A List By Tom Chapman
The 1990s were an incredible time for the hardcore world. Sure – the 1980s was really the era that not only laid the foundations but also built some of the finest examples of hardcore music. From rudimentary hardcore punk, through the era of crossover, to Revolution Summer, it was founded, developed and became legendary within a short span of time. How can the 1990s ever hope to compete with that? Well as Heresy said back in the 80s, it is about cooperation, not competition, so why pit one against the other?
For many of us, the 90s were real formative years. I turned 18 in 1990 and moved from a little village to Leeds – one of the key cities where hardcore in the UK was concerned. The Duchess Of York was a fixture on the touring circuit and so within weeks of moving I had seen bands such as All, Doughboys, Alice Donut, Spermbirds, Snuff and a ton more.
If the band wasn’t hitting Leeds then they might play Top Spot in Huddersfield (Slapshot, Green Day) or the 1 in 12 Club (Sick Of It All, Earth Crisis) in Bradford instead, so on the live front I had everything covered. Record-wise there was so much good stuff going on, it’s hard to know where to start. To make my job easier I’ve limited myself to picking full-length albums, even though so many bands’ best output might have been a 7″ release, or one side of a split record.
I haven’t picked the biggest and most famous records of the decade – it could have been easy to pick a selection of ten albums released on Victory, Epitaph or Revelation for example. Instead, I’ve tried to choose albums that had a lot of impact both then and now.
Let’s get to it………
Leatherface – Mush
This record is as much-loved today as it was over 30 years ago when it came out. Although it continues in the “gruff-punk” tradition of previous recordings, on “Mush” Leatherface turned the songwriting dial up to eleven. The intertwined guitars of Frankie Stubbs and Dickie Hammond are a joy to behold, powered along by Lainey’s thumping beats and driving basslines by Steven Charlton. Frankie’s gravelly vocals are the cherry on the cake. And for a bunch of Sunderland lads, the lyrics are inspiringly poetic (The air in here is dead industrial and so austere, The air round here smells of religion and Vauxies beer). There are some absolute classics on this album, songs like Not A Day Goes By, Not Superstitious or Dead Industrial Atmosphere should be on every 90s mixtape. They were always happy to grab non-punk songs and give them the ‘Face treatment, and on this album “Message In A Bottle” gets the premium makeover. The impact of this album was and still is massive and has inspired bands the world over ever since. Rest in power Dickie and Lainey.
Runner-Up: Hot Water Music – Forever & Counting
Poison Idea – Feel The Darkness
Already mainstays of the punk hardcore scene in the 1980s, for me Portland Oregon’s Poison Idea produced their finest hour in 1990 with the release of “Feel The Darkness”. Having announced their existence kicking and screaming with “Pick Your King” in 1983, they gradually added rock and metal touches to their sound, but unlike many others, they never strayed far from their roots and as such didn’t alienate any of their fans. This album really has it all – from breakneck hardcore to crust to ass-kicking rock, every track is a hit. To this day, I can still sing along and air guitar to every single guitar solo on here and note perfect, even if I say so myself…
Sensefield – Killed For Less
The Sensefield story is rooted in classic Californian hardcore, having come from the ashes of the fabulous Reason To Believe. They released records on Nemesis and Soul Force records, which made them labelmates with everyone from The Offspring, to Chorus Of Disapproval to Insted. Although RTB had a real sensibility for melody, it couldn’t prepare you for what Sensefield were about to deliver. Having warmed crowds up with a couple of EPs, their debut album “Killed For Less” is nothing short of an absolute masterpiece. The fact that it came out on Revelation kept their scene-cred intact, and it exposed raging hardcore fans to a much softer style. Much as the 80s DC bands switched rage for introspect, many of the “youth crew” era of hardcore bands were spreading their musical wings and this was happening across the globe. Just look at bands like Into Another, Statue, Iceburn, Fabric or Farside for other examples. “Killed For Less” is still much loved with the sadly missed Jon Bunch’s vocals the icing on the cake. The fact that his memorial show featured performances by bands such as No For An Answer, Into Another, Scream, Outspoken and Rocket From The Crypt is a testament to how much the scene owes to his legacy.
Runner-Up: Texas Is The Reason – Do You Know Who You Are
Fugazi – Repeater
OK, Fugazi’s heritage is well documented. From Minor Threat and Rites of Spring, to One Last Wish and Embrace, to Fugazi. It’s almost a timeline of the evolution of the hardcore sound. Fugazi’s first two releases were mini albums, whereas Repeater is their debut full-length. You’d be hard pushed to find a record with even only half as much charisma as this release. Just think of songs like “Merchandise” with the immortal line of “You are not what you own“. There needs to be a special mention for the track “Blueprint”, which has to be one of my favourite ever songs. As DC/ Dischord tradition dictated, this album was recorded at Inner Ear with Don Zientara and Ted Nicely. Fugazi continued to release inspiring records but this was their crowning glory and one that so many look up to.
