Turnstile Continues to Push the Boundaries of Modern Hardcore

I wish I could say I was a hardcore kid growing up, but that would be a disservice to the true hardcore kids.

Sure, I went to plenty of heavy shows as a teenager. But when I think of the real genre rompers, I picture those who dedicate their Friday and Saturday nights to whatever local hardcore bands were playing at their closest venue. While I wasn’t as immersed as them, one band is helping me dive in as if I was a member of this scene all along.

As they put out their third full-length, Glow On, Turnstile is making me feel a kinship to these hardcore kids — not necessarily in terms of the sweaty moshpits and authenticity ethos that defined their scene, but specifically in the sounds they witnessed. The band is a product of the Baltimore hardcore scene, part of a larger East Coast network that spews elements of the genre’s ‘80s and ‘90s heyday, and Glow On is as dynamic as any record they’ve released.

Turnstile formed in 2010 in Baltimore’s hardcore scene. Before releasing their first full-length in 2015, they released two EPs that gained traction — with songs from Step 2 Rhythm still included in the band’s setlists.

Perhaps the closest I got to hardcore in my upbringing was Youth of Today and Gorilla Biscuits, so maybe that’s why I associate themselves with Turnstile’s continually melodic and groovy aesthetic. But the band got on top of the modern hardcore scene by blending all sorts of old-school hardcore identities, from the aforementioned influences to the crossover thrash of New York’s Leeway and the reggae fusion of D.C.’s Bad Brains.

Yet, as the band releases Glow On to rave reviews and sturdy sales (every single vinyl variant of the LP has been sold out for weeks, which is unfortunate for someone looking to snag a copy), it’s starting to become crystal clear that Turnstile isn’t a nostalgia project and rather a statement for the contemporary era of hardcore: The genre is as alive as ever, and they’re one of the frontrunners.

“I think the biggest influences on our band are our fellow peers making music,” vocalist Brendan Yates said in a Spin article. “The current things happening, across all different styles, are always going to be the most inspiring, not just the obvious hardcore influences.”

Modern hardcore has split into two unique subsets of the hardcore sound: the brutal and the groovy. While there’s definitely crossover with both, it’s clear that Knocked Loose and Turnstile are genre-defining acts in their respective styles.

Turnstile is the standout of many differing collections of musicians across the Baltimore area, along with similarly groove-driven projects like Trapped Under Ice (featuring Yates) and Angel Du$t (featuring Yates, as well as Turnstile members Pat McCrory and Daniel Fang). You could say the rotation has carved out quite a niche within East Coast hardcore as a whole.

The band stands tall among one of the two major stylistic standouts in modern hardcore, playing a groovier style that’s more focused on gnarly guitar parts — perfect for dancing and two-stepping at shows. That doesn’t mean they’re not playing for the mosh, but it’s hard to compare to the other side of the aisle: the more brutal, metal-inspired hardcore sound. Knocked Loose, Code Orange, and others rely on crushing breakdowns and a darker aura to get the blood pumping, similar to their metalcore contemporaries.

These two unique subsets of hardcore have formed a renaissance of sorts for the genre, as it seems that every year a handful of new bands and albums add to the legacy of the current era: Vein and Jesus Piece in 2018, Sanction and SeeYouSpaceCowboy in 2019, Gulch and Drain in 2020, and so on.

Gulch’s performance at 2019’s This Is Hardcore at Franklin Music Hall in Philadelphia is about as picturesque a hardcore set as they come. How can you not get pumped watching Elliot Morrow belt out his distinct “blegh”s and jump around on stage?

Just call this the “Hate5Six” era of hardcore. Head to the Hate5Six YouTube channel, and you’ll find videos of a wide array of hardcore and punk shows (it’s where the Harm’s Way running man meme came from). It’s the hub for all sorts of burgeoning names in hardcore, and I’d like to think it helped bands like Gulch and Vein reach wider online demographics as well.

