This edition of 'In Defense of the Genre' looks at 15 albums that defined the melodic style of post-hardcore that took off in the early 2000s thanks to bands like At the Drive-In, Thursday, and Glassjaw, many of whom are still breaking ground and/or influencing new bands today.
As punk and its many offshoot genres were thriving in both the mainstream and the underground in the late '90s and early 2000s, a new version of a previously-existing subgenre started to take shape, and that genre was post-hardcore. The genre dates all the way back to the '80s -- depending on who you talk to, Big Black is post-hardcore, Zen Arcade is post-hardcore, and Dag Nasty is post-hardcore, though none of those things sound like any of the others. The genre thrived in the '90s, thanks to Fugazi, Quicksand, The Jesus Lizard, Unsane, Drive Like Jehu, and a slew of other bands who don't necessarily sound like the '80s bands (or each other), and it hit the mainstream in the early 2000s thanks to bands like At the Drive In, Glassjaw, and Thursday. This article is about the early/mid 2000s bands. Specifically, it's about 15 genre-defining albums from that era.
Even tying post-hardcore to an era doesn't necessarily tie it to a sound. Post-hardcore constantly crossed over with metalcore, screamo, emo, indie rock, and more, and some bands fell into two or more of those categories at once. It's a subgenre that really should be split into a few subgenres of its own, so for the purposes of this list let's call these bands "melodic post-hardcore." I'm talking about the bands with both screaming and clean singing, melodic yet heavy instrumentation, and songs that are too experimental to just be hardcore or punk but not so experimental that they’re inaccessible. Again, the genre lines are blurry, but this is not a list of post-hardcore albums that are primarily metalcore (if you want a list of classic metalcore, go here), or screamo (classic screamo list here), or emo, or the more indie rock side of 2000s post-hardcore like Unwound or Hot Snakes. Some of these albums might cross over into those territories, but they represent a sound of their own.
The list is chronological order and it goes from 2000 to 2006, which were really the peak years for this era and sound. (There wasn't that much time between this wave of bands and what became known as The New Wave of Post-Hardcore, which started in the late 2000s and thrived in the 2010s with landmark albums by Touche Amore, La Dispute, Pianos Become the Teeth, Title Fight, and others, but that wave is also distinctly different, so this list ends before that wave begins. There's also yet another new wave of post-hardcore happening right now... more on that another time.) As I say a lot for these 'In Defense of the Genre' lists, 15 is a small number, so if your favorite album isn't here, try not to get too angry with me but feel free to leave it in the comments.
Read on for the list...
Cave In - Jupiter (2000)
We included Cave In's 1999 debut album Until Your Heart Stops on that list of 15 classic metalcore albums, but just a year after that album came out, Cave In did an about face and released an album that couldn't count as "metal-" anything. It's spacey and atmospheric but still with a thunderous low end that qualifies it as heavy music (not unlike what Hum had done in the '90s and what Deftones were experimenting with on White Pony the same year as this album), and Stephen Brodsky almost exclusively utilized clean vocals. When he did scream, it sounded like even more of a cathartic release than it did when Cave In were primarily a hardcore band, because on Jupiter the screams only came when singing alone couldn't convey the raw emotion. It was a radical move for a band who were so much heavier just a year earlier, but it turned out to be a much more original album than its predecessor, and you could hear its influence reverberating all throughout the remainder of 2000s post-hardcore.
At the Drive-In - Relationship of Command (2000)
Cave In were a metalcore-turned-space-rock band who ended up sounding a whole lot like a post-hardcore band, but At the Drive-In had been building up a reputation as the new leaders of post-hardcore since the mid '90s, and it all came to a head on 2000's Relationship of Command, which really marked the start of the early/mid 2000s post-hardcore boom. It was their first for a major label, produced by Ross Robinson who was already known for producing most major nu metal bands (and who produced the debut album by another important post-hardcore band that same year, Glassjaw -- more on them soon), and mixed by Andy Wallace (Slayer, Nevermind), and it proved to be a huge breakthrough for ATDI and helped them land some of the biggest shows of their career (like their infamous Big Day Out performance). At the Drive-In couldn't keep it together for much longer -- frontman Cedric Bixler-Zavala and guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez went full psych/prog in The Mars Volta while Jim Ward, Tony Hajjar, and Paul Hinojos formed the more straight-up post-hardcore band Sparta -- but thankfully they all managed to bring their opposing ideas to the table for Relationship of Command, which in hindsight sounds like a band trying to be Sparta and The Mars Volta at exactly the same time. Compared to their earlier, screamier work, Cedric was basically singing by this album, Omar's guitar work was going way off the hardcore/punk grid, all while the rhythm section and Jim Ward's crucial backing screams kept things grounded. Of the bands who formed after them, I don't think there's a single band on this list who wouldn't count ATDI as an influence, and Relationship of Command is really what opened the doors for all of those bands to thrive on a major level.
