By 1980, the writing was on the wall: Punk rock might have been making headlines, but it wasn't moving units. The industry responded with the skinny tie bands, retroactively labeled New Wave, a safer, more accessible take on the back-to-basics energy of punk. The street reacted by buzzing its collective head, throwing out the fashion designers and putting the musicians in the driver's seat. The result was a rawer, tougher, more stripped down form of punk known as hardcore. Walter Schreifels of Gorilla Biscuits once called it “American folk music.” Here are the 20 best albums of the genre. -Nicholas Pell

See also: Top 20 Hardcore Albums in History: 20-11

10. The Germs



The only studio album by the West L.A. outfit The Germs, its title is an acronym for Germs Incognito, a name they sometimes used because local clubs wanted no part of their violent shows. Produced by Joan Jett, the collection features aggressive riffs and bratty vocals, and has become the unofficial blueprint for West Coast hardcore bands. Internal strife and singer Darby Crash's suicide ultimately caused the group's demise, less than two years after (GI)'s release. -Daniel Kohn

See also: Top 20 Greatest L.A Punk Albums

9. Youth of Today

Break Down the Walls


The appeal of hardcore is that it fits blasts of frantic chaos into some fairly conservative song structures; unlike metal there's no proggy fuss. And with the additional rigidity of Straight Edge, you magnify the tension even more. At times on Break Down the Walls, the drums threaten to gallop away in all directions, and singer Ray Cappo seems perpetually on the brink of an aneurysm. But the songs always reconcile–like when the guy who just elbowed you in the pit lifts you up off the ground–which is why Youth of Today left such an indelible mark on New York hardcore. -Patrick James

8. Cro-Mags

The Age of Quarrel


The Age of Quarrel is the last great album of hardcore's first wave and the opening salvo of its second. There is no band that changed hardcore's direction more than the New York-based, Hare Krishna-influenced 'Mags. Led by kinetic frontman John “Bloodclot” Joseph and the inimitable Harley Flanagan — a man who had a full chest tattoo by the time he was 13 — Cro-Mags introduced a metal influence by way of Motörhead and Tank that provided the template for post-1986 hardcore. They were also, notably, the first band to have a video on MTV featuring moshing and stage diving. Later efforts never quite measured up, but their debut is the most furious half hour on wax since Damaged. -Nicholas Pell

7. Agnostic Front

Cause for Alarm


If 1982 was the year of hardcore's zenith, 1986 was the year crossover crested. Crossover was an attempt by marketing geniuses to get punk to sell by making it more metallic, appealing simultaneously to punks, skins and headbangers. The attempt fell flat, but resulted in some killer records, like Agnostic Front's sophomore effort Cause for Alarm, which came out in '86. Featuring early masterpieces by late Type O Negative front man Peter Steele (“The Eliminator”, “Growing Concern” and “Toxic Shock”) paired with Roger Miret's frantic vocals and Alex Kinon's guitar heroics, the result is a perfect union. -Nicholas Pell

6. Minutemen

Double Nickels on the Dime


Overshadowed by Black Flag, Double Nickels on the Dime was nonetheless released to critical acclaim by San Pedro natives the Minutemen. Recorded in Venice, it showcases Mike Watt — the godfather of L.A.'s funky bass sound in punk, who has gone on to work with folks including Nirvana, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Iggy Pop. Minutemen's song “Corona” finally broke big due to Jackass, but it was D. Boon's political lyrics, driving guitar riffs, and George Hurley's frantic drumming that make Double Nickels on the Dime hardcore perfection. -Juan Gutierrez

5. Converge

Jane Doe


This is is the record that elevated hardcore to an artform — an artform in the way artists circumcising themselves in front of crowds or people declaratively burning down their high schools are forms of art. (They are, by the way.) On Jane Doe, the Salem, MA foursome Converge stretched the rage of painful break-ups and the ennui of long New England winters into a new form of metalcore expression — and they sound like they grew up in the process. Lead screamer, Jacob Bannon, leaves nothing on the table and the rest of the band throbs and thrashes their way out of their late 20s like a metal butterfly cutting itself out of a cocoon with a chainsaw. This record firmly declares that self-destructive musical impulses can be simultaneously cathartic, artfully beautiful, and mature. -Paul T. Bradley

4. Bad Brains



Washington D.C.'s Bad Brains have the distinction of bridging punk to hardcore by way of mind-bending free jazz. Just before they released this self-titled tape (it didn't come out on vinyl until later) punk had been in need of a reboot and an good infusion of real ire, in the face of New Wave and all that poppy pap. What came out of the tape, was a hardened core, if you will. HR and company may have “learned” punk from ocean-crossing Brits, but they rebuilt the whole fucking thing with over-clocked powertools and started something new; something more furious than the angriest of angry kids had ever seen. Cores do not get any harder than “Pay to Cum.” -Paul T. Bradley

3. 7 Seconds

The Crew


Hardcore, despite its outward aggression, is ultimately about positivity. It's about finding yourself in a world of shit (namely Reagan-era suburbia) and trying to make something out of it. Reno, Nevada's 7 Seconds wrote the book on positive hardcore and that book is called The Crew. Frontman Kevin Seconds' soaring vocals created melodic hardcore that doesn't lose its edge. In 2013, denouncing violence and promoting scene unity is old hat, but in 1984, 7 Seconds offered a glimmer of hope to kids who loved hardcore's energy but bristled at its factionalism and fighting. -Nicholas Pell

2. Minor Threat

Complete Discography


Sure, it's not technically an album, but there is nonetheless no better introduction to the genre of hardcore than Minor Threat's Complete Discography. So fast, so tight, so righteous, so young: Ian MacKaye, Brian Baker, and co put D.C. hardcore on the map and established an ethos or two (straight edge, DIY), all while being flat out better than their contemporaries. That Minor Threat's entire body of work fits on one CD doesn't diminish its significance; even today, it's still perfectly out of step (with the world). -Patrick James

1. Black Flag



Damaged is Black Flag's definitive statement, the true genesis of hardcore itself. Punk neophytes often attack Hank Rollins to win scene points, but there's no faster way to say “I know nothing about hardcore.” The erstwhile Henry Garfield helped gel the band's ethos, attitude and image while connecting with Flag's target audience of suburban skinhead skaters. Gang vocals on “Rise Above” and “Spray Paint” provided the template for 1,000 bands who brought everyone they knew into the studio to sing backup. Re-recorded versions of old Flag standards (“Six Pack,” “Police Story,” “Gimme Gimme Gimme,” and “Depression”) all stand as improvements, often making the band's sardonic humor even more explicit than before. -Nicholas Pell

See also: Top 20 Hardcore Albums in History: 20-11

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