Whether or not hardcore is having a big moment in the public eye like it is
right now, hardcore has and will probably always be a strong, tight-knight, thriving community. It's changed a lot over the years, but it's always been there, and its various eras have all been exciting for different reasons. The focus of this article is 2003, in honor of ten classic albums from that year that celebrate 20th anniversaries this year. 2003 was an especially great year for hardcore; various offshoots like metalcore, post-hardcore, and emo were at peak popularity at this point, and bands in the hardcore underground were either embracing, rejecting, or straight-up ignoring that to varying degrees. It was an era that a lot of great bands got back in touch with the sound and ethos of hardcore's foundational '80s era, but the best bands did it in a way that was entirely their own. There's a reason that so many people who came of age in the early 2000s hold bands like the ones on this list near and dear--this was a great time to find hardcore, and there were so many excellent bands that new generations could latch onto.
With all of these albums coming out during the post-9/11 Bush administration, there was a darkness, negativity, and societal anger that informed several of the albums on this list. These records range from metallic hardcore to melodic hardcore to classic-style hardcore to boundary-pushing records that don't fit neatly into any particular subgenre. I did stay away from post-hardcore and metalcore, but you can read about '03 classics like Every Time I Die's
Hot Damn!, The Movielife's Forty Hour Train Back to Penn, Thrice's The Artist In The Ambulance, and Thursday's War All The Time in our list of post-hardcore albums turning 20 this year.
Read on for the list in alphabetical order. What's your favorite hardcore album of 2003?
American Nightmare/Give Up the Ghost - We're Down Til We're Underground Equal Vision
By the turn of the millennium, you had some bands trying to bring hardcore back to the sound of its '80s origins, and others pushing it in so many different directions that you couldn't really call it "hardcore" anymore. American Nightmare--who formed in the late '90s with guitarist Tim Cossar of "youth crew revival" band Ten Yard Fight and that band's roadie Wes Eisold on vocals--kind of existed right in the middle. They embraced the dark, metallic tone and goth-inspired lyricism that had been entering the punk vocabulary, but they did so in a way that honored the short, fast, and loud template that the original hardcore bands had designed. The result was something too innovative to be called a revival, and too rooted in tradition to be accused of abandoning hardcore completely. It was a new version of hardcore that a new generation of kids could call their own. Their 2001 debut album
Background Music set the tone for this new sound, but their second and final pre-reunion album We're Down Til We're Underground (released when they were briefly called Give Up The Ghost due to legal issues surrounding the name "American Nightmare") perfected it. The album is dark, heavy, and whiplash-inducing like its predecessor, but it also has a warm, welcoming feeling with crisper production and a more melodic approach to the genre. Even the album artwork suggests this is an album that rejects hardcore's macho posturing. American Nightmare broke up after this album (vocalist Wes Eisold turned his attention towards his other band Some Girls, before forming the goth band Cold Cave in 2007), and they didn't return with new music for 15 years, but the impact of We're Down Til We're Underground kept growing over time. When bands like Touché Amoré helped bring a new wave of hardcore outside of the genre's usual niche circles, it was obvious that American Nightmare were a core influence.
