This band got on my radar after seeing the now-infamous video of their set at a Sonic Drive-In, but it wasn’t until I got the opportunity to see them open for High on Fire and Municipal Waste in December, a night that made my top 10 list of shows from last year, that I truly fell in love with this New Jersey 5-piece (specifically, that moment was when I heard “Bitchmade” live).
This band plays a style of hardcore punk that has been injected with so much groove that I struggle to listen to this band without throwing a chair out of a window. This sound and energy has been perfected from their new album “Only Constant” released March 31 through Convulse Records.
“Only Constant” starts out strong with a slow groove on “Honed Blade,” the second single released to promote the album. This track builds in intensity throughout its duration before ending on a powerful breakdown, however this song only gives a taste of what’s to come on the rest of the album.
Where the album really spreads its wings is the third track “Attainable,” that incorporates an almost jazz-like drum beat on the cymbals before coming back in with pure d-beat goodness to remind you that this is indeed a hardcore album.
From this point the album does not let up, going into my favorite song “Out of Mind,” that has a massive sound and intensity that winds down into a groovy breakdown. This continues through songs such as “Dicey,” which features a slightly more upbeat tone in the chorus but still retains the aggressive character of this style of music, as well as “Snake Skin,” that progressively slows down over the course of the track into a stomp-inducing finale.
The closer of the album is “Composure,” a track that clocks in at just over 3 minutes long, making it the longest song both on the album and of the band’s whole catalog of songs. While this song is likely my least favorite of the album, it is by no means a bad song and works excellently as a bookend to this otherwise phenomenal album.
A discussion of this album wouldn’t be complete without addressing the vocal tracks from singer Sami Kaiser. In all honesty, hardcore vocals are very hit-or-miss for my ears, but I firmly believe that Gel is a band that has hit the mark on them.
Sami delivers the vocal lines with enough grit and aggression in their voice to fit the music, while also maintaining clarity and enunciation. That aspect of the vocals I think is necessary when it comes to having politically and socially relevant lyrics as punk music often does (especially where an artist’s lyrics aren’t readily available online or even in physical media inserts).
In the case of this album, the lyrics appear to be more introspective and focused on personal experience and thought rather than commentary. This shines through on “Snake Skin,” which discusses committing to being in control of one’s own life rather than submitting to the expectations and desires of someone else.
This message of personal empowerment rings throughout the record, and I think it’s a great way to remain fresh and feel new to the music.
Overall, this album shows an upward trajectory for Gel, following up 2021’s impeccable “Violent Closure” and last year’s sonically unique split EP “Shock Therapy” with an incredibly strong release. It’s a gut punch of a record from start to finish, doesn’t overstay its welcome, and is faster and groovier than their other releases. If in-your-face punk rock is something you enjoy, this album will certainly be up your alley.
I implore you to not only give this album a listen for yourself, but also to find a chance to see Gel live to get a full feel of their music, as well as supporting them, the bands they play with, and the independent venues they perform at. The phrase “it takes a village” is one I think applies strongly to music scenes, especially those that are more underground such as the hardcore punk scene.
“Only Constant” from Gel can be found on streaming services, with a digital purchase available through their Bandcamp, and is still in stock as of writing this through Convulse Records on CD and cassette.
Zorn is a Philadelphia-based band that has a sound which blends the intricacies and vocal style of GISM, the hard-hitting intensity and power of Discharge, and some black metal flair. The result is nothing short of incredible, and this band has truly captured some black magic on their new self-titled debut album.
Released in early March through Raleigh’s own Sorry State Records, “Zorn” is an album that does not let off the gas until it ends.
The opening track, “The Spell of The Fairy Tree” jumps straight into a killer bass line only made better by the power in Max’s bass tone. From there, the album balances melody, aggression, and dissonance in an absolutely stellar way.
Zorn establishes their musical prowess by weaving between black metal rhythms and hardcore punk grooves between and within songs accompanied by blistering guitar solos from guitarists Harley and Nao.
Just about halfway through the album comes my personal favorite track, “The Delco Devil Mosh” which opens with a haunting arpeggio leading into a more scandi-punk riff that goes back and forth throughout the song before slowing it down for an intense breakdown section.
The speed and intensity picks up until the finale “Würm,” that works well to close out the album with a slower and more melodic song that really shows the black metal influence in the band.
