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

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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

See also: Top 20 Greatest L.A Punk Albums

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

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

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