I’ve always thought of hardcore* as an exclusionary genre that had few points of entry. I’ve never known a hardcore band that could be described as “easily accesible.” Maybe hardcore is one of the few communities that know they have something unique and there’s no reason to dilute it with more people and a broader appeal. But the point is, hardcore is something you get or you don’t.
At Emo’s Saturday night, there were certainly no casual onlookers who were merely curious about the genre. Ripped clothes, leather jackets and every hair style but “conventional” was present. Furthermore, perhaps even more telling of the genre’s current place in the musical spectrum, there were more than a few black X’s on back of peoples hands.
Starting with Cancer Bats – they bring the high-energy genuine love of their music that you typically only get in fresher bands. A lot of times it feels like uncompromising love is traded for skill as time goes on in a band’s life, but not in their case. Lead singer Liam Corner runs across the stage with the energy of a 9 year old who broke into the Red Bull, but my favorite member to watch and feed energy from was drummer Mike Peters. His high-energy drumming provided a solid foundation to build badass off of. I’m fairly certain I even saw some teeth-gnashing in his set. Now that is badass.
Though all is not well with this group of Canadian rockers. As I said before, Cornier gets points for his high-energy lead, but his voice never really impressed. Don’t misunderstand, there’s plenty of top of his lungs screaming, but I never felt like the vocals were about to kick my ass. In fact, there was nothing in the set that I would describe as being a “Holy Shit” moment. The guitar playing was ok, the vocals underwhelming, and the band came together well but not great. If your only criteria for a band is something to mosh to, then Cancer Bats fit the bill.
Then there was Madball…
Reviewing two hardcore bands back to back is a little awkward, just because so much of the appeal is in the attitude and presentation. Musically, it’s pretty standardized across the genre from band to band. But the reason Madball has gained recognition above their peers is obvious. They’re in sync with each other like a military outfit, stopping a song in the middle and coming back in a second later even harder.
Also, unlike the Cancer Bat’s Corner, Madball’s frontman Freddy Cricien has a voice to knock a house down.
The sad thing though, is that Madball, full of veterans from the scene, seemed workmanlike in their presentation of this music. The movement of a younger band was there, running from one side of the stage to the next, but instead of seeming possessed by the music, Freddy Cricien looked like he was going through the motions expected of him.
Furthermore, the persistent talking between songs did nothing to help the set’s energy. In fact, partway through the second song the band left the stage with their instruments on it. When they came back on a couple of minutes later Cricien said something about taking care of something and they finished the song. Whether this was a joke or a bizarre protest, it definitely helped kill any momentum they were building up.
To conclude, as I said before, Madball is an uncompromising hardcore band with a good lineup and the right kind of attitude. If you need music to scare your grandmother with, Madball would be a good contender. But if someone needs a good recommendation for a band to see live, and they ask about Madball, I’ll probably say “Yea, they’re some hardcore band. You’ve probably seen bands like them before.”
*I define hardcore in this review as a broad term without trying to diminish any sub-genre. I realize there is DC hardcore, post hardcore, deathcore, thrashcore and more, but here I mostly mean bands that followed, through one path or another, the DC hardcore days.
(Madball and Cancer Bats performed at Emo’s in Austin, Texas on January 15, 2011)