Genres and labels have become a necessary yet arbitrary force in the music industry. A band is analyzed by their sound and then grouped with similar acts in order to forever place them in a cube of adjectives to help describe just what they sound like. It can be both good and bad, with the good being certain people who browse through these labels might find that specific artist, but bad if a band just wants to make music and all of a sudden they are labeled as something they didn’t even know they were or want to be associated with. That being said, an authority figure has to police the authenticity of certain genres, right? Welcome to Genre Benders, a fun and inventive column that uses wit and research to tackle just what it is that makes a genre well, a genre.
Let’s talk about Post-Hardcore. No, not the fusing metalcore with more metalcore, I’m talking the true side of the genre that saw its humble beginnings in the 90s but blistered into the masses in the early 2000s thanks to some help from emo/screamo and the underground scene growing into the mainstream. These bands can be cringeworthy and include; The Used, My Chemical Romance, Blink -182, Fall Out Boy and Taking Back Sunday. While none of them really drift towards the post-hardcore genre, I’d argue these bands brought the alternative scene to a new light, one that became listener friendly and allowed for people to start researching bands that sounded similar or even unwinding their heavier side of music right before their eyes.
Now, I recognize that the genre began in the 80s as groups started channeling other ways to still be ‘hardcore’ but add new sounds. I believe one of the first bands to capture the energy and maniacal vibes was The Jesus Lizard. Pure hit the earth in 1989 and from then on I believe bands who wanted to play this style had a recipe to follow. While still as abrasive and aggressive as hardcore, the music was more spastic and at times sounded without direction. One of my favorite records is Scratch Acid’s self-titled, for example. Fast forward a few years to the middle of the 90s and there is one name that was in a way leading the surge, At The Drive-In. Technically gifted drums and an incredible amount of yelps soon transformed into writing one of the greatest albums ever, Relationship Of Command. Then they vanished. Who was to spearhead the effort to continue on the genre?
Luckily, New England’s scene had developed a psychotic-friendly music scene as distracted as the busy state itself. Names like Glassjaw, Thursday, From Autumn To Ashes started rising, creating an umbrella for future acts to find solace under. Not that New York was brand new to scene, having made an impact in the early 90s with Unsane & Texas Is The Reason. These new bands fractured the scene and made their name with borderline psychotic monologues riding over moving instrumentals. Vocalists had free reign over how to approach their lines, whether pop inspired and melodramatic or visceral unintelligible screams. Again, nothing incredibly new but this to me is the golden era (also because I lived through it).
As the 2000s carried on with the rise of emo music (thanks to earlier noted big bands), this depressive and apologetic styled lyrics began taking form through witty frontmen. This spawned the whiny yet still musically immersive Chiodos, From First To Last and A Static Lullaby. Now I can just freely namedrop Saosin and Thrice and Silverstein as well, right? These types of names still ring big in plenty of people’s heads even today. Whether it be reunion shows or bands that never stopped existing. Hell, Silverstein just did a full Warped tour for crying out loud. This golden era soon was distorted thanks to another genre that began and coexists alongside, for whatever reason. it’s even more cringeworthy to some than the early emo bands, and often fools me when I am going to review a ‘post-hardcore’ album.
Metalcore. Damnit, metalcore. While not entirely bad, it often it overly simplistic while trying to be complex. Splooging through time signatures with chug a lug lug breakdowns and often hiring pretty pop star sounding vocalists to contrast the harsh screams, somehow this style of music became intertwined with the former madman heavy vocalist performing two duties. Not saying that Post-Hardcore can’t be pretty, I mean “Ape Dos Mil” is often regarded as one of Glassjaw’s best songs and it lacks much of the frantic natured riffage/screaming I’ve been rambling on about, but comparing that style of post-hardcore to Of Mice and Men’s first LP is rather odd. I understand how it happened, as vocalists of some of the aforementioned bands had whiny as hell singing styles, and then came the breakdowns. What were rather sparse and used only as spurts of energy or a bridge to the next part became too relied on and often monotonous. Now, for whatever reason, I’ve seen blessthefall grouped into my favorite genre of music. No, just no. Nothing against that band (I actually have a weird crush on Beau Bokan’s vocals), but that over produced metalcore should not be considered post-hardcore. Ever, just stop.
“But you’re being too elitist now, Sean!”
No, I am policing in this instance. Look, I am all for making arguments that genres are too arbitrary, but while Deafheaven have black metal infused in their sound, blessthefall have metalcore infused in their sound. I would never make an argument for Deafheaven to be power metal, and I hope people don’t make the argument for blessthefall, or Hills Have Eyes or any other band who uses breakdown after breakdown to be a post-hardcore band. Listen to “Jesus Glue” and hear the rather raw breakdown that detonates from the song. There is not one after another, the genre was built on energy, not technical contests of timing a more savy beatdown.
Moving on from the golden era, there are bands still keeping up to the standard, and even some that have infused other genres that work into the characteristics. A decade after the new millennial bands stormed the scene, another group of young ones took the genre to new ears. Pianos Become The Teeth before Keep You blended screamo a la Circle Takes The Square into emotionally challenging songs full of sonic tension that is unraveled by constant and unrelenting shouts. La Dispute weave poetry slam vocals into audible dissonance. Touche Amore have songs that play out like quick spasms, usually clocking in at under two minutes. letlive. is my favorite act to have recently ignited the genre, channeling the early 2000s into a more modern sound backed with pure soul. Jason Butler packs every and I mean EVERY ounce of himself into his art and it is noticed. Whether flying around the streets of Paris in “Renegade 86’” or metaphorically creating a hostage situation in “Younger,” it is clear the vocalist has plenty to say and uses a unique way to say it. Not to mention his singing is nothing short of beautiful.
I once said I would marry the first girl I met that liked Glassjaw. While that did not (and probably will not) happen, I remember standing in awe watching them play at Skate ’N Surf 2013. This moment in my life caused an incredible shift in my goals and interests, and while I will forever possess the spirit of my best friend attending with me, I shall hope she vicariously lives through me. Here’s to 2016 becoming the revival year of Post-Hardcore. Yes, you heard me. This is the year that Post-Hardcore retakes the scene and crashes through with incredible intellect and frantic music. Keep an eye on Night Verses by the way, I expect their album will be huge.
P.S. You Think You’re (John Fucking Lennon) is the greatest Glassjaw song, ever.
Follow Sean on Twitter @seanthecaptain