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Tag Archives: Hardcore

To be honest, I was not impressed with the music of 2007 and 2008. With some obvious exceptions (Such as Radiohead’s In Rainbows) I just didn’t get into current releases. Mostly, I collected the catalogues of classic bands and avoided new music.

But seriously what is it with 2009?! There is so much good music coming out this year that there has been at least one record per month that I have greatly anticipated. My year end top ten will turn into a top twenty this year, I can almost guarantee it.

For the record here are my current favs from this year along with briefer than brief commentary (Currently not ordered, but at the end of the year my list will be):

  • Derek Webb- Stockholm Syndrome [Derek goes electronica but holds onto the biting lyrics. His best musically, and lyrically too. If the only word you hear on this album is four letters long you aren’t listening…]
  • Thrice- Beggars [Easily their best album, and that’s just from the initial listen.]
  • House of Heroes- The End Is Not The End [How many Christian artists release concept records? How many artists release concept records about World War II? How many Christian artists release concept records about World War II? How many do you think could pull it off? I can think of one.]
  • Project 86- Picket Fence Cartel [improvement over the past two releases, still figuring out how it holds up to the “classics”]
  • Joy Electric- Curiosities and Such [honestly why didn’t Ronnie go mono years ago?]
  • Sleeping Giant- Sons of Thunder [phenomenal Spirit-filled hardcore… which reminds me, isn’t there  a series I should be completing…?]
  • As Cities Burn- Hell or High Water [good record to go out on…. -10,000,000 points to T&N for making “Gates” a download only bonus track… shouldn’t the PHYSICAL releases be the ones with bonuses? Sigh.]
  • Boarders- The World Hates Me [very fun metal with obvious but divergent influences… dig the Megadeth cover]
  • Ultimatum- Lex Metalis [as cover albums go, this is among the best]
  • For Today- Portraits [10 musical “portraits” of biblical characters. A Spirit-filled hardcore concept record? Never thought I’d hear that, glad I did]

On Hardcore:

“I’m gonna say whatever is on my mind, and I’m gonna say it in thirty-two seconds.”- Ian MacKaye, Minor Threat

Hardcore is a form of punk rock that emphasizes fast beats, heavy guitars and often has mid-ranged shouted vocals. It was started in the 80s by bands such as Black Flag, Minor Threat, and Bad Brains. Hardcore has had a familial atmosphere since its foundation, with many fans and bands forming “crews” of like-minded individuals and sticking together, often for years. Ideologically hardcore is often leftist, and fairly political in nature. One of the main tenets of the hardcore lifestyle is an outspoken attitude- speaking and defending one’s own beliefs. Initially those beliefs were little more than angst and rage directed at everyone in “normal” society. Since its inception the hardcore has been home to various social movements, most notably “Straight Edge,” a lifestyle which rejects drugs, drinking and often promiscuous sex, which was popularized and named by the band Minor Threat. Of all the social movements within hardcore it has had the most influence and staying power, with many people still living a Straight Edge lifestyle to this day. For more information on Hardcore music and the formation of the scene I recommend documentary film American Hardcore: The History of American Punk Rock 1080-1986 directed by Paul Rachman and written by Steven Blush.

The Foundation of Spirit-Filled Hardcore:

By the early 90s the church had, in general, grown to accept or at least tolerate the concept of “extreme” Christian music. There had already been successful Heavy Metal, Punk, and Hip-hop in the Christian Music Industry. Hardcore had not yet been attempted. The primary reason for this is that hardcore was still a relatively new genre of music, and it had not become popular enough for there to be much of a demand for it in the Christian scene. However, by the mid-nineties Christian music was ripe for an explosion of hardcore- and explode it did. By 1997, hardcore had all but taken over the heavy Christian music scene, with metal labels such as Intense Records folding andup-start punk label Tooth & Nail quickly becoming the biggest independent Christian record label.

The massive success of Christian (or as the bands and fans prefer, “Spirit-filled”) hardcore can be traced right back to the ideologies of hardcore music itself. Unlike metal, which is notoriously anti-Christian, and rock which is mostly fun loving, the hardcore scene was quite compatible with Christianity from the beginning, even though many hardcore bands themselves had anti-Christian stances. Hardcore’s focus on brotherhood and open-minded camaraderie mirrors the early church. It’s outspokenness, and passion create a natural environment for evangelism (passionately preaching the gospel to non-Christians) and worship (praise directed towards God). Also, the Straight Edge movement’s focus on clean living is quite compatible with Christian moral codes. On top of all of this, hardcore bands were used to being heckled by the audience, and as much as there was a sense of brotherhood, there was also, paradoxically,  a violent disregard for others. Essentially it was a scene in which you could say or do anything you wanted so long as you were prepared to deal with the reaction.  All of this creates a natural environment for Christianity to flourish in the hardcore scene, without the oppression Christians had dealt with in their adoption of rock, and primarily metal.

