How do you write an 11-minute powerviolence song? How is that possible? As a genre, powerviolence is defined, at least in large part, by its brevity. Bands challenge themselves and each other to come up with short, disorienting bursts of anxiety. A song might be 45 seconds long, and it might switch riffs and tempos three times. The whole point is to keep you on edge, off-kilter. You can’t settle into a groove. The very idea of groove is antithetical to the entire project. But the best powerviolence song that I’ve heard in a long minute is Brain Tourniquet’s “An Expression In Pain,” a berserk marathon that roils and splinters and heaves and spits for 10 minutes and 49 seconds. It moves from guttural grind to soul-shattered noise to demonic march to god knows what else, and it earns every second.
It’s not enough just to write and record a song like “An Expression In Pain.” Brain Tourniquet are performing it, too. They’re performing it in warehouse venues where people go to mosh, and people are moshing to it. People aren’t necessarily moshing the way they might mosh to Hatebreed, but they’re not standing still, either. “An Expression In Pain” doesn’t have traditional moments, but it does have these big-riff slowdowns that fit within the jagged flow, and those are the moments where you might want to do the arm-swinging stomp-walk from one side of the dingy concrete room to the other. When Brain Tourniquet play that song, that’s exactly what people do.
Seen from a certain angle, Brain Tourniquet might be less of a hardcore band, more of an art project. The man behind Brain Tourniquet is Connor Donegan, a Washington, DC musician who’s been in more than a dozen bands, usually as a drummer. Some of those bands — Pure Disgust, Protester, Red Death — have been pretty straightforward hardcore or thrash. But Donegan also plays around with the most extreme forms of underground metal. Last year, I had to leave a set from his death metal band Genocide Pact early. It was in the middle of a long day of bands, and I just couldn’t handle it. It was too overwhelming. Donegan does overwhelming well.
In Brain Tourniquet, Connor Donegan doesn’t play drums. He plays guitar, and he screams. Drummer Robin Zeijlon is another musician who’s been in a million bands; these days, he probably devotes most of his time to Truth Cult. Brain Tourniquet are a power trio, a fully locked-in unit who can blaze with dizzying speed and then suddenly pivot, as one, into fearsome deep-trudge riffage. It’s not easy to mosh to a band like that. By and large, hardcore is simple music, and bands have a tried-and-true formula to induce friends to wallop each other. Brain Tourniquet’s style can be dizzyingly complex, but it’s also direct and physical and aggressive enough to make people move around. When they played a Richmond DIY space last month, people moved around.
We’re in a cool moment right now where a band like Brain Tourniquet can be fully welcome within the hardcore world, where technical complexity and thugged-out bravado can stand side-by-side. The Brain Tourniquet set that I saw wasn’t packed, but it was far from empty. Brain Tourniquet headlined a bill full of Richmond locals who have different approaches but mine punk and metal history for whatever catharsis they can pull. The guy who booked the show is Mikey Kent, leader of the kickass Richmond band Private Hell. Onstage, Kent told the crowd about overcoming his own alcoholism, and then he brought sheer thunder on his Flying V. Private Hell’s style is half Discharge and half Slayer, but their newer songs achieve some of the grandeur of prime ’80s Metallica. Their potential is enormous. They’re going places.
Killing Pace are already there. That band is something that you really need to witness for yourself. Killing Pace have barely been around for a year, though they’ve played a ton of shows. I’ve missed at least a couple of Killing Pace sets in the past year because I showed up too late to shows where they were the openers; their set at the Brain Tourniquet gig was my first time seeing them. In Richmond, though, they’re already legendary. The members of Killing Pace have messed around in virtually every subgenre of hardcore, but what they do in KP is different. Killing Pace pull from some of the same places as Brain Tourniquet; their sound is so fast and precise and ferocious that they could be mistaken for grindcore. But where Brain Tourniquet want to push that sound to bold new horizons, Killing Pace just want to fuck you up.
