Let’s talk for a minute about this idea: Hardcore in 2010, in a lot of ways, has become the white suburban skate rat’s version of the blues. The parallels are there if you look for them. And this year has afforded all kinds of opportunities to contemplate the genre again, as its just had one of its most fertile periods–with new records from OFF!, Trash Talk, and more–in a long, long time. Both hardcore and the blues are intense, direct, basic forms, both created by people who didn’t have a whole lot else going on in their lives. You can recognize either one from a mile away, and hardcore’s hyperspeed two-chord blare is as durable and distinct, in its way, as the 12-bar chord pattern. Within hardcore, plenty of bands– Converge, say– do Stonesy/Hendrixy things with the genre, pushing it in all sorts of directions. And actually, those restless experimenters were there from the beginning; think Bad Brains or Big Boys or X. But hardcore doesn’t rely on that sort of experimentation. Hardcore records aren’t typically judged on how far they push the genre forward; they’re judged on how completely they inhabit the form. If a hardcore band can hammer their style hard enough, if they can play with fury and urgency and a vague sense of danger, then they’re a good hardcore band.
Trash Talk, for instance, is a good hardcore band; they do old things insanely well. At this year’s SXSW, they were one of the best things I saw, a distinction they won simply by virtue of being terrifying. Whipping their tiny crowd into a stagediving fury, climbing and somersaulting off perilous piles of speakers, staring down every last person in the audience– it’s all stuff I’ve seen other bands do, but it’s just immensely gratifying to know that a young band can still pull this off. Watching them, I felt the same way certain Rolling Stone editors must’ve felt the first time they saw the White Stripes: The old forms are still alive! And still vital! This year, the band released the 18-minute album Eyes & Nines, driving the point home even further. A feedback-drenched lightspeed wallow in hatred recorded with all the fidelity of a microcassette recorder in a concrete parking garage, Eyes & Nines was total pastiche that kicked harder than any groundbreaking experiment might.
To stretch that whole blues analogy even further, think of former Black Flag/Circle Jerks frontman Keith Morris as, say, a Muddy Waters figure for hardcore–a grizzled old originator whose very name bespeaks credibility. With his new band OFF!, Morris enters his Electric Mud period, finding a new visibility just by cranking through the oldies with veteran panache on OFF!’s debut album, The First Four EPs. Except unlike Muddy Waters, Morris has no interest in adapting his attack to reflect anything that’s going on in music right now. Rather, it’s a seriously retrograde old-school pummel. The rest of the band’s rudimentary assault is pretty anonymous, and not necessarily in a bad way. Morris’ voice, meanwhile, has changed almost alarmingly little in the past 30 years or so. The album rockets by–this is another 18-minute album–and good luck remembering a single note of any of the tracks after it’s over. The whole record sounds like something Morris could’ve recorded at literally any point in the past 30 years, and it brings absolutely nothing new to the table. It’s perfectly acceptable old-school hardcore, done without the glowering verve that Trash Talk brought, but done satisfyingly well nonetheless.
Plenty of the year’s big hardcore stories, indeed, came from the old-timers. Ancient bands continue to reunite at an almost alarming clip, and sometimes that’s great news. Nobody expected Baltimore skree OGs Universal Order of Armageddon to reassemble for a few dates, but I heard great things about those shows. And returning Cleveland metalcore legends Integrity came hard with The Blackest Curse, an album with so much pointedly feral aggression that it basically turned into black metal.
But bands continue to toy with the formula, and sometimes that can lead to great things. We got no new Fucked Up album this year, for instance, but the Toronto band did come back with “Year of the Ox”, a 13-minute odyssey with more stylistic switch-ups than most hardcore albums, a prominent appearance from bazooka-voiced goth queen Zola Jesus, and a goddam string section. It’s the latest in a series of marathon 12″ singles that the band releases every year, but the existence of its precedents didn’t make the thing any less shattering. In blues terms, this was an extended Jimmy Page live solo. And just like those old Page solos, it slayed.