Shanghai’s Spill Your Guts are the kind of band that pretty much everyone needs in their lives. Though nominally a hardcore band, their style of music takes in much more than that descriptor suggests, with previous releases Full Blastand Slip and Fallincluding plenty of elements taken from black metal, crossover, and full-on thrash metal. Theirs is an energetic, invigorating sound that is all but guaranteed to brighten your day and add a burst of energy. Full length Hungry Crows builds on what has gone before, pushing the energy levels even higher, and is the best thing the band have done so far.
Hardcore four-piece World Negation hail from Germany – not that you’d initially guess that from their music. The four tracks on new 7″ Born Broken are steeped in New York hardcore, filled with down-tuned guitars, heavy as fuck riffs, and an air of violence and self-confidence. Even though it draws clear influence from the classics of the genre – with Madball in particular being an obvious comparison – there’s a swagger and assured nature to Born Broken that helps it stand apart.
Though there are still those who will dismiss the genre as being conservative and regressive (musically, at least), hardcore is a broad church, with a great variety of sounds and styles to be found. Indian bands Shepherd and Death By Fungi are excellent examples of this, not just because their sounds avoid typical hardcore cliches and take in a wide range of influences, but also because both bands are, quite simply, really good. This split showcases the two delightfully heavy bands, and is a highly recommended half hour of bruising yet intelligent hardcore.
Excitation Thresholds is not an easy listen. The debut album from London band Yards is an unsettling, anxious slice of modern hardcore, conjuring that same sense of restless doubt as Converge did with You Fail Me. This is not an album that is concerned with making the listener comfortable, or even on providing an inherently enjoyable time, but instead on providing a sonic journey of hurt and pain. Yet as difficult a listen it can be, Excitation Thresholds has a certain charm to it, and an almost primal sense of catharsis offered within its ten tracks.
It’s easy to take for granted the emotional and physical catharsis that a good hardcore record can bring about. After all, it’s over fifteen years since Jane Doe sent seismic shocks through the hardcore scene, and bands are still taking plenty of leads from that mighty album. Sometimes though, a record comes out from the underground that hits you right there, taking you by surprise with its strength and honesty. Your Mess As Much As Mine by Swedish trio Oak has done just that, and whilst there’s no ignoring the influence of bands like Botch and Converge on their sound, there’s enough nuance and more than enough sincerity here for Oak to have an identity all of their own.
Identity Shapes may only be 22 minutes long, but the feelings of filth and dirt it inspires last long after the record has finished playing. The debut EP from Deadwound is a mix of sludge and belligerent Cursed-esque hardcore, delivered in an almost painfully physical way. The largely mid-tempo stomp of the band is weighty and powerful, with moments of faster post-Converge violence interspersed to ensure that the record is never one-dimensional, even if it does deal solely in different shades of black.
2016 has been the year that saw me listen to, and review, more music than ever before. For every release that gets reviewed, there’s several that I don’t have the time to write something on; or that I listen to, but simply don’t get excited over. It’s also worth bearing in mind the purposes of this blog – exploring the underground. With the odd exception (such as the new Darkthrone), I have no interest in writing in the “big” releases; I want to help give some exposure and coverage to the small and underground, not go chasing whatever review or feature will get me the most hits. I’d also point out that it’s easy to lose sense of what actually is mainstream and underground when you spend so much time immersed in music. Sure, everyone may have access to Bandcamp and Youtube and a legion of Spotify recommendations, but it’s easy to overestimate just how big our favourite bands are.
That said, there’s still some mainstream releases I’ve really enjoyed this year and want to share some thoughts on in another post. But here, I want to take the time to give shout-outs to those more underground releases which didn’t quite make the cut for my list of 25 favourites of the year.