Cheat Sheet: Metalcore
by Chuck Eddy | March 11, 2013
The whole idea of a music genre called "metalcore" is kind of funny, given that it implies that there was once a time "(hard)core" didn't have "metal" in it. There was not: Even before hardcore happened, punk bands like The Sex Pistols and The Ramones were, as often as not, mostly just metal bands playing faster and shorter than usual; years before that, metal and punk had started in the exact same place, aka the Michigan of MC5 and The Stooges and Alice Cooper, if not the England of The Who and The Kinks and The Yardbirds. "Graph the styles' time-lines and you'll end up with a double helix," I wrote in a Creem Metal piece called "Metal Was Punk Before Metal Was Metal" a quarter-century ago.
By the time hardcore kicked in, punk's metal quotient was, if anything, escalated. Even taking into account the few years it took for Black Flag to grow their hair and slow their tempos (see my recent My War Source Material), by 1981 fellow travelers Flipper and The Angry Samoans were embracing Sabbath and Öyster Cult riffs they'd grown up on. Meanwhile, on the metal side of the fence, first Motörhead, then Venom, then Metallica and subsequent thrashers made no attempt to hide the punk rock in their blood.
First-generation hardcore crews from Bad Brains to The Necros to Discharge to T.S.O.L. basically became metal bands within a few years of being born. Hüsker Dü, who started out as a land-speed-record-setting slam-dance trio in Minneapolis, put out an EP called Metal Circus in 1983 -- the same year Glen Danzig left New Jersey's Misfits to make his horror more metal in Samhain. And so on. So it was perplexing in the mid-'80s, when a big whoop was made within certain circles about relatively generic upstarts on both the East (Agnostic Front, Crumbsuckers) and West (Suicidal Tendencies) Coasts suddenly making supposedly barrier-busting "crossover" heavycore (Houston's D.R.I. even named an album Crossover in 1987), when such gene-splicing had in fact been happening all along. Corrosion of Conformity, The Cro-Mags, Hirax, S.O.D., M.O.D. -- they multiplied like roaches. If anything, these dudes needed a late pass.
But but but … it somehow still wasn't "metalcore" yet! Or perhaps the word was bandied about here and there, but what seems to be considered metalcore now didn't really occur until the turn of the '90s, beginning with such tough guys from the streets as Brooklyn's eventually more rapcore Biohazard (first album 1990) and Syracuse straight-edge vegans Earth Crisis (first EP 1992). New Yorkers always think they invent everything, right?
No one can deny the prominence of tattoos, up to necks assuming necks were available. Fans will tell you this music was unparalleled in terms of extreme aggression, and whether you believe that or not, gazillions of other brutes followed suit in the decades since – some who attack with a microsurgeon's sense of precision, some with all the finesse of an ox in a china shop, some who seem like creations of the corporate boardroom. A surprising number of the bands are biracial; quite a few are Christian, and a couple even come from England. The more screamo some of them got, especially as "metalcore" was co-opted into a tool for label branding and marketing, the less accurate it became to suggest all its practitioners sound like they wanna punch your face in. Most, if not all, are still male.
This Cheat Sheet aims to cover all bases, culling 15 representative albums starting with the early '90s that, arbitrarily or not, are now widely considered metalcore's Point A. So watch your step!