Runner-Up: Quicksand – Slip
Social Distortion – White Light, White Heat, White Trash
Although they emerged as part of the early Orange County punk-hardcore scene alongside Agent Orange and Adolescents, Social D were always happy to blaze their own path. From their early LA punk sounds, through the country and rock’n’roll eras, they were always building up to something. “White Light White Heat White Trash” is the culmination of that evolution. Absolutely killer songs that have energy, power and above all tunes to die for. This album propelled them into the limelight and deservedly so. Over the years their sound inspired bands like Face To Face, Pennywise, Rise Against and many more. Furthermore, alongside bands like Rancid or US Bombs, they brought the dirty rock’n’roller image up-to-date that people across the globe have embraced and made their own. I can still listen to this album on a weekly basis and not get bored.
Runner-up: Turbonegro – Apocalypse Dudes
Wolfpack – A New Dawn Fades
Wolfpack (soon to be renamed Wolfbrigade) represented the next generation of the Sweden mangel sound. The likes of Anti Cimex. Mob 47 and Shitlickers had laid the foundations, but perhaps with a nod to the Swedish death metal bands a couple of years earlier, Wolfpack made the sound so much heavier and more menacing. This whole record is a d-beat feast from start to finish, boosted by a crystal-clear production. Break-neck tunes like “Enter The Gates” and “Wave Of Fear” sit alongside slower pounders like “Landshark”, before closing with the epic “Outlaw Vagabond”. At the time this came out, there was a lot of crust-by-numbers going on, and for me “A New Dawn Fades” pushed boundaries, alongside fellow Swedes like Disfear or Skitsystem. Don’t get me wrong, the followers latched onto the sounds of Wolfpack, Tragedy and From Ashes Rise and soon there were a thousand and one clones doing the rounds, but Wolfpack were certainly leaders, not followers.
Runner-up: Tragedy – Vengeance
Nations On Fire – Strike The Match
By the time the 80s turned into the 90s, most of the classic European hardcore bands were a distant memory or on a bit of a hiatus. Heresy, Ripcord, Indigesti, Negazione, Larm, Raw Power, Spermbirds and more had all served up their best shots and for a while it seemed it was US bands making all the noise. But new bands were rumbling in Europe and Nations On Fire spearheaded the new breed. “Strike The Match” had it all – under their “positive – political – powerful” slogan they encapsulated the DIY spirit of discontent with some great songs and a killer production. Songs like “The Line”, “Flag Song” or “Iron Will” sound fresh today as does the anthem “Dedication” that closes the album. It was a stroke of genius to get the record finished off with a Donnell Cameron/ Westbeach Studios touch as that was where all the best US west coast bands were recording, so it really showed that NOF were ready for the world stage.
Runner-Up: Manliftingbanner – 10 Inches That Shook The World
Bikini Kill – Pussy Whipped
I can’t think of many bands that has as much of an impact on society well beyond the punk/ hardcore scene as Bikini Kill. They brought the riot grrrl movement to the mainstream – and the mainstream press in particular was definitely not ready for it. So they went underground, and forged a network or bands, zines, scenes and messages that soon spread internationally. It was punk as fuck, it stuck two fingers up to the establishment and was all done on their own terms. As well as the message, Bikini Kill had the music to back it up. Their debut album “Pussy Whipped” is chaotically beautiful. It is not designed to be pretty and at times can make you feel uncomfortable, but songs like “Magnet”, “Sugar” or the massive “Rebel Girl” are stunning.
Runner-Up: Slant 6 – Inzombia
Integrity – Those Who Fear Tomorrow
On the whole, the straight edge sounds around 1990 were pretty posi (putting aside bands like Judge or A Chorus Of Disapproval), but there was something different in the waters around Cleveland. The likes of Die Hard, Confront and Integrity certainly didn’t go out of their way to celebrate the positive side of a straight edge lifestyle. But then came “Those Who Fear Tomorrow” and Integrity reinvented the wheel. Speaking of wheels, the SXE wheels had well and truly fallen off by this point (thanks to Camel cigarettes on the thanks list!), but for some reason, they still got a pass by anyone I knew. Possibly because this album was an absolutely crushing monster that fused hardcore with metal with face melting results. After the intro with the howl of “Micha”, Dwid unleashes the fury and there’s no let-up on the whole album. If you are searching for the cornerstones of the metalcore genre then look no further than this.
Runner-Up: Hatebreed – Satisfaction is The Death Of Desire
Sick Of It All – Just Look Around
At first, I was hesitant to include this in the list, as I think that their late 1980s debut album “Blood, Sweat and No Tears” was such a powerful record. But with “Just Look Around”, SOIA took that NYHC blueprint sound, and stepped up a notch or ten. Although debates had already raged about bands like SOIA, Agnostic Front or Killing Time commercialising the sound, this album turned NYHC into a full-on global sound but with no compromise on their sound. Songs like “We Want The Truth” are bona fide ragers, and the title track combined the powerful hardcore sound with a streetwise beat (together with some very 90s style moves in the video – go look it up!) Their next releases built on this legacy, but Just Look Around was the Big Apple soundtrack for a generation
Runner Up: Madball – Set It Off
Other bands that could have made the cut include The Business, Rancid, Rorschach, Lifetime, Earth Crisis, Avail, Green Day (!), The Offspring (!!), Refused, The Casualties, Born Against, American Nightmare, Kill Your Idols, Damnation AD, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Bloodlet, Ignite, Drop Dead, Congress, Liar, Jawbreaker, Heaven Shall Burn, From Ashes Rise, Hoover, NOFX, Screeching Weasel, Shellac, Bob Tilton and countless others…