Is it hardcore? Is it metal? This is the new wave of violence

There's a new brand of heaviness happening in the United States, taking elements of hardcore, metal, thrash, grind and more to the extreme. But what is it all about?

Is it hardcore? Is it metal? This is the new wave of violence
Wristmeetrazor Live Photo:
Errick Easterday
Candy Live Photo:
Nat Wood

Something big is happening in America. It’s been happening for years, bubbling below the ground, growing and swelling like a balloon, slowly edging its way to surface. You can hear it, but you can’t define it. It’s both hardcore and metal, yet also neither, like Schrödinger’s subgenre. It’s more of a feeling, a primal urge that flows through you, exploiting your inherent lust for aggression and catharsis. It’s a movement; it’s the new wave of violence.

The wave is growing all the time, its crest edging further toward the clouds, pulling in more and more bands from the murky depths. They don’t sound exactly alike, yet they form one cohesive whole, pushing the boundaries of what it means to be heavy. Gulch play bloodthirsty grunting hardcore, Year Of The Knife add death metal inflections to their ’core sound, Drain are purveyors of beatdowns with crossover thrash, Wristmeetrazor channel ’90s screamo, Candy pride themselves on getting from A to B in as fast and brutal way as possible… and on it goes with Jesus Piece, Inclination, Left Behind, SeeYouSpaceCowboy, Mindforce and more all pulling in different, innovative directions. Yet, they all represent the same thing: a sea change. A community tired of living life on a hamster wheel, intent on making something original.

“Even though we all sound different and the exact kind of genres don’t overlap very much, I think there’s a common theme in that it’s all emotionally heavy and driven,” Wristmeetrazor’s bassist/vocalist Justin Fornof tells us today. “I can’t speak for other bands, but we didn’t go out trying to create a new sound, we went out to create what we wanted, and it naturally progressed from there.”

“It’s really awesome to be a part of,” adds Drain’s super-positive vocalist Sam Ciaramitaro. “We’ve not been playing for a long time compared to other bands, but it’s cool to see people that we met four years ago all playing big festivals together. It feels like it’s our time, it’s really awesome.”

Festivals like Philadelphia’s This Is Hardcore and Los Angeles’ Sound And Fury have grown rapidly to become the place to go for the newest, best heavy sounds, uniting bands and fans from all over the world. But if it’s not the same sound that’s bringing everyone together, what is it?

“It’s hard to pinpoint, it’s like a camaraderie, it’s like The Losers Club or something, but in the best way,” smiles Sam. “All of us are outcasts in some way or another: no-one super-cool with no real issues is playing hardcore, everyone has some kind of history, and this is a release and escape for everybody. We all found one thing that brings us all together and it’s really cool.”

Justin, however, sees it differently, musing on the evolution of music fans as a whole.

“Kids listening to music now, as opposed to kids listening to music maybe 15-20 years ago, is very different,” he begins. “They don’t necessarily listen to stuff that all sounds the same, they won’t listen to a band of one genre and one genre only, like that’s their only thing. What makes [this wave] gel together, and maybe be someone’s playlist, is the visceral nature of it. To a lesser degree, I think people who don’t [categorise] their music would just look at music that has this violent attack and associate it together. It’s one emotion you can work with.”

Indeed, mood playlists have become big business for companies like Spotify, so this new wave of violence could be symptomatic of an evolution in listening habits. And in a post-Code Orange world, the boundaries of hardcore and metal have been pushed to their limits, with everything beefier and bloodier than before. It’s music with an element of danger and fear, a sense of unpredictability that can’t be faked. But where has this hunger for abrasion and punishment come from?

“I think it’s something that kids have been missing out on,” says Justin. “I don’t mean to disparage some of the more recent trends in metal and deathcore – stuff that has more of a processed thing where all the records look similar, have similar tracklisting, similar riffs – but I think to some people that would probably be off-putting. You listen to something like that, and it’s a safe thing, but people don’t want to hear safe anymore; I wanna hear something that’s so off-the-wall that people don’t understand it unless they really get it.”

Musical innovation aside, there might be a deeper, psychological answer to the rock and metal community’s craving to have their skull caved in, as Candy guitarist Michael Quick posits.

“An obvious and maybe over-the-top ideological answer, which might be kind of bullshit, is that the climate of the world is fucking insane right now, and more people are down to be into aggressive music than they have been for a long time,” he says, joining Kerrang! over Zoom with vocalist Zak Quiram.

Michael continues, “When we went on tour with Ghostemane in The States, kids who were not into hardcore – who were into crazy, weird, goth-rap music – and had never heard of us, definitely responded well to that kind of thing. They were kids, the average age of 16, and responded without having any preconceived notion of what hardcore is, so maybe that’s what it is – the climate is so fucked up that people want some creative outlet for that fucked-up energy.”

But there is more to this wave than beatdowns and screaming at the sky. These bands have something to say: be it deeply personal or overtly political. Drain’s latest record California Cursed aims its crosshairs firmly on Sam’s home state, while bands like Candy use their platform to speak truth to power at every turn.

“I feel like our duty is to touch upon this stuff,” says Michael, chatting ahead of the recent U.S. election. “It needs to be confrontational to the mainstream, not just mainstream art, but mainstream political views, which clearly in [the U.S and UK] are getting assholes elected. We have some kind of a platform, so we need to say something about that.”

As Zak notes, when Candy formed as a band, the idea of Donald Trump as President of the United States was becoming more and more likely, which casts a long shadow over the band’s lyrics and core message.

