Metalcore. A long-time centerpiece for constant scrutiny by fans and critics of the fusion genre. It is one of the most expansive musical spectrums in existence, creating moshpits so painfully (pun intended) phenomenal, while the number of people headbanging increases proportionately to the number of strings tuned low. Also let’s be honest, who doesn’t like a good, gut wrenching breakdown?
It can’t be denied that the growth of the genre can be compared to the spread of an endemic. Ever since its origin, the genre has had a steady, infectious success till it blew up in the 2000’s, which makes it one of the most loved subgenres in the global metal community. Essential elements of the musical style were grasped by metal musicians all over, which expanded its sound into the spectrum it is today, with really no consensus on what it’s supposed to sound like.
This is the tale of core. In it, I trace it back to its beginnings and elaborate on the off-shoots and landmark albums within this spectrum. Fellow metalheads, All aboard the ch0gg train.
The 80’s: The Roots of Core
Or how it was called back in the day: Metallic Hardcore. The sound originates from attempts made by acts across the globe to merge the influences of metal (Slayer, Obituary, Motörhead, Sepultura) with that of punk rock’s (Sex Pistols, The Clash, Ramones, Misfits) creating a “noise” that would be one day reign infamous. Of all the acts, the 1980’s gives credits to Hogan’s Heroes, a four piece act that set the foundations for the genre with it’s ‘88 album, ‘Built to Last’. The album is 23 minutes of unadulterated chaos, attributed to the nature of punk rock, but metalheads will easily recognise the subtle Thrash metal influences across the record. The 1980’s also witnessed the birth of Napalm Death, which brought a taste of its own style which now goes by the name Grindcore. Grindcore took more influence from the underground music at the time, which is why the band’s debut album ‘Scum’ (1987), turned quite a lot of heads. Scum includes a track called “You Suffer”, which holds the Guinness World Record for the shortest song ever recorded.
The progress of the genre in the 80’s was fairly slow, majorly because of the spotlight being dead focused upon Thrash metal and the popularity of the genre. It wasn’t till the 90’s that Metallic Hardcore gained a name for itself in the underground music scene.
The 90s: The Underdogs of the Decade
Truth be told, the 90’s had a lot on its plate when it came to music. Grunge was at its peak, in the initial years due to Nirvana’s success, Thrash metal broke out into mainstream post Metallica’s ‘The Black Album’ from ‘91 and Megadeth’s ‘Countdown to Extinction’ from ‘92, Alternative Metal would have it’s glory with the rise of Rage Against the Machine, and Nu metal would dominate the latter of the decade.
Metalcore however, began its spread in this decade. Bands like Converge, Hatebreed, Biohazard, Earth Crisis, and The Dillinger Escape Plan emerged to take upon the genre and get straight into album production. Converge had three albums out in those years, but it was 2001’s ‘Jane Doe’ that caught widespread publicity. The album received immense acclaim towards its volatility, musical writing and lyrical content. The album’s artwork, which was created by the band’s vocalist Jacob Bannon, became the face of the band.
Biohazard, Earth Crisis and Hatebreed however, took the raw, heavy hardcore approach into their sound. Biohazard was one of the first acts to incorporate hip hop elements with rhythmic metal instrumentals, arguably ending up as one of the influences for Nu Metal. Earth Crisis and Hatebreed used Mosh-inciting guitar riffs which ended up channelling everybody’s inner bear out, ready to smack everything in their way. Lyrically however, both of the bands received different publicity. Hatebreed’s lyrics revolved around the battle within oneself, while Earth Crisis still receives trolling today for promoting a vegan lifestyle through their music. Vegancore, hypothetically speaking, would be very interesting though.
The Dillinger Escape Plan (the only time people will remember a bank robber’s name in pride by the way), released their debut album in ‘99, and created the biggest wave of them all. ‘Calculating Infinity’ was a musical orgy way ahead of it’s time, and even led to the band being classified as Avant-garde Grindcore. Their live shows were described as violent and intense, which led them to be signed with Relapse Records. Each of the band’s albums are musically fraternal yet strangers at the same time, and are an inspiration to many of the core bands that would be later a part of the scene.
The 2000s: Commercial Success and the Rise of Deathcore
2000-2010 was the defining decade for the genre. Prominent bands with Pantera and Sepultura influences emerged with new sounds that were a part of the NWOAHM. Killswitch Engage jumped into the scene with 2004’s ‘End of a Heartache’. The band received immense acclaim and mainstream publicity after being involved with the WWE. Superstar CM Punk used their song “This Fire Burns” as his choice of ring entrance music. Bands also took different turns into their writing. Melodic metalcore was one of these genres which took inspiration from the art of Swedish melodic death guitar writing, and bands like Trivium, Bullet for my Valentine, Atreyu, August Burns Red were some of the first few bands to play it. By 2005, Trivium were recognised for their song “Pull Harder on the strings of your Martyr”, involving vocalist Matt Heafy‘s excessive throat screaming and brilliant melody work as mentioned above. Another one in the band wagon, with their debut album ‘Sounding the Seventh Trumpet’ (2001), was Avenged Sevenfold. A7X was the metal band of the masses and attracted fans metalheads and non-metalheads alike now known as the Deathbat Nation. What made them stand out was exceptional guitar shredding by Synyster Gates and its beautiful composition work by The Rev.
