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.
I wrote that title of “we all scream for screamo” and immediately want to discredit it with a question; do we? The name screamo almost has this sickening taste that appears on your tongue after you say it. It brings back a time when you were listening to music that yes, had screaming in it big deal but all of your friends didn’t understand genres so simply they just grouped it all together with that term. I remember being in middle school and listening to Children Of Bodom and From Autumn To Ashes — two distinct different genres — and my “friends” calling the bands “screamo.” I was infuriated because they did not want to take the time out of their day to understand it, they just hate screaming and could not look past that.
For many of reasons, that is why bands tried to stop themselves from being called screamo in the first place. It was a word that really took route in the 2000s as post-hardcore/metalcore started ravaging the scene and it made bands almost seem unintelligent if at the end of the day that was all they were going to be called anyways. It was disheartening but luckily I have sheltered myself from them now, which is funny because they should be hiding from my music but alas they are more powerful than me and can politely remind me that I listen to music with grown adults screaming about things. Whatever, I still listen to “Love Yourself” by Justin Bieber too (I admitted that on twitter today and my friends were happy for me).
The genre of screamo is hard to trace exactly. Bands have been screaming in music for decades on end, but it kind of derived from a mixture of emo and post-hardcore in the nineties. One band that spearheaded the assault known as screamo is Portraits Of Past. Now, I had never heard of them before but one listen informed me that the internet was correct in grouping them along with the likes of Swing Kids and post-hardcore heroes Fugazi and even the likes of Joy Division. The genre was based on the idea of having chaotic vocal styles riding through even more frantic paced music. Bands like Saetia painted pictures with the sound, and thus the birth of the genre happened. It was the perfect combination of psychotic shrieks riding in between beautiful poetic lyrics, and the roots really find a similar association with post-hardcore, which as the scene moves on.
Then the 2000s happened, and as alternative music became a new trend for young people, there existed a new path for them as they rode the coattails of the popular warped tour bands and slept in the ditches from where the songs took root. The first actual ‘screamo’ band I heard was Circle Takes The Square, and listening to them now I hear all of the bands that proudly popularized the wave of Post-Hardcore that took form as the latter 2000s began happening. While they are not in the same genre as Circle Takes The Square, the influences are there. They had a way of captivating listeners with gorgeous tones that pulsed behind the vicious and erratic vocals. At the same time, post-hardcore started really taking shape with the beautiful choruses off-setting the psychotic mannerisms the vocalists would spew. Screamo retains a natural instilled beauty in their music, but the songs are relentless in their vocal styles, thus the word being associated with the sound of screaming. Makes sense, right?
The genre had a bit of transformation as the next decade into the 2000s arrived. Bands started really working with contrasting elements to push the genre to the next boundary, focusing on having bright and clean guitars instead of crushing distortion tones. More and more bands really polished their sound into one of clean licks and bright melodies for the screams to reside over. The drum work has always been technical, the bass always having an underlying power, but I think there’s a lot to mention about the guitar tones. This wave — while still having some bands forcefully use distortion — utilize tones that are scratchy at times, almost like they are meant to cut at you, combining minor chords with open strings to really drive the sound home. One song that I really think captured this perfectly is “Life In Drag” by The Hotelier. Listen to how fucking vicious those guitars are, they are perfectly in between a distorted riot and a clean twinkly post-rock tone. The chords are rather unfinished, unsettled and running behind the strained vocals smoothly. Maybe I’m crazy, or maybe just knowing how to play the song really opened my eyes on how genius the tone is versus what is being played. The ending riff? Magical, and this band isn’t even a screamo band, this song is just one I think has an identity to the screamo of newer age bands, resting contently with big explosive parts and even pop structured tunes.
Great, so I have used one example. Bands like Glocca Mora, Tiny Moving Parts and Anzio are a few more of the groups I am pointing towards. Their songs may not be as complex or as dissonant as the early waves, but they sound fun and happy, which is a unique contrast. Take a listen to Stars Hollow for example, “Embarrassed” features a light and glittery guitar line sliding and bouncing around in between the pulses from the rhythm section and you’d be damned if you did not at least find it charming. Actually, if you don’t enjoy it I will eat this filthy hat I’m wearing. The midwest screamo/emo scene right now is absolutely insane, kind of goes to show that when people are upset at how boring and monotonous life can be there is an outlet of kids screaming into microphones because they are just that bored (kill me for that reference to Fall Out Boy).
And that’s my story. How Screamo took over my life. By the way, I am totally against people really shying away from the new waves of genres. Things evolve and devolve all the time. Right now I am listening to Orchid (Dance Tonight, Revolution Tomorrow is one of the best screamo records ever) and just finished being eaten alive by Saetia, I get it. I am always down to lose my shit to the chaotic mass of music that was the early days of screamo, and I think a lot of people understand that. I’m glad the scene has grown to be what it is because it’s fun to hear new generations of musicians take on such a healthy and pure genre and give their own taste. Also, listening to that Portraits Of Past song up there you can hear the guitar tones still maintain that scratchy wail, which goes to show that this is one of the only genres I have come across that has maintained a lot of its roots.
P.S. I cried watching Pianos Become The Teeth one time.