Spirit-filled Hardcore (SFH) remained underground in the early nineties. But that would all change when a fledgling Seattle record label embraced the movement with their second release…

Tooth & Nail Records:

If it wasn’t for Tooth & Nail, SFH would not have gained the popularity that it did. And if it wasn’t for SFH, Tooth & Nail would not have grown to be the biggest label in underground Christian music. Their relationship is that symbiotic.

Tooth & Nail records (T&N) opened its doors in 1993, releasing the grunge record Pet the Fish by the band Wish For Eden. That album was frankly unspectacular, however it proved that their were culture-savvy young Christians who wanted to listen to music that was “with it.” Every other Christian label at the time was releasing adult contemporary or metal, which was quickly fading in popularity. From the get-go, T&N made it apparent that they were going to release music that was relevant to the emerging youth cultures of the day. The second T&N release was far more influential, and even prophetic- setting the foundation for the label’s early success. In 1993 T&N signed the band Focused and released their debut, simply titled Bow, which is the first example of SFH that received any sort of label backing.

The release of this record was a huge gamble for T&N. Situated in Seattle, with grunge being the big deal, there simply wasn’t a market for SFH, fortunately for T&N the scene exploded and T&N was in the perfect position lead the way. Soon the label was home to many more bands in the quickly developing scene, including: Unashamed, Zao, Strongarm, and Overcome. Some other labels such as R.E.X. and Rescue also got into the movement with the signing of such bands as Six Feet Deep and the seminal No Innocent Victim. The popularity of these bands ensured that T&N became the biggest indie Christian record label. Their success with their early experiments led T&N to sign many more unique and challenging bands. Their success eventually led to a distribution deal with EMI- and an even larger audience for their records.

The End of the First Era of Spirit-filled Hardcore:

Strangely the scene fell almost as fast as it began. Most of these bands released no more than two records, and by the end of the decade Spirit-filled hardcore was essentially no more. The reason for this is that the initial excitement and outspokenness of SFH fell out of favor for a more subtle approach. T&N was making an impact in the mainstream- and in the mainstream it was uncool to be labeled as a Christian. So if Christians intended to break into the mainstream at all, it was necessary to play down their ties to the Christian scene. The term “Christian band” became a naughty word- bands would instead say they were “Christians in a band,” or simply a “band.” Lyrics became more allegorical and less outspoken. This continued on for over five years to the point that by 2005, most heavy Christian bands were almost indistinguishable from mainstream bands- except that they didn’t swear and were, generally “positive.”

Whether or not this was a positive development is up to debate. Surely the hardline stance of the early SFH bands was confrontational, evangelistic, and all-or-nothing. At the same time it was divisive and offensive. However in 2005, it was no longer uncool to be a heavy Christian band. In fact, many of the bands on T&N and other labels that had roots in the Christian scene were as successful, and often more innovative than the mainstream bands. However some mourned the loss of the direct messages and intense worship. There was a growing amount of Christian kids disillusioned with artists playing down their faith- and very soon a voice from the past would call for a reformation of the Spirit-filled hardcore scene…

Next Wednesday: The “New Wave” begins

I will soon be starting a three (or more) part series on what I like to call the “New Wave” of Spirit-filled hardcore. Some people will remember bands such as Focused, Unashamed, Overcome, No Innocent Victim, etc. who were part of a short lived yet powerful movement in Christian music that placed evangelistic/worshipful lyrics to the sounds of hardcore music, combining the militant self-expression of the hardcore medium with equally passionate declarations of the gospel. This movement died sometime in the late-nineties, and since then heavy Christian music has become more and more indistinguishable from mainstream music.

However, there is a growing number of new bands that have taken hold of the spirit (Spirit?) that permeated that time and music, infusing it with a focus on charismatic expressions of faith. This new movement can be traced back to 2005 but has just recently begun to make significant waves in the scene.

In Part 1, I will discuss the history of the original Spirit-filled hardcore movement, its connections to hardcore as a genre, its ties to Tooth & Nail Records (and later its subsidiary Solid State), the reasons why it flourished and why it eventually fell out of fashion. This article will lay a foundation to help readers not familiar with the initial movement understand the new one.

Part 2 will discuss the first rumblings of the “New Wave,” the reasons why bands embraced this music again, its connection to Facedown Records, as well as its tendency towards charismatic doctrine.

Part 3 will profile some important bands in the “New Wave” and include a list of recommended listening. If this becomes too lengthy I will split it up.

I will be posting one article per week, every Wednesday starting next Wednesday. Make sure to add me to your rss feeds, and get ready to scream!

Norma Jean is a band that I have loved, hated, and who have confused me. The band is fraught with line-up changes, and have been both loved and bashed by critics alike. Here I will write my personal thoughts on each of the band’s records, hope you enjoy.

