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Straight Hedge: The Best Punk And Hardcore Of 2022
Noel Gardner , December 13th, 2022 10:04

Noel Gardner looks back at 2022's best punk and hardcore releases, picks his top ten from the year and rounds up a handful that got away


It was pretty nice of society and epidemiology to give us most of a whole year to cut about doing fun crap like seeing punk bands, so shout out to anyone who managed to get plenty of that in during 2022. I scored very poorly on that front, seemingly due to being constantly busy doing nothing of much value, making this another year with the scene on a screen. Sad! I did make it to September’s Static Shock Weekend in London, which was kind of like a year’s worth of bands compacted into a few days, plus the queen joined in the festivities by dying, which was thoughtful of her.

That aside, and taking into account that most of the world is shit in one or more nation-specific ways, punk seems pretty healthy as a culture or movement or whatever you call it. Bands get bigger and sort of float outside the orbit of what I consider coverage-worthy in this column (it was only a few years ago I reviewed a Turnstile album, for example) but there are lots of others who then bubble up.

For some reason, or none, my selected top ten of things reviewed in 2022’s five Straight Hedge columns is quite a bit more stylistically varied than the subsequent list of things I didn’t get round to until now. Hardcore for the hardcore that sounds like hardcore is good and so are berserk hybrids you’d never have thought would work but which maintain and improve DIY punk culture and its continuing existence. My life is significantly and measurably better because of this music and I hope it has a similar effect on some people reading this.

10. Thatcher’s Snatch – Thatcher’s Snatch
(Hardcore Victim)

Any concerns that Thatcher’s Snatch are a half-joke throwaway band are dispatched as efficiently as a coffin in Mortlake Crematorium on 17 April 2013.

9. The Reflecting Skin – The Reflecting Skin

Five songs of flesh-flaying shit-fidelity sloth-churn on the tip of Drunks With Guns, Total Abuse and Ride For Revenge depending on whether The Reflecting Skin feel like being mouthbreathing, violent or evil.

8. Syndrome 81– Prisons Imaginaires

Syndrome 81 have nailed their ‘postpunk bootboy’ sound here … Fabrice Le Roux delivers his lines with a finely menacing glower, guitarists Damien Lannuzel and Alexandre Marzin embrace their chorus pedals for a double dose of piercing Joy Divvy shimmer.

7. Chat Pile – God’s Country
(The Flenser)

Essentially, the album plots a continuum between the sort of music that was called ‘pigfuck’ in the 1980s and not so much since – nihilistic, detuned, (mostly) American – and the more commercially inclined plains of 90s alt rock and metal.

6. Gospel – The Loser
(Dog Knights Productions)

Ripe with synths and prog time signatures at every turn… lurid and florid in much of its sound design, The Loser is nevertheless lean and economical in many ways.

5. Long Knife – Curb Stomp Earth
(Beach Impediment/Black Water)

Here, they move at brisk punk tempo but crib groove and swagger from classic rock, radio metal and vintage soul... Long Knife pack so much into these 13 songs, the 25-minute running time is worthy of a double take.

4. Grit – Shatterproof
(AU Vinyles)

A pop-savvy spin on Oi! offset by Clodagh Murphy’s affecting lyrical tack... I can’t quite get over how much I love this album.

3. Trauma Bond – Winter’s Light

Compressed blastbeats and death-gurgle vox and staticky power electronics… in some respects hypermodern grind, thickly produced and noise-savvy a la Full Of Hell or the HIRS Collective.”

2. Erupt – Left To Rot
(Static Shock/Cool Death)

Geezers from three of my favourite bands in the last decade playing oily-denim tankard-raising riff mania that’d make the meekest wallflower want to crush a grape.

1. Rigorous Institution – Cainsmarsh
(Black Water)

Sonically murky in some respects, with guitar and bass coagulating noisepunkishly, Rigorous Institution’s addition of Hawkwind-into-black metal synth parts supplies an extra dimension and then some.

Ten That Got Away

Ammo – Web Of Lies / Death Won’t Even Satisfy
(Wallride/Static Shock)

The painstakingly incremental journey Ammo’s not-very-long player seems to have taken to reach this exact point is amusingly at odds with the music on it, which takes literal seconds to metaphorically start tearing the house to bits. (Or, as they put it in ‘Slam Slam Slam’: “Slam! Slam! SLAM SLAM SLAM!”) A hardcore foursome from New Jersey, fronted more than ably by PJ Russo of the skate/punk/garagey Night Birds, the eleven songs on Web… date as far back as 2018. This was recorded the following year, uploaded to Bandcamp at the beginning of 2022, pressed to vinyl a few months later and has been pinged back into my eyeline just in time for this column by Static Shock doing a UK version. The whole thing is a pretty unbending homage to the extremities of early 80s hardcore, where any glint of a break from that norm – the crossover thrash-sounding guitar on ‘Known Unknown’, for example – feels positively eclectic, but good gravy do Ammo rule at this.

