A different perspective on the 90s - "the West Coast/New Age records sound"

 It's no secret that our preference in hardcore is for what most people, affectionately or in jest, refer to as "The 90s" meaning in the main very metal influenced hardcore. Whether it is the crushing Vegan Straight Edge message of Earth Crisis or H8000, tracksuit wearing, kickboxing metal of Europe or the origins of the Florida sound via bands like Morning Again & Culture spawning bands like Poison the Well it's all thrown under this single banner.

"The 90s"

This sound wasn't the only one active in the decade. For me, the New York Hardcore sound came into it's own with Madball & Sick Of It All releasing their best records and bands like Crown of Thornz, 25 Ta Life & Merauder giving NYHC it's finishing flavour which probably explains my affinity of Bleak Reality, true advocates of that time and place.

But there is (at least) another "the 90s" sound that doesn't get any real attention right now, and a scene I didn't feel confident writing about, a scene/sound that I refer to as "The West Coast/New Age Records sound". As someone who likes to learn and acknowledging a large black hole in my hardcore history I asked for a contribution to act as a primer for kids interested in learning about that time period and Ben from Guidance stepped up. If you don't know Guidance yet check them here: Guidance Bandcamp - a fairly new band from Charlie Fre$h of Abolition/Violent Reaction fame, formerly Reinforced and a band very much influenced by the time period in question.

Here is what Ben had to say, and some links to some out of print classics of the era (if nothing else, get Against The Wall - one of the few bands from this scene I was already amped on!):

The current UK scene is flourishing, with bands popping up all across the country, we’re proving that this tiny spec of land in the grey Atlantic Ocean can hold its own and produce some great music and put on some chaotic shows but amongst all the new bands - that play all sorts of great styles - there has been a small group of bands playing that 90s jam that some love and some hate; my two favourite bands from the UK; Ark of the Covenant and Abolition started this revival and they have given rise to Repentance, Renounced and Below, all providing us with those crushing 90s chugs that I never get bored of.

I play bass in a band called Guidance, we play a very specific style of early 90s west coast hardcore, in the vein of Outspoken, Strife, Chain of Strength etc. I feel that amongst all the great hardcore that’s around at the moment this New Age records breed of hardcore often gets forgotten about or overshadowed by the New York bands around at the same time (Madball, Judge, Crown of Thornz, VoD etc). I think for some people who haven’t heard this style before it may seem quite different, I don’t know, but I wanted to perhaps give some insight into the style we play but mainly I wanted to just talk about my favourite bands and the music that I love.

Drift Again – Discography


Mike Hartsfield, what a guy, in so many bands and one of the few guys not to sell out! (kinda) You’ll have to wait about 5 years for anything you order from New Age though. Drift Again were around from 1990 to around 1992, originally called Solitude, this band pre dates Outspoken by a smidgen, and you can definitely here those Hartsfield riffs being chugged here as they were to be played in Outspoken, what I love about this band is that the music is so simple, the track “Cold Season” is almost just one riff but what livens up the riffs are the vocals, very different to a lot of modern hardcore vocals, these vocals are sang and sang with such feeling and energy that it almost acts as an instrument, harmonising along with the guitars, giving this band such a unique sound, it’s a shame they only ever mustered 6 tracks! Track 1 is from the Words to Live By comp on New Age, track 2-4 are from The Cold Season 7” and tracks 5 and 6 are unreleased demos.

Mean Season – Bleed To Me 7” and Grace LP



Speaking of seasons, Mean Season has to be one of my favourite bands of all time; these guys started around 1992 and ended in 1996, hailing from Orange County, (like many New Age/Outspoken bands of this era) they created a sound that is like no other hardcore band I have ever heard, and I’m not exaggerating, this band have a dark and moody but also melodic and spiritual sound that runs through their whole LP, which is a truly great combination of metal and hardcore. From what I’ve read and heard, this band was huge in the early 90s and even managed to tour Europe, twice, which was extremely rare for a band from that area at that time but their unique sound has been forgotten over the 15 or so years since 1996. They have a discography CD on New Age but I’ve upped the original 7” and LP, gotta love that vinyl crackle!

