Metalcore combines elements of hardcore and heavy metal. It differs from other fusion genres, like crossover thrash, as it adds more elements of extreme heavy metal, like vigorous double bass pedal drumming. Metalcore combines the screamed vocals and breakdowns of hardcore with the guitar riffs, tighter musicianship, and drop guitar tunings of extreme metal categories, like death metal and thrash. Many bands also use intermittent clean vocals, mostly during choruses. Some bands stick with the sociopolitical lyrical themes of hardcore, while many other bands have expanded into the subjects of love, mental anguish, and Christianity. Unlike extreme metal, metalcore tends to be more positive with less violent lyrical content.
Metal and hardcore combinations have been around since the early 1980’s with thrash bands, like Slayer and early Metallica, taking on hardcore elements such as fast riffs and drumming. Next would be the creation of crossover thrash that combined thrash with more hardcore elements like breakdowns and screamed vocals. Bands like Suicidal Tendencies, Sick of It All, and Agnostic Front were the faces of this aggressive form of heavy metal. Finally in the late 1980s and early 1990s, a second wave of hardcore called the New School would emerge as an alternative to New York’s Youth Crew Movement. These bands took even more influence from heavy metal. Second wave bands include Snapcase, Hatebreed, and Earth Crisis. Also around the same time metal bands, like Sepultura and Pantera, would begin to experiment with more hardcore elements. Both of these instances set the ground work for what is now known as metalcore.
Earth Crisis is regarded as one of the first bands to really define the metalcore sound. The band began its career in 1989 in Syracuse, New York as a hardcore band. Over the years, they would experiment with heavy metal elements in their music. In 1995, they released their first full length album, Destroy the Machines. This album is regarded by many as the first true metalcore album. It got mixed reactions from their die hard fans, but the buzz would permeate the metal industry and other metalcore bands would begin to emerge. This initial wave used mostly screamed vocals with little no clean vocals and included the likes of Coalesce, Overcast, and Converge.
Essential Metalcore Albums:
- The Fall of Ideals (All That Remains)
- The Powerless Rise (As I Lay Dying)
- Frail Words Collapse (As I Lay Dying)
- Alive or Just Breathing (Killswitch Engage)
- The End of Heartache (Killswitch Engage)
- Destroy the Machines (Earth Crisis)
- Reborn to Kill Again (Overcast)
- The Opposite of December (Poison the Well)
- We Are the Romans (Botch)
- The Oncoming Storm (Unearth)
- Functioning on Impatience (Coalesce)
- Jane Doe (Converge)
- Liberate Te Ex Inferis (Za0)
- This Is Love, This Is Murderous (Bleeding Through)
In the early 2000’s the decline of nu metal had all but killed any kind of commercial heavy metal. The heaviest thing being played on radio and MTV was Nickelback and Trapt. Metalcore would seize this opportunity to become the new commercial face of heavy metal. While it still did not get much radio airplay, metalcore became the most popular form of heavy metal in the 2000’s with major success from bands like Killswitch Engage, Bleeding Through, Unearth, and God Forbid. The bands reached these heights by taking the blueprint of metalcore and adding more commercially friendly cleanly sung choruses.
Killswitch Engage is the most commercially successful band in metalcore. The Massachusetts group formed in 1999 and released two of metalcore’s best independent albums, Killswitch Engage (2000) and Alive or Just Breathing (2002). Shortly after, the band would sign with Roadrunner Records with the label vowing to make Killswitch Engage the Pantera of Roadrunner Records, whatever that means. These plans came to a screeching halt when lead singer, Jesse Leach, left the band due to exhaustion and depression. The band would replace Leach with Howard Jones of mathcore/deathcore band, Blood Has Been Shed. The result was The End of Heartache. A mixture of extreme heavy metal, hardcore, and soothing melodies that gave the commercial metal fans exactly what they were looking for. Since then, Killswitch released two other successful albums, re-hired Jesse Leach in 2011, and will release their first album with Leach since 2002 sometime in 2012.
The commercial success of metalcore has unfortunately flooded the market with bands trying to recreate the success of Killswitch Engage. This movement has given the industry bands, like Bullet for My Valentine and Avenged Sevenfold, who use even more pop and emo elements in their music. At present metalcore remains the most commercially successful form of heavy metal and will until people get sick of it and toss it to the side like nu metal and glam or commercial fans expand their horizons and take a closer look at the extreme metal bands that influenced their favorite genre.
Melodic metalcore is metalcore with melodic death metal influences. Bands in this category use the deeper growled vocals of death metal, intermittent clean vocals, harmonized guitar riffs, and hardcore breakdowns. Many bands in this subgenre make use of guitar solos in some songs instead of breakdowns. The pioneers of this category include All That Remains and As I Lay Dying. These bands claim major influence from melodic death metal bands, like At the Gates and In Flames. All That Remains’ first album, Behind the Silence and Solitude, was a death metal album. On their second release they mixed elements of the first album, like vocals and dual harmonized riffs, with traditional metalcore. As I Lay Dying would follow using even more melodic death metal elements that can cause many of their songs to be categorized as such. Bleeding Through is another band that mixes in a lot of melodic death metal and has even added some symphonic metal elements, like keyboards, into their music. Other melodic metalcore bands include Atreyu, Bury Tomorrow, Darkest Hour, and Eighteen Visions.
Nintendocore mixes metalcore, hardcore, thrash and post-hardcore with video game, synthesizer, and 8-bit music. Some bands, like the Megas and Horse the Band, use vocals that go along with video game storylines. Others recreate video game themes as instrumental heavy metal, the most popular of which is the group the Minibosses who have recreated the themes to Contra and Double Dragon.