Step 2 Rhythm-March 2023

Posted: by The Editor

Hardcore is thriving, and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. As a way to document this current moment, we present Step 2 Rhythm, a monthly column rounding up the best in hardcore coming out right now.

Blow Your Brains Out-The Big Escape

There’s been a healthy dose of bands recently looking towards New York hardcore at the end of the 80s as inspiration. Blow Your Brains Out differs from others that have popped up in the past few years, like Ekulu or Combust. They come from Japan and don’t try to create a palatable version of Japanese hardcore for American listeners. All the songs on Big Escape are barked in their native language, dealing with “harsh situations happening in modern society.” But it still has that ineffable bounce that you associate with New York hardcore, making for a record that I’ve been unable to put down since its release.


As someone who started as a Chicago scenester before becoming a music writer, I have had to restrain myself from sharing too much Chicago hardcore in this column. But when I heard Contempt, I felt they deserved a shoutout. Their demo is one of my favorite things from Chicago’s hardcore scene in the past few years. It’s hardcore at its most primitive and is more concerned with keeping things fast rather than having the heaviest breakdown. The most extreme example of brevity for Contempt is T.F.Y., which is only 14 seconds long. The lyrics, too, are simple, choosing to revolve around straight edge. There is no subtext to be found when you hear, “Spend your life in a cloud of smoke/One day you’re gonna fucking choke” on “Choke.” 

Enervate-All Said And Done

Enverate has an unexplainable thing that separates them from other hardcore bands. It took me a while to even notice it. I’ve seen them play at least five times in the past year and never gave them much thought. But after listening to All Said and Done, I finally understood their appeal. It’s metallic hardcore with a healthy bounce, leading to an almost rap cadence on the vocals. You can hear this lethal combination right away on “Don’t Need You,” which decides to place the hardest mosh part in the last section of the song. The rest of the EP follows a very similar formula, making for music meant for the most bombastic moshing possible.   

Grand Scheme-Numbers Game

While we are in an age of hardcore going “pro,” there will always be a contingent antithetical to that trend. Grand Scheme is just one example of choosing to go the DIY route. Their style of hardcore that harkens to No Tolerance and Boston hardcore isn’t the most trendy thing right now. You won’t suddenly hear a poppy chorus interspersed on Numbers Game. Instead, it’s what I imagine when I think of fast hardcore. Songs toggle between a breakneck pace to the occasional mid-tempo section to break up the monotony. And if I could find the lyrics anywhere, I imagine there would be a healthy dose of diatribes to happen alongside the aggression Grand Scheme produces. A recent interview in Undivided Attention with the vocalist seems to indicate he has a lot of thoughts on the state of hardcore. But what I remember most from the interview is that their only goal is to “inspire people to become active participants.” I’d like to think Numbers Game will help them accomplish that modest goal.

GEL-Only Constant

There’s a phrase often repeated by GEL that dates back to its inception in 2019: hardcore for the freaks. It’s a tagline that seems like a throwaway line, but it embodies everything GEL is about. You internalize this message about halfway through Only Constant during “Calling Card.” You hear voicemails from their fans venting about whatever may be in their minds. It works as a respite from the barrage of hardcore punk and feels like the closest you can get to truly understanding GEL. They understand that hardcore is a youth culture and that young people need a place to foster community and have a safe place to express themselves and release their rage. 

Judiciary-Flesh & Blood

The mashup of thrash and hardcore at this point is nothing new. To some, it may even be at a point of oversaturation. But Judiciary may be one of the best at this combination since forming in 2013. You can hear their alchemy best on Surface Noise in 2019. Anything that followed would be harshly judged. With Flesh + Blood, the goal was elevation rather than change, and they’ve accomplished that meager goal they set. The riffs aren’t just mean; They tower over you and seek to make you feel small in comparison. Your only respite is the occasional guitar solo or acoustic guitar part on “Paradigm Piercer.” By the time it’s over, you’ll need to cleanse your musical palate with something considerably lighter. 

Kidnapped-Crucified/Bite Down

Kidnapped belongs to the realm of powerviolence, but sometimes I feel like that term is somewhat misleading. When I saw Kidnapped this past month, the moshers inflicted as much violence as if a beatdown band was playing. There was a moment during their set when I questioned whether I should have stood at the edge of the pit. “Bite Down,” one of the two songs on their new promo, invites a feral response. But it also encapsulates the draw of hardcore with the throwaway line, “and in destruction, I am free.” “Crucified,” on the other hand, is built from the traditional mold of fast hardcore, fitting in as much violence as possible in 45 seconds. 