As the Hate5Six era continues, Turnstile is looking to punch right through hardcore’s ceiling, pushing the boundaries of their already standout sound with more atmospherics and heightened pop and hip-hop semblance. It’s been obvious since their 2015 debut Nonstop Feeling that there was something different about this hardcore outfit, and they’ve honed it over the past half-decade. The first time I heard “Gravity” and “Drop,” I sensed a band more akin to New Found Glory than Trapped Under Ice (they even toured with NFG on this album cycle).

Turnstile made waves in 2015 with “Drop,” one of their biggest songs to date and still a live staple. Other high-flying highlights from Nonstop Feeling include “Gravity,” “Fazed Out,” and “Bad Wave.”

On the next LP, Time & Space (their first major label release with Roadrunner Records), they went further in this direction. On Glow On, they’ve done it again, slowly inching their way toward hardcore’s greater collective consciousness through a more diverse and accessible blend of styles. Knocked Loose has had a similar approach, bringing together multiple generations of hardcore fans through a cohesion of hardcore, metalcore, nu metal, and beatdown.

Both bands hold a special place in the current hardcore movement. They’re taking the genre to new heights, while acting as an alluring gateway for new listeners seeking to dive head-on into heavy music (it helps that both bands are, quite simply, awesome). I recall seeing each headline back in 2019, and felt an exciting air in the room as fans of all ages and demographics packed the venue from the get-go.

Just take it from The Punk Rock MBA’s Finn McKenty, who at the time claimed Knocked Loose was “making hardcore awesome again.”

In this video for The Punk Rock MBA, Finn McKenty recalls a sold-out crowd at a Knocked Loose show, similar to my experience seeing the fans pack in the venue before the first band even took the stage.

Glow On is a summation of everything these two acts have done for hardcore music, as well as the the evolution of hardcore’s current era as a whole. In a time when genre fluidity has become a calling card for many rappers and rockers, Turnstile is finding a nice corner in their own world as a hardcore band without the typical trappings keeping them cornered in.

What Turnstile truly got right, though, was the fact that you have to garner interest. They teased their fans back in June with the “Turnstile Love Connection,” a visual complement to their new four-track EP that built momentum for the upcoming full-length immediately. It was an artistic venture into visual media, and it was also a smart marketing tool that got us all hyped for Glow On.

Following the single “Mystery,” Turnstile released the “Turnstile Love Connection” video in June, which features the members roaming an empty field and a salt barn, among other locations.

If you were surprised that Turnstile announced a fall tour with nine rappers, don’t be. Glow On has more in common with $uicideboys and Chief Keef than most hardcore records, whether it’s the Blood Orange features or Yates’ rapped delivery on “Wild Wrld” and “Endless.” Further pushing the envelope, “Blackout” features a breakdown of cowbells and handclaps, while “Underwater Boi” ventures into Title Fight territory. (Can we also talk about the dreampop vibes of “New Heart Design?).

The Guardian suggests that Turnstile is no longer just a hardcore band, but a rock band — and I can clearly see the transition. The elements of soul, electronica, and psychedelia help stretch their horizons, and so does the production Mike Elizondo (50 Cent, Eminem, Mary J. Blige). With the backing of Roadrunner once again, it may not be a matter of “if” but “when” Turnstile hits the mainstream.

“The thing I always believed [hardcore] was fundamentally about, was that it was a place for open minds and for people who want to challenge norms. I think any label can constrain you. We never wanted to exist inside a box,” Yates said in The Guardian’s article.

But even amid all the new territory Turnstile treks, the group brings back familiar notions with “Mystery” and “Holiday,” perhaps the two most explosive and signature offerings the band has ever crafted. Both rely on shouted vocals and ultra-catchy guitar riffs that have long been a staple of the group’s songwriting (you can thank Brady Ebert for leading the way).

“Blackout” offers the best of Turnstile’s experimental and heavy sides, with a percussive breakdown of cowbell and claps followed by a smashing guitar breakdown.