Lamb of God, the band that was on the forefront of the NWOAHM, though considered Groove metal today, had ample amounts of metalcore in their first three albums, namely ‘New American Gospel’ (2000), ‘As the Palaces Burn’ (2003), and ‘Ashes of the Wake’ (2004). Much unlike everything melodic, guitarists Mark Morton and Willie Adler emphasised on a lot of rhythmic riff work which gave the band a very distinct sound. However guitars were not the only instrument in this spectrum, for widespread success only meant pushing more instruments into the mix. Japan turned the table using turntables in 2008, when Crossfaith unleashed Electronicore for the world in their demo ‘Blueprint for Reconstruction’, which involved the use of synthesizers, loops and bass drops very similar to that used in electronic music today. This allowed the band to have a mixed fanbase from two musical subcultures.
The 2000’s also witnessed a new sub genre of core, that didn’t happen to involve Heavy Metal. Enter blastbeats, breakdowns that have nothing to do with six string guitars, a bucket of pig squeals and a truckload of gutturals. Deathcore stormed the scene with its own take on fusions, taking whatever extreme music had to offer and compiling it into one soul shattering experience. Decibel magazine credits technical death metal band Suffocation as the origin of the genre, wherein the breakdown, one of the band’s key musical components, gave rise to it. Nick Vasallo from one of the first two deathcore bands, Antagony (other one being Despised Icon) is often considered as the father of Deathcore. And much like metalcore, deathcore artists added their own influences to their work. Emmure took to it with Nu Metal, Atilla with its own take at fusing it with mainstream Rap, Carnifex went at it with a Blackened-Death perspective, and Born of Osiris took the progressive metal approach. A true standard of Deathcore however, is the 2007 debut album ‘The Cleansing’ by deathcore juggernauts, Suicide Silence (regardless of whatever is happening today). Guitarist Mark Heylmun’s excessive usage of the bloody chord (a false chord) along with Alex Lopez’s drumming, topped off Mitch Lucker’s vocal work is what gave this album its edge.
2010 and Beyond: the Core Genre Today
In all aspects, the Core genre is anything but unitary. It has evolved massively over the last 30 years and will continue to do so as new artists emerge and break the ceiling with more and more fused influences. Fire from the Gods released ‘Narrative Retold’ on 19th May, which can potentially change what Rap metal is today. The song “Flojo” by Issues has so many influences into it, the confusion arises in either wanting to headbang, or just shuffle dance. And we may witness a band with a name more spectacular than We Butter the Bread with Butter. The possibilities are endless.
Change, is the only consistency we can rely on when it comes to modern metal. To conclude, I’d like to recommend 20 albums across the genre (in no specific order), that are worth a listen:
- Oceans Ate Alaska – ‘Lost Isles’ (Metalcore)
- Bring me the Horizon – ‘Sempiternal’ (Metalcore)
- The Dillinger Escape Plan – ‘Calculating Infinity’ (Avant-Garde Grindcore/Mathcore)
- Suicide Silence – ‘The Cleansing’ (Deathcore)
- Born of Osiris – ‘Soul Sphere’ (Progressive deathcore)
- Trivium – ‘Silence in the Snow’ (Metalcore)
- Chelsea Grin – ‘Ashes to Ashes’ (Deathcore)
- Hatebreed – ‘The Divinity of Purpose’ (Hardcore/Metalcore)
- In this Moment – ‘Black Widow’ (Metalcore)
- Carnifex – ‘Slow Death’ (Blackened deathcore)
- Thy Art is Murder – ‘Hate’ (Deathcore)
- Converge – ‘Jane Doe’ (Metalcore)
- Crossfaith – ‘Apocalyze’ (Electronicore)
- Code Orange – ‘Forever’ (Hardcore)
- Avenged Sevenfold – ‘City of Evil’ (Melodic metalcore)
- Bullet for my Valentine – ‘Poison’ (Melodic metalcore)
- August Burns Red – ‘Found in Faraway Places’ (Melodic Metalcore)
- Acrania – ‘Totalitarian Dystopia’ (Deathcore/Politicore)
- Whitechapel – ‘Our Endless War’ (Deathcore)
- Shokran – ‘Supreme Truth’ (Progressive deathcore)