Thursday - Full Collapse (2001)
If Relationship of Command opened the doors, then Full Collapse kicked them right off their hinges. Thursday had absorbed the influence of not just post-hardcore like ATDI, but also '90s emo, screamo, punk and the New Brunswick, NJ house show scene, and they stirred it all together for this album which kinda single-handedly started the music industry feeding frenzy on "bands that scream." Full Collapse was Thursday's second album and first for Victory, who at the time were still primarily known as a metalcore label. The only other scream/singing emo/post-hardcore band that Victory really had before Thursday was Grade, who were great but never really had a big breakthrough. After Full Collapse hit, Victory started signing tons of bands like that and became inseparably tied to the post-hardcore and emo boom. The album spawned countless imitators, and it's held up better and sounds more timeless than nearly all of them. Its warmer, more indie rock production style made it sound less heavy than some of Thursday's peers at the time, but it also makes it sound less dated today. Thursday themselves quickly moved on from Full Collapse and reinvented themselves -- sometimes more drastically than others -- on every subsequent album. They've got a rock-solid discography that remains worth exploring from start to finish, and I often find it hard to pick a favorite. But Full Collapse is the album that started it all, and these songs continue to rival the best of the best in post-hardcore.
From Autumn to Ashes - Too Bad You're Beautiful (2001)
Compared to Full Collapse, Long Island band From Autumn to Ashes' debut album Too Bad You're Beautiful from that same year does have very of-its-time production, but the charmingly raw sounds of this album work to FATA's benefit in other ways. It technically sounds dated, but not outdated -- if you want to be transported directly back to 2001, this album does the trick. And compared to the cleaner, more mainstream-friendly production of FATA's later albums, the rougher sound of Too Bad You're Beautiful gives this one an edge that the others don't have. Too Bad You're Beautiful dabbles in the kind of machine gun chugs that would sooner qualify them as metalcore, but this album has a punk/hardcore sound and aesthetic, thrilling scream/sung vocal interplay, clean post-rocky emo passages, and some real nice embellishments like the occasional string arrangement or soaring guest vocal from One True Thing's Melanie Wills [editor’s note: Where is she now?]. FATA were often squeezing all of these ideas into individual songs, with an everything-at-once mentality that recalled '90s screamo but looked to the future and proved to be pretty influential. Even today, great bands like Ithaca are namedropping them as an influence.
Fugazi - The Argument (2001)
There is really no way to overstate the influence of Fugazi's late '80s and early '90s material on virtually all of the post-hardcore, emo, and indie rock that came after them, and just as post-hardcore was reaching new heights in 2001, Fugazi released one last album that reminded the world almost none of this music would sound the way it did without their influence. Fugazi would probably still be legends if they did nostalgia tours for Repeater until eternity, but they insisted on always pushing forward -- it's no surprise that members currently have new projects together but Fugazi still won't reunite -- and The Argument saw them breaking new ground over a decade after they formed and two decades after Ian MacKaye helped write the blueprint for hardcore in Minor Threat. It didn't sound like Repeater or "Waiting Room" or like any of the new post-hardcore in 2001, but it sounded fresh and it fit right in with the younger bands who owed their careers to Fugazi. Fugazi had evolved into a more cerebral indie rock band by the time of The Argument, but when Ian MacKaye and Guy Picciotto raised their voices to a roar, The Argument hit just as hard as anything.
Poison the Well - Tear from the Red (2002)
Poison the Well's 1999 debut album The Opposite of December (which we included on our metalcore list) helped kickstart the scream/sung melodic metalcore movement that blew up in the early 2000s, but instead of joining the Killswitch Engages and Avenged Sevenfolds of the world and capitalizing on the popularity of the sound they helped create, Poison the Well went in increasingly experimental directions that were too outré for them to be lumped in with metalcore. The jump from The Opposite of December to PTW's 2002 sophomore album Tear from the Red wasn't as drastic as the one Cave In made between LP1 and LP2, but the adventurous Tear from the Red still feels more closely tied to the albums on this list than to early 2000s metalcore. While The Opposite of December's production style is very emblematic of '90s metalcore, Tear from the Red has a rich, spacious sound that defies any particular niche and sounds as fresh today as it did in 2002. It's heavy, but in a much more ethereal way than its predecessor, and it's also full of somber acoustic passages and clean-sung vocals delivered in more of an emo/indie rock fashion than on the band's debut. The Opposite of December spawned a lot of imitators, but few bands dared to pull off copying Tear from the Red.