“It felt like we were entering a dangerous place for our country to be in, and it’s super-upsetting to see every day. For us to sit there and not do anything about it feels morally wrong, and that is something that we want to make apparent. We like to tell other people how we feel in the hope that it changes the next person and the next person – it starts with a small community, but hopefully it grows outside of that.”

“I never wanted to write something that I didn’t relate to myself,” says Sam, who despite being in bands for years, has only sung for Drain. “It’s a personal thing and I do take time to write about how I feel and what I think about. A lot of songs are like if I had a diary and took a page out; it’s what I’m going through, what I’ve been through. I don’t want to sound cheesy, but it’s a coping mechanism. Even now, every time I write a new song, I’m so nervous about trying to do vocals at practice because I’m saying things I think and feel out loud that I never have before.”

With a positive, affirmative action message at its core, this new wave is redefining heaviness, but where are its followers coming from? This scene is no way localised, with new bands popping up across the States, and there are no clear genre lines outside of the ever-growing umbrella of hardcore. But fans and bands can meld through the one thing they all share – an internet connection.

YouTuber and live music archivist hate5six has become the focal point for this new uprising of heavy music. Thousands and thousands of sets have been uploaded to the channel over the years, including many from the bands mentioned here, as well as Kerrang! cover stars Turnstile and Knocked Loose.

When Sam gets together with his friends, he says they often do so to watch shows on the east coast to see how the scenes are different and “what bands really pop off over there”, which is far easier than driving 15 hours across the country to see it.

But hate5six also gave an unexpected boost to Sam’s other band, Gulch, whose ferocious set from Franklin Music Hall in Philadelphia in 2019 took the online music community by storm when it was uploaded this spring.

Currently sitting on 128,000 views, the exposure gleaned from YouTube is clear. Earlier this year, Gulch dropped their caustic Impenetrable Cerebral Fortress record, which sold out on all available formats and vinyl variants in a matter of hours, along with every single piece of merch. There are tales of shows with more people queuing for Gulch merch than actually watching the stage. Not bad for a band who don’t even have any social media pages.

“Sunny [Singh, hate5six videographer] films the local shows, the big festivals, he films everything…” Sam explains. “But that’s what’s interesting in 2020, sometimes a band will get known from hard work and putting in the time, sometimes a band gets known if it’s their second show and there’s a viral video.”

This shunning of the mainstream/music industry machine could also be another reason for this new wave’s sudden popularity. In a world where bands are marketing themselves as brands, with music available to buy from billion-dollar corporations like Amazon, there’s something admirable about stripping music back to an old-school, DIY, more authentic form.

“There’s an exclusivity to it, which is not necessarily, ‘You can have this but other people can’t.’ It’s like, ‘This is a thing that if you get it, you really get it,’” says Justin. “And you can’t just get it anywhere, it’s a thing you have to get through us, you have to go to our pages or our social media to get certain aspects of the band. You can find it, but it’s a lot more personal than that, and I think that’s something a lot of people identify with.”

As you’d probably expect with a band named Wristmeetrazor (taken from a Usurp Synapse song), Justin doesn’t have much by way of mainstream aspirations. But he’s not alone, all the bands we speak to take pride in being so anti-accessible, in some cases actively trying to make themselves even more obtuse to human ears.

“I take pleasure in knowing that the band – the name, the aesthetic, the lyrical content – all speak to a very specific kind of person,” Justin explains. “It’s definitely not accessible to a lot of people, I don’t think it’s accessible to mainstream society. I don’t think it’s accessible to people who can’t relate to mental illness, but for some people it’s very accessible, maybe so much so that they create identities based around the same things that we write about.”

“We definitely feed off that feeling and are leaning into that while we’re writing new music, and want to be even less mainstream and even more abrasive,” says Zak with a wry smile.

“The next record, I don’t even want it to be music, honestly,” adds Michael. “I want it to go to that level of rhythmic noise that’s blasting these ideas into your head. I don’t want there to be riffs, I just want it to be crazy fuckin’ rhythm that’s somehow effective on an emotional level.” He laughs, “I hope you hate it, dude.”

Ultimately that’s what brings people to all walks of music: emotion. Whether it’s the antagonistic, bile-spewing hatred that fuels this new wave of violence, or honey-glazed glee that propels the ever-changing face of pop-punk, rock music has always been about the power of human connection.

“It’s my life. It’s everything,” says Sam, ruminating on what he gets from playing in Drain. “When Drain first started and I was putting a lot of time into it, and I had a lot of people laugh at me or put me down and try to rain on the parade like it’s not gonna go anywhere, that I’m wasting my time and no-one cares. But middle fingers up, you were wrong. We made a name for ourselves and we did it with the help of our friends. I’m not doing it because I think it’s cool, or it’s a good way to climb up my social ladder – it’s me.”

“I get the exact same thing that [the fans] get out of it,” says Justin. “It’s pretty much just us writing the music that we like and have always wanted to write, and it’s kids getting things from that that probably aren’t what we originally intended.

“The band is a painful band to do, it’s very cathartic in a lot of ways, they’re not necessarily easy to listen to or play nightly sometimes, which is its own thing, but the reaction that we get when we play is what drives me to continue doing it.”

“I get to fill a void in what I think is missing in music and hardcore right now,” concludes Michael. “That’s not to discredit so many musicians and artists out there, there’s a lot of music I do like, but in terms of Candy we try to fill some kind of space that the world of music needs. I’m not saying we’re doing it, but that’s the goal. Music needs to be providing something important.”

And in a world as shitty as this one can be, we need bands like these; bands who provide that catharsis, that cutting-edge, that freedom to feel a part of something, a connection that exists outside of state or country lines. Call it hardcore, call it metalcore, call it crossover… this is the new wave we’ve been waiting for. Drink it in.

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