Glow On is undeniably a Turnstile record at heart, and that’s its greatest strength. It’s hard to maintain your identity while expanding your scope, and the Baltimore hardcore players accomplish both as they bridge the gap between hardcore and hip-hop — two genres that are much closer musically than you’d think. Just ask Trash Talk, who paved the way before them, releasing records on Odd Future Records back in the early 2010s.

All things considered, hardcore is in a healthy place as Glow On makes its presence known critically and artistically. You can thank Pure Noise Records for playing a part in increasing its exposure, as the longtime pop-punk and metalcore label has made it a point to sign the next big hardcore acts and provide them with a platform to flourish — including Chamber, Sanction, and Inclination, not to mention Knocked Loose.

The label has also cashed in on the recent screamo and sasscore revival with SeeYouSpaceCowboy, who dropped one of the best split EPs in years with fellow genre stalwarts If I Die First (featuring Lil Lotus’ Elias Villagran). The bands team up for a five-minute cross-band thrashing in the unrelenting post-hardcore romp “Bloodstainedeyes.”

SeeYouSpaceCowboy and If I Die First united for the collaborative track “Bloodstainedeyes.” Both bands have revived the 2000s screamo/sasscore style popularized by acts like Showbread and The Blood Brothers.

California’s Drain just signed with Epitaph Records as well, a sign that hardcore is not only good but also marketable to the current generation — remember, Epitaph has been at the forefront of the thriving emo rap movement and pop-punk revival, signing Lotus, Smrtdeath, Guccihighwaters, and many others.

But while Pure Noise and Epitaph have brought credibility to hardcore in alternative circles, it’s Roadrunner that’s truly produced its breakthrough. If you thought Code Orange and Turnstile were where the genre’s major label success ends, you’d be wrong. Last year, Higher Power became another triumph for hardcore in this circuit — and they hail not from the East or West Coast but across the pond in England.

Higher Power got a lot of comparisons to Turnstile upon the release of their debut, 27 Miles Underwater. But with a distinct blend of grunge and hardcore and four singles under their belt, they’re carving their own path.

2020’s 27 Miles Underwater brought hardcore into a new decade with a refreshing look (and no, I’m not just talking about frontman Jimmy Wizard’s bright red hair). They play with a soft spot for the ‘90s: their choruses soar with elements of grunge and alternative rock, while their hard-hitting riffs and melodies are direct descendants of New York hardcore.

All hardcore does is follow the footsteps of the generations before it, so it’ll continue to grow and evolve. But all good things must come to an end, and Gulch quickly went from one of the most beloved names in hardcore to announcing its final shows just days ago. This comes just a year after Impenetrable Cerebral Fortress scorched the hardcore world with its fury of metallic riffs and grimy vocals. 

Yet, it’s hard to imagine that most of the bands I’ve mentioned are anything but just getting started.

Knocked Loose only has two albums under the belt, and Turnstile only has three. Their peaks may yet to be seen — or at least I sure hope so, because both bands are on a trajectory that points to generational legacies within the hardcore genre (I’m already hearing talk of this in internet circles).

Hardcore is continuing to make an impact in the 2020s. Turnstile’s Glow On follows impressionable 2020 records by Chamber, Drain, Code Orange, Gulch, and Higher Power.

As of this moment, Glow On may just be the most defining moment in contemporary hardcore. It’s not simply the fact that this is a release that’ll end up on many end-of-the-year lists, but it’s what this album does for the current era of heavy music that’s truly astounding. Turnstile finds themselves at the intersection of raving reviews, surging popularity, and artistic revelation.

Whether Turnstile skyrockets into bigger venues and wider audiences as a result is still unknown (and the pandemic sure makes it hard to project the future). But Glow On gives them their best shot to do so.

At the very least, the band’s new full-length joins A Different Shade of Blue and Underneath to build quite the legacy for hardcore’s current era — albums that are brutal, groovy, and sometimes both. No matter your what style of hardcore you fancy, it’s very much a fun time for the genre, and at the end of the day, that’s all we could ask for.

Listen to a playlist of modern hardcore songs (late 2010s to present) from the bands mentioned in this article and others.

Featured Photo Credit: Turnstile Live (Press)

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