Though I am well past the age where I should care, there is some small fear that some person I’ll never meet will call me a poser. I did not find hardcore in the way most people did. I don’t have that cool cousin that showed me Minor Threat when I was ten. I skipped them entirely and went straight to Fugazi as a kid. I wasn’t moshing in my bedroom to Hatebreed and Strife in middle school. My parents did not pass anything cool on to me. Music discovery was a solitary exercise, and all I had at my disposal was what I could find on hand. I was solidly a warped tour kid, content to listen to whatever the newest thing was on Fueled By Ramen. I even thought the few screams of an Underoath song on Steven’s Untitled Rock Show were too much for me. The harshest sounds I could tolerate were From First To Last.
It would take until my twenties to eventually discover I had a taste for the more aggressive side of music. I was beginning to tire of the rote feeling that pop-minded music was giving me. There was only so much I was getting out of a verse-chorus structure. Though I didn’t know it, I was looking to fry my nerve endings in a way that only something as aggressive as Nails could give me. But before I reached that end of the heavy music spectrum, I gravitated towards the more melodic end of hardcore. I found myself connecting with stuff like Praise and melodic hardcore (Have Heart, Modern Life Is War). I also found that the skronky metalcore of Cave In and Converge made sense to me too. I could appreciate the virtuosity of the compositions of Until Your Heart Stops. It gave me the same pleasure of listening to math rock or any music in odd time signatures. I could never envision writing something so complex and took pleasure in being dumbfounded by it.
But with my odd entryway into hardcore came some roadblocks that have only become more apparent. There were some subsections of hardcore that I couldn’t ever listen to. I will use a term I absolutely hate to explain: tough guy hardcore. I’m sure that phrase can conjure up some images for you. It’s a phrase that feels like a bygone era. It feels like message board language, even if I sometimes see it when I’m trawling Reddit or reading a review that wants to make a distinction. I’ve seen it applied to a wide range of bands, and some of the comparisons make no sense. It basically gets applied to anything that could be viewed as jockish.
I was guilty of applying blanket statements to anything that would be labeled as tough guy or ignorant. I couldn’t avoid the fact that my context was different. In watching videos, the karate-inclined moshing initially looked foreign to me. It led to some silly blindspots, such as never listening to Madball or Cold As Life until much later in my listening journey. Some of those blind spots haven’t led to bands I still listen to today. With Beatdown, for example, I still find it mostly unlistenable unless I’m at a show. And I have to see plenty of it living in Chicago. But as with any micro-genre, there are some good stuff and some stuff that doesn’t hit for me. Dismissing it without any thought is a problem and ultimately reflects me as an uncurious listener.
Maybe my dismissal of ignorant/metallic hardcore is because I got into punk first. Merauder or Irate feet are inaccessible at first. Listening to their albums felt like a slog, even if I understood the importance of something like Master Killer. Over the years, I needed to rewire my brain in how I approached the moshy metallic fare. I was trying to engage with it as if I was still listening to rock music. While some of the core ideas are similar, the purpose is different. Singalongs will still be embedded, but it is only part of a larger whole. Hardcore is dance music (yes, I know it’s a cliche); It isn’t trying to be anything more or anything else. Certain riffs signal that it’s a circle pit part or a two-step part. I didn’t understand that I should visualize the reaction as I listened. Only through listening to the best and worst of ignorant hardcore can you identify the specific response a band is trying to incite.
By just labeling a segment of hardcore as tough guy, I denied it as a legitimate musical art form. It denies the fact that creating fight riffs is a difficult feat to pull off. Getting people to try to send each other to the hospital isn’t an easy task. It requires an insane amount of mosh literacy that you cannot bullshit your way through. When someone isn’t well-read in ignorant hardcore, it is painfully obvious. The transitions in different sections of a song tend to feel abrupt and lead to many dead-eyed stares in the crowd.
These days, I find enjoyment in the stupidest caveman riff as the virtuosic odd-time signature breakdown. My favorite hardcore record from this year is Outcry by Never Ending Game. It has thudding, taut breakdowns and embeds plenty of hooks in there. If you dig deeper, Mikey Petroski is also talking about weighty topics. He’s using the tropes of heavy hardcore to express something personal. It gives me the same emotional catharsis as all my favorite emo records gave me all those years ago. Five years ago, I may have never given Never Ending Game a chance and gone on with my day. Now, it’s at least a slice of my hardcore diet because I will always love my melodic hardcore and hardcore punk a little more.