For the listeners entrenched in hardcore, the players of SCARAB (Gridiron, Seed of Pain, Simulakra) are familiar. SCARAB plays in a similar lane as those other bands, making the kind of hardcore that balances speed and aggression in equal measure. But what comes through on Demo is Tyler Mullen, previously the singer for Year of The Knife. He fills each track with bile that is genuinely compelling. It feels like you’re listening to the ravings of someone who is unwell. When Mullen screams, “Don’t wanna feel this way/This is the last day,” you wonder if this could be a suicide note. You don’t ultimately get a conclusion to that lyric with “No Savior”(“Rejected by everyone/I have no place/I am fucking numb”)  ending in what feels like the middle of a sentence. 

Scheme Records-Scheme Until It’s Your Reality: A Hardcore Compilation

While less prolific than other labels in hardcore, Scheme Records has released some great stuff, including the newest release from Wreckage in January. Scheme Until It’s Your Reality: A Hardcore Compilation is the most ambitious thing from Scheme yet. According to the description on their website, it took over a year to compile, but it seems to be worth the effort. You get a sense of the label’s taste, which favors northeast hardcore punk. Even the one international band, Echo Chamber, seems inspired by New York hardcore. You do get some slight deviations from what you’d expect from a comp like this, thanks to the emocore stylings of Almighty Watching. But it mostly hews towards northeast hardcore, giving the compilation a specific voice that separates it from others like America’s Hardcore and One Scene Unity

Skourge-Torrential Torment

Skourge comes from a long Texas hardcore lineage informed by thrash/death metal started by Iron Age. They’ve been a band for so long that you can trace their trajectory alongside Power Trip. But even though Skourge has been together for almost a decade, they’ve yet to release a record. Torrential Torment changes that. It’s a record that I sometimes have no choice but to call putrid or evil-sounding. The album art is menacing, looking like the kind of doodling a middle schooler would make during class. It’s the kind of record that invites hyperbole among its fans, leading me to say something stupid like it’s the soundtrack to fighting god or a pilgrim would die if they heard Torrential Torment

xWeaponx/World of Pleasure-Split

While there are plenty of splits in any given month in hardcore, Weapon of Pleasure stands out.  XWeaponX and World of Pleasure are deeply concerned with straight edge and refuse to veer too far from that message. They both sit on the heavier side of hardcore, creating breakdowns that tap into something primordial. But what stands out when I listen to Weapon of Pleasure is the sense of collaboration between the two bands. You can feel that they have mutual for each other. XweaponX even names one of their songs, “Domination III,” which references a series that World of Pleasure has been building through each release. World of Pleasure does their version of an XweaponX lyric (“I am vegan in spite of you”) on “Uzis Akimbo.” It makes for a split that feels essential and worthy of your attention. 

Zulu-A New Tomorrow 

Instead of starting with a menacing breakdown, A New Tomorrow begins with a fluttering piano. The following track, “For Sista Humphries,” gives the listener the catharsis they may seek but ends with a sample. But Anahi Lei’s vocals are nowhere to be found yet. With just the first two songs, you quickly sense that you’re listening to something different from other hardcore records. The ambitions of Zulu are high, looking to express the black experience fully. Love is just as important as aggression to Zulu, especially when there is an obsession with black pain in America. But despite all these lofty ideas, Zulu still understands the need to deliver aggression. When I saw them last month, Lei’s mosh call was, “it’s all about violence now.” That balance is why A New Tomorrow is an early contender for hardcore album of the year. It can package high-minded ideals in the context of a heavy hardcore record. 

Reissue/New To Me Corner

Reissues are just as important as anything that comes out of the hardcore scene on a monthly basis. It’s the way bands become remembered and reaches a younger audience. Without it, they could be relegated to the dustbin and forgotten. A whole swath of bands is only available because of Youtube, limiting their reach. This lack of access matters because, for some, if it’s not on Spotify, it might as well not exist. To alleviate that reality, I’ll try to give a shoutout to one reissue or a new album I discovered each month.

Death Threat-Last Dayz Demo

Maybe I am outing myself as a poser, but for the longest time, Death Threat did nothing for me. Aaron Knuckles’s vocal delivery was too dry and too talky for my ears. Only in the past year or so did I recognize Peace & Security as one of the best hardcore records of the 2000s. Since then, I’ve reached back further into their catalog and tried to see what else I was missing out on. In one of my Youtube dives, I came across Death Threat’s Last Dayz demo, which was the debut release for the band. In listening to it, I am mostly struck by how well put together it is for a demo. All the requisite parts that make up a good Death Threat song are audible. There are fast parts, hard breakdowns, and singalong sections as well. It makes sense that these songs would eventually make a CD version of Last Dayz in the same year the demo came out. They are too good to be only part of a demo, and “Brotherhood” alone is a lesson in constructing a perfect hardcore song. 

Hugo Reyes | @hvreyes5

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