On their merch, Killing Pace like to use the phrase “hardcore, punk, and metal,” almost like a rallying cry. For that band, hardcore, punk, and metal are not different things. They blur together into one mean, dangerous whole, their extreme edges all unifying. When I talked to Mikey Kent outside the show, he compared Killing Pace to Nails, and that’s exactly right. Killing Pace’s style is guttural, feverish whiplash. They chase the ugliest sounds with the clearest focus, and when they play, people go off.
Bands like Brain Tourniquet, Killing Pace, and Private Hell are not going to become Turnstile. They will not welcome you into the world of hardcore. They might cross into metal, but it’s only because they sound harder and grimier than most metal bands. These bands are not for everyone. They’re intimidating. In the case of Killing Pace in particular, you should be intimidated. But if you give yourself over to the experience of this type of music, it can be a truly powerful thing. It can get you to where you need to be.
Adrienne – “Fabric Of Self”
Did you ever get flipped over by a big wave in the ocean and then come up feeling elated? The water comes along and crushes you. You’re just standing there, and then you’re sprawling, ass over end, grabbing at anything, no longer sure where you are. And then you taste the air, and you feel alive. You marvel at the gigantic heartless impersonal forces that govern the planet, and then you marvel again at the fact that you’re still here. A song like this gives me some inkling of that feeling. Adrienne, from Massachusetts, are digging deep into personal darkness, and they’re using the language of ’90s metalcore to get there. That music has the power and the ferocity to knock your ass into oblivion, but when the song ends, you’re still here. [From Summer’s Beginning EP, out now on DAZE/Ephyra.]
Enemy – “Killing Wage”
“Forty hours a week! I just wanna scream! Digging my own grave! Living on a killing wage!” Fuck yeah. We all owe our souls to the company store, and your reaction to that doesn’t have to be sophisticated. Enemy, from Los Angeles, understand that shit on a fundamental level, and they harness the power of early-’80s trash-can hardcore to express it. It’s not like the world has become any less hostile since this music first blazed its way into existence. A song like this turns all that hostility right back. This is folk music. [From Maladjusted, out now on 11PM Records.]
Field Of Flames – “Suspend This Life”
What is it about San Jose? Sometimes, it’s obvious. Gulch were brain-shatter extremists with serious mystique who were constantly striving for new ways to evoke bad feelings. Sunami are cartoon knuckleheads who want to watch the world burn. But Field Of Flames? There have been a million bands like Field Of Flames over the years — sincere straight-edge warriors who play metallic riffs fast and then slow on the breakdowns. There’s no gimmick, nothing to make Field Of Flames stand out, except that they’re playing this kind of hardcore with more bite and swagger than almost anyone else on the present-day landscape. Maybe that’s just what happens when you come from a town where people are pushing each other to kick as much ass as possible. [From Suspend This Life EP, out now on Streets Of Hate.]
Fury – “Vie”
The grand return. Orange County cult heroes Fury have been missing in action ever since they went into limb-stretching post-hardcore mode on 2019’s Failed Entertainment. With this single, they’ve returned to the anthemic fundamentals of 2016’s Paramount, and they still sound absolutely titanic. I thought it was cool where Fury were branching out, trying new things, but it’s just as cool when they put their heads down and bulldoze, and this shit absolutely rocks. That main riff could’ve come from Motörhead or Agent Orange or any other great rock band that’s ever set up shop on the intersection of fast and loud, and this song could’ve gotten people moving at any point in my lifetime. I love that. [Stand-alone single, out now on Triple B Records.]
Lethal – “Sterilized”
Sometimes, I’ll be walking my dogs, and one of them will take just a really nasty shit that’s like 80% liquid. I have to at least try to pick it up, or else I’m the worst neighbor in the world, so I bend down and attempt the impossible task of scooping up brown goo with a tiny plastic bag. Usually, I’m just kind of smearing it around, infecting more grass. Sometimes, I’ll get a little lump of dog shit on my finger, and there’s nothing I can do about it until I get home. I just have to walk around my neighborhood with dog shit on my finger. It’s so gross. Lethal are a new band from New York, and their music gives me that dog-shit-on-my-finger feeling. I don’t know why that’s a compliment, but it is. [From Lethal’s Hardcore Hit Parade EP, out now on 11PM Records.]