Class – Epoca De Los Vaqueros
(Feel It)

The debut LP by glamazonian Arizonans Class is a band name-justifyingly good release in its own right, so forgive me for using it as a Trojan horse to turn the top ten above into a top eleven: as dishevelled, quickstep protopunk made by American punk/HC figures of note went in 2022, Epoca De Los Vaqueros goes toe-to-toe with Moses Brown’s delicious album as Peace De Résistance, which I reviewed back in June. With that out of the way, back to Class: most notably, they’re the baton Rik Meyer has taken up since folding Rik & The Pigs. To be reductive, you could liken them to a reversed-time Cheetah Chrome, on a Rocket From The Tombs tip where Rik & The Pigs were the Dead Boys. Beyond that, there’s a song titled ‘Cockney Rebel’ which sounds nothing like Cockney Rebel (and a little like the Buzzcocks), Stones-meets-psych guitars on ‘Light Switch Tripper’ and a darker turn to close with ‘Unlocking Heaven’s Gate’, which pulls similar moves to someone like Constant Mongrel and seems to either be about COVID or leaning on it for allegorical purposes.

Headcleaner – Panic Grass / I Deny Everything
(Gold Mold / self-released)

This Glasgow band’s six-song Panic Grass came out digitally in late 2021, at which point – having dug Headcleaner’s anarcho-in-the-garage guitar jags and Ann Scott’s seething, sandpapered vocals mightily – I made a note to come back to it when it had a physical release. When the Gold Mold label, also Glaswegian, did so in June, I failed to notice. Get a load of this doofus! Anyway, this tape should be right up the avenue of anyone who likes Cold Meat (in its chuggier moments) or Snob (in its rattlier ones), and on the last song, ‘Bloody Nose’, Scott sounds like a bedroom singer dreaming of leading the chorus in a Broadway musical. More recently, Headcleaner have released the three-song I Deny Everything – again, digital-only for now – which is also great, but with its three songs of blazing hardcore in under three minutes barely sounds like the same band. This might be because only one member, guitarist Eliot Humphreys, remains from Panic Grass. Not certain of the full deal, but maybe Headcleaner’s self-description, “a punk collective”, might be relevant.

Mirage – Immagini Postume

More New Jersey hardcore, indeed Ammo guitarist Matt Morgantini is among the personnel on Mirage’s debut tape. So what itch is being scratched on Immagini Postume that Ammo doesn’t satisfy? Well, thanks in large part to his guitar sound, there’s a gothic pallor to these 13 minutes, and something like a psychedelic cloud too. Frontman Salvatore sings in Italian, and Roachleg’s sales patter lists seminal Milan punx Wretched as one of several influences, though left to my own devices I’d probably bring up Rudimentary Peni and, maybe, very early Meat Puppets (which is to say that Mirage are probably not named in reference to that band’s 1987 album). A lot of hardcore bands put out stuff on tape while audibly still in the foetal stage – that’s fine, it’s kinda what the format is for – but if Immagini Postume had been delivered on wax I don’t think many people would have deemed that hubristic.

Möney – Boiling Wells
(Chicken Attack/Fury Tapes)

Bit of a halftime breather from the various horrendous rackets here with a five-song cassette by some Bristolians who seem to be anarcho punks, culturally speaking, but make music which is pensive and sparse, more attuned to the singsongy postpunk end of the genre. Tonally, the guitar of Möney’s Dominic (who’s also the band’s vocalist) is thoroughly pleasant sounding, somewhat Young Marble Giants-ish on ‘Desiertos De Sal’, but much like YMG there’s a sinister underlay: is Violeta, the second voice on the song, laughing or crying towards the end? Basslines are robust and sinewy, keeping Boiling Wells in punk territory stylistically lest it be mistaken for C86 type fare; ‘Pleasure’ and ‘Happiness’ up the tempo and remind me of another underrated, now dormant Bristol band, Neurotic Fiction. If you liked this year’s Straw Man Army album, and could imagine digging a version of it that more closely resembled 80s UK indie than 90s college rock, Möney might be worth a punt.

