Metalcore, as other bigger than life genres like Grunge or Nu Metal, became something of a cursed word, with many of the biggest bands in the movement rejecting the label as reductive or part of a short-lived scene. Around since the ’90s, and initially dubbed Metallic Hardcore, this music style encompasses a broad variety of bands, which makes its characterization difficult, but at the same time allows for an interesting History and a road full of highs and lows that almost made it conquer the world in the mid-’00s, among Nu Metal’s decline.
Combining Hardcore Punk’s urgency and aggression (and in its early-days lo-fi DIY ethics in production style and band promotion) and Heavy Metal’s technical proficiency, Metalcore is a bastard child made to quench the thirst for both soul-crushing riffs and a more straightforward, “in your face” heaviness made of Punk influences. Allying that to emotional lyrics borrowed from the also nascent Emo wave, the genre was set to conquer the world, and we will here try and track its biggest defining moments over the last 20 years.
Origins of Metalcore
Metalcore was hardly the first time the borders between Metal and Punk became diluted. For this, we can go back as far as the 70’s UK and to Motorhead, which borrowed in equal measures from Hard Rock and Punk in their speedy no-nonsense riffage.
Cue the 80’s and the Bay Area thrash scene and its adoration for bands as the aforementioned Lemmy-fronted giants and Horror Punks Misfits that brought together the technical aspects of Metal but made it faster, angrier and heavier. This was possible by borrowing elements from Punk, which was until then considered a lesser genre by the Heavy Metal titans due to its musical simplicity and low-budget productions.
At the same time, Hardcore Punk pioneers Bad Brains, Black Flag and Agnostic Front adopted elements of Heavy Metal in their music due to their adoration for Black Sabbath, as well as adding foreign flavors to the mix in the shape of Reggae and Funk influences. The emergence of the Crossover Thrash movement at the end of the decade, spearheaded by Suicidal Tendencies, strengthened the bond between Punk and metal and made the borders of both genres grow too weak and eventually collapse.
Starkweather create a new genre
To pinpoint the actual origin of any musical movement is an ungrateful task, and Metalcore, due to its trademark fluidity, makes it even harder. Even so, one of the blueprints for the genre was dealt as early as in 1992, when Starkweather put forth their debut album “Crossbearer”. To hear melody and dissonance go hand in hand like this, without any concern for traditional song structure or conventional tempos, was something unheard of in the heavy scene.
The Hardcore Punk influences are obvious in tracks like “Mean Streets” or “Shards”, but the dark atmosphere of “Lazarus Runs” and the groovy riffage of closer “Desolate” showed worship for classics such as Black Sabbath but also contemporaries Corrosion of Conformity. The fusion worked and a new term was coined. Metallic Hardcore, or Metalcore, was born.
Metalcore gets its groove on
The initial incarnations of Metalcore took the foundation that Starkweather had laid and infused with a sense of Groove Metal worshipping the biggest Metal band in the mid-’90s, Pantera. The influence of the Texans was obvious in the rhythm-heavy breakdowns that started to become staples of the genre, and the half-shouted half-sung vocal style of most bands emerging at the time.
Several seminal albums were released during this period that became cult classics, shaping the Metalcore sound that would take over the world 10 years later. Some of these examples are “Expectational Delusion” by Overcast (1994), “Destroy the Machines” by Earth Crisis (1995), or the release that saw the birth of one of the biggest Hardcore powerhouses, 1997’s “Satisfaction is the Death of Desire” by Hatebreed.
The technical dominance of the late ’90s
Departing from the groove-oriented releases of the years before, Metalcore found a new niche that was the embodiment of chaos in music form. Taking influences from Hardcore Punk and the newly risen Post-Hardcore movement all the way to Jazz Fusion elements, the classic Metal influences were played down in favor of unpredictable time signatures, plummeting breakdowns and sprinkles of melody that fabricated earworms among all the entropy. Staple releases as Shai Hulud’s “Hearts Once Nourished with Hope and Compassion” (1997), Coalesce’s “Give Them Rope” (1997) or Cave In’s “Until Your Heart Stops” (1998) were landmarks for inventive guitar work, menacing yet emotional vocal delivery and abstract lyrics.
These releases gathered a dedicated enough following that culminated in the earthshattering work of Botch in “We Are the Romans” and Dillinger Escape Plan’s debut “Calculating Infinity”. Metalcore had a new subgenre, and it was as furious as it was intelligent: Mathcore appeared, and it wouldn’t leave anyone indifferent.
Converge change the game forever with their heartbreak
Already with 3 albums of critically acclaimed albeit only moderately successful Metalcore menace under their belts, Massachusetts natives Converge decided to push further their experimental side for their fourth release. With their final changes in line-up kept until today, the band shared for the first time songwriting credits between guitarist Kurt Ballou and newcomer bassist Nate Newton and started to work on demos originally intended for vocalist Jacob Bannon’s Post-Punk side-project “Supermachiner”.