The only gripe I have with this album is that my record didn’t come with a DVD or VHS of them playing live. I say this because the truest way to experience this band is to see it in person with vocalist Alex waving a flaming sword at you while lyrics are ferociously belted out. Luckily for me, I will be catching a hometown Zorn show at this year’s Something To Talk About concert series in Philadelphia this June.
Zorn’s self titled album can be found on streaming services, with a digital purchase available through Bandcamp, as well as on vinyl at Sorry State Records.
It’s the end of the year, and it’s been a very stacked year for me in terms of concerts. At the time of writing this, I’ve seen about 130 different bands across 50 shows in 2021. This admittedly made it very difficult to find time to review these shows for the WKNC blog, but I figured the next best thing to do would be an end-of-year recap showcasing what I feel were the best concerts I attended this year.
10. Oberlin with Komodo and Frass at Iguanatropolis, Raleigh. April 30
Picking a spot to start this list was tough, given the sheer amount of contenders, but taking the first spot is what was my last show of the Spring ‘22 semester taking place at Iguanatropolis, a local house venue that regularly hosts shows showcasing mostly local bands.
The first band of the night was Frass, a noise rock band that provided a great start to the show, with bassist and singer Eyn demonstrating incredible prowess on his instrument. Additionally, the drumming for this band is tight, and the band itself has a great psychedelic groove that pairs surprisingly well with the harsh vocal style. After Frass, Komodo took the stage, and this set was definitely one of the highlights of the year for me.
Very few bands sound like Komodo, having a sound that somehow combines the style TOOL, Queens of the Stone Age, and the theme song from King of the Hill in the greatest way possible. The last act of the night was the math rock trio Oberlin, who were actually the first band I saw this year. This is yet another band with a very unique sound, balancing clean and harsh vocals very well together with the shifting and diverse instrumentation.
Overall, this was a wonderful showcasing of local bands at a house venue that I have continued to go to and look forward to seeing it aid the local scene.
9. Sepultura with Crowbar and Art of Shock at The Blind Tiger, Greensboro. March 23
Brazilian thrashers Sepultura are a top 10, maybe top 5 band for me, and when I found out they were coming to the Blind Tiger in Greensboro I was not going to miss it.
Opening for them on their North American tour this year was the sludge metal titan Crowbar, the bay area thrash outfit Sacred Reich, and the Los Angeles based thrash group Art of Shock. Sadly due to traffic I missed the vast majority of Art of Shock’s set, and I found out upon my arrival that Sacred Reich had to cancel due to a medical emergency with their frontman Phil Rind.
However, any woes I had were washed away once I got hit with a wall of sound from frontman Crowbar Kirk Windsteins incredible guitar tone. The setlist spanned their 32 year history, playing some hits along with some lesser played songs. After Crowbar’s set, I got up close to the stage to get ready for Sepultura.
The lights dimmed and cut to blue light as the choir track to “Isolation,” the opening song off of Quadra played, and as soon as the first riff of the song was launched into from guitarist Andreas Kisser, I knew I was in for a great night.
The rest of the set for the night was fast and hard hitting, fitting 17 songs into what felt like no time at all, and doing an excellent job balancing material before and after their change in singers.
Overall, the whole show that I managed to catch between Sepultura and Crowbar was incredible, and I would highly recommend catching these bands live at any chance you get.
8. Tetanus with Kudzu and C.I.Ape at the Spoke Easy, Charlotte. May 13
The number 8 spot for this year is where I’m going to start talking about the Charlotte punk scene. This was my first show back in Charlotte after returning from college, and getting to have some fun at the spoke easy with local bands and good friends was a great way to start.
The headliners of the night were Tetanus, a now-gone noise punk group that always drew a wild crowd, along with Kudzu and an early show from up-and-comers C.I.Ape. C.I.Ape’s set got the crowd moving early on in the show, and continued to keep the energy high throughout their performance. Kudzu was next, and it was a fairly straight forward punk set, though the band has yet to play any shows since to my knowledge.
Closing out the night was Tetanus in what would be one of their final performances, and despite that it was still an excellent performance with an insanely active crowd. The overall energy amongst all the bands and the crowd at this show is what cements it amongst the best of the year for me.
7: Public Acid, Dark Thoughts, and Personality Cult at The Fruit, Durham. October 27
Public Acid was the first punk band I got to see in the triangle area back in 2021, and I wasn’t going to miss them playing at The Fruit in Durham, which has become maybe my favorite venue in this state.
