Pit Therapy – Agnostic Front: Kings Of Hardcore

It should be no secret that we here at Last Rites want nothing to go undiscovered. Due to the fact that we’re faced with sorting through so much music, it’s become inevitable that classics might have to wait years before they’ll ever become popular even among underground music fans. But what of entire genres that fall by the wayside? Are they meant only to serve nostalgic purposes or is there hope for revival — and if so are they worth reviving?

There are a number of reasons why hardcore isn’t incredibly popular among metal fans, but a number of different acts over the years have done a lot to change that. If the rise in popularity of -core bands over the past decade hasn’t been a strong indicator that metal and hardcore are uniting (once again), then the recent sludge explosion certainly should be. To metalheads of my generation, hardcore was generally too violent and “simplistic” a genre for most people to be able to appreciate. For fans of hardcore, metal was laughed at for fantasies about unicorns and Lord of the Rings, and also because its founding founders had their roots in a far more commercialized brand of music.

If you weren’t a teenager in the 80’s, chances are some of the first moments of unity you witnessed between these confusingly conflicting genres was the decision of bands like Hatebreed and Full Blown Chaos playing festivals such as Ozzfest. Still, conflicts existed between the actively aggressive hardcore fans that promoted open violence and serious crowd participation and passively aggressive metalheads who didn’t want to be roundhouse kicked while trying to see Mike “Gunface” McKenzie perform solos. I always hated seeing the lack of appreciation one extreme music fan had for another extreme music fan.

The fact of the matter is that metal has become increasingly anti-commercial, and hardcore is starting to gain popularity once again, thanks to all the metalcore and deathcore bands that have graced us with so many terrible albums over the past decade or so. I’m partly kidding, because it’s the bands that are willing to blend genres that have helped metal survive for so long. Hardcore, mainly because of the intense structure of its songs, has all but fallen by the wayside. But what I’ve seen over the past few years is what seems to be the beginning of a true genre revival. Because of this, I would love to give some of you older cats the opportunity to reminisce and some of the younger folks a chance to learn about a new band or two each month. Some of the bands I’ll mention will be obvious big-hitters, but I’ll try my best to surprise you with some hidden gems along the way. So turn off Skyrim and put down your copy of The Simarillion, because it’s time to bust a windmill or two for the next half hour or so. Trust me, you need this therapy whether you know it or not. Just… be sure to watch out for the ceiling fan.

Thanks in advance for reading and please provide as much positive or negative feedback as you’d like, just try and make it as constructive as possible so that Pit Therapy can become an enjoyable, informative and entertaining column. And now on to the main event!


 

What do a giant skinhead with bullhorns and batwings, greedy corporate pigs eating people, an American flag in flames, a punk getting held up by a gangster and a gigantic open mouth have in common? This fucking song, that’s what. If this brought you back to a time when hearing these opening riffs created an automatic impulse that caused you to go literally apeshit insane, I hope you’re enjoying the lovely memories. If you’re new to “The Eliminator,” but still felt similar urges, this therapy session will do you well my friends. Read on.

Let me start by saying that Agnostic Front is the greatest hardcore band of all time. No musicians in the history of hardcore, except maybe Sick of it All, have put so much fucking work into tours, fans, albums, and other bands as Roger Miret and Vinnie Stigma have. The band came onto the scene around 1982 and rocked American hardcore fans just one year later with what is now a valuable collectors item, the United Blood 7”. In the following year, the band shook the entire Earth with Victim In Pain. Although most people know Agnostic Front to be one of the first hardcore bands to incorporate a much more metallic sound to its music, this didn’t actually start to happen until Cause for Alarm was released during the thrash / crossover phase of the mid-80’s (see “The Eliminator” above). Truth is, the band showed signs of a mixture of influences early on — one being Detroit icons Negative Approach (and other Motor City bands) — the other being what I consider American Oi! (ever seen Agnostic Front not cover Iron Cross at any of its live shows? Didn’t think so).

