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: 10-1

Top 20 Greatest L.A Punk Albums

20. At the Drive-In

Relationship of Command


With their acclaimed 2000 release Relationship of Command, Texan golden boys At The Drive-In did the impossible — they created a crossover hardcore album nearly anyone could enjoy. With trippy, complex guitar work and powerful vocals courtesy of frontman Cedric Bixler-Zavala, Relationship of Command was the north star for post-hardcore bands that followed. Led by single “One Armed Scissor,” which received immense MTV and radio play at the time, the album would go on to become one of the year's most beloved, in any genre. -Zach Bourque

19. Fucked Up

Chemistry of Common Life


Opening with a flute, The Chemistry of Common Life features volatile rockers Fucked Up pushing punk rock to the limit. Antagonistic lyrics (“It's hard enough being born in the first place / Who would ever want to be born again?”) are combined with nearly 70 (!) instrumental tracks per song, making for one of the most ambitious hardcore records in memory. The Toronto natives work even won the 2009 Polaris Music Prize — the Canadian equivalent of the Album of the Year. -Daniel Kohn

18. Rites of Spring



Guy Picciotto fronting Rites of Spring while Ian MacKaye manned the production at Inner Ear Studios was kind of like a bizzaro world version of Bowie and Eno in Berlin–except it was D.C. and there were fewer drugs and the whole world wasn't watching. Picciotto has repeatedly put the kibosh on the notion that this record was the origin of emo (or that the genre even ever existed), but that's beside the point. The record's influence is immeasurable, and it endures as a beautiful, screeching time capsule: something real, before everything Fugazi. -Patrick James

17. The Bronx



The first 20 seconds of The Bronx's 2003 self-titled debut album will make you want to run through a brick wall. But in a good way. Released in a landscape of obnoxious metalcore, The Bronx stood out with their simple song structures and high energy, conventional hardcore sound that remains powerful 10 years later. The Angeleno natives have since made a name for themselves with notoriously nuts live shows and mariachi music, but their debut release remains their tour de force. -Zach Bourque

See also: The Unorthodox Punk Odyssey of The Bronx

16. Earth Crisis



In the mid-'90s, Earth Crisis were one of the most divisive bands in the land. True straight edge believers adored them, but the more politically correct underground were repulsed by the violence and homophobia associated with the band's “hardline” fan base, an ultra-militant offshoot of the straight edge movement. (Folks were afraid said fan base was going to come to a gig and beat people up for smoking cigarettes.) All politics aside, if there's a riff heavier than the one on the title track, we haven't heard it yet. The opening “thud-thud” will have the hairs on the back of your neck standing up even before the electrifying “Born addicted! / Beaten and neglected!” chorus begins. -Nicholas Pell

15. Eleven Thirty Four

Reality Filter


For a hot minute in the mid-1990s, Bro-Cal (aka Huntington Beach) was home to some of hardcore's most promising acts. Eleven Thirty-Four didn't achieve the notoriety of TSOL, Straight Faced, or Ignite, but they crafted Bro-Cal's brightest gem–Reality Filter–with its stirring octave notes, dynamic riffs, countless drum fills, and remarkably light production. It's a testament to the potency of Matt Enright's lucid yell that a line like “opened up and vulnerable, fragile as can be” had appeal with those leg-tatted dudes in the pit. -Patrick James

14. Sheer Terror

Just Can't Hate Enough


If hardcore has a poet laureate, it's Sheer Terror frontman Paul Bearer, famous for the line, “I can't stand living / I can't stand you / And I just can't hate enough.” A screed against fellow New Yorkers Warzone from Just Can't Hate Enough's title track, it's a chorus that aptly summarizes hardcore's attitude. But “Here to Stay” attacks the entire scene as soft, pretentious and middle class, while “Twisting and Turning” showcases riffs as intricate and interesting as anything that Swiss metal innovators Celtic Frost were doing at the time. Sheer Terror are, as a later album title indicates, “ugly and proud.” -Nicholas Pell

13. Suicidal Tendencies



Back in the '80s, Venice wasn't a quirky beach community. It was a dangerous place with its own hardcore scene. Suicidal Tendencies were the scene's flagship band, leading fellow travelers Excel, Beowülf and No Mercy to the greener pastures of crossover. Indeed, Suicidal Tendencies has been credited by luminaries such as Anthrax's Scott Ian with inventing the crossover sound on their self-titled debut, which features the infectiously catchy rant rock classic “Institutionalized.” And the band's influence lives on, having later provided a template for the cholo imagery of west side powerviolence bands like Despise You and Final Draft. -Nicholas Pell

12. Gorilla Biscuits

Start Today


The Buzzcocks didn't influence hardcore much, but they meant a whole lot to Gorilla Biscuits frontman CIV and guitarist Walter Schreifels. The former scored minor hits during the '90s alt rock feeding frenzy, and the latter went on to form post-hardcore heavyweights Quicksand and perennial indie rock favorites Rival Schools. On Start Today, Gorilla Biscuits display an appreciation of first-wave pop punk in the framework of second-wave hardcore. The work features gang vocals, melody and more hooks than a tackle box. -Nicholas Pell

11. Bad Brains

I Against I


I Against I was made following Bad Brains' first break-up and reunion, and served to influence groups as far afield as the Beastie Boys and Sublime, the latter of whom covered Bad Brains biggest hit “House of Suffering” in their live shows. I Against I strays from their previous self-titled tape with a more experimental direction, but it expands their sound the right way. To top it off their singer H.R recorded the vocal track on the album's song “Sacred Love” from jail. I Against I showed the band hitting a pinnacle, which they (and others) have long since attempted to match. -Juan Gutierrez

See also: Top 20 Hardcore Albums in History: 10-1

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