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Heavy Music Became A Safe Haven in an Afflicted World

Since about 2018, it seems vitriol has done nothing but bubble within the depths of American people, and populations abroad have also been afflicted with gross violations of civil rights and widespread public health crises. These infractions against the meek and working-class have been tirelessly covered; there are really no new developments to read from me in that regard. With these missteps in progress, a new shift in culture has befallen our society at large, and that shift is the visible rage, rebellion, and action taken up by young men and women. Rage can be healthy, and at this juncture in time, absolutely necessary. 

There’s a conduit for rage that I happen to hold in very high esteem. At elementary-school age, I developed a fondness for the subversive; emotional grating, abrasive, and above all else, angry. Household names such as Slipknot, System of a Down, and Mushroomhead were formative bands that shaped my tastes, as I assume they did for many -- hip-hop head and metalhead alike, throughout the early 2000s. These artists allowed me to experience substance that I wouldn’t experience with rap until later in life -- whether that be shock and horror a la Shawn Crahan’s Iowa mask, or general expressions of angst through boisterous screaming (see “Surfacing”).

These tenets pulled me in, albeit in a remarkably twisted way (perhaps the grotesque theatrics and lyrical content weren’t too appropriate for say, a 9-year-old), yet as I matured over time I began slowly reverting back to my rap roots. I still found myself appreciative of the foundation that heavy and generally offensive music laid for me aesthetically, but as time went on and my music tastes evolved and phases passed me by, heavy music played less of a fundamental role in my everyday music rotation. It wasn’t a perfect evolution, mind you, considering the transition out of adolescence brings about the most awkward of tastes; what was once nu-metal like Linkin Park and SOAD quickly became Children of Bodom and the like. That in turn got watered down as stints with Hollywood Undead and similar pop-punk ilk became the norm.

Somewhere down the line, those heavier cravings were satiated with rap once again upon embracing more alternative styles of hip-hop. I progressed from Tupac to Geto Boys, Twisted Insane, Brotha Lynch Hung, and similar artists with a knack for darker overtones, who ultimately became a personal and cultural mainstay for some time especially with the advent of collectives like OFWGKTA and Raider Klan. Somewhere along that timeline, the heaviest music and most weird, new-generation bars amalgamated.

This fusion was not unlike the progenitors of the early 1990s through mid-2000s, those of which birthed my fascination for intense; it wasn’t uncommon for Zach De La Roja or Corey Taylor to rap, nor for Korn to have an Ice Cube feature. Furthermore, it wasn’t totally unfounded for a rap label such as Odd Future to sign the powerhouse punk group Trash Talk. Regardless, what evolved from these experiments was nothing short of the next logical step in the evolution of these genres. Acts like Bones, City Morgue, Nascar Aloe, Gizmo and Cameron Azi come to mind as breakout artists that have successfully applied fundamental, nostalgic aspects of heavy acts to mesh seamlessly with the contemporary sound of envelope pushing rap. Oftentimes these artists have also done their due diligence to those influencing sounds (see King Yosef’s “The Dull Blade”).

Amidst the growing polarization of our nation, spearheaded by foible laden leadership from those that we were programmed to trust, the disruption to “classic” genres (the pissing off of purists) acts as a beacon for a new wave of rebellion , at least at a microcosmic level. While that disruption engrained itself in the zeitgeist of music lovers, the underlying roots became all the more seductive, especially as recent times have shown us that the new wave of pop has usurped the position that heavy-inspired music once held, to me at least. Predictably, horror was no longer the appeal in music, considering horror became the reality of day to day life, and rather than clinging back to the roots of old I soon that harkened back to my adolescent comfort zone, I sought out rising stars in a time-tested, angrier genre: hardcore.

The anger, the screaming, and in-your-face aspects were now reflections of reaction to new strife. Because of this, a craving for something heavier, and far more dense emerged. Thus I found myself immersed in traditional hardcore, metalcore, and genre adjacent bands that could deliver on this need for chaos and catharsis -- which revealed themselves as blood-curdling growls and breakdowns. 

The contemporary underground scene brought forth a lot of admirable envelope-pushing and compelling experimentation. As mentioned before, artists like Gizmo and King Yosef have seamlessly bounced between “fusions” of genres, instilling intense, bold screaming and themes of horror and dark introspection into tracks that utilize deep trilling 808s and trap drums to make for compelling music. At the same time, they along with similar artists urged me to find the more orthodox of the heavy bunch, prompting me to put my head down and become a sponge to absorb all that Spotify playlists and Youtube suggestions had to offer. Familiar acts like Trash Talk, Turnstile, Code Orange, and Arizona’s local Punishment Suite were only the tip of the spear in my pursuit of contemporary hardcore. I came to find myself circulating Philly’s Varials, SoCal’s Initiate, and Kentucky’s Knocked Loose heavily as I let track after track play on shuffle for months on end.

The functioning use of band members isn’t a facet that’s exclusive to hardcore or heavy music per say; but when reminiscing on the few times I could experience live heavy bands, the energy felt from watching various performing artists on stage be consumed in a crowd is intoxicating. The live practical applications of hardcore is also doubly rewarding. The loudness of the music calms the thoughts internally, but the taxing participation inside a real hardcore mosh pit releives the confliction of thoughts in a physical manner. I admire these qualities of hardcore and heavy music at large in an almost unfounded way when compared to my love for rap.

It also goes without saying, the vocal features of hardcore music is not often beat in terms of raw declaration of emotion. The range and technical prowess of leading vocalists is highly a feat in and of itself that will always garner my respect, even if slightly off-kilter. Even in those cases, the inclination to go “fuck it” and push lungs to their limit is instantly admirable.

Hardcore bands have shown to feature an air of esoteric within the content of their music (see Code Orange’s “Swallowing the Rabbit Whole.”) Almost deceptively, these packaged doses of loud noise and spite seem to feature a range of lyrics which can sometimes only truly be understood and appreciated by investing in the music entirely and familiarizing yourself with what is being said beyond the blare. These lyrics, regardless of how simple or complex the songwriting may be almost always seem to tug at strings the listener can feel beyond comfort -- whether it's one line clocking in just under a minute, or a three-minute track, the depth exists. The fact that a gradient such as this can be found is all the more a rewarding facet to this type of music. In a current state where streams of bad news are bountiful, the escape to sounds where you can feel instantly liberated at sonics alone is beautiful. On that same note, when you can look beyond the release of screaming, the cerebral journey and deep-seated hurt and anger that you can work through on account of the songwriting is a testament to the necessity of the genre. 

While possible for this statement to come to the chagrin of some, with rap and hip-hop, one hand washes the other. These genres have explicit overlap and have functioned as more than important muses within my everyday life. Only at rap shows would I have ever known the abusive wonder that is a true mosh-pit; Trash Talk x Denzel Curry on the Illegal Civ Tour and Gatecreeper x Lil Ugly Mane come to mind. Because of these in person experiences, when life as we knew it became afflicted with one blow after another to the unity, peace, and progress of our communities, there was only one haven I could disassociate to during isolation, and any band that could offer me this reprieve was critical in my book.

Despite still being new to the overwhelming music scene that is hardcore, and still in pursuit of broadening my radar to new acts, I’ll always stay an advocate for the sound and attitude that any band of this type can offer. Assuredly, I will remain to keep my head down and seek out more and more. As I’ve increasingly become broke, defeated, pissed, and morose, and the world plummets down a little more, you will more likely than not find me drowned in the screams of heavy music, and it may just be like that for quite a long time.

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