Straight Hedge! The Best Punk And Hardcore Of 2023

Noel Gardner looks back at 2023's best punk and hardcore releases, picks his top ten from the year and rounds up a handful that got away

Poison Ruïn, photo by Cecil Shang Whaley

Across the five editions of Noel’s Straight Hedge in 2023, I reviewed just under four dozen new releases that were products of, by my reckoning, the global punk and hardcore underground. The first of them featured the drummer from Cannibal Corpse and the last is a one-person “queer jazz noise” band, to quote myself. To the extent this signifies anything, it’s a vain attempt to thread the needle between making the case for DIY punk as a still-evolving artform, played by open-eared people and able to cohabit with open-eared people from other scenes… while reiterating that music that wilfully sounds like music from 40 years ago can still be really good, and that the continuing existence of a subculture that clings to certain personal principles and internal ideology is a net positive.

Based on the best of the shows I managed to hit up this year (the final Static Shock Weekend in London; Poison Ruïn, Paranoid, Jarada, Physique, Home Front and Chain Whip in Bristol; Bib in Newport; Zero Again in Cardiff) and the amount of records I could have chatted shit about instead of the ones I actually did, things seem relatively good in 2023, much like in 2022. I try and have as little to do with the ‘social’ side of social media as possible, so probably have a lot of inane scene politics pass me by. If this technically makes me less qualified to speak on the matters here, I am comfortable with that, considering it analogous to my belief that Britain would have a more media-literate populace if every single newspaper permanently shut down tomorrow.

From what I know and observe of the musicians involved in the releases below, many can opine with eloquence and conviction and do so righteously on the side of the marginalised, as 2024 may bring into ever sharper focus.

Noel Gardner’s Top 10 Punk Releases Of 2023

10. Kinetic Orbital Strike – Kinetic Orbital Strike
(self-released; reissued on Phobia)

Seven minutes of blackened crust bombast offering heroic lethality. Guitarist Chris Ulsh is best known as a drummer in Power Trip and Devil Master; my favourite band of his, Impalers, are also the one which most closely resembles KOS’ radioactive barrage.

9. Seer – Demo 2023

If you keep tabs on the Glaswegian indie pop/post punk/DIY scene you might recognise some of the members of Seer, and you might also be surprised by what a hectic hardcore freakdown their debut demo is.

8. Fashion Tips – Fucking Hell

Pretty essential if you hold a candle for that lurid, sometimes sordid synth-heavy strain of post-hardcore that proliferated in the late 90s and early 00s via labels like Three One G, Skin Graft and Gold Standard Laboratories.

7. Spam Caller – Imposter Syndrome
(Richter Scale)

Compacted top-blowing which shares, with acts like the Repos and Goodbye World, the ability to sound like the inside of a mass shooter’s head. Were you hot for Hoax a decade or so ago? Spam Caller are like Hoax but better.

6. Electric Chair – Act Of Aggression
(Iron Lung)

Nihilistic no-slow US hardcore teeming with screaming metal leads and dunked in a psychedelic sheepdip – well, clearly I’m going to like that.

5. Abism – Abism
(Toxic State)

A glowing cauldron of ultrapunk truculence from a jumble of old(er)heads from the present-day NYC hardcore scene and slightly newer blow-ins. ‘Trabajar’, which opens proceedings, is blisteringly fast, but Abism can also stretch out and convey doomy drama.

4. Home Front – Games Of Power
(La Vida Es Un Mus)

When I saw this band live last year I described them as “OMD meets Sham 69”; Games Of Power, Home Front’s second release, leans more definitively into their synthpop and ‘erbertpunk influences.

3. Poison Ruïn – Härvest

Like the early Poison Ruïn tapes, these songs are recorded in spartan style but convey high drama through a sound somewhere between postpunk, deathrock, anarcho punk and metal.

2. Gimic – Defer To Hate
(Crew Cuts)

“By no means maximalist or indulgent songwriters, you can pay specific attention to the sounds any of Gimic’s four members are making on Defer To Hate and hear something interesting.”

1. Yfory – Yfory
(Static Age)

Four sharp, rattling post punk songs which dart between Welsh and English, often within the same line. A release of unqualified excellence; anyone who likes punk, postpunk or music in Welsh should buy it.