Opening the night was Personality Cult, a North Carolina punk band that I would recommend to any fans of bands like Liquids or Lumpy and the Dumpers. In general, this was a great band to start the show, and I’m excited to hear more from them. Up next was Dark Thoughts from Philadelphia, who are quite possibly the closest any band has ever come to sound like The Ramones and somehow they pull it off without it feeling like a rip-off. Their set was excellent, and it was fun feeling like I was brought back into the 1970’s.
Last up was the Richmond and Raleigh based Public Acid, who rocked out a great set to a receptive and moving crowd. The fun of the first two acts combined with the raw hardcore punk brought by Public Acid, is what puts this show as the seventh best show of the year.
6: Anthrax, Black Label Society, Hatebreed, and a bonus Plan B show at The Fillmore & The Milestone Club, Charlotte NC. August 13
The announcement of this tour co-headlined by thrash metal icon Anthrax and Black Label Society was one that got me to buy tickets instantly, especially given the smaller size of the venue compared to where I would expect these bands to be playing. Supported by Hatebreed on this leg, this show did not let up from start to finish.
The crowd was relentless for Hatebreed, one of the few metalcore bands I really enjoy, moving like an ocean of people as singer Jamey Jasta held the audience in the palm of his hand the whole time. Black Label Society followed, playing a set spotlighting their newest that was probably the best I’ve seen from them.
Worth noting from this performance was the chops on bassist John DeServio, who’s playing was only rivaled by his monstrous bass tone that cut through the mix. Anthrax put on a high-energy set as they do, playing songs throughout their whole discography, including “Only,” a personal favorite song of mine from the band. After seeing this amazing triple threat of a lineup, my friend and I booked it to Charlotte’s historic Milestone Club where the local punk group Plan B was about to begin a set.
Making it in the knick of time, we got to close out our night supporting a powerhouse band that draws local punks from across the city.
5. High on Fire, Municipal Waste, Gel, and Early Moods at the State Theatre, Greenville, NC. December 9
One of the last shows of the year and the most recent on this list was a co-headlining show between High On Fire and Municipal Waste with support from hardcore up-and-comers Gel out of New Jersey and Los Angeles’s Early Moods.
Every act on here was great, but what makes this the fifth best show of the year for me was Gel. Over the last few weeks this has become probably my current favorite punk band, and I got to find out after their set that the previously mentioned Plan B will be opening for them in Charlotte on February 3. This band is insane, with a powerful stage presence and songs that maintain a groove while retaining their hardcore punk tone.
Municipal Waste was fun as always, having the rowdiest crowd of the night and giving it their all despite singer Tony Foresta battling laryngitis. Early Moods were a wonderful surprise, having a sound similar to Black Sabbath blended with some of the harmonizations of Iron Maiden, fronted by an excellent vocalist.
High On Fire closed out the show with an excellent set that made me nearly deaf for a few days after, but the guitar tone that Matt Pike has found has no other way to be played as loud as possible.
4. Puscifer and Night Club at Ovens Auditorium, Charlotte. November 1
This would be the second time I’ve seen Puscifer, having previously seen them over the summer at the Durham Performing Arts Center.
This time felt different however, especially as I was seeing the experimental art rock group fronted by TOOL’s Maynard James Keenan with my family. This leg of the tour had electronic duo Night Club opening, who were a pleasant surprise to me as the style of music was not something I usually get engaged in.
Puscifer’s set began with a video sketch of Maynard James Keenan in character as Dick Merkin, informing audiences of the no phones policy and threatening violators with being turned into ground meat. The set was long but did not overstay its welcome, and went through almost all of their most recent output Existential Reckoning. The whole band, in particular vocalist Carina Round and touring drummer Gunnar Olsen, were incredible and performed the songs beautifully.
While anyone intending to see Puscifer should not expect it to be anything like anything they’ve ever seen, I highly recommend seeing them live as it is really a beautiful experience.
3. Delco Motherfuckers, Invertebrates, Scarecrow, and Headkicker at The Fruit, Durham. September 3
This show was my first experience at The Fruit in Durham, which has since become my favorite venue in the triangle. The lineup of this punk show was stacked, having Raleigh’s Headkicker and Scarecrow, along with Invertebrates from Richmond and Delco Motherfuckers from Philadelphia. The highlight act of this show for me though was definitely Scarecrow, who I had previously been trying to see for nearly a year.