Amenity- Forward Into The Past CD


This band have to be one of the most underrated of all time, from San Diego, Amenity were actually around a long time before most of the other California bands, starting around 1986/87, they started by playing a more than usual brand of fast paced straight edge posi hardcore but it’s really around 1989-1990 when they released the This Is Our Struggle 7” and the Breathe 7” when this band really came into their own, with songs like “Impel” and “Breathe” sounding like a calm and almost rock influenced form of emo with sang vocals instead of shouts/screams while songs like “Fade” and “Taken” lay down aggressive vibes with arpeggios dropped in to give melody and not bore the listener with generic fast riffs, some of it is even reminiscent of Minor Threat’s Out of Step LP. I still don’t understand how this band can be so underrated when they have the banging sing-a-long tune that is “This Is Our Struggle”, If that doesn’t make you want to sing a long in your room then there’s no hope. The Forward Into The Past CD is a discography CD that’s long out of print, got a few live tracks too. Also, check out House of Suffering, a band that formed after Amenity that has all the same members apart from the singer, they played a hip hop, early Outspoken style of hardcore, I’ll leave a link for them: http://www.sendspace.com/file/yxu31x

Against The Wall – Identify Me


For a band that only did one 7”, this band seemingly went quite a long way, they were relatively well known and played quite a few shows in their short time active, this 7” was released in 1989 and was – as far as I know – Mike Hartsfield’s first hardcore band. For me, this 7” sums up everything I love about early 90s hardcore, in fact, scratch that, everything I love about hardcore, being young, pissed off and against the wall (by young I don’t mean actual age, just the spirit of not growing up), the production on this record is almost perfect, it has that old, early 90s feel but has a really huge reverberant sound to it with massive amounts of reverb on those toms (back when drummers played with three toms) which creates some epic fills; the guitar melodies and bass lines are nothing short of triumphant, when that intro bass line to “Its Time” comes in, I feel like I want to accomplish everything I can and for fill my true potential, as corny as that sounds, that’s what this record means to me and I never get bored of it.

A Chorus of Disapproval – Full Circle Stop 7”


Chorus, California’s answer to Judge, this band hit you with everything that is straight edge with those crushing metal guitars that Judge brought in on Bringing It Down, as memorable and unique as Mike Judge’s vocals are, Isaac Golub’s vocals for Chorus are hard, a bit of a simple word to use but hard is the only word I can attribute to his vocals, they sound human, not some processed scream but I truly believe this guy is pissed off with a lot of things. Chorus put out two 7”s and an LP, all of which are great but I think the Full Circle Stop 7” is the best release, with longer songs than most of the bands that were playing a similar style, Chorus bring those heavy metallic riffs but keep the essence of hardcore punk with the fast chugs, hard vocals and something about fire which is a staple for a 90s record but Chorus show melodic depth on this 7”, something they don’t really show on any other release, the bass on A Way Out is one of my favourite bass performances in hardcore and that song alone is a good one when you feel like everyone is against you, dat bass break tho. New Age put out a discography CD/10” which I believe is still available but this 7” is out of print, great band.

Forced Down – Rise 7” & Stifle 7”



This band were one of those ones where I was searching through a blog (how 21st century does that sound?) and saw the artwork and knew I would like the music straight away but I couldn’t find a link, eventually I gave up until I saw the first 7” in All Ages in Camden and bought it, I eventually found the songs on a discography CD they did which I have no idea how I didn’t know about, anyway less about how I found them and more about the band. Forced Down were another San Diego outfit and was actually the band that the singer from Amenity (Michael Down) went on to form, Forced Down played hardcore that not everyone wanted to hear, they always played music that they wanted to and weren’t afraid to try new styles (which is how music progresses), they vary from straight up fast hardcore to the more indie/emo side of things, each member was very capable with their instruments and each song is flawless, from the angry shouts on the track “Nothing” to the piano parts on the track “A Cry For Truth”, it is extremely hard to do this band justice with a simple explanation, I know that sometimes puts people off, but seriously if you haven’t heard this band, just give it a try. Check this line up, how mad??!!

