Editor’s Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article do not reflect those of The Collegian.
Hardcore is a genre that is often alien to respite. Its guitars are feral and voracious, its speed is barreling and its vocals are more likely gargled than sung -- the “middle-ground” lying at a violent yell. Put simply, it is abrasive and uncompromising.
With a short and aggressive approach to songwriting, the genre’s candy equivalent would be that of a Warhead. The sound is coated in a daredevilish layer of sour sugar that wards off casual consumers, creating a niche fanbase of rush-seekers and those who have become accustomed to its punch. As a result of this purposeful unpleasantness, hardcore has always remained notched in the underground.
Baltimore band Turnstile has always excelled at hardcore’s mold, and thus has garnered acclaim within the scene. In the context of hardcore, Turnstile is pop. Their sound has been as catchy as the genre permits it to be -- the band uses the scream rather than the gargle and their chugging, heavy riffs are infectious. As a result, Turnstile is universal throughout the community, and over their ten year life-span have become one of the genre’s frontrunners, with the band even signing with the major label Roadrunner Records prior to the release of their last album, 2018’s Time and Space.
This popularity stops at the exit of hardcore, however. Despite the band’s accessibility to punk audiences, their music is still very much, as the name of the genre suggests, hardcore.
In spite of Turnstile’s success and recognition within the scene, the raw nature of their style affords little for those on the outside to grasp onto easily. No matter how well crafted or catchy a hardcore riff can be, people who are averse to heavier styles of music will just hear a hardcore riff and automatically be dissuaded. It is difficult to translate the conventions of the hardcore genre into a pop style, and thus compromise is necessary in order to break into the mainstream.
Turnstile achieves this compromise with their new album, GLOW ON, as the band retains the integral abrasiveness of the hardcore genre while implementing pop conventions, which act as footholds for unfamiliar audiences. In the past, the band attempted to make catchy that which is inherently harsh; on this record, Turnstile supplies an intermittent sweet sugar to balance out the hardcore, “Warhead” foundation of the record.
Instead of watering down or betraying the band’s roots, Turnstile instead intersperses modern and pop-familiar styles into their established sound. In doing so, they construct rest-stops to aid newcomers in traversing hardcore’s unforgiving landscape.
These “rest-stops” are most apparent and most necessary on one of the album’s heaviest tracks, “T.L.C. (Turnstile Love Connection).” The song is divided into four sections, the first three of which conform to the hardcore style. Throughout these sections, the live drums smash through the arrangement with an aggression, the guitars scream as if they are imitating lead singer Brendan Yates’s vocals and at the center of the third section is a riff so sludgy that it almost oozes out of the speakers. So far, not the most accessible song.
This changes, however, with the fourth section. Turnstile ends the song by mirroring the melody and rhythm established in the third section and inverting it by using pure electronics. The band replaces the live drums with a popping drum-machine; the guitars with low-key, pleasant synths which meander in the background and Yates’ accosting, gruff vocals with a pitch-shifted, spacey version. Placing these sections side by side, Turnstile exposes the similarity along with the differences of the two styles. While the sections convey distinct sounds and energies, they are still able to construct the same song.
With GLOW ON, Turnstile does not reinvent hardcore, but presents it in a way that is digestable for a wider array of music listeners. As a result, the band opens up a new pathway for hardcore bands towards more mainstream success and across genre lines. Despite this opening, however, Turnstile remains true to the genre that informs its style, preserving the integrity of hardcore while expanding upon what it can do and how popular it can be.
Contact columnist Zac Zibaitis at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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