10 Essential Post-Hardcore Albums
For those looking to let out some angst, here are some albums that helped us Millennials in the early-aughts.
While punk and hardcore commanded both mainstream and underground music scenes in the late '90s and early 2000s, the post-hardcore subgenre began to enter its final form.
Emerging bands grew tired of punk's stiff confines and metal's overall machismo energy, so the early 2000s crafted a sound that experimented with indie rock, R&B, and even jazz to produce rock music more inclusive of sweeping melodies and sensitive songwriting.
For those whose childhoods encapsulated the early 2000s, post-hardcore exploded on the scene and was part of a thriving wave of alt-rock that included emo and post-grunge.
Post-hardcore was a special genre. While mainstream teens incessantly chanted the lyrics of Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance, post-hardcore felt reserved for the teens who were really going through it (as every teen feels they are). Whereas many of the early aughts rock bands phased out, post-hardcore has enjoyed a surprising bout of longevity, with a lot of these featured bands still crafting memorable and genre-defining albums.
So for those wanting to take a trip down memory lane or to the post-hardcore virgins who want to dive headfirst into the genre, here's an essential collection of post-hardcore masterpieces.
At the Drive-In – Relationship of Command
At the Drive-In had been deemed early on to be post-hardcore's commanders, and on 2000s Relationship of Command, the El Paso quintet bombastically announced the genre's arrival into the new millennium. Produced by esteemed nu metal producer Ross Robinson, At the Drive-In's major-label debut album was driven by propulsive guitars and drum work, while lead singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala seamlessly alternated between harsh barks and smooth crooning.
The album was a landmark achievement for post-hardcore music, but the moment didn't last long. ATD-I would dissolve soon after Relationship of Command, with Bixler-Zavala morphing into a psych and prog rock guru as the leadman of The Mars Volta. His other bandmates instead chose to lean further into hardcore music and formed Sparta. While ATD-I was just a blip on a screen, all of the post-hardcore bands that followed in the early 2000s would cite them as a major influence.
Thursday – Full Collapse
Thursday has always toed the line between screamo, hardcore and emo but on Full Collapse, the band, who were at times criticized for taking themselves too seriously, threw caution to the wind and made an album rank with emo melodrama but stuffed with crunchy guitars and curdling screams. Full Collapse took every conceivable rock influence and stuffed it into 42 minutes, and in the process broke through any pigeonholed expectations one would have for the post-hardcore wave.
The band's label Victory, whom prior to Full Collapse's monumental success mainly signed only screamo acts, began signing bands eerily similar in appearance to Thursday. Imitators flooded the scene, but Thursday would soon leave the post-hardcore sound behind and reinvent themselves time and time again on the albums that followed in Full Collapse's wake.
Fugazi – The Argument
Fugazi was already one of the most influential hardcore acts of the late '80s and early '90s, but in 2001, they gave an iconic farewell with The Argument, a masterful album that conveyed the extent of their monumental influence. The album cover, a marble sculpture of a torch being passed, was one of the many coy sprinkles Fugazi added into their anti-war manifesto. The Argument was a master class in post-hardcore, with Ian MacKaye and Guy Picciotto swiftly changing between sweet indie-rock melodies and roaring snarls. They still remain relatively unknown, except for those in the most devout post-hardcore circles, but they knew they were pioneers, and that's all that matters.
Glassjaw – Worship and Tribute
While Glassjaw's debut had already secured the band's spot in post-hardcore's upper echelon, their sophomore effort was Glassjaw firing on all cylinders. For 15 years it remained their last album and, like all good post-hardcore moments, Worship and Tribute pushed the confines of its genre, with tracks like "Must've Run All Day" and "Trailer Park Jesus" experimenting with psychedelic and indie rock, and with crunchy moments in "Stuck Pig" and "Tip Your Bartender" reminding the naysayers that this is still inherently a crackling hardcore record that can kick a whole lot of ass.
From First To Last – Dear Diary, My Teen Angst Has a Body Count
Before Sonny Moore spearheaded a groundbreaking EDM movement as Skrillex, he was the powerhouse vocalist for From First to Last. On the band's 2005 debut, Dear Diary, My Teen Angst Has a Body Count, the group didn't necessarily reinvent the post-hardcore wheel but instead put forth a record that offered infectious pop moments for those immune to screamo/hardcore's charm ("Emily"), as well as Herculean shows of force that teetered on multiple genres at once ("Note To Self.")
