10 Best Hardcore Bands
As if punk rock weren’t fast and aggressive enough, hardcore emerged in the late ’70s as a leaner, meaner, uglier alternative to what most respectable folks already deemed the alternative. Whereas the Ramones dug ’60s pop and the Sex Pistols drew on the artsy pretensions of Svengali manager Malcolm McLaren, hardcore’s early proponents stripped away all artifice and musical niceties. This was brutish music made largely by bored and angry American teenagers, and thanks to word-of-mouth promotion, DIY scenes soon sprang up from Southern California to the major cities of the Northeast.
Our list of the 10 Best Hardcore Bands spans the late ’70s to the present and represents several mutant strains and sub-sub-genres. Because hardcore means different things to different people, our picks may rankle some purists. That’s to be expected, since this is a style of music that tends to value purity above all else. But it’s also about taking a stand and saying your piece, and it’s with that in mind that we Bic our noggins, slip into some camo shorts and scream our selections for the Best Hardcore Bands, presented in no particular order. See ya in the pit!
Rastafarians from Washington D.C. by way of New York City, Bad Brains mix the hardness of hardcore, the funkyness of funk, the heaviness of metal and the heartfelt spirituality of reggae into a one-of-a-kind sound that plenty have tried to copy but no one can pull off. Just a few years after starting things off in D.C., Bad Brains were the subject of an unofficial ban at the city’s clubs, and they subsequently relocated to NYC, where they were instrumental in spawning the city’s hardcore scene. The band has had its ups and downs, but nearly four decades into its career, it’s still alive and kicking.
Lifetime have roots in the fearsome New York and New Jersey hardcore scenes, but even on the band’s first album, 1993’s ‘Background,’ singer Ari Katz’s lyrics were more uplifting and personal than those of his peers. The positivity would remain as Lifetime’s music transformed from straightforward hardcore to more melodic pop-punk fare, as heard on albums like 1995’s ‘Hello Bastards,’ which is filled with the kinds of two-minute nuggets the band has became known for. After splitting up in 1997, Lifetime reunited in 2005 for a handful of shows, writing that “we have decided to play together again, not as the resurrected corpse of a one-off reunion show, but as a group of guys who love making music together.”
Initially “self-confessed hardcore kids with left-over Slayer riffs,” this band from Salem, Mass., started off playing hardcore and metal covers before issuing their debut album, ‘Halo in a Haystack,’ in 1994. Alongside groups like Integrity and Earth Crisis, they’re now regarded as major innovators of the hybrid metalcore sound. Of the landmark 2001 album ‘Jane Doe,’ Decibel magazine wrote: “[it] marks the point at which Converge graduated from noisy, thrash-influenced hardcore kids to hardcore-influenced noise-thrash titans.”
After longtime Converge member Aaron Dalbec was kicked out of the band in 1991, he focused on his one-time side project Bane, which dropped its debut full-length, ‘It All Comes Down to This,’ in 1998. Bane were initially considered a part of the straight-edge movement, and although they no longer claim to be — some newer members don’t follow the lifestyle’s tenets — the band continues to perform its early songs.
Bad Brains’ move from Washington, D.C., to New York City in 1981 helped create NYHC (New York hardcore), and Agnostic Front were soon synonymous with the burgeoning scene. Their 1984 debut, ‘Victim in Pain,’ is widely regarded as one of NYHC’s classic albums, though it wasn’t long before they — along with bands like Corrosion of Conformity and D.R.I. — fused hardcore and thrash metal to create a new subgenre. One of the first groups to introduce metal to punk rockers (and punk rock to metal heads), Agnostic Front split in 1992 but reformed five years later and have remained impressively active since.
Sick of It All
Sick of It All got together in the mid-’80s, when New York hardcore was waning in popularity, and nearly 30 years later, they’re still going strong. They cut their teeth in NYC venues like CBGBs, and as the scene became increasingly brutal and bloody, they earned an unwanted and unfounded association with violence. They’ve also dealt with accusations of selling out, as early underground albums like 1989’s ‘Blood, Sweat and No Tears’ led to major-label releases like 1999’s ‘Call to Arms,’ as well as world tours.
Formed in 1998, Boston’s American Nightmare (known as Give Up the Ghost following legal threats from another band with the same name) put out just two albums over the course of their seven years together, but both discs — 2001’s ‘Background Music’ and 2003’s ‘We’re Down Til We’re Underground’ — had tremendous impact on the early-’00s hardcore scene. In particular, the second disc is credited with pushing the boundaries of traditional hardcore in new (and sometimes unsettling, at least to old-school fans) directions. Along the way, American Nightmare toured their asses off and got screwed over by some maddening lawsuits (see note above), and in the last few years, they’ve gotten back together for some wildly successful reunion shows.
Few names in hardcore carry more weight than Black Flag. Formed in Hermosa Beach, Calif., back in 1976, the band took the took simplicity of the Ramones and amped up the intensity, mixing in an anti-authoritarian viewpoint and DIY ethic that earned them fierce loyalty from fans and respect with the hardcore community. Several lineups took shape over Black Flag’s original 10-year run, and a handful of singers wielded the mic before iconic frontman Henry Rollins took over the position for their final five years. The coming year will be a big one for the influential outfit, as two different versions of Black Flag — neither including Rollins — will come together and play shows.
Fronted by the burly and balding Damian Abraham, Canada’s F—ed Up have carried the hardcore torch into the ’00s and beyond — in throat-shredding style. While hardly mainstream mainstays — the band’s name alone prevents massive commercial success — FU have enjoyed more exposure than any of their hardcore heroes. In addition to high-profile appearances on MTV and at several major indie festivals, they made the cover of Spin magazine, which named their ‘David Comes to Life’ its No. 1 Album of 2011.
Before forming the legendary post-punk outfit Fugazi, Ian MacKaye fronted one of the most influential hardcore acts to ever wreck a stage. Minor Threat were relatively short-lived, but their impact on the scene — both musically and socially — cannot be overstated. Their DIY punk ethic and straight-edge beliefs are particularly noteworthy, and while the band barely lasted four years and dropped only one full-length album, 1983’s ‘Out of Step,’ they embody hardcore in many fans’ eyes.