Hardcore by Distinction: A Look at the Greatest Hardcore Bands in the Context of Hardcore Part I.

By Stevil, October 16th, 2017


Ian McKaye of Minor Threat introducing Johnny Carson for "The Tonight Show". Photo by Drew Stone, or whoever he snatched it from.

One of the things I've personally hated the most about the punk rock scene are the people who try to break the unison by denying what bands are and where they came from, slapping their own ill-conceived labels on them, then preaching to everyone as if they set the standards and wrote the book. The fact is, all the different factions of punk rock are still...(wait for it)...punk rock. That goes for hardcore bands and that goes for all the variations of hardcore. Hardcore is punk rock. If you think otherwise, go talk with Dave Smalley, or any other veteran of multiple, respectable--yet different--punk rock bands, then get back to me. I'll accept any quality alcoholic beverage as a token of your gratitude and submission. Cash is just as good. So are records. You get the point.

This series features a damn fine list of great hardcore bands. If a name is missing that you feel belongs on this list, it is very likely that I either a), don't consider them a hardcore band, b), don't like them, or c), left them out just to piss you off. With that out of the way, here's the first part in this long-awaited series in which all sponsors have been dumped to give you a raw, authentic and uncensored write-up of the legends that made your life better...

1. Discharge: These gentle young lads came to life in '77, though their debut album, Hear Nothing, Seen Nothing, Say Nothing, which was released in '82. But make no mistake, this band had an undeniable impact on punk rock immediately, making the Sex Pistols sound like elevator music in a nursing home. Politically and socially conscious lyrics, fueled by grinding guitars, Discharge was arguably the toughest act around in the late 70's.

2. Bad Brains: I don't think there's anything I can say about these guys that hasn't already been said. Plain and simple, there was no better band in the 80's, hardcore or otherwise--period. They dominated both musically and lyrically, and though some songs were Reggae, they're the undisputed kings of hardcore. After Paul, Earl, Gary, and Darryl were banned in D.C.,  they packed for New York, then took the world by storm. Ask any rock 'n roll musician born after 1970 that's worth a shit who influenced them and they will indeed cite Bad Brains among the greats. 

3. Minor Threat: The founders of Straight Edge, Minor Threat is one of the most important hardcore bands to have existed, having offered a direction that was more appealing for many young kids at a time when drugs and alcohol often diluted the rebellious messages punk rock bands were trying to convey, and they did it with all the energy and passion imaginable, so you never felt like you were missing anything--and you still don't, 38 years later.

4. Dag Nasty: Though the band started with Sean Brown on vocals, Dag Nasty really didn't identify themselves until Dave Smalley stepped in and Can I Say was released, which should be on every hardcore fan's top 10 list. They gave birth to melodic-hardcore, proving that a tough message could be delivered with emotions and more than just screaming, as was unmistakably clear when Peter Cortner took over vocals. Dag split for a number of years, but put out a couple of great reunion albums with Smalley. They're currently active again with Sean Brown on vocals, though like many fans, I'm pulling for a show featuring sets with all 3 singers, much like All did at Punk Rock Bowling, which ironically featured Dave Smalley.

5. 7 Seconds: One of the fastest bands around, 7 Seconds have been instrumental in delivering a socially-fueled message that has kept many kids and adults alike entertained and on the right track through carefully-worded lyrics in messages that are somehow crystal-clear despite being played at lightening-fast speeds. Not one for screaming, the band nevertheless has all the toughness you could ask for, and few could squeeze in as many inspiring words in such little space as Kevin. My first tattoo was their 7-in-crosshairs logo, self-made with a safety pin and india ink. Think they didn't influence me positively (and permanently)?

6. Sick Of It All: One of NYC's longest running hardcore acts, Sick Of It All was the first to turn fans against each other, challenging crowds to divide themselves into two halves, then slam into each other while the band played on--laughing--and picking up the wallets and change jarred loose in the process. They deserve an "A" for creativity, if nothing else. It's goddamn tough to make a living on the road as a hardcore band and they found a way to make a supplemental income while having fun in the process.

7. Youth of Today: Arguably the biggest of the northeastern straight edge hardcore bands, at least in the mid to late 80's, Youth of Today took the torch from Minor Threat and ran multiple laps for Straight Edge before running out of breath and passing the torch themselves. Hardcore bands get a lot of credit for sounding tough, hence the label, but most of them are shitty sprinters--especially those in and around NYC. You can blame the pollution, which you would think would be a larger target for bands pushing for positive change. Oh, the irony! But don't let their lack of environmental concern deter you. Youth of Today were great and did wonders for the scene, giving kids everywhere a solid shot of adrenaline-fueled inspiration in short, pleasant bursts.

8. Agnostic Front: Known as The Godfathers of Hardcore, which is a must-see documentary, Agnostic Front have dealt fans a serving of music that fits their environment for decades. Though their sound has changed with each lineup, as you might expect, and some might classify them as more of a thrash band than a hardcore band, AF never took their foot off the throttle and their chords still resonate throughout the scene to his day.

9. Government Issue: G.I. was an ever-evolving band that showed a lot of musical diversity, but they still remained a tough act with provoking lyrics. The Pentagon may be more famous for all things government issued, but this band offered more for D.C.'s youth than anyone with brass or a chevron pinned on their collar ever offered in the 1980's. G.I., like many bands, went through numerous lineup changes, mostly with known names from the greater D.C. hardcore family, but it was John Stabb who kept this machine running and productive--and I couldn't be more grateful for that.

10.  SS Decontrol: Society System Decontrol put Boston on the hardcore map as Straight Edge spread out of D.C. like a mutated biological virus (the resemblance to which is merely a coincidence). With the release of The Kids Will Have Their Say, SSD became overnight celebrities, and while they graciously declined numerous invitations for appearances on several late-night shows, their popularity continued to grow before hockey took inevitable precedence and the band dissolved. Their run was incredible, though, and their footprint--biologically speaking--remains intact.

I must stress that this isn't an attempt to list the greatest hardcore bands in any kind of order, but an attempt to simply credit the bands collectively in groups...of ten--at a time. But feel free to weigh in with your opinions, which we all know serve as a comparative to an anus. That doesn't mean they won't be appreciated, though. Doesn't mean they will be, either. Let this serve as an example of my motivational skills. The Hardball via Hardcore self-help book will be available for purchase in a bookstore near you this fall.


  1. Dr. Lestaphus CepedaJune 28, 2018 at 7:27 PM

    Black Flag, Zero Boys, Deep Wound, Minutemen, Negative Approach, Amebix, Napalm Death, Gism...
    Thanks for a cool site.

    1. Thanks for the feedback! There will be 90 more bands cited in this series and most of the bands you mentioned will be covered.


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