Comeback Kid - Turn It Around Facedown
When Winnipeg's Comeback Kid formed in 2001, they were initially a side project of guitarists Andrew Neufeld and Jeremy Hiebert's thrashy metallic hardcore band Figure Four. They wanted to be "a little bit more diverse with genre and bringing different elements in," Andrew told
in 2018, and were taking influence from early metalcore bands like Harvest and Disembodied as well as melodic hardcore bands like Kid Dynamite, Turning Point, and Shelter. "Figure Four back in those days we were such a straight up hardcore band that even an octave chord would be a sacrilege almost," Andrew joked in that same interview. He also wanted a band he could just play guitar in, so they recruited their friend Scott Wade to handle vocals, and Kyle Profeta joined on drums. They put out a demo in 2002, and then Facedown Records (also home of Figure Four) signed them for their 2003 debut album Ambient Light Turn It Around, at which point "it was quite obvious that Comeback Kid was creating more momentum [than Figure Four]," Andrew said in a 2021 interview with . Comeback Kid's diverse influences came through loudly and clearly at the time, and DSCVRD Turn It Around felt like a breath of fresh air for the genre at the time. In an era where hardcore kids were frequently either obsessed with metallic breakdowns or chasing a softer emo-pop sound, Comeback Kid were neither. They embraced melody without abandoning aggression, and they busted out mosh parts without relying on tired clchés. The result was an album by a band who clearly knew their history but who were making hardcore that a new generation could call their own, and that's exactly what happened. Comeback Kid quickly started touring internationally, were embraced by kids around the globe, and then inked themselves a deal with the then-dominant Victory Records for their 2005 followup record Wake the Dead. That album polished up some rough edges, became the band's breakthrough, and introduced even more people to Comeback Kid, and if you found them on that record, you would've been instantly rewarded by checking out the still-classic Turn It Around. All the makings of a great band are right there in those 13 timeless songs. (And as for Andrew Neufeld's wish to have a band where he just played guitar, Scott Wade would leave the band after Wake the Dead and Andrew has been the band's lead vocalist ever since.) Pick up 'Turn It Around' on limited red & white vinyl.
Cursed - One Deathwish, Inc
Active from 2001 to 2008, Cursed were one of the many bands fronted by Ontario hardcore/punk lifer Chris Colohan, who previously fronted Left For Dead, Ruination, and The Swarm aka Knee Deep in the Dead, and later fronted Burning Love and Sect. With fellow Left For Dead/The Swarm members Christian McMaster (guitar) and Mike Maxymuik (drums) in the fold as well, Cursed's lineup was similar to two already-classic bands, but their debut LP
One sounded like a fresh start. They pulled in elements of hardcore, crust punk, and rock & roll, all coated in a blackened exterior. The band had been quickly taken under Converge's wings--Jacob Bannon released One on his Deathwish, Inc label and Kurt Ballou produced it--and Ballou's trademark production style really gave this album the heft it needed. Colohan's shouts are gritty and gravelly, and his lyrics--which are often socially/politically aware and coated in violent imagery--are just as dark as the music. Cursed have been called "the loudest fucking band in Canada," legend has it that their guitars were played through bass amps to get thicker tones, and the band's influence has reached far and wide--everyone from Fucked Up's Damian Abraham to Touché Amoré's Jeremy Bolm to Undeath's Alexander Jones has called them an influence. All of this comes through in One, which remains one of the nastiest, gnarliest, and most unique hardcore records of the past 20 years.
From Ashes Rise
From Ashes Rise - Nightmares Jade Tree/Havoc
Moving right along from Cursed into some more apocalyptic, crusty hardcore: the final LP from Portland-via-Nashville's From Ashes Rise. It marked the band's debut on the iconic Jade Tree label, and, with production from Matt Bayles (Botch, Minus The Bear, Isis, etc), it was also the best, cleanest-sounding thing they'd ever done. But a bigger label and a cleaner sound did nothing to tame the vicious politics in From Ashes Rise's lyrics (and album artwork) or their dark, heavy sound. A contemporary
Punknews review called this album a mix between Discharge and The Hope Conspiracy, and that's a pretty solid description; it's got the former's D-beating fury and it shares a knack for innovation, devastation, and still-modern-sounding production with the latter. Vocalist/guitarist Brad Boatright does not mince words when it comes to the justice system, religion, or war, and his piercing screams are the perfect vessel for the heavy subject matter. The band's passion is entirely palpable, and these ageless songs remain a blast to listen to. (As a side note, if you listen to heavy music, you've probably listened to approximately one zillion albums mastered by Brad Boatright.)