1986 is the year the Agnostic Front really bumped things up about 1,000 levels by incorporating a shitload of metal into the music. The band’s second and third full-lengths, Cause for Alarm and Liberty And Justice For… respectively, featured a superb blend of genres that continue to influence countless bands today. If you’re an Exodus fan, you might have noticed the interesting similarity between “The Eliminator” and “A Lesson In Violence.” Believe it or not, they were both recorded around the same time. What separated Agnostic Front and New York hardcore in general, was that the songs were still stripped-down and bare-boned; so although hardcore was expanding aesthetically, the songs remained tightly structured and minimal in length. This is still the case, which is why hardcore in general is desperately seeking originality, talent and skill. Yes, it’s amazing what Opeth can do with a song in 10 minutes, but it’s near equally impressive to hear so many different influences in less than a minute as we did in “Victim In Pain.”

The late 80’s and early 90’s were trying times for now NYHC legends. Roger Miret was behind bars due to a bullshit drug charge (as all of them are), and the band’s future was in question to say the least. In 1992, after releasing what would be the third and final “crossover” full-length One Voice, the band split up, not to join forces again until 1998. When the time finally did come unite, the new batch of albums were much more punk influenced, and displayed a surprisingly modern take on the founding members’ deepest roots, with help from members of Rancid and Murphy’s Law. But don’t be fooled into thinking these albums were somehow less-aggressive than any of the band’s former works. Something’s Gotta Give and Riot, Riot, Upstart were actually the first Agnostic Front albums I heard, and they certainly weren’t treated as just another set of punk CDs we added to our Rancid collection. Agnostic Front albums were passed around more like crack cocaine in the school cafeteria. No, the music wasn’t exactly forbidden, but it sure as hell made you act crazy and feel pretty fucking good to boot.

What’s most special about these albums is the vast amount of culture they they lead the then Wikipedia-free youth such as myself to discover. Regardless of which of the band’s early records were handed down to me by my older and more knowledgeable friends, an intense melting pot of cultures could be extracted from any of them. From the earliest roots of Oi!, rocksteady and even reggae and dancehall classics, to the fastest and most aggressive sectors of Teutonic thrash a-la Kreator— if you owned an album like Cause for Alarm, it was going to awaken some musical avenues inside of you. And that’s exactly what it did… for all of us.

It’s not something we saw on TV or that we read in a book; it was born in the streets…We’re still right here, we’re right fucking here.”

Following the three-album Epitaph Records run, the band took a surprising turn back to where it left off on One Voice. This was pretty refreshing for me, as Dead Yuppies was pretty much the end of the rope for Agnostic Front‘s punk rock sound. The biggest surprise of them all was that Agnostic Front ended up signing to Nuclear Blast, and that they were going to be releasing the appropriately titled Another Voice, which might as well have been recorded immediately after their final album before the band’s 90’s breakup. With the band’s best years obviously far in the past, it’s been amazing to see them play live with the same energy, intensity, ferocity and enthusiasm as they did back in the old CBGBs days. I don’t know if I would give up my left nut to go back and see what that was like, but if time travel existed I would sure as shit be contemplating it. Fortunately for me, this band has aged only physically. The souls of the men I have been seeing live for the past 13 or so years have remained as youthful, and as electrifying as anything I could ever ask for in a band.

“A scene all divided with no unity, we gotta stick together and fight for what we believe. There won’t be a second chance, we’ve got to have it soon. Got to stick together and fight ’em all now. Our friends are more important, we gotta stick together. Support one another, United and Strong.”

If there’s anything I’ve learned from such a legendary group of performers, it’s that we need to unite and understand one another. Especially those of us who who listen to extreme music, as our numbers are small to begin with. I see that happening today, and can’t help but smile when I stop and realize hardcore has been alive all along.

30 Years And Counting…

[Konrad Kantor]

Posted by Konrad Kantor

Staff Bartender -- I also write about music on occasion. Fuck Twitter.

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