New York City isn't the birthplace of hardcore, but it might be the most significant regional scene — and certainly one of the most distinct — in the genre's entire history. While D.C. and L.A. built the idiom's foundation in the early Eighties upon trailblazing acts like Minor Threat and Black Flag, respectively, New York's roughnecked take on aggressive punk throughout the rest of the decade and into the early Nineties produced some of hardcore's most definitive albums and expanded its sonic boundaries in a way that's still felt today.
As its very own sub-style of the broader tent genre, NYHC has an instantly recognizable sound and style with its own localized lineage, but it's also transcended its own area code and influenced many of the biggest hardcore bands of the last 30 years — from Hatebreed and No Warning to Power Trip and Turnstile. From the enduring works of metallic hardcore pioneers to the timeless exuberance of straight-edge provocateurs, these are 10 essential New York hardcore albums that every punk and metalhead needs to know.
It all goes back to Agnostic Front. Commonly regarded as New York's first homegrown hardcore band, their 1984 debut, Victim in Pain, put a uniquely cold and fortified thumbprint on the faster punk styles that were bubbling up in D.C. and California. The music was heavier and darker than the sounds that were developing elsewhere in the country, but Roger Miret's relatable lyrics and enthusiastic delivery were brimming with youthful vigor and true vision for a better, more unified future. It was punk, but with a hardened, New Yorkian flair. NYHC.
Someone's always bound to split hairs when Bad Brains pop up on a NYHC list, but not including one of the scene's — not to mention the genre's — most influential acts is more of a disservice to the canon than glossing over the fact that they technically formed in D.C.. The bulk of their 1982 debut is zippier and looser than any other record on this list, and H.R.'s rabid yelps are more cartoonishly playful than mean-mugging and stoic. That said, there's no questioning that "The Regulator" and "Banned in D.C." are pure, uncut NYHC two-step anthems coming straight from the source.
Age of Quarrel is one of the most essential crossover thrash LP's of all time, and in many people's minds, the first exceptional metallic hardcore album. Cro-Mags were really only tweaking the knobs of what Agnostic Front and Bad Brains had built before them, adding a little more weight to the riffs, a little more diversity to the rhythms and totally broadening the genre's sonic possibilities in the process. Specifically, making shit heavier and harder.
After doing time in Youth of Today, future Quicksand frontman Walter Schreifels moved to guitar in a new band called Gorilla Biscuits who were fronted by Anthony "CIV" Civarelli. Quickly becoming one of the quintessential youth crew bands, GB made a stamp on the scene by playing highly physical and groovy NYHC songs with super melodic vocals that were often closer to singing than barking. The earnest lyricism and uplifting tonality of their second and final album, 1989's Start Today, may not win over the average Cro-Mags fan, but for anyone who appreciates hardcore's less metallic sensibilities, this is a hall of famer.
Founded by two former Youth of Today members, guitarist John Porcelly and Mike "Judge" Ferraro, Judge was very much a New Yorkified version of the music those guys were making in their pioneering youth crew band. Sonically, their seminal 1989 opus, Bringin' it Down, was colder, tougher and more metallic, with moshier grooves and gruffer vocals than anything on Break Down the Walls. And lyrically, the band were even more intensely militant about their straight-edge ethos, willfully making themselves polarizing figures with an undeniably magnetic flair, no matter what lifestyle you subscribe to.
After releasing a coveted demo under the name Raw Deal, Killing Time changed their moniker and made 1989's Brightside, which is simply a superior collection of crossover hardcore that helped facilitate the scene's heavier transition in the years that followed. Between the ferocious gang chants on songs like "No More Mr. Nice Guy" and the beatdown boogies of tracks like "New Release," Killing Time swallowed all the heaviness of thrash but spat out the cheese, keeping things angry and rowdy just how NYHC should be.
There are so many reasons to love Leeway's Born to Expire. The phenomenal cover art, the gigantic-sounding production, the mammoth riffs, the touches of hip-hop influence that come through in Eddie Sutton's unique vocals — elements that are still being toyed with today by bands like Mindforce and Power Trip. Like most groups of their ilk, Leeway would move further into the straight-up thrash realm on later releases, but Born to Expire captures the fleeting moment in NYHC history when metal and punk were still flirting with one another in a way that felt fresh, unpredictable and singular.
The city's scene, and the genre overall, went through a recalibration period in the early Nineties, and Madball emerged on the other side with a record that became the blueprint for a whole new generation of NYHC. Pivoting from both the fast punkiness of the early Eighties and the thrashy riffage of the late Eighties, 1994's Set it Off is a bouncier, more groove-oriented type of hardcore that ushered in a new era of heaviness (beatdown) and rekindled the genre's street-wise attitude through anthems about loyalty, survival and the violence of their surroundings.
Not quite crossover and not quite punk, Sick of it All's Blood, Sweat and No Tears is a heavy, punchy and invigorating masterpiece that features the chunkiest and best-sounding guitar tones of its hardcore epoch. Spanning 19 songs and still coming in under 30 minutes, the band's 1989 debut pairs Lou Koller's working class ethos and feral barks with some of the genre's all-time great riffs ("Breeders of Hate") and the rousing energy of a CBGB's matinee show ("Pushed too Far").
With songs called "Fuck Your Attitude" and "We're the Crew," and a sound that swings between the jubilance of youth crew and the moshy flourishes of their heavier peers, Warzone weren't exactly reinventing the wheel with their 1988 debut. That said, Don't Forget the Struggle, Don't Forget the Streets is just an expert showing of the sounds and styles that defined late-Eighties NYHC. It's your favorite hardcore band's favorite NYHC record.