Mental - Get An Oxygen Tank! Bridge Nine
The members of Mental--who have also played in Righteous Jams, Cold World, Rival Mob, Boston Strangler, Mind Eraser, and many others (and more recently
Dream Unending, Innumerable Forms, and Sumerlands for prolific drummer Justin DeTore aka Dance Floor Justin aka DFJ)--came up in the late '90s Boston hardcore scene watching straightedge, youth crew-inspired bands like Ten Yard Fight and In My Eyes, and when they formed Mental, they took those influences and made them their own. With 2003's Get An Oxygen Tank!, Mental weren't trying to reinvent the form; they were just playing the music they loved, but they did so in a way that helped this band and their peers launch a movement of their own. It's easy to see why bands today specifically cite Mental and Righteous Jams as influences, because these bands put a fresh spin on things that went beyond idol worship. On Get An Oxygen Tank!, Mental sound like they absorbed all kinds of classic youth crew and straightedge influences but didn't strictly limit themselves to them, and even more importantly, the album's just got great songs. It's fast, aggressive, free of frills, and it's got some real hooks. It's still ripe for discovery by new generations, and clearly that's already happening.
None More Black
None More Black - File Under Black Fat Wreck Chords
After the breakup of melodic hardcore greats
Kid Dynamite, vocalist Jason Shevchuk went on to start a new creative venture, None More Black. The band's lineup has changed a handful of times over the years, and on their debut LP File Under Black they had Jason's brother Jeff on guitar, Mike McEvoy on drums, and Paul Delaney of Long Island hardcore heroes Kill Your Idols on bass. Compared to Kid Dynamite, None More Black were maybe a little more "melodic" and a little less "hardcore," but in many ways, File Under Black picked up right where Jason left off with KD. The record was catchy enough to have fit in on Fat Wreck Chords in the early 2000s, but Jason's hardcore roots came through in his gritty delivery and None More Black still felt more connected to the hardcore scene than to Fat-style skate punk. Don't let all the Seinfeld-referencing song titles fool you; these are impassioned, emotionally mature songs that address widely-relatable topics by looking inwards, and this level of deep introspection is something the hardcore scene has provided for decades.
Paint It Black
Paint It Black - CVA Jade Tree
When Jason Shevchuk went on to form None More Black, Kid Dynamite (and Lifetime) guitarist Dan Yemin went on to form and front Paint It Black, and if NMB leaned even further into KD's melodic side, then PIB took things in the opposite direction. Their debut album--recorded with the lineup of Dan on vocals/guitar, Dave Hause on guitar, Andy Nelson (now also of Ceremony) on bass, and Lifetime/Kid Dynamite/Ink & Dagger/Good Riddance's David Wagenschutz (also later of None More Black) on drums--was at that point one of the most aggressive things Dan Yemin had ever released. The album title stands for "cerebrovascular accident," the medical term for a stroke, from which Dan had suffered in 2001. He thankfully recovered, and starting Paint It Black became part of his recovery process. In a statement posted to PIB's website around the time of
CVA's release, Dan said, "This band is the sound of survival." He confronted his stroke and recovery head-on with the album's title track, while other tracks take on sexism, public school propaganda, and other societal plagues. With musicians who at that point were already veterans, the members of Paint It Black had been around the block enough times to know how to make a powerful hardcore record in every sense of the word. CVA stood out from the pack, it mixed youthful urgency with socially conscious maturity, and 20 years later, it's still one of the best hardcore records you'll ever hear.
Strike Anywhere - Exit English Jade Tree
Formed in 1999 by former Inquisition vocalist Thomas Barnett (alongside members who had also played in The Exploder, Count Me Out, Turbine, and more), Richmond melodic hardcore band Strike Anywhere came out swinging with their 2000 EP
Chorus of One and 2001 debut LP , records that nailed a balance between uncompromising politics and good hooks. As good as Change Is A Sound Change Is A Sound is, Exit English is a clear step up. Like the debut, it was produced by the band's now-longtime-collaborator Brian McTernan, but the production is much sharper, which perfectly suits fan-fave singalongs like "To The World" and "We Amplify." It's a more approachable record than the band's debut, but it stays just as true to the band's hardcore roots and political message. The album title stems from growing up in Richmond and seeing the remnants of colonization reflected in the names of places, and in a 2003 interview for punk-it.net, Thomas said the album is "10 times more Richmond" than the debut, but that its highly local, personal references also "[make] it more global." His writing was informed by "secret histories, slave insurrections, women riots pointing guns at their husbands and brothers, the Confederate army burning the city," the stories that weren't taught in schools but that needed to be told. Our current society still suffers from so many of the same issues that bands like Strike Anywhere were singing about back then, but at the same time, awareness of these "secret histories" feels more widespread than ever, and that might not've happened if bands like Strike Anywhere didn't welcome us in with catchy choruses and then use their platform to really say something.