MOVE BHC – “Imperialist Reign”
In 1985, the Philadelphia police got into a standoff with MOVE, a Black radical organization, and they dropped two firebombs from a helicopter onto the house where the MOVE members were living. The resulting blaze destroyed two square blocks, 61 houses, and it killed six adults and five children. That’s where MOVE, the Black hardcore band from Boston, got their name. So please understand: When MOVE scream about authorities monopolizing violence against our lives, they are not playing. This is righteous-fury music, and that feeling comes through in the nasty-ass music just as strongly as it does in the lyrics and the imagery. [From Black Radical Love, out 8/11 on Triple B Records.]
NØ MAN – “Poison Darts”
The Washington, DC band NØ MAN is three members of Richmond screamo greats Majority Rule backing up charismatic shit-ripper Maha Shami, and she really goes off on this one. “Poison Darts” is a song about the vampire fuckers who are constantly feeding on whatever they can get out of you: “My ectoplasm summon what you can’t see/ Drain the psychic energy out of me.” That’s real shit. I know a few people who do that energy-drain thing, and you almost certainly do, too. As a shared mission in life, we should all make good and sure that nobody ever writes a song like this about us. [Stand-alone single, out now on Iodine Recordings.]
Pain Of Truth – “Actin’ Up”
The sample at the beginning of “Actin’ Up” doesn’t come from some lost ’70s vigilante movie. It’s Bill Hader in Paul, the instantly forgotten 2011 comedy where Simon Pegg and Nick Frost hang out with an alien who has Seth Rogen’s voice. In the context of this song, though, that sample sounds like the hardest shit in the universe. This is always the way with Pain Of Truth. Their hyper-exaggerated tough-guy style could come off as comedy if they didn’t pull it off with this much panache, but they do, so it goes just unbelievably hard. On this one, they get the guy from 200 Stab Wounds to bellow the name of his band. As in: “200 stab wounds to your back, yeah, you’ll remember my name!” That’s fucking awesome. Some things are just fucking awesome. [From Not Through Blood, out 9/8 on DAZE.]
Power Alone – “Leader Seekers”
The Righteous Gemstones is the funniest fucking show on TV. It’s almost unfair how funny that shit is. I can barely breathe when I’m watching. It’s brilliant: These avatars of superchurch piety revealed to be the shittiest, smallest, most deluded, most insecure people on the planet. It’s funny because you know it’s true. But maybe we shouldn’t be laughing at the religious fuckos who the show lampoons so expertly. Maybe we should look at them with absolute horrified, disgusted anger. That’s the attitude that Power Alone bring to this song: “I reject your myths! I don’t believe in your morality! In hierarchy, I don’t believe!” It feels good to laugh, but it also feels good to stare right at these pigshit institutions and call them exactly what they are. [From Nothingness EP, out now on Indecision Records.]
Speedway – “Walls Of Ire”
I like the idea that the people of Sweden sometimes struggle against writing catchy songs but just can’t help themselves. Like Watain, the Satanic black metal band who’s notorious for throwing pigs’ blood at the audience? Still catchy! They can’t help themselves! I very much doubt that Speedway, the metallic hardcore band from Stockholm, are trying not to be catchy, and I probably wouldn’t have pinpointed them as a Swedish band in a blind taste test. But there are all these tiny elements in “Walls Of Ire” — the second guitar doing heroic shit, the way the bass riff moves around, the perfectly timed backing vocals — that sweeten the deal. Craft is an important element of every genre, and someone is teaching those Swedish kids how to make sure their craft is absolutely tight, even when they’re making hardcore. We need to do that same thing over here. [From LP Promo, out now on Revelation Records.]