The Golden Age of Metalcore and 8 Albums That Helped Shape It
(image credit: Stefan Brending)
Metalcore. Such a loaded word, isn't it? At its base meaning, simply a unique style of heavy music that combines elements of 2 other genres: Metal and Hardcore. Yet depending on who you ask, there are many different emotions conjured by its mention.
Some may think fondly of bands that introduced them to new possibilities when it came to heavy music and became a catalyst for the process with which their musical tastes were shaped. Others may denounce it, offering an arena filled with thousands of cookie-cutter song structures, zero-pattern breakdowns and uninspiring lyrics.
There are substantial amounts of validity for both arguments, but regardless of what side of the debate you fall, one thing is for sure: If you are/were a fan of heavy music at any point after the death of grunge, Metalcore has at some point been a part of that fandom.
Tracing its roots back as far as the late 80's/early 90's, early Metalcore was born from the heavy metal and hardcore punk scenes. A crossover style of music that showcased the aggressive guitar and drum riffage of heavy metal, while also incorporating "breakdowns"; slow, open-ended pieces that can add to the emotion and ferocity of a song. Early pioneers such as Integrity, Earth Crisis and Hatebreed sat far deeper on the Hardcore side of the scale, but eventually paved the way for what became known as "Metallic Hardcore". This grew into a more "metal" sound through the early/mid 2000's, and birthed the bands credited with developing the sound that eventually came to be what we now know as Metalcore.
If you are a fan of Metalcore, for me, it gets no better than this period in the genre. Even though the genre continues to thrive today, there are a few key differences between now and then. Whereas most of today's acts utilize a bouncier, groove-oriented approach to their songwriting, early/mid 2000's bands, the ones that really carved out the original niche for Metalcore, were all focused on 3 main facets: Aggressive, riff-driven song structure, dueling guitar harmonies, and crushing breakdowns. For the rest of this article, we'll be exploring 8 highly influential albums, in no particular order, from bands that aided in defining the genre.
Killswitch Engage - Alive or Just Breathing
Release Date: May 21, 2002
As many will speak of Metallica in regards to being one of the "founding fathers" of modern metal, Massachusetts' own Killswitch Engage has definitely earned that level of notoriety in regards to Metalcore and what it is today. Tracks like "Numbered Days" and "My Last Serenade" display guitarists Adam Dutkiewicz and Joel Stroezel's fantastic riffing abilities, as well as their wide open, melodic choruses and trademark pinch harmonics. Vocalist Jesse Leach's throaty growl and powerful cleans, like in the choruses of "Self Evolution" and "Fixation on The Darkness", as well as his profound and relentlessly positive lyrics, also combine to make what is arguably one of the quintessential Metalcore albums of the early 2000's.
As I Lay Dying - Frail Words Collapse
Release Date: July 1, 2003
This album was met with a bit of criticism upon its release, with critics challenging that the band didn't "break any molds" with their approach. However, what most did seem to agree on, was that San Diego natives As I Lay Dying did hit their mark in regards to execution. This album exhibits solid rhythms beneath dancing leads, something guitarists Nick Hipa and Phil Sgrosso would carry throughout all of AILD's recordings, interloping with massive breakdowns, aided by drummer Jordan Mancino's almost comically huge kick drum sound on this recording, like the simple but memorably epic breakdown in the first track, "94 Hours". Add in Tim Lambesis's raspy shouts, and there you have it. An album that may not have broken any barriers, but will forever be one that set the tone.
Unearth - The Oncoming Storm
Release Date: June 29, 2004
There are a lot of bands that went about carving the sound that made Metalcore famous, and even more albums that helped to define it's trademark sound. However, I defy you to find a more pure example of true early Metalcore than this debut release from Boston outfit Unearth. Engineered and produced by Killswitch Engage's Adam D., The Oncoming Storm embodies everything that makes the genre, particularly, Ken Susi and Buz McGrath's blistering quick rhythms, dueling harmonic leads and devastating breakdowns. Another big part of this album's success to me is also the production. It just sounds HUGE, beginning a tradition of this band having consitently phenomenal guitar and drum tones. One of the best examples of truly riff-driven songwriting, this album is a staple for anyone who is a fan of the genre.