The Suicide File
The Suicide File - Twilight Indecision Records
The Suicide File came out of the same Boston hardcore scene as bands like American Nightmare and The Hope Conspiracy, and would at various points share members with both of them (and also release a split 7" with Hope Con in 2002), and they set themselves apart with a sense of rock & roll swagger. "The rock 'n' roll influence just happened as a reaction of trying to be different," guitarist Neeraj Kane said in a 15th anniversary retrospective on the album for
No Echo. "I was listening to a lot '50s-'60s classic rock 'n' roll, artists like Chuck Berry to Creedence Clearwater Revival... I tried to figure how I could incorporate that into writing punk songs." Neeraj did a pretty damn good job of figuring it out, and the result made The Suicide File's only full-length album sound like a total party, but that party wasn't without a serious side. Vocalist Dave Weinberg used the album to comment on white flight, post-9/11 patriotism propaganda, a broken democracy, corrupt politicians, and, on "Laramie," the murderous hate crime that ended 21-year-old gay man Matthew Shepard's life. Dave touches on these heavy topics in a way that's as blunt as it is poetic, and his raspy yell makes The Suicide File stand out from their peers just as much as the rock & roll riffs do.
Terror - Lowest of the Low Bridge Nine
At this point, Terror are basically an institution. Between Terror,
Buried Alive, Bad Blood, Cinderblock, World Be Free, Serpents of Shiva, Despair, Slugfest, and more, vocalist Scott Vogel has been one of the hardest-working people in hardcore for three decades straight, and Terror has been his longest-running, most-consistent band throughout it all. Scott still has his ear to the ground, and Terror continue to put out records and play shows that are as urgent as the younger bands in hardcore's current generation, and Terror were pretty damn urgent when they were a young band too. Following two demos in 2002, they put out their proper debut Lowest of the Low in 2003, made with the lineup of Scott, guitarists Todd Jones and Doug Weber, bassist Rich Thurston, and drummer Nick Jett. Todd and Nick had previously played together in the beloved straightedge band Carry On, Doug had been in Sworn Vengeance and was also in First Blood around that time, and Rich had been in Culture, Blood Has Been Shed, One Nation Under, and more. Todd would leave the band after writing their second record One With The Underdogs and go on to front Nails and play in Internal Affairs (and ultimately reunite with Terror to produce 2022's ), and his fingerprints are all over this record. With Scott having just come out of the Buffalo metalcore band Buried Alive, Pain Into Power Lowest of the Low marked a drastic shift towards fast, no-frills, classic-style hardcore. (The cover of Dag Nasty's "Can I Say" that's tacked onto the deluxe edition should give you an idea of where their heads were at.) It had the energy and speed of Carry On mixed with Scott's more brutal vocal style, and the result was something familiar but fresh. It's something that fans of any era of hardcore could easily latch onto, and it still remains some of Terror's finest work, with some of their most anthemic shoutalongs. (And a vocalist assist from Human Furnace of Ringworm for good measure.) One With The Underdogs would polish things up a bit and rise the band's profile, but even on this rawer debut, you can hear why Terror have become a definitive hardcore band for generation after generation.
You can pick up limited-edition vinyl variants of Terror, American Nightmare, and Comeback Kid records in the BV store. --
-- Check out our list of post-hardcore albums turning 20 this year.