Hardcore Breakdown 2023: The Year In 15 Records
2023 was a fantastic year for music, and it was a year that felt like a particularly productive one in the realm of hardcore and its bastard children. With so much coming out, I thought it useful for posterity’s sake to do a little primer for what was relevant, great or otherwise worth hearing. This isn’t a definitive list, a best-of, nothing so firm. This is just, for me, 15 records that defined the year.
Closet Witch – Chiaroscuro
Zegema Beach Records
A late release, Closet Witch injects this subtle, emotive undercurrent into their combination of grind and powerviolence; as a result, Chiaroscuro has as much of the spirit of Raein or Bucket Full Of Teeth as it does Fuck On The Beach or Despise You. Chiaroscuro is a title that’s both evocative and descriptive; there’s a starkness throughout the record, an intensity that not much else this year approached. A tonally monochromatic record, sharply darting between cold, hazily discerned walls of guitar phrasing and incredibly violent breakdowns.
Jeromes Dream – The Gray In Between
The sound of the distant, more-pensive stylings of Jeromes Dreams’ comeback return but are paired with the freneticism, angularity and chaotic fucking energy that defined their younger days. The Gray In Between sees Jeromes Dream naturally more refined, now being over two decades removed from the rooster-squawking emoviolence of Seeing Means More Than Safety, but honestly? It might be them at the peak of their songwriting. Tracks like “Conversations In Time, On Mute” juxtapose mathcore freakouts with the more quiet, broader moments from their comeback LP.
Wound Man – Human Outline
Iron Lung Records
A decade deep and 5 years removed from 2018’s Prehistory, it really sounds like Wound Man have emerged from Human Outline as the premier purveyors of this sludge-via-powerviolence sound. Immensely groovy low-end worship, constantly buzzing in the ear with hateful legato basslines paired with a truly fucking violent drum performance.
The Hirs Collective – We’re Still Here
Get Better Records
Like with all of the best Hirs material, We’re Still Here is unwieldy, unorthodox, cumbersome and completely singular. An album that baits the listener with its clearly apparent melodic ear, only to violently switch back at ease to some of the most disgusting grind that came out this year. In the wake of a fucking horrendous year for trans people around the globe, We’re Still Here is aurally brickwalled resilience. Vicious in its delivery while retaining that titular collectivist motivation—mutual-aim comradery highlighted by the sheer depth of the record’s featured collaborators. Also, any album that gives us new shit from Melt-Banana in any form deserves laudation.
Gel – Only Constant
People love to hate Gel, people love to hate that dodgy “Calling Card” interlude, people love to hate how they’ve blown up in the past three years, but Only Constant is so much fucking fun—cathartic in its immediacy, its heart-on-sleeve expression wrapped up in the angsty posturing of the bands they worship. And fuck it, I think “Calling Card” is cool, too. Having a reified, tacky lo-fi interlude on your blistering hardcore record? I can’t deny that type of shit, it’s too much fun. The day might come when Gel tap the noughties melodic hardcore well dry, but that day isn’t today.
Sulfuric Cautery – Suffocating Feats Of Dehumanization
An album so many miles ahead of others in the unending tide of Last Days Of Humanity worship bands, Sulfuric Cautery produce razor sharp, stomach-churning gorenoise that has some of the most dynamic songwriting and composition in the genre while retaining its trademark vulgarity and intensity.
Mitsubishi Suicide – Mitsubishi Suicide
Post-Windmill post-hardcore, a record that at once taps into the sound of June Of 44 and Hoover while also sounding analogous to newer acts like Maruja and Black Country, New Road. A record filled with anxiety, bursting at the seams with unreleased musical tension begging for a crescendo. Bridges the gap between the unsung British hardcore scene of the 2000s and modern, acclaimed rock sounds, all while retaining its intimacy, authenticity and impactfulness. Seriously some of the best shit that came out last year.
World Peace – It Is Written
Twelve Gauge Records
Massive, muscular powerviolence from a band at their zenith. I’d always enjoyed World Peace, but nothing ever touched the frag-grenade forcefulness of their pair of 2018 EP’s Fear Through And Through and From One Silence To Another, two criminally short but stellar bangers. It Is Written is the World Peace record that, while being relatively less caustic and relatively more accessible, reaches the promise that shone ultraviolet on the early EPs.
Loma Prieta – Last
I’d admittedly never dug too deep into Loma Prieta; I suppose the pensive, more poetic bent of skramz that was popping off in the early 2010s wasn’t as appealing to teenage me as the metallic Entombed-worship that was blowing up around the same time, and when I’d finished listening to Last I felt like a fucking fool for it. After proceeding to devour their back catalogue, Last‘s uniquely uppity delivery juxtaposed with a lot of its inherent dourness still felt like absolute dynamite. Coming back from an 8-year gap between full-lengths and still sounding this fresh is wild.
Death Goals – A Garden Of Dead Flowers
Panicked barks atop noughties hardcore instrumental worship, the spirit of Poison The Well, Ruiner and Limp Wrist bubbling in a cauldron together. Often compared to a lot of sasscore bands, Death Goals instrumentally are far closer to a modern restructuring of sounds associated with the peak years of melodic metalcore. Going into 2024, records like this are more essential than ever.
Sea Of Shit – Sea Of Shit
Over ten years on from their debut—and incidentally now on their 4th self-titled record, not counting splits—Chicago-based powerviolence powerhouse Sea Of Shit continues their venomous, fucking acidic approach to the genre, only here willing to experiment with slower tempos and more groove-based songwriting. Still as filthy as ever.
Buggin – Concrete Cowboys
Another band people love to hate, and another record that fucked. A record that relishes in hardcore clichés, using them as an avenue for making sick music with self-awareness but no cynicism: catchy tracks, powerfully performed, often really stupid. Probably the purest distillation of going to a local show I’ve heard in a record in a long time.
SPY – Satisfaction
Triple B Records
A very divisive record. One of the most prominent bands in the underground following two ripping EPs—Service Weapon in 2020 and Habitual Offender in 2021—SPY released their debut full-length to a split reception. Undeniably filthy, undeniably thin in production, it cut a lot of hardcore fans down the middle. Ultimately it’s too gritty, heavy and weird-sounding for me not to appreciate. While I admit the guts of an incredible, more cohesive EP are present on Satisfaction, what we’re left with still kills on a fundamental level. When tracks are as good as “Surveillance,” cohesion doesn’t enter the fucking room.
Zulu – A New Tomorrow
2023 was a year with a lot of hyped debuts, and consequently a lot of hyped debuts that wound people up. That A New Tomorrow saw Zulu leaning further and further into samples, sound collage and generally things that the average Weekend Nachos fan isn’t into, really got people’s goat specifically. Even its prominent use of low, chugging riffs reminiscent of once unfashionable 2010s metalcore trends seems designed to piss people off. It’s also fantastic, naturally. “Lyfe Az A Shorty Shun B So Ruff” is the highlight, transitioning from a frenetic metalcore assault to quivering out to Nina Simone with monumental, gunshot guitar stabs. It’s an album that, of course, feels broader in scope than their earlier material, and while I’ll always be slightly more partial to the bluntness of Our Day Will Come, A New Tomorrow is the sort of record I’ll always hype up.
Paint It Black – Famine
I’ve written more extensively about this record here, but in short, Famine is about as picture perfect as you could hope for a comeback record, dodging the limpness and sidestepping the regression synonymous with so many similar projects. That Paint It Black manage to retain and bolster their sound, let alone produce one of the year’s best albums, is a testament to their talents and enduring legacy.