From the ashes of the violent 90s Boston hardcore scene rose a group of bands who would change rock music forever. This is their story.
While 1980s LA had Black Flag, New York was famed for Agnostic Front and Cro-Mags, and Washington DC boasted Bad Brains and Minor Threat, Boston’s output was lower key. Gang Green, Negative FX, DYS and many other bands released on independent label Taang Records during that period are not as familiar, and SS Decontrol are perhaps better known for their militant, straight-edge stance than their music. But their impact was just as keenly felt, and would spawn a whole new Boston scene.
“I wasn’t old enough to see those bands, but also wasn’t young enough to not have them as mandatory listening when getting into hardcore,” says Wes Eisold, who would go on to form American Nightmare. “SSD, DYS, Slapshot, [1982’s] This Is Boston Not L.A. compilation, Siege... they were all tapes I had in high school.”
Ultimately, though, there was one thing the Boston hardcore scene was famous for: violence. Stephen Brodsky, who’d later form Cave In, remembers his earliest experiences of local hardcore shows in the late 80s at a place called the Red Barn in North Andover, an hour north of town. He and his best friend were metalheads, and the crowd didn’t take kindly to them.
“The older hardcore kids didn’t like the looks of us, and we got targeted with some dumb violent shit,” he says. “My guess is that by the time
Boston found its wave, not only was the city ready to claim its due, but it did so with a force of such rabid anger and intensity that instigated sheer violence and hostility – which definitely adds a certain fire to this story.”
As violence marred the scene, younger musicians grew tired of the status quo, and a new community began to develop. Stephen pinpoints Converge as the catalyst for change, both in sound and approach. When he got a tape of their debut album, 1994’s Halo In A Haystack, from future Cave In bassist Adam McGrath, it changed his life.
“It was totally transformative for me, because I was hearing a local band doing something fresh with heavy music,” he explains. “Not only did it make me wanna follow that path, it allowed me to bond more closely with people like Adam who shared a similar vision. It turned out that a lot of people in my immediate area felt the same way.”
“I remember getting a tape of [1996’s] Petitioning The Empty Sky before it came out,” says New Mexico native Aaron Turner, who chose to attend college in Boston mainly to be closer to its burgeoning scene, and would later form Isis. “I went back to my bedroom and put it on, and just sat on the floor open-mouthed. I knew they were good, but... I was just blown away.”
After moving to Boston, Aaron dived into the scene headfirst by founding Hydra Head Records, who would go on to sign Cave In.
It was a key moment in expanding the
reach of the scene, and the scope of its sound.
“When I moved down, one of the first shows I saw was [New York hardcore punks]
Earth Crisis supported by
Cave In,” he tells us. “I was there for Earth Crisis, but I was immediately captivated by Cave In, even though they were in their infancy. I was very energised by seeing a band that were even younger than me so invested in what they were doing and not afraid to try things. I wanted to be an active participant.”
With the violence of early hardcore still dominating the central city area, younger bands were forced to find their own niche in Boston’s satellite cities, such as Worcester and New Hampshire.
“It was the only place the younger bands could play shows,” says Converge vocalist Jacob Bannon. “It was where many of us met. I’ve got pictures of us playing in New Hampshire in 1997 with American Nightmare’s Wes also on stage in a Lifetime [90s New Jersey punks] shirt; everyone was connected through the music.”
“THE HARDCORE KIDS TARGETED US WITH DUMB VIOLENCE” CAVE IN’S STEPHEN BRODSKY WAS ATTACKED AT HARDCORE SHOWS BECAUSE OF HIS LOOK