Notorious for its speed, aggression and slam dancing, hardcore is the most hot-blooded, testosterone-fuelled genre in music. Its fans are probably the most dedicated and devote. The genre took punk and thrust it further into the realms of political commentary and controversy. The hardcore scene espoused a DIY aesthetic and sense of community that blossomed, compounding the sense that music could be made and more importantly played by anyone. Its influence knows no bounds (several of the all time biggest alt rock bands started out playing the hardcore scene in the US). As well as increasing the profile of the independent label, without hardcore we’d have no Metallica, no Nirvana and no such thing as straight edge.
Here are my top ten full-length albums from the genre. Buy them, and play them very, very loud.
10. Suicidal Tendencies – Suicidal Tendencies (1983)
Skateboarding and hardcore have gone hand in hand since the early Eighties. Something about the genres brutal pace suits shredding on a board down your local skate park. Suicidal Tendencies are the classic skateboarders band. Their debut album went on to become one of the best selling punk albums of all time. It contains one of hardcore’s all time anthems Institutionalized which received heavy rotation on the newly created MTV. Before their success as a crossover thrash band, inspiring the thrash metal explosion that brought bands like Metallica and Anthrax to the mainstream, Tendencies build their reputation playing some of the fastest punk the world had ever seen.
9. The Refused – The Shape of Punk to Come (1998)
The only album on this list to be made post-Eighties, while also the only one to come from outside the US. Sweden’s The Refused brought hardcore firmly into the present day with their use of samples and highly superior production techniques. Leading to an even more extreme, dark and heavy edge. The DIY attitude and radical political message of their predecessors remained however and The Refused are one of the most critically acclaimed bands to come out of the Nineties. Deserves extra credit for bringing hardcore to a new generation of listeners and inspiring a legion of bands in its wake.
8. Circle Jerks – Group Sex (1980)
L.A’s finest hardcore veterans weren’t ones for avoiding confrontation. Their provocative name and album artwork certainly took no prisoners. This attitude oozed into their music. 1980’s Group Sex is a 15-minute, 14-track definition of hardcore’s key values. Singer Keith Morris is one of punks most influential and eccentric characters, and his sickly snarl and songwriting talents elevate the band to icon status.
7. Hüsker Dü – Zen Arcade (1984)
Perhaps the first band to show hardcore’s genuine commercial viability. Hüsker Dü expanded the hardcore sound in 1984 with Zen Arcade. Paving the way for the eruption of alt rock bands throughout the Eighties, they turned down the rage factor from their previous efforts and even attempted to make the acoustic guitar cool again. The resulting double, concept album is about the closest hardcore had ever come to growing up. For better or worse, the first hardcore band to be signed to a major label.
6. Minor Threat – Minor Threat (1984)
Renowned for their complete assimilation of the DIY ethic, Ian MacKaye and co. released all the albums in their short-lived career themselves, via Dischord Records. This album’s staunch anti-drugs, anti-drinking stance spawned the straightedge movement bastardised by emo’s and hipsters ever since. Minor Threat is one of the most politicized albums of all time. Social commentary on the America of the early Eighties was the bands speciality. This album is the beginnings of a punk icon in MacKaye who has ever since championed independence and freedom of expression in the music industry. Minor Threat also has one of the most instantly recognisable album covers in punk; reproduced by Rancid in 1995 and even controversially used in a Nike advertisement campaign. MacKaye of course went on to found the phenomenal Fugazi, on of the most important bands of the Nineties.
5. Black Flag – Damaged (1981)
When Black Flag brought in a young Henry Rollins in 1981 they became a whole new proposition. A tighter, more technically proficient band was starting to come of age. And with the dynamic Rollins as front man, the band was ready to take the punk world by storm. This album was like a punch in the face to anyone who ever doubted punk’s continued relevance. In many ways, Damaged is the quintessential hardcore album, containing anthemic tracks, packed with humour and political comment. Rollins image on the front cover is that of the iconic hardcore warrior; shaved head, muscles and anger. The album single-handedly started my fascination with hardcore; and goes some to way to explaining why Black Flag are one of the most instrumental artists in the development of American music culture.
4. Dead Kennedys – Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables (1980)
The earliest album released on this list. Fresh Fruit took politics in music further than ever before. Jello Biafra’s merciless lambasting of the audience in his satirical, often hilarious lyrics brought punk’s anarchism into the Regan era. One of the most unrelenting punk masterpieces ever made as well as being one of the most important albums of all time. Every hardcore band in the world will have this in their record collection. Always outspoken on issues such as censorship in the music industry, Jello never let up this political message and even went on to run for office in 2000.
3. Minutemen – Double Nickels on the Dime (1984)
Whether or not you call the Minutemen a hardcore band is up to you. But no one can deny the sheer sprawling magnificence of this album. Praised in the Eighties American punk scene for their notion of “jamming eco”, a sense of thriftiness reflected in their touring and presentation, the Minutemen were another band essential to the alt rock boom that followed. The albums 43 tracks run the emotional gauntlet from explosive aggression to sweeping majestic beauty. Lyrically D. Boon was a poet; something that no other hardcore band managed to match, before or since. He has been sorely missed, passing away in 1985, when the Minutemen were at their absolute peak.
2. Black Flag – My War (1984)
The second Black Flag entry. The album that’s dirty, distorted sound paved the way for grunge to sweep the youth of the world. Black Flag strayed from their straight punk roots for their second studio album. Taking notes from Sabbath, the band slowed the pace on side two of the album, with a doomy ominous guitar sound and songs at over six minutes; a feat unheard of in hardcore. The results weren’t any less extreme than Damaged and Rollins pained screams were more powerful than ever. The soundtrack to a young man’s slow descent into darkness. Still as vital and relevant today. The cover was one of Flag’s many collaborations with artist Raymond Pettibon; who brought to life American youth’s dissatisfaction with the state of their country.
1. Bad Brains – Bad Brains (1982)
For my money, the greatest hardcore album of all time, a fact made all the more unbelievable by the fact it was made by four Washington D.C. Rastafarians. In 1982 the Bad Brains released their first full-length album; punk was never the same again. Having built up a reputation for their incredible live show, which subsequently led to a band from playing shows in their home city, this record shows exactly why they’ve come to be so revered throughout music (with Moby and the Beastie Boys amongst their biggest fans). It’s still one of the fastest and most unrelenting albums of all time 30 years on. Bad Brains set the blueprint for what hardcore should be, aggressive, political and uncompromising; nothing has come close since.
Written by Robbie Bryson