Ten Punk Releases That Got Away

Belgrado – Intra Apogeum
(La Vida Es Un Mus)

Belgrado, a band from Barcelona whose vocalist Patrycja Proniewska sings in Polish, have released four albums to date, Intra Apogeum being the most recent. Each one has taken an incremental step away from the sound of the last, so following gloomy uptempo anarcho punk, wind-tunnel goth rock and post punk with dub rhythms, we reach this, eight songs of coldwave-leaning synthpop that falls heavily on the ‘synth’ and indeed ‘pop’ side of the marital bed. With drummer Jonathan Sirit now programming his beats, Louis Harding has signed up on bass, and the results bear (very positive!) comparison to another group of his, Fatamorgana, though Intra Apogeum is more luxurious, harnessing the potential of the modern recording studio. If Belgrado continue their trajectory to album five, by logic the results will sound like a late 80s PWL production. Will it be featured in this column? Buddy, I’ve already written the review.

Big Mess – Cleaning Up With…
(Specialist Subject)

Here’s a just-out long player that doesn’t spend too long playing and spins at 45rpm because it is a legal requirement for this sort of music to be cut at that speed. Facts! Big Mess come from Copenhagen and play dead cool (if not quote-unquote fashionable) punked-up power pop that will induce in you a desire to smoke tough cigarettes while standing around a fire hydrant. Most commonly American-sounding in that inescapably post-Ramones way – they do have a Boston expat, drummer Rich Perusi, in the band – a sly Anglophilia comes through now and then: ‘Working’ is not a cover of the Cock Sparrer song ‘Working’, but does actually sound like Cock Sparrer, which is slightly discombobulating. Among the other eleven songs is ‘Messy Xmas’, which ends with church bells and is for better or worse the only Christmas-themed song I can offer you this season, and a cover of Lou Reed’s ‘Hangin’ Round’.

Burnt Envelope – I’m Immature: The Singles Vol. II

Burnt Envelope is one of several aliases of Anthony Pasquarosa, whose name you might recognise if you’re big into the enduring American Primitive/beardo psych scene out of Western Massachusetts. More immediately relevant to Straight Hedge are Aerosols and SQRM, both hardcore bands from the Youth Attack Records ‘stable’ in which he featured. I’m Immature: The Singles Vol. II – 14 songs, none actually released as singles – is something else again. Sloppy, sardonic protoprepostpunk that sounds agitated and antagonistic in equal measure, Pasquarosa favours a beat-ignoring style of vocal less sprechgesang than ‘rambling into a mic without realising it’s recording’. Musically, there are hints of his unpunk tendencies, with the two-part, Randy Savage-themed ‘I’m A Chameleon’ coming on like the crudest Krautrock ever taped, but ‘Nothing To Do’ and ‘23 And Me’ are the zenith of the Burnt Envelope experience: slavering punksploitation for Fugs, Debris and Chain Gang fans.

Eye Of The Cormorant / Eye Of The Heron – Demo

Actually two demos, recorded in 2023 and 2021 respectively, by one solo project. Donna Allen, also of various Austin-originated acts – postpunkers Chronophage, hardcore freeks Hologram – now lives in New York and has hatched (like a bird’s egg) a plan to do a self-described “bedroom anarcho punk” thing that names itself after a different member of the avian kingdom with every release. Eye Of The Heron, which shares its name with an Ursula K. Le Guin novel, is the thrashier of the two recordings: I still wouldn’t have pegged it as anarcho, sound-wise, but the point may be to view these things without imposed genre restrictions. ‘Eye Of The Cormorant’ is more melodic than its predecessor – keyboards, fuzzy guitars a la early 80s Dunedin, suggestions of a college rock sensibility though zero inclination to scrub up accordingly – and perhaps tucks in where Straw Man Army settled with their most recent album. ‘Eye Of The Penguin’ coming next (it says here)!

Eyeteeth – Straight Edge Violence / State Funeral
(Then And Now / Atomic Breath)

The first 7-inch by northern England’s Eyeteeth isn’t exactly what you might expect from a record titled Straight Edge Violence, at least if you expect early 90s-style hardline with incredibly insular lyrical concerns. The members of Eyeteeth are definitely straight edge (and have been for, cumulatively, several decades) and one of the ten songs on the record does appear to be lampooning Chain Of Strength for whatever reason, but they seem more invested in being anti-Tory/-capitalist/-boss/-cop, you know all the shit that goes into making crucial enraged hardcore. As for the music, Christ alive this one goes hard: one downtuned detonation after another, certain guitar and drum parts bordering black metal and grind but with an ineffable groove when the pace drops a tad. And State Funeral – a 5-inch lathe-cut, if you please, released in October – might be even better, six songs of unholy powerviolence in three minutes.