Mainly produced by the band themselves, Sonny Moore was praised for his versatility, but the record wasn't received warmly by critics, with many citing a lack of creative focus. But years later, Dear Diary...remains a magnetic album and a bold unveiling for the band. The record demands to be taken seriously by every generation.
Underoath – Define The Great Line
While it's the Christian group's fifth outing, Define the Great Line was the pinnacle of everything that made Underoath so captivating. Insatiable drums and guitars, blood-curdling screams, and passionate lyrics that never became cheesy all mutated into uglier forms thanks to the bands experimenting in deep electronica. The group unintentionally abandoned the soft emo-pop choruses of They're Only Chasing Safety in favor of darker metal-driven moments. The album was praised for its versatility, as it was a near-perfect balance of screamo, emo, post-hardcore, and grind-core all while tackling relatable themes of isolation, anger, and doubt.
Define the Great Line's darker hue was due to a ferocious production handled by Adam Dutkiewicz of Killswitch Engage, as well as leadman Aaron Gillespie questioning the very faith that led him to success. Praised for addressing Christianity in a vulnerable and open way, the band remains one of Christian Metal's biggest icons as a result of Define the Great Line, and the album was noted as a turning point for the band. Their 2008 follow-up, Lost in the Sound of Separation was equally as lauded and is still regarded as one of their best works.
A Day To Remember – Homesick
Post-hardcore traditionalists will shame us for this entry, but in 2009 it was impossible to escape the slick charm of Homesick. While the Florida-based A Day to Remember leans heavier into pop-punk sensibilities than hardcore fans would prefer, Homesick was an inclusive album that melded everything from metal to screamo to pop in magical ways. Thanks in part to production helmed by New Found Glory's Chad Gilbert, the album exploded onto the mainstream merely because it had a sprinkle of everything for everybody. From the pop-punk aesthetic of "Another Song About the Weekend" and "NJ Legion Iced Tea" to the pure metal snarls of "Mr. Highway's Thinking About The End" and the anthemic acapella on "The Downfall of Us All," ADTR became synonymous with accessible, digestible metal; and of course that upset rock snobs everywhere.
But regardless, Homesick remains an entertaining record. Jeremy McKinnon screams with the gusto of a pro and still keeps enough left in the tank to switch effortlessly into clean, compelling pop melodies. While the band's heavy guitar work isn't groundbreaking, it's still damn impressive. The group has yet to create a bad album, but Homesick still remains their most iconic for its flexibility.
Dance Gavin Dance – Happiness
One of the genre's most experimental bands, Dance Gavin Dance has fused hardcore music with everything from jazz and R&B to electronic, psych, and indie in their expansive career. On Happiness, the band takes the first step in expanding their pallet by pulling the hardcore sounds of their previous self-titled effort in all sorts of unique directions.
Calm guitar licks soon dissolve into madness on "NASA," while "Carl Baker's" funk-infused backdrop somehow perfectly compliments Will Swan's gruff, amateur screams.
It would be the last album to feature Kurt Travis on lead vocals, and it remains a treasured entry in the band's nearly perfect discography. It's so treasured that physical copies of Happiness are in scarce supply, with copies going on eBay for hundreds of dollars.
Circa Survive – On Letting Go
Another band that has yet to make a bad album, Circa Survive's On Letting Go is arguably the band's magnum opus. Calling forth an array of influences, On Letting Go continues to call into question of what kind of record it is. Is it emo? Pop punk? Hardcore? The truth is it's a little bit of everything. Anthony Green's screeching doesn't quite pop into a scream, but it oozes celestial passion on tracks like "The Greatest Lie," with his band's tantalizing slashes keeping him secured to the ground. On Letting Go could easily have been a sophomore slump, but instead, it's a project that's relentless and angelic, a work of art that can't be confined to a genre.
Alexisonfire – Crisis
Fans of City and Colour would be surprised to learn that the soft cooing of Dallas Green used to be the face of post-hardcore outfit Alexisonfire. Prior to the release of their third effort, Crisis, Alexisonfire was exclusively a punk outfit out of Ontario. Their 2002 debut was untidy but charming, their sophomore effort more of the same. When they returned in __ with Crisis, they emerged a vastly different band. Sophisticated and grunge]y and at times light and airy, Green and company put forth an album bursting with colorful aggression. From the frustration boiling over on "This Could Be Anywhere in the World" to the slow-burn ache of "You Burn First." It all melded together so seamlessly that it shocked post-hardcore fans everywhere with its authenticity and remains an iconic indie masterpiece.
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