This group is a masterclass in D-beat hardcore punk, and is also led by some of the nicest people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. That being said, every other band on this bill was excellent, incredibly fun to see and led to this being the third best show of the year for me.
2: ZZ Top with Kenny Wayne Shepherd at White Oak Amphitheatre, Greensboro. August 5
The penultimate spot of this list goes to ZZ Top, who even without the recently passed Dusty Hill sounded enthusiastic and as in-sync as ever. Kenny Wayne Shepherd opened the show (with Stevie Ray Vaughn drummer Chris Layton I should add), with a lovely set composed of half original material and half covers of artists ranging from Fleetwood Mac to Bob Dylan. But the show truly started when the Texas rock trio took the stage, performing a lengthy setlist spanning their 50 year history that was an all around great time.
I was particularly impressed by drummer Frank Beard, who maintained excellent grooves throughout the show and doesn’t show off more than needed. Billy Gibbons may also be the smoothest guitarist I’ve ever seen, playing effortlessly. I’m not sure exactly what it was about this show that made it so amazing, but I’d highly recommend seeing ZZ Top given the chance.
1: Tool and Brass Against at the O2 Arena, London. May 9
The top slot of this list was the easiest to place, as the entire experience of flying overseas to London with my father to go see one of our favorite bands live was something incredible. The best way I can describe what it’s like to see TOOL live is that it is akin to an otherworldly or religious experience.
New York’s Brass Against opened the show, performing brass band renditions of popular songs from Rage Against The Machine, Audioslave, and even from the headlining band’s own catalog. I cannot state enough how incredible of a singer frontwoman Sophia Urista is, who knocked out of the park a cover of “Cochise.” TOOL themselves performed a spectacle of a show, composed mostly of songs from 2019’s Fear Inoculum, and showed the way that their discography is meant to be heard. Additionally, I was pleased to have had a vastly different setlist from when I last saw them in 2019 at Raleigh’s PNC Arena, getting treated to some of my favorite songs such as “Pushit,” “The Grudge,” and to my surprise, “Ticks & Leeches,” which had only been performed one other time in the last decade. To both fans and non-fans of this band, I highly recommend taking the opportunity to see this band should it ever arise.
The buildup to Ministry’s “Industrial Strength Tour” was long and ever-shifting. Originally being scheduled for late 2020 with support from KMFDM and Front-Line Assembly, the onset of the pandemic pushed the shows to late 2021 with Helmet replacing KMFDM. These dates also inevitably fell through, and the tour pushed back once again, this time to the spring of 2022. Helmet and Front-Line Assembly were no longer attached to the tour, but the final lineup was one I was just as excited for: Ministry, Melvins and Raleigh’s own Corrosion of Conformity (CoC).
Corrosion of Conformity
The first opening set from Corrosion of Conformity was probably what I was most excited for from this show, and boy did it deliver. The show kicked off with an abridged version of the instrumental “Bottom Feeder” led by bassist Mike Dean to set the tone; monstrously heavy. Following the Sabbath-like appetizer, the band jumped straight into “Paranoid Opioid” a rapid-fire track from 2005’s In the Arms of God. Halfway through the show was my personal highlight, “Vote With a Bullet” from Blind, my personal favorite album from CoC, and a song that single-handedly caused me neck pain for a week from headbanging. The show closed out with their 2 most widely known classic tracks, “Albatross” and “Clean My Wounds,” both from 1994’s Deliverance. The latter got an extended jam treatment in the middle of it, including introductions of the band from frontman Pepper James Keenan. In the end, CoC put on an incredibly tight performance that did an amazing job of introducing the audience to the direction the night was heading.
The only band that I had not seen prior to this show was The Melvins, whose 40-year career includes 25 (soon to be 26) studio albums, which the band managed to put together an excellent sampler set of. The trio led by guitarist Buzz Osborne opened the set with “The Kicking Machine,” a bluesy track that almost sounds like it could be on a Cactus record in the ‘70s. The sound very quickly shifted to the sludge metal tone the Melvins are known for however as they moved into material from Bullhead and Stoner Witch, which seriously highlighted the sonic powerhouse that the band is in its current iteration. Buzz’s guitar tone keeps the notes ringing out clearly without sacrificing any grit or gain, Steven McDonald provides a rocking low end with the bass and delivers great backing vocals, and drummer Dale Crover keeps a tight groove with the band alongside his ferocious performance. The set closed out with three classic songs, “Hooch,” “Honey Bucket,” and “The Bit” which the crowd responded to with the start of a sizeable mosh pit in the left wing. Overall, the Melvins put forth a great set with a lot of variety, sounded incredible the whole time, and also demonstrate a serious amount of professional showmanship.