Outspoken – The Current

(this is still in print, check it out)

I had to do it didn’t I? You didn’t think I was going to write a piece about West Coast hardcore and not drop my favourite band in? West coast gods if that was ever a real thing, this 7” helped define hardcore as we know it and was the biggest influence on one of the biggest hardcore bands in the past 10 years, *cough* ..Have... Heart... *cough*.

So that just about wraps it up, those are my top favourite West coast bands but I’d love to delve into obscurity on some more posts.

Ben Woolf

Posted on July 13th, 2013
Bleak Reality Tour diary

Hardcore isn't about what it says on the back of your shirt, it's an exchange of ideas and experiences, a broadening of horizons and an escape from everyday life. Whilst everyday life means I'm never going to have the time to do a fanzine or maintain a reasonable blog I'd like to compile what I can here for anyone who cares to read it.

"Communication, that's where it begins..."

I could tell you about my trip to Barcelona, but beyond recommending you check out Aloha Tattoo and make sure you have plenty of time to see all the sights of that beautiful city there isn't too much to add. However, as Bleak Reality have just been all over Europe, smashing it up with their Scottish chums in WarCharge and following the daily tweets about cool new bands they had encountered and places they had seen I thought it would be a good idea to get them to document their trip and link people to bands/labels/scenes that maybe you'd not come across yet.

Here is what Louis had to say about that, with links to everything to keep it simple for you;

Summarising the events of 12 days is a difficult task but the essence of it is really just 11 lads crammed into a stinky van with an 18-inch dildo, a bunch of gear and the drive to explore. I’m incredibly humbled even just to be writing about our experiences touring Europe this summer because it will definitely stand as the most memorable adventure of my life. We played 11 different cities in 6 different countries, with each show being incredible and uniquely memorable in its own way.

Southampton was the first show, which was cool seeing as we’d never played there before and kids went off which is always a plus. This London band called Crimes played a sick blend of old school hardcore and they were all safe guys (shout out to Ron for the shirt and being a legit dude).

The following morning we caught the ferry to Calais (a first experience for Grimes) and headed to Genk in Belgium. Our friends in Grim played and their drummer Stef and his girlfriend Laura organised the show. We were all psyched before we even arrived purely because we were hanging out with those guys again. Plus, Stef’s house could easily be on MTV Cribs and Gijs is the funniest motherfucker on the planet. Check them out if you dig The Icemen. Stef is also the head behind Open Up Records.

We woke up early and drove to Antwerp to hangout and buy ridiculous second-hand clothes and later Stef took us to swim in this beautiful Lake near his house. Sam dived in the shallowest part and completely fucked his finger up which was hilarious so props to him for not wussing out and still smashing his drums every night. We played with Grim again in Duisberg the same night. For me this was easily one of the craziest shows we’ve played. To see kids beating the fuck out of each other to our music in another country was insane. The promoters managed to get a bouncy castle outside the venue too, which was an enjoyable novelty. Everyone was cool, the show was packed out and we got fed full to the brim with Europe’s infamous vegan chilli.

Arriving at the venue in Leipzig was a surreal/exciting experience for me. It was a little squat in a corner of the city that seemed to have been completely overrun by punks, skins and hardcore kids. Every street was dressed head to toe in graffiti, most of which gave clear warnings to police or Nazi’s dumb enough to venture into the area. To me, this really captured the spirit of hardcore as a community. Everyone was welcoming and open-minded, and clubbed together to sustain an incredible scene in a city otherwise plagued by moronic right-wingers. A band called Light It Up played before us and they covered Floorpunch and Guns Up. They are essentially Germany’s answer to Soul Search with riffs coated in the armour of bands like Demize. Also, shout out to Wolfie for the show, great food and giving us a place to stay.

