Five Underappreciated Sound-Defining Records From Early European Screamo

Lots of screamo sound developments unfolded across Europe around roughly the same time that similar-sounding U.S. bands made their mark. In the years prior to Orchid’s 1999 album Chaos Is Me and much of the rest of the most well-known output from the early stages of the northern Virginia and D.C.-area scenes, groups like a burst of passionate hardcore bands in Germany and the developing French community lashed out with tense, increasingly intricate, and powerful songs that expressed their feelings of getting crushed by the social machine.

2138 – Demo

The French group 2138 never released much, but the band’s sparse output packs enthralling, blistering chaos. The music feels like a “missing link” between some of modern screamo and the sonic wrecking ball that marked the emergence of hardcore music in general. The songs are short, fast, and have some pretty intense breakdown material that rolls in like hurricane-force wind — but they’ve also got screamed vocals and grimy edges to their sound (in addition to the lo-fi production quality) that make the music feel like it’s emotionally heaving along with the obvious agony behind the vocal work. Beefy hardcore tones define the group’s sound, but they perform their hardcore gallops at wildly fast speed, and the sound, which includes plenty of asides with chaotic blasts, can’t help but feel tortured.

2138 features three musicians who soon after became a part of the torchbearing fellow French screamo group Amanda Woodward, whose melodic but at times shudderingly tense music heralded lots of sweeping melodic hardcore emotion to come. This pre-Woodward group seemingly only ever released a single eight-track demo tape, which came out in 1998, but it’s a remarkable, visceral start for the “emoviolence” tendency of sonically spiraling well outside of a sense of control.

Enfold – No Coming Home

The sound of the 90s German group Enfold also feels very connected to classic hardcore’s thundering melody, but they progress a different direction from 2138. On their 2000 album No Coming Home, which features lots of harshly screamed vocal work, the band’s tones are thick but have a more directly caustic edge. There’s just enough of a piercing feel through the noise for their melodic excursions to really stick. Enfold consistently perform a speedy guitar and drum attack mixture that feels like a precursor of more melodic hardcore to come.

Outside any confines of the origin of their style, they’ve really turned their fierce guitar and drum spirals into a catchy concoction, and the build-ups and releases that they incorporate elevate their experience beyond simple musical physicality. It’s an immersive experience of bursting out with anger, frustration, and the related often very complicated emotions, exemplified by the amplifying complexities that they add to their core grinding hardcore foundations. They even have some soft, quiet “interlude” tracks on the album featuring gentle piano work, among other elements, and the effects pile up until their tension and release cycle lands with the intensity of sunlight traveling through a magnifying glass. Exemplified by the loud but poignant dynamics of tracks like “Mimesis,” No Coming Home feels like a determined swagger through sky-is-falling, angry chaos.

Juliette – From Somewhere in the East

The Polish band Juliette’s album From Somewhere in the East feels immediately timeless, like it could have come out at any point on the few decades-long timeline of modern hardcore and still felt fresh across the rest of it. In reality, the seven-song release came out in 2004 on Refuse Records, around the time that the Massachusetts band Converge were making their name with that year’s You Fail Me, for reference. Juliette’s creations actually feel reminiscent of the kind of gripping, galloping, intricate hardcore that Converge craft, but the Polish group sound considerably more straightforwardly emotionally desperate. They have kept other intricacies dialed back in favor of anxious hardcore melodies communicating a sense of personal emotional collapse. On the standout track “Broken Promises,” the vocalist delivers harried but dynamic, sad-sounding screams directly asking for forgiveness from someone.

Their music strikingly effectively carries along the emotional volatility suggested by those lyrics — taken together, the deep dive into hurt amplifies considerably. For an album that’s so physically intense, the piece feels well-taken in as a whole, since the listeners’ journey of building up and dropping off through the melancholic hardcore riffing pockmarking this album builds an immersive experience. Just like the vocals, the instrumentation — while always energetic — sounds frazzled and desperate, like Juliette have hit the point right before super solid post-hardcore creations devolve into complete chaos. The frazzled devolutions from the expected riff norms pile on, and so does the rawness of the sound, as the band capture an experience of falling off into loss.

The Polish screamo scene has also included groups like the super intense, crust-punk/emoviolence cacophony of Don’t Fuck With Columbus. A track from their apparently 2008-released EP can be heard below.

Nikad – Nikad

The Croatian screamo group Nikad apparently released just one full-length album: 2002’s self-titled record, which came out on the label Fire Walk With Me. The band’s abbreviated output feels like a real shame, because their songs burst with the kind of fresh-feeling, maniacal guitar and drum performances that would really come to exemplify some of the best that screamo had to offer. Right here, Nikad have packed in exuberant takes on the same wells of inspiration that drove some of the original, most highly attended to U.S. screamo like the Tampa, Florida scene’s bands including Reversal of Man and Majority Rule from up around D.C. Nikad’s frantic but truly dynamic and thereby accessible sound feels like a real solid encapsulation of emoviolence ideas of psychologically disorienting thrills.

Importantly, the band have plenty of apparent musical prowess. Their riffs and manic drum attacks never get predictable. Instead, they keep the heaving dynamics going strong through this whole work. It’s a dual attack, because while they occupy the listener with their complex onslaughts and harsh screams, they also keep the energy of their performances up, and the whole album is less than twenty-five minutes long, but there’s so much here that it’s an easy re-listen — and a wild ride.

With Love – I Love Cul-De-Sac

On their 2000 Green Records release I Love Cul-De-Sac, the Italian band With Love presented a kind of experimental emoviolence that was a herald of lots of deranged frenzy yet to come within extreme punk and hardcore circles. Fundamentally, the band never spend too much time away from a core stream of intense guitar riff-driven melodies, but they pile remarkable flourishes on top of that foundation. The guitar work spins wildly out of control at times, in a perfectly fitting and cohesive-feeling manner. The band jump between straightforward but intricate, melodic attacks and complete spazz-outs, and they even include a significant helping of spacey sound effects in the mixture. The vocal work, which mainly consists of harsh screams delivered with a dizzying sense of urgency, amplifies the focused but wild effect of this music.

With Love, who apparently released music as early as 1996, had progressed somewhat from the more straightforward melodic hardcore of their earlier work by the time I Love Cul-De-Sac rolled around. Now, like would come to really define internet boom-era mathcore some years down the road, they majorly amplified their sonic irreverence for even already outre musical traditions. They let that casual nihilism infect their already quite intense, melodic hardcore, and the result landed powerfully.