Hez – Panamaniacs
(Discos Enfermos / Dirtbag Distro)

I was well into Guerra Interior, a 7-inch by Panama hardcore punks Hez, a couple of years ago, and I reckon this LP is even better, so here’s some actual words this time. It’s got a title you’ll want to find excuses to say out loud, for starters, and sleeve art that captures how annoying it is to be harassed by five floating skulls, and 12 songs of relentless and peculiarly tuneful rawpunk. Don’t get it twisted, Hez aren’t holding much back with this recording – gluebuzz feedback larded on everything and Rodolfo Alemán’s vocals treated so every line he sings still reverberates when he’s on to the next one – but they also like their hooks, and have a really useful rhythm section in José Albornoz and Gabriel Carrabs. That just leaves guitarist Luis Mora, who has a tendency to whip out these mad Hawkwind-style space-truckin’ FX that shouldn’t really suit these songs at all but… absolutely do.

Pleasure – Candy Samples

Weirdo hardcore from Leeds featuring (not exclusively but mostly) members of other weirdo hardcore bands from Leeds who kicked around for a few years then broke up. It would be kind of cool if Pleasure ended up being an exception to that and recorded, like, eight albums or whatever, but I appreciate the ephemeral / “here’s where our heads were at in two thousand and X” mindset too. Candy Samples is way more exploratory than implied by its five-song, 13-minute length, boiling over with riffs and liable to spin round and run in the opposite direction just as you think you’re locked in. When I saw them play live I was thinking about some gawky 2010s US tackle like NASA Space Universe but this tape is closer to United Mutation than that – really like(d) them both anyhow.

Physique – Again
(Iron Lung)

Olympian crust warriors Physique were a different story for me, in that I went to see them play about four months after Again – possibly their debut album, definitely their most extensive release – had dropped online. The experience crystallised their whole deal for me, in that I can now listen and picture them giving it six nowt, three feet away from me, in the form of a comprehensive wall of sonic filth. Big help! This sort of music is more comfortable than most with cards-on-the-table homage, and though Physique genuflect towards Discharge, Doom and Disclose via (respectively) their LP title, logo and song ‘Yesterday’s Anguish Tomorrow’s Despair’, they have carved out their own narrow niche in the crasher/D-beat milieu through sheer force. The guitar solos Jake Bison pops off on ‘Yet Ahead’, ‘Indecision’… most of these 15 songs, actually, are undeniable, but there is no on-tape evidence of anyone in this band slouching for even one second during the recording process.

Rifle – Under Two Flags
(Standard Process)

London quintet Rifle have been a going concern for about two years and released a demo tape in early 2022. Vinyl debut Under Two Flags, a five-song 7-inch, comes courtesy of a One Little Independent sublabel, albeit one handled by Bad Breeding vocalist Chris Dodd. Rifle are supporting The Chisel on a UK tour next February and I get the feeling a few things are falling into place for them, as has happened for The Chisel. In both cases, I see no reason to be grudgeful – the songs are strong (77 punk bite with UK82 vox and garage turkey guitar tone), the recording is loud and belligerent and the band give the impression of being thoughtful fellows in a relatable way. Rifle singer Max Williams is also showing strong signs of making ‘wearing sunglasses at all times regardless of the light situation’ his gimmick going forward, so take that on board also.

Zorn – Zorn
(Sorry State)

Philadelphians Zorn have a link to this year’s main top ten in the form of guitarist Nao Demand, who also plays in Poison Ruïn. Their metal side, as mentioned in that quote back there, is relatively subtle, at least when compared to this LP – Zorn’s debut, after a few tapes and 7-inches – on which he and everyone else chews a bunch of expired blood capsules and pukes a perfect pentagram onto a BC Rich Warlock. This is definitely the most metallic thing Sorry State Records have released to date, although the none-more-crust bass intro that comprises the first ten seconds of the album reassures you Zorn is no slick thrash operation. With chainlink-brandishing vocalist Eric Teofilak sounding like a nasty little goblin as he yaks lyrics like “The mountain priest confronts the beast,” while his band make hay with studded-codpiece solos and obliterative bass-and-drum mud-thud, Zorn is a bit like mid-80s Milanese maniacs Bulldozer if they were an early-90s Japanese Burning Spirits band.

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