Next up was Bielsko-Biala in Poland. Our friend, Lukasz (AKA XveganXjusticeX on YouTube) flew out to the show and let us crash with his parents. Grimes got naked and played his Dad’s mandolin so if you’re a I honestly can’t thank him enough; he’s unconditionally supported this band since the beginning and for that we owe him eternal gratitude. The show was sick and exceeded my expectations in every way. We were fed great food in the name of Food Not Bombs and were welcomed into a tight-knit community full of real-deal coremen with good morals and stories about the history of Polish Hardcore: What more could you want?

The next morning we drove to the Auschwitz Death Camp. I could talk about this all day but I think it’s better to be experienced rather than merely read. You can just feel an overwhelming presence of evil in that place. It really fucked me up. We played Prague in Czech Republic afterwards. We were all shook about the flooding on the news and the rain on the drive in didn’t help quell our fears one bit. When we arrived however, it was almost poignantly familiar. It just looked like a rainy day in Britain. The show was hooked up at a café in the middle of a field by Pavel from Czech Straight Edge band Daydream. If you’re into 90’s Hardcore in the vein of Battery, Strain or Abhinanda then this is definitely a band you should listen to.

We were supposed to play Budapest the following day but due to financial issues and poor planning on our part, we had to pull out so we got a hostel in the centre of Prague and had a day off. The first thing we did in the hostel (AKA the dick room) was get naked and jump around like fucking idiots. We got chance to explore the city and eat at a restaurant together. Later, we wandered off into the city to hit up clubs/bars and just hang out with the locals. The thing that struck me the most was the constant bombardment by scumbags trying to force us into ‘strip clubs’ which gave an insight to how bad the illegal sex trade really is over there. To anyone reading this, if you ever consider paying for sex, don’t: It’s an awful industry. Think with compassion, not with your dick.

Switzerland was up next. Police and border control stopped us about 5 times in 24 hours, which sucked so we were a little late. The show was in a sick venue and everything was paid for by the city council (UK councils take note). A Bulgarian band called Expectations opened the show and they were really funny dudes. One of them had a distro/label, which I think was called Ugly and Proud so most of us left armed with new records. This was the last show with our guitarist Ben. He flew from Zurich the following morning to travel and return to Australia and honestly I haven’t been that upset in a long time. I was sobbing in the back of the van. I have so much love for that guy. Check out his photography work at Benjamin Hardman Photography.

We played a small town called Berchtesgaden in the German Bavarian Alps the next day. It was honestly the most beautiful place I’ve ever visited in my life. There are trees, mountains, hills and rivers everywhere. It seemed like nature dominated man rather than the other way around which was a refreshing change to the concrete abyss of Leeds. A dude called Roman organised the show and he was probably the coolest guy I met on the entire trip. He gave us a tour of the city and taught us about its history. He had a great knowledge of Hardcore and we shared a lot in common so it was a shame to have to say goodbye. His friend Martin let us crash at his place in Austria. He had a pool in his garden and a really chilled out cat called Barney so I think for me this was the gnarliest place we stayed at throughout the whole tour.

The show in Aue was at an old venue above an Italian restaurant next to a river so we all ate pizza outside and hung out together. A band played an Inside Out cover so I was definitely endorsing that (although I can’t remember what they were called). I also got introduced to the guys fromRisk It and they were all real humble and genuine dudes. That night we stayed at our friend Toni Trasher’s house who put us up when we played Zwickau on our weekender with Grim a few months back. For some reason every time we’ve stayed there we’ve raised the bar for fucking with Sam I.E. Me and Ash farted on his pillow and someone smeared Nutella on a tissue and dropped it next to him so he fully lost his shit and flipped out. Hilarious viewing for everyone involved.

