Screamo feels like it’s got a special way of finding those who could use the wild musical journeys the most. Like more mainstream heavy music, the genre has faced plenty of doubters, but as 2020 dawns, with screamo’s loud and chaotic corner of the punk scene accumulating what are now solid decades of experience, the art continues to thrive—rawness and all. Twenty-nineteen was a great year for the style.
1. Elle- Ellipsis
The northern California-based Elle sports members of already successful screamo groups like Loma Prieta, but the musicians make this other project uniquely poignant on their August album Ellipsis, which also features an actual ellipsis as the title in some forms and is available from the prolific labels Dog Knights Productions and Zegema Beach Records.
The sometimes short but always clearly, deeply passionate songs feel inescapably moving. While never straying too far from an everyday kind of post-hardcore listenability, the band also conduct a deep dive into raw, unfiltered, but beautifully polished energy. The band’s tones and dynamics blend together under the heading of straightforwardly and stirringly intense melody, topped by mostly screamed but sometimes spoken lyrics asking listeners to take another look at their opportunities for emotional freedom.
2. .gif from god – approximation_of_a_human
.gif from god’s newest album sounds absolutely off-the-walls insane—and it’s perfect. Fittingly enough, the group hails from Richmond, around where some key early U.S. screamo took off, and on late September’s approximation_of_a_human, .gif from god refreshingly keep that power going.
Available most recently from both Prosthetic Records and Zegema Beach Records, the band’s music packs a foundation of fierce, metallic, hardcore riffs with mostly banshee shrieks for the vocal work and an apparent never-ending determination to upend the expectations of even the most seasoned, mathy grind listener.
The way the heavy, hardcore riffs fit together feels as chaotic as a bowl of rocks, but since the band never really let up with their energy, there’s a dark kind of grandeur to the whole thing. It’s like a lunatic party that you’re absolutely not going to want to miss.
3. Joliette – Luz Devora
Luz Devora, the July album from the Mexico-based group Joliette, mixes the raw punk melody of screamo into a wildly intense cacophony including the intensity of hardcore, the bitter-edged vitriol of metal, and even a brief foray into what sounds like folk music. The vocal work features mostly screams, but the lyrics are delivered low enough on the register to veer into angry yells at times, and the jumps between these extremes and those in the rest of the music establish this music as a captivatingly human creation, even in the midst of all the sonic chaos.
While always keeping their music’s raw, pulsating core running strong, the group also deliver stunningly powerful songwriting, and their successful balancing act quickly turns super captivating. It’s available from Zegema Beach and the Mexico-based Penelope Records.
4. Nuvolascura – Nuvolascura
Available on vinyl from Zegema Beach Records and Dog Knights Productions alongside cassette copies from No Funeral Records, the absolutely blistering, early 2019 self-titled album from the L.A.-area screamo group Nuvolascura proves to be an absolutely stunning ride into the most chaotic depths of human emotion.
The band perform their intricate riff tapestries and thundering, frenzied drum meltdowns with the sheer physical intensity of a devastating storm. Although the album clocks in at less than 20 minutes long, the amount of twists that the band pack in could easily fit on a release several times longer.
5. Olam – I Will Guide Thy Hand
The Indianapolis-area group Olam’s April 2019 album I Will Guide Thy Hand features confrontational, often-thundering but always vicious metallic hardcore. The band carry the Converge-esque torch of stunning but wildly heavy melodic drive into an overall hypnotic and increasingly perfectly caustic creation.
The harshly screamed vocals from the band’s Jake Hahn drive in that last part, and the thick, heavy tones that the band use keep their waves of sonic chaos feeling monumental. Elsewhere, Olam freely jump into catchy drum rhythm, epically powerful guitar sweeps, and more that together establish this album as something like a beacon for the powerful further personalization of some of the absolute heaviest music. Zegema Beach has cassette copies of Olam’s latest music available following an earlier release from the band.
6. Shin Guard – 2020
The Pittsburgh’s screamo crew Shin Guard’s February 2019 album 2020 feels quite straightforwardly like one of the most fun screamo records to emerge in awhile. On the opening track “Motorcade,” the band’s crunchy bass and guitar melodies immediately prove head-turningly catchy, and while they keep those groovy dynamics going strong, they also dive headfirst into cacophonous walls of sound driven by the harshly screamed vocal work and repeated quick bursts of frenzied drumming and guitar onslaughts.
The album really feels like a masterclass in turning some long-favored underground music concepts into even more tension-relieving excitement. The lyrics covering questions of freedom from interpersonal and social tension, which are delivered mostly quite understandably if you’re used to screamo, are memorably thought-provoking too. They grow the music’s journey of intense catharsis with a flourish. It’s available from Flowerpot Records, Twelve Gauge Records, and Dog Knights Productions.
7. snag – snag
The self-titled October album from Milwaukee’s snag feels alluringly dynamic and perfectly blunt. The group’s clearly agile musicians don’t really meander around at any point. Their straightforward and intense power comes together super memorably on their standout track “Fire Escape,” on which the vocalist repeats with gradually increasing frenzy that he sees someone “crying on the fire escape,” where that someone is considering self-immolation. (The track right before that on the album is dedicated to the late LGBTQ rights lawyer David Buckel, who actually went through with that process in a stated demonstration against fossil fuels.)
The album-spanning desperation inherent in that kind of last-ditch effort against the destruction of the only home humans have shines through perfectly in the jumpy, anxious music, which always feels strikingly cohesive thanks to the energetic, confident performances—which even include contributions from a violin, trumpet, and cello. Pick it up from labels including Zegema Beach, Middle-Man Records, and more.
8. Vi som älskade varandra så mycket – Det onda. Det goda. Det vackra. Det fula.
Called Det onda. Det goda. Det vackra. Det fula.—which means the evil, the good, the beautiful, and the ugly — and available via both Zegema Beach and Moment of Collapse Records, the November album from the Swedish group Vi som älskade varandra så mycket feels so stunningly powerful that it can’t help but feel tears-in-your-eyes beautiful, too.
The band’s sweeping screamo and post-rock mixture feels epic in the truest sense of the word. They perform tension-soaked screamo melodies that feel poised to turn your emotions inside out, and they extend these often-slow-but-sure melodies out long enough that just about every note hits with maximum impact. Right away, the screamed vocals and the growing tidal wave of music run at absolutely full power as the band’s inescapably enthralling, immersive portrait of emotional devastation settles in.