Personal Damage – Ambush
(Test Subject)

This is a 2022 7-inch pressing of a tape from late 2021, if you want to be a real weenie about it, but there’s nothing you can do to stop me telling you about Personal Damage and their scorching west coast hardcore classicism! These lads are from Los Angeles and sound like it, at least if we incorporate the surrounding sprawl while wondering if the yappy call-and-response vocals on Ambush’s title track are supposed to be a homage to Middle Class’ ‘Out Of Vogue’ or just turned out that way. The rest of the EP stays very much in ‘first wave USHC’ territory – ‘Prison Box’ would be a worthy two-minute addition to the Circle Jerks’ quarter-hour Group Sex – even on its final number, a cover of ‘Steppin’ Razor’ as popularised by Peter Tosh. You may be disappointed to find there’s limited reggae at Personal Damage’s punky reggae party, but they chunter through it with infectious glee anyhow.

Sniffany & The Nits – The Unscratchable Itch

Sniffany & The Nits’ debut album goes much harder than you might expect if you were to, like, not listen to it. It was released on a Moshi Moshi Records sublabel with no other even slightly ‘punk-sounding’ bands on its roster, has artwork (by the group’s vocalist, Josephine Edwards) which might make an uninformed browser imagine some kind of wavey psych outfit, and its instrumental section is comprised of former members of Welsh janglers Joanna Gruesome. But The Unscratchable Itch is speedy and distorted, like something the Toxic State label might have released at a nonspecific point, and with its cumulative imagery does a terrific worldbuilding job over 24 minutes. Edwards is probably one of the best lyricists doing the DIY punk rounds at present – lurid and cheerfully macabre, with a very good ear for allegory – while ‘Clam Chowder’, sung in the character of a middle-aged woman following her husband to a swingers’ evening, feels in the lineage of Ray Davies or Jarvis Cocker more than anything.

Swab – Big City
(Hardcore Victim)

Swab’s debut album is another one I straight up did not have on my radar until about six months after its May release, which on a personal level is a major flub as it marks the vocal return of Christina Pap – onetime Aussie in Ohio fronting the great Vanilla Poppers, now back in Melbourne and squawking up a storm on a seriously energetic dose of manic hardcore. The five seconds of metallic shred guitarist Blake Damilatis opens Big City with, while not specifically representative of his playing in general, serves as a statement of intense intent. It honestly seems pretty rare for a contemporary band to play this fast, all the time, while still being most correctly labelled hardcore (as opposed to power violence or grind, neither of which Swab at all resemble). I keep thinking that if Zeke tried to sound like a band on This Is Boston Not LA it might, vocals notwithstanding, resemble Swab, which is my kinda hypothetical even if these guys didn’t agree.

Violin – Violin
(La Vida Es Un Mus)

So far as I can tell from extensive research (typing the word into the Discogs search box), no-one has ever called their band Violin before, though even if they had it would still be a great name for a full-steam-ahead hardcore group. Although! Violin isn’t actually a group, but a solo project with a helpful drummer to do the one thing the main geezer can’t. As the drummer is Jonah Falco, Canadian in London renowned for rhythmic aplomb in Fucked Up and multiple others, you know that side of things is fresh and booming. The main geezer is Lindsay Corstophine, also of the postpunkish Sauna Youth; he does have a hardcore past of sorts, in mid-00s band The Steal, but they were decidedly more melodic and cleancut than Violin’s brickwall belligerence, which is more in the vein of bands like The Flex or (another solo project) Rat Cage. Corstophine makes room for some weirder, less by-the-book touches, too, like the guitar on ‘Empty Mind’, which resembles one of those tiny sound chips in birthday cards.

Vivisektio – Uusi Normaali

This band were active in the remarkably diamond-dotted Finnish hardcore scene of the early 1980s, although never released anything at the time outside of a few compilation tape songs, and so were perhaps most notable for geographical reasons: hailing from a tiny Lapland village, Vivisektio might have been the world’s northernmost punk group. A late-00s regrouping has resulted in a few tours and releases, including Uusi Normaali, their first studio album for eleven years, and it’s impressively raging: the same rapidfire anarcho stomp as the first time round (never more so than ‘Sotakuume’) but with production values elevated above ‘tin can’ levels. Vivisektio personnel remained in bands after first separating in 1986, and the current quartet, who feature two remaining original members, split the difference between the ballistic HC of original peers like Terveet Kädet and later pushers of a Finn-crust sound, like Unkind. The band probably hate people making corny references to Santa, Christmas presents, elves, things of that nature, so I won’t end by doing that.