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All Out War have one of the most brutalizing sounds in all of hardcore. Mindforce frontman Jay Peta, who grew up seeing them destroy small clubs in New York's Hudson Valley, considers them "one of the heaviest hardcore bands of all the time." That's not hyperbole.
For over 25 years, the Poughkeepsie band have forged a heavier, nastier breed of crossover hardcore that blends the monstrous fury of death-metal with the physical inertia of NYHC, as demonstrated on classic LP's like For Those Who Are Crucified and their latest, 2023's Celestial Rot (out February 3rd).
All Out War frontman Mike Score has one of the most imposing shrieks in the genre, so we asked him to pick what he considers to be the 10 most extreme hardcore records of all time. A student of hardcore's many stripes, his selections were eclectic and all-encompassing — from Eighties standards to underrated Nineties gems.
"When I was asked to compile a list of what I thought were the 10 most extreme hardcore releases of all time, I have to admit I struggled a great deal," Score says. "In a way, it all depends on what you consider hardcore. Some of the bands listed below might be considered crossover, metalcore and/or crust punk to many, but for me, they all fit the definition of hardcore."
See all of Score's selections — unranked, as their "order could change on any given day based on my frame of mind" — below.
Amebix - Arise
More crust than hardcore, but I will put it on this list anyway. I love this record! It's sloppy and the recording is shot, but it's dark and it's bleak and I wish more hardcore bands embraced these elements. Arise has a certain mystique and its influence cannot be denied. I know many bands that have shared with me personally how this record has inspired them, and how a riff or two may have been "borrowed" here or there. My own band covered the song "Arise" on our Dying Gods EP in 2015. The haunting undertones of Arise are what sets this record apart and give it a uniqueness that makes it belong on this list.
Corrosion of Conformity – Animosity
This is one of my all-time favorite records of any genre. I remember the first time I heard this one. I was a young metalhead and I was totally blown away by its hectic sonic urgency. It was like nothing I had heard previously and it ruled. It seemed all over the place, yet everything landed with purpose. A record filled with chaos, and at the same time a demonstration of sonic precision. Call it hardcore, call it crossover, but whatever you label it, this one is 100 percent pure impact.
Cro-Mags – Age of Quarrel
It's impossible to come up with anything more to say about Age of Quarrel that hasn't already been said. It's the perfect blend of Motörhead and Bad Brains while still managing to be unique and a monster of its own. This is total aggression caught on tape. Age of Quarrel is the hardcore blueprint. It stands alone on the top of the mountain, often imitated but never duplicated.
Discharge – Hear Nothing, See Nothing, Say Nothing
Forever the bridge between hardcore and metal, this record serves as the missing link that spawned thrash. Influencing bands from Cro-Mags to Metallica and everyone in between, Discharge are the foundation for all that is fast and raw. Igniting the formation of many sub-genres with this grim and raw release, Discharge sealed their legacy as one of the most influential forces in underground music. This is a true masterpiece of epic proportions.
Infest – Slave
This is just straight-up unrelenting aggression. Infest's Slave album is a sonic assault of epic fury. It pummels the listener and before you know what hit you, it's over. The way it should be. Uncompromising and ferocious, Slave leaves you wanting more even though you're not quite sure you can handle it. This record is a runaway freight train leveling all in its path.
Integrity – Season in the Size of Days
Many may consider this a strange pick out of Integrity's whole discography, but for me, this is my favorite of theirs. Season in the Size of Days truly captures the darkness that the band were trying to create since their inception; the imagery is at its bleakest and the record really stands on its own. This one unleashes a sense of desperation and uneasiness, while still sticking to the lineage of Integrity's previous output. Season in the Size of Days gives the listener that feeling that only comes when one is letting something in that maybe they shouldn't be. It's one of those records that makes you wonder what dark path you're now embarking on.
Merauder – Master Killer
Merauder should have ruled the world. They're one of the best New York ever produced. German thrash meets street-level groove, their thunderous riffs were combined with unmatched songwriting [abilities] to create a lethal concoction of sheer brutality — and it all came together on Master Killer. When I first saw Merauder live in the early 90s they were all I wanted in a band — NYHC sensibilities with a metallic edge. Master Killer cemented my love for this band and it's still one of my go-to records to mention when I describe the genre of metallic hardcore.
Sacrilege – Behind the Realms of Madness
Sacrilege unleashed a furious barrage of thrash-infused hardcore with Behind the Realms of Madness. This is another one that blew me away from the start. This record combines many elements to create one the most influential, yet possibly overlooked, releases in the underground. When listening to Behind the Realms of Madness you can hear the impact it had on NYC's Nausea, early Bolt Thrower and many others. It's a fantastic mix of doom, crust, thrash, and just straight-up metal that deserves a place in the hardcore canon for all of eternity.
Sheer Terror – Just Can’t Hate Enough
Sonically and lyrically this could be the heaviest of all the NYHC releases. Paul Bearer's vocals go from a menacing growl to an almost opera-like croon, and his lyrics reach dark, misanthropic places — which was a welcomed escape from the youth crew anthems of the era. Alan Blake's guitar tone also separated this album from Sheer Terror's contemporaries, summoning the fury of Tom G. Warrior and managing to capture the low drone of Celtic Frost/Hellhammer. Just Can't Hate Enough is one of my all-time favorite hardcore records and it's definitely stood the test of time.
Starkweather – Crossbearer
There aren't many bands that can be described as both beautiful and brutal, but Starkweather certainly fit this description perfectly. I imagine that Starkweather's Crossbearer LP is the soundtrack to the mind of a serial killer. It's the ballad of a lost soul spiraling towards insanity, equal parts mesmerizing and maddening while pummeling the listener into submission. Crossbearer is one of the darkest, but at the same time enlightening, releases of the 90s.