Bleeding Through - This is Love, This is Murderous
Release Date: September 23, 2003
It's been said by vocalist Brandan Schieppati that the inspiration for Bleeding Through occurred at a show in Southern Cali in the late 90's. He and founding guitarist Scott Danough attended a show headlined by Cleveland, OH legends Integrity, after which, Schieppati wanted to start a band that could be that pissed off. Well, if you had to describe this album in one word, PISSED wouldn't be a bad offering. Bleeding Through's 3rd album, This is Love, This Is Murderous can best be described as raw, uncompromising, and, well, pissed off. Schieppati's lyrics are angry, vengeful, and unapologetic, meshing well with Danough and Brian Leppke's ruthless rhythms and breakdowns and Derek Youngsma's aggressive drums. Keyboardist Marta Peterson also gives this album a more ethereal feel in spots, that somehow works well with the careening wall of rage in front of it. Not much lent to the melodic side of the spectrum on this one, but a great album nonetheless.
All That Remains - The Fall of Ideals
Release Date: July 11, 2006
While they don't rely much on traditional "breakdowns" to fill out their sound, All That Remains are certainly another band that have made an emphasis on evocative guitar riffs that drive the song, this being very apparent on their second album, The Fall of Ideals. Guitarists Oli Herbert and Mike Martin do a great job of blending driving rhythms, cohesive melodies and harmonies, as well as some truly killer solo work that gets showcased frequently throughout the album. Vocalist Phil Labonte demonstrates a pretty considerable range on this album as well, both with impressive high and low screams, but by complimenting many choruses with his clean vocals as well. Mike Martin and Phil Labonte have both said in interviews that they don't really agree with All That Remains being labeled as "Metalcore", but I definitely consider this album, at least, to be one of the great Metalcore albums of the mid 2000's.
Parkway Drive - Killing with A Smile
Release Date: September 12, 2005
Hailing from Byron Bay, New South Wales in Australia, Parkway Drive's debut offering made big waves when it released. Another gem produced by Adam D. of Killswitch Engage, Killing with A Smile incorporates lightning-quick rhythms with twinkling leads, all of which suddenly sweep into some of the biggest sounding breakdowns around at the time. Another huge-sounding recording, this album is a nonstop sonic assault, one where we're introduced to guitarists Jeff Ling and Luke Kilpatrick's signature guitar stylings, regularly utilizing quick, single-note patterns in their rhythm riffs, and heavy use of harmonies, as well as absolutely crushing breakdowns. These themes continue through the rest of Parkway's catalog, but given that this was their first album, and what an impact it made on the genre, it is the one that makes this list.
August Burns Red - Messengers
Release Date: June 19, 2007
ABR began as a project in the basement of drummer Matt Greiner's egg house on his family's farmland in Lancaster, PA when all the members were still in high school. Messengers is the second release from the band, but this was the album that truly broke them through to the mainstream of Metalcore. It's also the first album with current vocalist Jake Luhrs taking duty on the mic. Another prime example of a band creating and honing a particular sound, this album is no exception. Through the use of single note-pattern rhythms, gratuitous harmonies and off-time key signatures, along with Greiner's impeccable drumming, ABR have crafted a sound all their own, even going so far as to influence other bands from the area like fellow Eastern PA natives Texas In July. Having released their 8th studio album in 2017, their trademark sound remains, and continues to impress.
Killswitch Engage - The End of Heartache
Release Date: May 11, 2004
I know what you may be thinking: "Isn't Killswitch already on this list?" Yes, though I would offer you the explanation that sometimes, member changes can morph a band's sound to a point where it needs re-evaluated. After leaving the band in 2002 due to personal reasons, vocalist Jesse Leach was replaced by ex-Blood Has Been Shed vocalist Howard Jones. Ironically, Jones has been quoted as saying he wasn't too interested in joining KsE at first because they sounded too clean. The irony of course stemming from the fact that Howard's clean vocals are a thing of beauty. On all 3 of KsE's albums on which Jones is featured, his clean vocals add a depth and dynamic to their overall sound that is worth a second mention. With both powerfully passionate clean notes, frequently trailing off into haunting vibratos reminiscent of classic metal vocalists like Bruce Dickinson (Iron Maiden) and Rob Halford (Judas Priest), and powerful screams that could peel paint off a wall, the Howard Jones era of KsE has enough clout to stand on its own two feet, and The End Of Heartache is a prime display of both his uniquely powerful vocal ability, and the band's overall sound, which makes this album a Metalcore classic.
And there we have it! Hopefully I've inspired you either to track down any of these you were unfamiliar with and give them a listen, or dust them off and experience them all over again.
What other early/mid 2000's Metalcore bands/albums do you think should be on this list? Where do you stand on the Jesse vs. Howard KsE debate? LET US KNOW!
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