Throwing Myself  (2001, released under the band name “Luti-Kriss”)

Luti-Kriss has to be the worst band name ever. On top of following the misspelling nu-metal trends as begun by Korn and Limp Bizkit, it also happened to be reminiscent of the equally misspelled rapper Ludacris. And when a club books a rap artist and gets metalcore…. oops. Fortunately the band killed this name after the debut. Unfortunately, this trendy and derivative moniker is entirely indicative of the music herein. Mostly bland and overproduced, the band sounds a bit like Zao rip offs. There a few bright moments, such as opener “Blacksmith” and the fast and heavy “Light Blue Collar,” but overall it is obvious the band are beginners. I would say that this is my least favorite Norma Jean album, but since this is not technically Norma Jean, I will instead say this is my favorite Luti-Kriss album. And that’s not saying much.

Bless the Martyr and Kiss the Child (2002)

At singer Josh Scogin’s suggestion, the band abandon the overproduction of the debut and opt to record this record live in the studio. On top of that, they (wisely) abandon the nu-metal trend for a more experimental hardcore direction. The result? Jaw dropping. Rarely does a record absolutely impress me the first time through. This one did it in the first three seconds. I was hooked. The band bludgeons with metalcore pounding, and then turns it around on the longer epics with quirky ambience and alt-rock style experimentation. And it still blows my mind that the 16-minute epic “Pretty Soon, I Don’t Know What, But Something Is Going To Happen” was recorded live. Insane. Also of note here is Scogin’s newfound obsession with really long song titles, which has since become commonplace in this genre. Hmm, from trend followers to trend setters. Of course, two weeks before this record dropped both Scogin and bassist Josh Doolittle bailed on the band. Since Scogin was the main songwriter and creative force behind the band their future was in question, but they soldiered on to create much more excellent music. I would call this my favorite Norma Jean album, but that’s not fair because the band that made this is entirely different than the band that made the next three records. With that in mind, I’ll instead say this is my favorite hardcore album of all time. And that is most certainly saying a lot.

O’ God, The Aftermath (2005)

Three years after Josh, the band has toured extensively with a fill-in vocalist before finally calling up Cory Brandon, former singer of Eso-Charis, and begin to record their follow-up, O’ God, The Aftermath, which gets my vote for most appropriate album title ever. I didn’t know what to expect of this one. The Chariot’s debut made it absolutely clear that the chaos and the live in studio recording were entirely Josh’s doing. This album on the other hand, returns to the heavy-handed production of Luti-Kriss. I wouldn’t say that this is overproduced though, just obsessively clean sounding, with everything in its place. Fortunately, the ambience and experimentalism was not from Josh, but the rest of the band, so while this wasn’t recorded live in the studio, it still sounds like Norma Jean musically. Cory Brandon is a competent vocalist and great lyricist, but on this album he doesn’t sound very good. Of course, he hadn’t been in a band for a couple of years, so it’s understandable that he’s rusty. He sounds best doing his gruff yell/singing. A lot of fans criticized this. I think it sounds great, and I think everyone needs to realize that this Norma Jean is not the same Norma Jean that made Bless the Martyr. I like to look at this as a re-debut. When it was first released I honestly hated it, since I’ve grown to appreciate it and actually find myself listening to it a lot now, but it’s still my least favorite Norma Jean record.

Redeemer (2006)

This is one of those albums that’s just really good. At 41 minutes it is the band’s shortest record, completely void of the long, experimental songs. Fortunately the band’s newfound tightness works wonders, as they add the ambience and guitar noodling to all the songs instead of relegating it to a couple epics. This makes all the songs a lot more catchy and also more interesting. Also notable, Cory adds even more singing to this record. Of course that will leave some, who think that it ain’t metal enough unless it’s all screaming all the time, up in arms. I say screw ’em. This album is great, and Cory’s vocals are great, much better than on O’ God The Aftermath. Clearly the touring and recording process has done good things. Also, there is more killer artwork, including the return of the “man overboard” symbol, which has now become a band logo of sorts. This album isn’t particularly progressive, nor is it genre defining. It is just a metalcore album, but a really good metalcore album. As my friend Jerry has stated, “Some are remembered for doing it first, others are remembered for doing it best.” Norma Jean does it best. This album is consistently good, every song, no filler, nothing extraneous, just really good music.

….and that is all for now. Stay tuned for a proper full-length review of Norma Jean’s latest, The Anti Mother, just as soon as I let it sink in a bit more!

To all the reviewers out there:

The clean singing on Norma Jean’s new album “The Anti Mother” does not sound like Emo. I mean really. Saying that is both an insult to Norma Jean and Emo.

Chino Moreno does not sound like an Emo singer. At all. Have you ever even heard Emo? Go Listen to Sunny Day Real Estate or Appleseed Cast.

Cory Brandon does not sound Emo. That is just stupid. The guy has a gruff singing voice, riddled with the age that all his screaming gives it. 

Seriously I am so freaking sick of everyone labeling the singing on any hardcore album Emo. That is ridiculous. Singing does not equal Emo.

This has been a public service announcement…