Metalcore. In both a positive and negative light, it’s a term that has become synonymous with any metal band containing elements of hardcore in its sound. After all, the term, fittingly, is a portmanteau, but is it still a relevant one in music today? And are bands tagged as having their music fit into this category bothered by it?
Spending my teen years in a fairly punk-aware high school meant, naturally, I would come across all forms (and sub-genres) of punk known to man (er, adolescent). Metalcore was one of the styles that stood out; although, at the time, it was a movement I was barely aware existed. The tired days of blaring pop-punk were becoming drawn out and monotonous. A natural yearning for a niche music taste took precedence in my life the way a spontaneous trip amounts for a person suffering from wanderlust. Luckily my hunger was met in the form of Florida hardcore quintet Poison The Well.
Every young person remembers the first album that made major headway by introducing them to a new stage or musical chapter in their life. For me, that album was The Opposite Of December — the breakthrough debut LP that etched Poison The Well’s name in the underground music scene permanently. Upon its release, my senses had seemingly opened up to acts like Every Time I Die, Norma Jean, As I Lay Dying and Glassjaw, while allowing me to differentiate and appreciate the sounds of other heavy acts I had already taken a liking to (Refused, Botch, Snapcase, Alexisonfire and Hopesfall, to name a few) to a far greater degree.
As time wears on, it’s becoming evident that only the creative acts within it will survive.
I’ll never forget the first time I saw Poison The Well live in concert. It was a cold, winter Toronto evening in November 2003 at Toronto’s Zen Lounge (later renamed The Funhaus before eventually shutting down). I had arrived 10 minutes prior to the set of PTW’s support for the tour, Every Time I Die — a band hot off the release of its lauded sophomore album Hot Damn! The moment ETID took to the stage, with every member dawning an all-white attire (a throwback to their first LP Last Night In Town), I knew I was in for one hell of a show.
As expected, Poison The Well hadn’t disappointed in the slightest, playing songs from its entire catalog, including their (at the time) recently released album You Come Before You; although, the highlights of the set were undoubtedly when the band played “Botchla” and set-ender “Nerdy,” two tracks that led me to believe the floor was going to cave-in from the galvanizing crowd response.
In 2004, after the release of its third studio full-length, Poison The Well guitarist Derek Miller (one half of the noise-pop duo Sleigh Bells) left the band to pursue other opportunities. The disenchanted band found itself on an unannounced hiatus before storming back with Versions, a personal album of the year for myself in 2007. The band’s creativity in blending country-tinged riffs with its own hardcore staple resonated well, drawing critical acclaim from a number of music publications. Poison The Well has since released another LP before taking much needed break.
Every Time I Die‘s fortune has been a slightly better one. Rightfully so, the band is considered to be one of the most respected and hardworking acts in heavy music; its stock has been on the rise, releasing a full-length every two years since 2001 (save their latest opus, Ex Lives, which took the band three years to make after New Junk Aesthetic — and for good reason).
ETID’s brotherly duo of Keith and Jordan Buckley have become respected personalities in music, with the former writing for Alternative Press magazine and the latter launching his own merch website, ‘Jordan Buckley World Wide,’ which features clothing with all original art drawings created by the man himself. The rest of the members, meanwhile, put their efforts towards the ETID Pudcast — the band’s weekly podcast recording.
Another act that has impressed as of late is Southern-metal outfit Norma Jean. With every new release, the band continues to evolve its sound, finding something new to add that its preceding album did not have. Shortly after releasing its cult-classic debut Bless the Martyr and Kiss the Child, then frontman Josh Scogin left the band to start The Chariot — another Douglasville-based metal act that has garnered attention in the scene. Norma Jean went on to replace Scogin with Cory Brandan. Success and chemistry, unfortunately, were not simply assumed with the band’s newest addition.
Norma Jean’s first two albums with Brandan, O’ God, The Aftermath and Redeemer, did little to impress (at least by my standards). However, during the writing process of its fourth studio album, The Anti Mother, I had received word the band had worked on a song with Deftones vocalist Chino Moreno. To say the least, the track restored some of my faith in the band, leading me to purchase its latest album, 2010′s Meridional. It’s safe to say Meridional is Norma Jean’s best work to date. The band is currently writing its sixth studio album, set for release in Spring 2013.
There’s no question the late 90s and early 2000s was a great time to follow metalcore; but as time wore on, the scene began to lose its novelty. The internet played a big role towards shaping music in ways no one had ever thought before, providing a platform for even the most underground-of sounds to become accessible. This musical globalization resulted in an influx of pretender-bands to augment the punk, hardcore and metalcore sounds (and in the worst possible way). The scene had reached its threshold and, thus, a decline began.
with rock, dubstep and electronic seemingly on the rise, is metalcore nothing but a doomed genre nowadays?
A slew of bands began to turn up, accompanying a grotesque new wave of formulated metal consisting of monotonous, scream-ladden roars coupled with pretentious clean vocals that spawned, critically, a level of disapproval akin to that of auto-tune in rap and R&B. The overpopulation of an already saturated market, however, allowed for talented bands to stand out even more. The tandem of aggressive and melodic vocals, for example, provided by George Petitt and Dallas Green (of the now-defunct post-hardcore outfit Alexisonfire) was often looked at as a model exception for mixing heavy music with catchy hooks and melodies.
While Alexisonfire, even in its earliest days, was seldom ever considered a metalcore act, it certainly shaped its sound on the influence of metal, citing Quicksand, Combat Wounded Veteran and Orchid as bands it looked up to when creating its own blend of screamo-rock. But the question still begs to be asked: with rock, dubstep and electronic seemingly on the rise, is metalcore nothing but a doomed genre nowadays?
As time wears on, it’s becoming evident that only the creative acts (those mentioned in this article) within it will survive. Personally speaking, at 26-years-old, my musical tastes, as they naturally should, continue to evolve. Although I slowly find myself paying less attention to heavy music, I’ve discovered I ultimately still have a taste for it. The bands I grew up on will have that cliche “special place in my heart,” but I’m happy to report little of this sentiment has to do with nostalgia. What keeps me interested is these artists’ continual efforts to find ways to evade recreating what has already been done through drive, spontaneity and innovation.