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.
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.