With right-wing authoritarianism on the rise, unchecked climate change threatening to swallow humanity whole, the continued existence of rampant gender inequality, and economic turmoil upending all hope for a comfortable future, 2018 was a garbage year for the planet.

Not coincidentally, it was a banner year for hardcore.

Fueled by equal amounts of urgency and outrage, diverse acts across the scene’s multitude of subgenres produced a bumper crop of crucial releases, providing the perfect sonic backdrop for a world riding a precariously fine line between a better tomorrow and certain doom. Wherever those chips may fall, this list of eight essential hardcore records for 2018 is here to provide the soundtrack.

American Nightmare | American Nightmare | Rise Records

Did anyone expect we’d get a new American Nightmare record in 2018? If you answer that question with anything other than “no,” you’re a goddamned liar. Regardless of your personal commitment to honesty, the influential Boston band’s self-titled return sees the four-piece sounding sharper than ever. Frontman Wes Eisold may be older and wiser now than when he penned the lyrics to modern classics like “AM/PM,” but he’s no less pissed off. This is an efficient 20 minutes of breathless nihilism juxtaposed against tight blasts of youth-crew-inspired riffage, which is exactly what longtime fans would want and expect.

Turnstile | Time & Space | Roadrunner Records

Turnstile’s 2016 debut full-length, Nonstop Feeling, felt like a breath of fresh air from young kids putting their own spin on time-tested hardcore formulas, transcending genre boundaries in the process. As critically acclaimed as that record was inside hardcore circles and beyond, in retrospect, it feels like it was just a hint of what the Baltimore band would later achieve on Time & Space. While its individual elements—pit-worthy breakdowns, ripping guitar solos, and singalong choruses—feel familiar, the way they’re combined sounds like exactly no one else in the genre today. If this is the future of hardcore, then the scene is in good hands.

Harm’s Way | Posthuman | Metal Blade Records

Heavy hardcore doesn’t have to trade brains for brawn. That’s something the Chicago-based Harm’s Way have been proving since 2006, and never has that statement been more true than on their latest release, Posthuman. It’s a pummeling meditation on finding meaning in the world without believing in an afterlife, searching for ways to make your limited time on this orbiting mass of dirt and rock count before gravity and time conspire to turn you into space dust. It’s both bleak and empowering, packed with crushing grooves and enough motivational energy to make you feel like you could bench press your neighbor’s family sedan.

Single Mothers | Through a Wall | Dine Alone Records

London, Ontario’s Single Mothers are capable of writing catchier hooks than most hardcore bands would ever dare allow themselves. For evidence, check out the choruses on bangers like “Leash” and “Bolt Cutters” off their 2017 full-length, Our Pleasure. However, they’re equally skilled at crafting searing hardcore that effortlessly transitions between anxious urgency and rock ’n’ roll swagger. It’s those more aggressive tendencies that come through the most on Through a Wall, which rips through 14 tracks of fast-paced guitars and pummeling percussion that undergird vocalist Drew Thomson’s incomparable acerbic wit. It’s the perfect response to a year marked by awfulness and absurdity.

Jesus Piece | Only Self | Southern Lord Recordings

The spirit of ’90s metalcore is alive and well on Jesus Piece’s Only Self. This Philly band have mastered the art of locking into a metallic mid-tempo groove and riding it for all its worth, exorcising anger and anxiety with the overwhelming power of the riff. By the time opening track “Lucid” launches into its closing breakdown, it becomes clear this record isn’t going to stop steamrolling your entire existence until your ears have been ground down into a fine paste. When one record packs this much impossible heaviness into one package, some permanent hearing loss is a fair trade.

Primal Rite | Dirge of Escapism | Revelation Records

Primal Rite’s Dirge of Escapism is a near-perfect blend of hardcore and thrash that’s potent enough to kill your front lawn on contact. Take one look at the record’s grim cover art featuring an apparently skinless figure bathing before a waterfall adorned with the faces of ghoulish apparitions, and one would be forgiven for thinking the San Francisco band are going to serve up some straightforward fantasy-driven death metal. Instead, Dirge of Escapism is a reality-based crossover record that confronts a sociopolitical climate that often feels more frightening than fiction. This is exactly the kind of honest, no-holds-barred record that this thoroughly bleak era demands.

Gouge Away | Burnt Sugar | Deathwish Inc.

When a record is coproduced by Touché Amoré’s Jeremy Bolm and punk producer du jour Jack Shirley for Deathwish Inc., you can safely assume it’s going to be good. Give Gouge Away’s Burnt Sugar a spin, and those assumptions are immediately proven accurate. It isn’t necessarily a hardcore record in the purest sense, though it’s clear that’s where the Florida band’s roots lie. Beneath the album’s layers of panic-stricken ambiance and vocalist Christina Michelle’s cathartic exhortations beats the heart of a band pushing beyond strict genre confines, taking a post-everything approach to ’90s noise rock and modern hardcore punk that just works.

Birds In Row | We Already Lost the World | Deathwish Inc.

The small city of Laval, France, isn’t known as a hotbed for aggressive music. However, its one notable contribution to the artform happens to be Birds In Row, one of the most dynamic and compelling acts to emerge from the noisier end of the genre’s spectrum in the past decade. Their latest record, We Already Lost the World, bears a title that sounds grimly prophetic while accurately reflecting the fractured nihilistic rage contained within its nine tracks. Similar to labelmates and Bay Area staples Loma Prieta, this is tough-as-nails screamo-adjacent punk that will lay your heart and eardrums to waste.

By Ben Sailer

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