A loosely conceptual album based on the emotional havoc caused by a crumbling relationship, 2001’s “Jane Doe” was Metalcore like never seen before. With its beautifully poetic lyrics, abrasive atmosphere and dynamic variations between unleashed aggression and melodic constraint, it’s an album for the furious and the sensitive alike, an assault on all senses that somehow keeps focus, and arguably the most cited album by any heavy band as an influence since its release. Paired with one of the most iconic artworks of all time, “Jane Doe” truly is a landmark across genres that changed the way Metal music would be perceived forever.
Every Time I Die invent Party Metal
In complete contrast to the dark motifs that permeated the work of bands like Converge and Norma Jean in the early ’00s, leave it to Buffalo natives Every Time I Die to bring lightness and humor to the too-often overdramatic imagery of Metalcore. After a completely overwhelming debut, their second album “Hot Damn!” showed a much more focused effort.
Leaning on the Southern-drenched riffs of Andy Williams and Jordan Buckley and the witty sardonic lyrics of English Literature major to be Keith Buckley, Every Time I Die’s sophomore release was eclectic. Satisfying both a need to mosh and to dance, and even filling the bellies of Neurosis aficionados with medley “In the Event That Everything Should Go Terribly Wrong”, they brought a level of semi-pretentious intelligent humor that served as a blueprint for many bands in the MySpace era, but never with the same sophistication.
Thrashy Metalcore conquers the world
Thrash Metal was an unashamed love affair between Metal and Punk and it was only a matter of time before it emerged as one of the main influences in the Metalcore scene. Many bands by the middle of the decade worshipped equally Thrash pioneers Metallica and Slayer and the frontrunners of the Swedish Melodic Death Metal scene like In Flames and At the Gates. This resulted in fast straightforward tracks with dueling guitars, explosive solos allied with plummeting breakdowns, and a dynamic range of harsh/clean vocals.
This more melodic and accessible approach to Metalcore quickly gained popularity and became the most prominent form of the movement, giving radio airplay and chart success for the first time in the genre’s history and making superstars of bands that quickly became hailed as the successors of Metallica and saviors of Heavy Metal. Avenged Sevenfold’s “Waking the Fallen” (2003), Killswitch Engage’s “The End of Heartache” (2004), Bullet for My Valentine’s “The Poison” (2005) and Trivium’s “Ascendancy” (2005) were all certified Gold and are arguably the most acclaimed works of bands that still fill arenas to this day, marking a short period of domination for Metalcore worldwide.
Attack Attack! and the rise of Mallcore
In one of the most infamous moments of Metal music, the late ’00s saw the rise of many DIY dedicated bands using MySpace as a launch platform for self-produced demos and singles in hopes of landing a recording deal, and Ohio natives Attack Attack! were not about to be left behind the wave. An embryonic group for members of some of the most illustrious bands in the scene like Beartooth and Of Mice and Men, Attack Attack! took the Death Metal influences that skyrocketed Metalcore and fused them with Techno-soaked synthesizer breakdowns, clean vocals auto-tuned to the max, and an as of now incredibly dated visual style paired with song titles that barely fit in the album notes.
After their 2008’s debut album “Someday Came Suddenly” developed a large cult following, many imitators came, and bands such as Asking Alexandria, Enter Shikari or Escape the Fate rode this initial wave into success only to release themselves from the movement as soon as they could. Dubbed Mallcore due to its mainstream appeal to the alternative teenagers of the late ’00s, as well as Emocore and Crabcore, all with negative connotations, this trendy movement marked the beginning of the end for mainstream Metalcore.
Bring Me The Horizon kills mainstream Metalcore
Emerging from the Deathcore scene, British band Bring Me The Horizon became closer to the electronic-influenced Metalcore sound of their peers with 2010’s promising “There is a Hell…”, but it was not until 2013 and their fourth album “Sempiternal” that they truly unleashed their power. Recruiting former Worship’s keyboardist Jordan Fish as a partner in songwriting and immersing themselves in the dark depths of vocalist Oli Syke’s drug addiction, the quintet traded their intricate riffage and deep growls for downtuned chugging, electronic-drenched motifs and cathartic half-sung half-shouted anthems personified in Sykes’ lyrics.
This move granted them access to sold-out arenas, album charts, and global success. The album is undoubtedly a masterpiece, but it was a formula easy to replicate and resulted in many imitators releasing their own brands of generic Synth-heavy low riff Metalcore and drowned the market, forcing bands to either change their style (BMTH themselves are dabbling each time more and more into Pop territory) or fade away from the mainstream.
The future of Metalcore
Now returned to its niche status, Metalcore seems to have developed two branches releasing exciting new music: taking the influence of Djent’s obtuse songwriting formulas and Industrial’s ambient medleys and adding a Progressive take in the process, artists such as Architects, Sylosis and Silent Planet and their incredible albums “All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us” (2016), “Cycle of Suffering” (2020) and “When the End Began” (2018) respectively show the genre at its most ambitious.
And on the opposite extreme, new avenues are opening for bands exploring ways to push the borders of a genre that always had its roots in Hardcore Punk, with examples such as Employed to Serve, Vein and Knocked Loose and their releases “Eternal Forward Motion” (2019), “Errorzone” (2018) and “A Different Shade of Blue” (2019) set as references for the reinvention of a classic sound with plenty left to offer.