Hamburg was our final show on the mainland and honestly the coolest venue I’ve ever had the opportunity to play in. It was an abandoned theatre that had been squatted a few decades back. The first thing we saw were several makeshift beds on the steps of the venue which served as home to a couple of old homeless folks, one of which was wearing OG Biohazard shirt from the 80’s. There was a DIY skate park round the back and I was so gutted I forgot my board because it looked so sweet to ride. The innards of the venue were dripping with graffiti. It was heaven. There was a protest outside about the horrors occurring in Istanbul but with me not being fluent in German I had no idea what they were saying. The show had about 150 kids there and it went off hard. We played with 2 other German bands: an emo band called Client and a band called World Eater which sound similar to Victim In Pain era Agnostic Front. They also covered World Peace so they got a thumbs up from me.

Immediately after the show finished we hopped back in the van and drove 13 hours to Birmingham. I honestly thought it would be a horrendous journey and everyone would bitch out but it actually wasn’t that bad. Obviously we were all grumpy and sleepy but considering I think we dealt with it pretty well. The Birmingham show was cool but I think we were all gutted that the tour was over and we were back in the UK so if we came across as arseholes I wouldn’t be surprised.

Reading this back there’s so much more I wanted to include like buying a banana shaped thong, visiting a sex shop or celotaping Sam’s clothes to his body but obviously I have to leave some stuff out. We’re all still majorly suffering from post tour blues but I think it’s important to be happy that we’ve created these memories for ourselves rather than be sad because they’re over. I can’t recommend how important it is for people to travel. You’ll learn so much about yourself, your friends and the world. I’m so grateful for the things I’ve been able to experience over the past 2 weeks and I couldn’t have picked better friends to do it with. A sincere thank you to anyone involved in making this tour absolutely incredible and to anyone who has ever supported this band in any way. You have my undying gratitude and appreciation.

Posted on June 22nd, 2013
Ark of The Covenant is Dead. Again.

The discography will not be getting a vinyl release.

I don't imagine many people will ever read this but as I like to think of myself as a man of my word, I'd like to explain why something I said was happening is no longer.

For starters, we've lost the WAV files and don't really want to be committing MP3's to vinyl as the last testament to the band.

Secondly, and most personal to me having really started Atonement with a view to releasing this record and little else, priorities have changed. As Ark have booked shows, had shows cancelled, had to turn down generous offers of other opportunities a reality became very clear. That reality is that the reasons we pulled the plug on Ark originally have not changed and there is no fresh life to the band.

Our time has passed and it feels very self indulgent putting the time, effort and honestly finance into a band that is very much done when all that energy is better invested, for me, in new projects plus the other guys are doing great things with Natural Order.

I can't see us playing another show after Bulldoze in June but who knows, never say never.

We are grateful to have the opportunity for these final shows and I'm excited to close the band out in this way.

The discography is available from the store for free. Hope you enjoy it.

Ark of The Covenant was and always will be Jones, Owain, Pingu, Jonny, Darke & James.

Posted on May 16th, 2013
March - Some stuff that is cool...

Thought it would be cool to include links to a few people we think are doing good things at the moment, that you may or may not be aware of. Some of it I will have bombarded the twitter with, others may be fresh information;

DYING- Vegan Straight Edge metal that brings to mind Catharsis in places.

Woodwork - Hardcore from France that takes influence from Unbroken and Morning Again yet ends up sounding a lot like Indecision in my opinion.

Incitement  - Brutal Polish Metalcore, sounding not a lot unlike Behemoth covering Arkangel. Not in the habit of calling music brutal that isn't so take my word on this. UK version of the demo tape available from Atonement in April, Euro pressing on Ratel Records.

Cement - If the rumours are to be believed, featuring members of Natural Order, Deal With It, Abandon Ship, Moat and Dirty Money. No brains. Just Mosh. You've been warned.

Bleak Reality - If you are living in the UK right now, I'm pretty confident you are all over this band! HARDcore taking cues from the very best of NYHC and delivering it with conviction & stylistic authenticity. Fully Backed.

Northern Wisdom - Keep your eyes on this. You won't be disappointed.

Posted on March 17th, 2013