10 best hardcore albums of the 1980s | Revolver

10 best hardcore albums of the 1980s

From 'Bad Brains' to 'Victim in Pain'
black flag 1982 GETTY, Frank Mullen/WireImage
photograph by Frank Mullen/WireImage

Revolver has teamed with Agnostic Front for an exclusive "black platinum swirl" colored vinyl re-press of Victim in Pain — limited to 500 worldwide. Order yours now.

While hardcore is one of the last remaining regional genres in a globalized musical landscape, in the 1980s, it was hyper-regional, with variations in every major locale throughout North America and beyond. There're important sonic differences between the sounds of San Francisco and L.A., NY and Boston, D.C. and Detroit, etc. And as the decade bore on, each of those scenes evolved dramatically as the genre ballooned to accommodate heavier, catchier and more experimental sounds.

Narrowing down hardcore's foundational decade to a mere 10 records almost feels like a ridiculous exercise. Obviously, there're many incredible records (not to mention 7-inches, since we used full-length LPs as the criteria here) not included below.

But these 10 are unfuckwithable. You can't talk about 1980s hardcore without them. Hell, you can't talk about hardcore without them.

Agnostic Front - Victim in Pain

While New York didn't become the U.S.'s premier hardcore hotspot until the end of the 1980s, Agnostic Front's inimitable 1984 debut, Victim In Pain, codified the region's cold, gritty, street-wise take on the genre.

With Vinnie Stigma's brash guitars and Roger Miret's combustible vocals, the way these songs ricochet between blazing speed and moshy stomp sections laid the building blocks for what would soon become a seismic shift in the broader genre's fabric.

Cro-Mags, Sick of It All, Youth of Today, Judge, Madball — none of them would exist (in quite the same way, at least) without Victim in Pain

Bad Brains - Bad Brains

Bad Brains' genre-blurring I Against I might be their album with the longest tail (see: Turnstile), but in a list of Eighties hardcore records, it feels criminal to discount their inimitable debut.

Pioneering, crucial, groundbreaking — none of those words feel hefty enough to describe Bad Brains (a.k.a. the ROIR cassette), an album with an undeniable influence on the moshy rhythms of NYHC, and (since many of these songs existed when they were still a D.C. band) has a major foothold in the capitol region scene spurred by Minor Threat. "Sailin' On," "Banned in D.C.," "Supertouch/Shitfit," "Big Takeover" — all hits.

It might be the definitive East Coast hardcore record.

Black Flag - Damaged

The perennial punk debate between My War and Damaged rages on all these years later, but let's be real: Damaged is the better album.

While it was delayed due to label fuckery and includes several songs that Black Flag had released with their three previous vocalists, the 1981 LP is arguably Black Flag's most purely enjoyable full-length. "Rise Above" is an all-time fist-pumper, Rollins' feral vocals on "Depression" snap, and goofy outliers like "Six Pack" and "TV Party" are counterbalanced by the glass-eating savagery of closer "Damaged I."

My War is heavy. It's influential. But it doesn't rock like Damaged.

Circle Jerks - Group Sex

Following his departure from Black Flag, wild-man vocalist Keith Morris started the Circle Jerks and released one of the most animated, cuckoo, devilishly catchy hardcore records ever. Group Sex defined so much of the California punk sound with huge, snotty chant-alongs like "Deny Everything," "I Just Want Some Skank," "World Up My Ass" and "Live Fast Die Young."

It was music that bled adolescent angst and energy, but wasn't dark or politically charged. Any kid could enjoy it, and basically all skate punk — from Bad Religion to Green Day and beyond — owes a debt to Group Sex.

Cro-Mags - Age of Quarrel

Of all the albums on this list, Cro-Mags' Age of Quarrel sounds the most in-tune with 21st century hardcore. Harley Flanagan's band had been kicking around the Lower East Side since the early Eighties, but they finally emerged with their masterful debut in '86, capturing a rare moment of synchronicity between Flanagan and howling frontman John Joseph.

While clearly influenced by the Bad Brains' groove and Motörhead's thrust, Age of Quarrel beefed up prevailing hardcore conventions with huge, rhythmic chugs, codifying the metallic mosh parts that would define so much of the genre going forward.

Dead Kennedys - Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables

You knew what to expect with a name like Dead Kennedys, and by god they delivered on Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables.

The San Francisco institution's 1980 debut still sounds like nothing else before or after, mostly due to the way Jello Biafra shirks macho grunts for a vibrating, cartoonishly animated vocal delivery.

It's got a one-of-a-kind ring to it, but so much of this record's appeal is in its politically charged lyrics, from scathing class-war invectives like "Kill the Poor" and "Let's Lynch the Landlord," to all-time antiwar protests like "Holiday in Cambodia" and "When Ya Get Drafted."

Discharge - Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing

So much amazing hardcore came out of the U.K., Europe, Japan and other non-American regions throughout the Eighties. Discharge's assaulting Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing is just the best.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a heavier album that existed before this dropped in 1982. Discharge's sound — blazing metal guitars, rigid rhythmic propulsions and Cal Morris' assertive barks — is hugely powerful, and inspired everyone from Slayer to Napalm Death. Plus, unlike so many American hardcore bands who yelled about hollow scene drama, Discharge infused anarcho-punk subjects like pacifism and the brutalities of war into their lyrics.

Minor Threat - Out of Step

Many hardcore scholars agree Minor Threat has a perfect discography, and that includes their one-and-only full-length, Out of Step. Though not quite as fuming and spit-flying as their immortal first two seven-inches (also, their version of "Out of Step" on In My Eyes is admittedly better), this record epitomized hardcore's radical flavor in the early 1980s.

The way Ian MacKaye threaded biting social criticism ("No Reason"), relatable adolescent woes ("It Follows" and sneering humor ("Sob Story," "Cash In") is still unmatched. Meanwhile, Don Zientra's production packs a buzzy punch, and the instrumentation is way more clever than it initially lets on.

Misfits - Walk Among Us

Sound-wise, the Misfits were always on the periphery of hardcore, and they're often more lumped-in with the old-school punk scene today. Walk Among Us is more tuneful and less hard-edged than 1983's nastier Earth A.D., but it's still a hardcore album, and one of its decade's best.

Glenn Danzig's Evil Elvis croons achieve Ramones levels of sing-alongability, while the charging drums, gnashing power chords and electric gang vocals anchor these songs in a skanker's setting.

It's the spooky, East Coast response to melody-minded Orange County bands like the Adolescents and Agent Orange, and Walk Among Us still holds up today.

Negative Approach - Tied Down

Tied Down coincided with the end of Negative Approach's reign over Detroit's small, dangerous early-Eighties scene (they'd break up shortly after), but its legacy lives on.

This singular gem channels the bad-boy rock & roll of the Stooges and the MC5 through an even more destructive hardcore lens, and with a healthy dose of glass-clanking oi! chantiness injected.

The recording quality is rough and John Brannon's foaming-at-the-mouth vocals are oppressive, but for all the album's raucous energy, the songcraft is a shocking cut above NA's peers. Anthemic ("Hypocrite," "Nothing"), trudging ("Evacuate"), untamed ("Your Mistake") and fucking pile-on-worthy ("Dead Stop"), Tied Down triumphs.