Heart of the World, Sorrow Uncoils (Glory Kid)

They really don't get the attention I think they deserve. What seems like Covid lockdown demos, This sounds like a good introduction to their catalog to branch out. An offshoot of Baltimore-based hardcore band Ruiner—and in keeping with the Nine Inch Nails theme—bleep bloop synths made vicious and aggressive, then suddenly... almost dance pop?

Do you think existence is terribly mundane and torturous? Are you merely just biding your time til the sun explodes? Then you're in luck. The machines are taking over. For fans of the color green.

Ben Manzella's pick:
Filth Is Eternal, Love Is a Lie, Filth Is Eternal (Quiet Panic/Church Road Records)

My listening habits have been scattered all year, but the power of Love Is a Lie, Filth Is Eternal can't be stopped. With most of the record tearing into your ears at slightly under or over a minute, the intensity is an equal showing of control and chaos. I particularly favor the two-punch combo that ends the record with tracks "Pearl Slug" and "Filth is Eternal."

I enjoyed seeing them play with Dust Moth and These Arms Are Snakes in August, and I highly recommend you see them live when possible. I want to make sure also to mention Fragments of a Bitter Memory by Dying Wish and Distant Fires by Heiress. Be on the lookout for Si Dios Quiere in 2022. 

Cat Dempsey's pick:
Gel, Violent Closure (Atomic Action! Records)

Gel kicks ass for a lot of reasons, but maybe the most impressive thing about them is how they manage to put out records that are destined to be heard on repeat. 

Violent Closure is an 11-minute EP overflowing with outstanding instrumentals and vocal deliveries that will leave you feeling haunted by its sheer aggressive nature, but it lacks the tough guy bro approach. In that vein, Gel have successfully made “hardcore for the freaks.”

It’s everything one would want out of a record of this genre with a distinct modern twist, allowing room to breathe in an environment that plays heavily on the old relics of hardcore. 

Gel have a split with Cold Brats on the horizon due to be released in the first half of 2022. The band is currently writing material for an upcoming LP.

James Mudrak's pick:
Sunami/Gulch, Split EP (Triple B Records)

With a golden year of releases, it was hard to just pick one to crown my favorite but this one really hits the spot during each playback. 

Both bands juxtapose one another through their vocal styles and crashing instrumentation. The first half of the EP belonging to Sunami displays their signature sound of string-crunching riffs and heavy-hitting drum notes resembling rounds bursting from the barrel of an AK-47. 

The second half obviously belonging to the infamous Gulch who unprecedently recently announced their split—no pun intended. Opening with the screams of banshee vocalist Elliot Morrow accompanied by a bone-twisting guitar, the lyrical imagery this band paints is unlike any other and is showcased expertly.

This EP represents what hardcore punk is and always will be, to push the boundary further within limited time. 

Owen Morawitz
Toy, QP9 (Last Ride Records)

Brisbane/Sunshine Coast outfit Toy capped off a big 2021 with their debut 7-inch for Newcastle's Last Ride Records. QP9 is 14-minutes of pure, white-knuckled hardcore punk fury, coming about as close as one can get to an authentic fight or flight response. Incendiary opener "Torched" sounds like mainlining adrenaline, with cracking snare hits, rabid vocals and jagged riffage flooding through the listener's bloodstream.

The stomping “Botched” feels like willfully stepping on a landmine and the mid-section of closer “Nothing Left 2 Lose” is a pitch-perfect exercise in involuntary head-banging, with lyrical barbs radical enough to push even the timidest fan into the brick-throwing domain of full-blown social anarchy.

Ben Stuckey's pick:
The Chisel, Retaliation (La Vida Es Un Mus)

While not what one typically thinks of when they hear the term hardcore this record pulls from a number of punk subgenres like Oi!, anarcho, UK82, and of course hardcore. Despite having 14 songs this record flies right by in a blur of aggression and vigor. This record shines with its slower anthemic tracks like "Retaliation," "Not the Only One," and "What Was Mine" which I’m sure will inspire big mob sing-alongs.  

Lyrically, The Chisel bounce back and forth from politically charged condemnations of government, police, and media to just straight forward aggro fight songs. Retaliation is an LP that’s full of hooks and is the incredible type of record that has at least one line from each song you just find yourself repeating like a mantra over and over and over again. 

Howie Abrams' pick:
Turnstile, GLOW ON (Roadrunner Records)

I’ve always loved divisive bands and their divisive albums. But who’d a thunk Turnstile and their latest long-player, GLOW ON, would come to fall under those banners? The album has had the hardcore keyboard warriors losing their shit since its release, and I’ve been enjoying every minute of it, although, I’ve enjoyed GLOW ON a whole lot more.

The record features as much substance as it does style. Tunes + groove + melody + crunch + energy = GLOW ON. Many musical chances are taken, and when all is said and done, it's a beautifully adventurous take on an oft too stringent genre. 

Benj Gleeksman's pick:
Ekulu, Unscrew My Head (Cash Only Records)

New York’s Ekulu firmly plant themselves in the “new” version of metallic hardcore, which actually has way more in common with 1986 than 2021. Equal parts Cro-Mags and Suicidal Tendencies, Unscrew My Head is a rocking, mid-tempo crossover rager that unapologetically launches into as many guitar solos as it does breakdowns.

The internets have been anticipating this release for quite awhile, since Ekulu made some pre-COVID buzz via 2018’s self-titled demo, and with a spring tour coming in 2022, I’m excited to see what little is left standing in their path of destruction. “You should check out this band Ekulu,” my wife’s cousin texted me last month. “Already there, dude. On repeat all week.”

Jeremy Holehan's pick
Gates to Hell, Death Display (Self-Released)

Gates to Hell had two releases this year, but this one was my favorite. Featuring members of Transgression, Wicked Garden, Constraint, and Xerxes, this 2-song EP was recorded by Isaac Hale of Knocked Loose and Inclination fame, while Trae Roberts (Mouth for War, Bruise) mixed the sessions.

Death Display has a lot of great people all working together to create what I believe was one of the best hardcore releases of 2021. Gates to Hell been touring a lot recently so keep an eye out for them in your city. Enjoy!

Matthew Green's pick:
The Chisel, Retaliation (La Vida Es Un Mus)

The UK has given us a veritable bottomless pit of cool punk and hardcore over the last decade, and 2021 was no exception. I was sure I had my “year end” lists settled, but to no surprise of my own, The Chisel’s new LP, Retaliation, bumped everything else within a day of listening.

The UK group displays an even array of the hardcore punk we’ve been hearing from that area for the last several years (Violent Reaction, The Flex, Arms Race etc) and hard Oi! a la The Business, 4Skins, The Oppressed etc. Their debut LP  bounces seamlessly between fast, no nonsense hardcore punk and anthemic, impenitent street rock, tied together by their vocalist’s undeniably British bark.

The lyric sheet reads like a list of threats, though they’re probably promises. Hard stuff. I’m sure this is a record we’ll be talking about for a while.

Tagged: anti-machine, c4, drip-fed, ekulu, enforced, filth is eternal, gel, intercourse, militarie gun, overexposure, scowl, section h8, slant, stand still, takafumi matsubara, the armed, the chisel, thought control, trophy scars, violent spirit, wanderer