During the setup for the headlining set, a chainlink fence was erected at the front of the stage, matching the industrial edge of the music. Ministry never let the foot off the gas from the time the show started until the end of the 15 song set. After being introduced to the stage in front of a projected display of the Ukrainian flag with a message of support, the band launched into “Breathe” to a blinding light show and pounding drums, with frontman Al Jourgensen belting out the words with as much power and aggression as ever. Little downtime was spent before moving into the set’s 3 songs from 1988’s The Land of Rape and Honey, including “The Missing,” which led to a mosh pit spanning the width of the floor and crowdsurfers being sent into the air. About halfway through the set, the focus moved from the earlier Ministry material into songs Al Jourgensen did in other projects, including 2 songs from Pailhead, a project with Minor Threat’s Ian MacKaye, which I would not have in a million years expected to hear live. Standouts from the latter half of the show were an intense experience in the mosh pit for “Just One Fix” and the deafening yelling of the words to “Thieves” from the crowd. The encore saw the fence come down as 2 songs from last year’s Moral Hygiene were performed, which really sounded so much better live than they do on the album. Ministry closed out with an incredible cover of The Stooges’ “Search and Destroy” in a very intimate fashion that felt like a spot-on way to end the show.
At the end of the night, I was nearly deaf and absolutely exhausted from an amazing show. I’m glad the tour finally got to be seen through, and that the Raleigh date was added after initially not being on the tour. If you’ve not seen any of these bands in person, I would highly recommend doing so, they all deliver such strong and dedicated performances that it’s worth every penny.
The chance to see Circle Jerks in 2021 felt like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, let alone seeing them with Negative Approach and Municipal Waste at a venue like Cat’s Cradle. The sold-out show was easily one of the best of the year for me, and believe me, it had some tough competition.
As soon as singer John Brannon took the stage, I knew what this set was going to be like; loud, aggressive, and everything you would expect from a legendary hardcore punk band such as Negative Approach. The nonstop set was accompanied by the start of a mosh pit, though it seemed the venue was not at capacity at this point, and the pit was nowhere near as large as it would grow to by the end of the night. Despite the seemingly smaller crowd, the band was on fire, with Brannon’s ferocious vocals on classics such as “Evacuate” and “Hypocrite” standing out.
Seeing Municipal Waste on this billing took me by surprise, but I am certainly not complaining as I’d been waiting for a chance to see the Richmond-based thrashers. They did not disappoint in the slightest, going straight into the rapid fire riffs and short songs the band is known for. A mosh pit opened like the parting of the red sea next to me and eventually led to a circle pit around a support beam in the middle of the room (a suggestion from singer Tony Foresta). The standout moment of the set was “Wave of Death ” in which Foresta commanded us in the crowd to crowd-surf a kid who couldn’t have been more than 12 years old for the entire song. Though material from their debut album has been absent from their recent sets, the band broke out “Substitute Creature” (with guitarist Ryan Waste sharing vocal duties) at the request of members of the crowd. The set finished off with a wholesome dedication to Foresta’s family, who apparently had been able to see the band perform only a handful of times over their 20-year span.
I want to preface this by saying that Circle Jerks started in 1979, and Keith Morris sounds the exact same as he did then. While the stage show may not have been as energetic as they were 40 years ago, I’m more than willing to let that slide given just how great they sounded after such a long time playing together. The Jerks started off with “Deny Everything” the opening track to their debut album Group Sex, and throughout the night performed the whole album with the exception of the title track. The pit for the Jerks was shockingly intense, and I quickly jumped in when my personal favorite song, “Stars and Stripes” was played 4 songs into the set. The 33 song long setlist was broken up by breaks where Morris talked to the crowd, making jokes and some comments about the Tar Heels, before usually being cut short by the rest of the band continuing with the show. The band finished out their set with an encore featuring classics “What’s Your Problem” and “Question Authority” to a cheering crowd.
I’m incredibly grateful that Cat’s Cradle was able to arrange having me as a press guest for this show, and I really cannot put into words how incredible the night was. Not only were the performances stellar, but I also got to meet some new friends in the punk community, which is personally one of the best things about shows finally being back after so long.