Glassjaw - Worship & Tribute (2002)
Glassjaw's debut album Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Silence (which turns 20 this year and will get treated to 20th anniversary performances if the coronavirus outbreak permits) put Glassjaw on the map, but their 2002 sophomore album Worship & Tribute -- which, for 15 years, was their latest album -- is their masterpiece. As mentioned earlier, Glassjaw worked with the same nu metal producer as At the Drive-In, Ross Robinson, and Glassjaw actually sounded a little nu metal... or at least a little like Deftones. But the Long Island band were clearly rooted in their hometown's long history of hardcore, as well as the NYC post-hardcore of bands like Quicksand and Burn, and Worship & Tribute is basically what it sounds like when a hardcore band tries to make an off-kilter alternative rock record. (Glassjaw frequently come up as a reference point when people talk about the new Higher Power album, and it's not hard to see the connection.) Like Relationship of Command, Worship & Tribute is always teetering on the edge of something more progressive and more psychedelic, and Daryl Palumbo is frequently utilizing the flamboyant clean-sung vocals that he'd fully embrace in Head Automatica, but Worship & Tribute is still a more bludgeoningly heavy album than most others on this list. It's kind of amazing to think this was a major label album with radio singles and a video on MTV (for the great single "Ape Dos Mil," which is pretty accessible even for people who would never listen to hardcore), because it kicks your ass ruthlessly even if you've been regularly listening to it for the past 18 years.
Hopesfall - The Satellite Years (2002)
As I wrote in this column last month, Hopesfall were far ahead of their time and the world only recently started catching up with them. These days, it's pretty normal for punk, emo, hardcore, and metal bands to namedrop Hum as a reference point for wanting to stay heavy but make things a little shoegazier, but Hopesfall were doing that all the way back in 2002, way before it was a trend. Hum frontman Matt Talbott produced Hopesfall's sophomore album The Satellite Years and sang guest vocals on its penultimate track "Escape Pod for Intangibles," so not only are his fingerprints literally on this album, you can also clearly hear Hum's influence on the pillowy, atmospheric parts. Hopesfall are currently reunited and their new material finds them getting even more atmospheric and sounding incredibly modern, and the reunion material really solidifies the legacy they started leaving on The Satellite Years. There's a lot about this album that sounds very 2002 and not a whole lot different than the countless post-hardcore bands of the era, but that more ethereal side really made Hopesfall stand out and makes them hold up better than a lot of their peers today.
Alexisonfire - Alexisonfire (2002)
I'll admit that I wasn't a big fan of Alexisonfire back in the day, but -- like Hopesfall -- they've recently been releasing new music that's atmospheric and adventurous and sounds forward-thinking today, and it's got me revisiting and re-evaluating their classic material. I used to think Alexisonfire's mix of yelpy emo singing, white-belt screams, and spoken word was a little too melodramatic, but you know, you're young and you're dumb and you have all these narrow-minded ideas of what music should and shouldn't be. Listening to their 2002 debut album now with fresh ears and new perspective, I hear the seeds being sewn for the more ethereal music they're making today. Also, this list is about the albums that defined the early 2000s post-hardcore era, and there's no question that Alexisonfire's debut did that. These songs are so emblematic of the era and clearly influential on a lot of the music that came after them, and they hold up better today than a lot of the similar music of the time. Similar to that From Autumn to Ashes album, Alexisonfire's debut sounds dated, but in the way that it takes you right back to this era as soon as you click play.
The Blood Brothers - ...Burn, Piano Island, Burn (2003)
The most purely chaotic album on this list, ...Burn, Piano Island, Burn is an album that's constantly in motion, whipping by at full speed but with weird, fidgety timing that's far from straightforward hardcore. Co-vocalists Jordan Blilie and Johnny Whitney's voices are constantly bouncing off each other and flying in different directions. Sometimes they're both screamed, sometimes one is low and gothy and the other is high-pitched and flamboyant like Cedric from At the Drive-In (and like Relationship of Command, ...Burn, Piano Island, Burn was produced by Ross Robinson). As Henry Rollins once put it, "What a great fucking racket these guys make." It's true, and even in the brief moments when they aren't making a fucking racket, ...Burn, Piano Island, Burn proved The Blood Brothers could make quiet, pretty-sounding music too. The album was a huge leap from the rougher material that preceded it, but not nearly as polished or pop-oriented as what came after. Most of what they did is great in its own right, but ...Burn, Piano Island, Burn was the perfect middle ground and one of the most unhinged post-hardcore albums of the era.
Thrice - The Artist in the Ambulance (2003)
I've been picking just one album per band for this list, and for Thrice I could have just as easily gone with their 2002 sophomore LP The Illusion of Safety, an unpolished but razor sharp blend of thrash, metalcore, hardcore, pop punk, and emo that influenced probably hundreds of bands and stands tall next to any of the all-time great post-hardcore albums today. But the leap they made between that album and the following year's major label debut The Artist in the Ambulance was so significant, and Artist brought post-hardcore to many new people and set a new bar for the genre in the process, that I have to go with that one. Thrice made the album with the same producer as its predecessor, Brian McTernan, who used to front the hardcore band Battery and who also produced Cave In's Jupiter and records by Converge, Snapcase, Piebald, Hot Water Music, The Movielife, and more around that time. It was mixed by Andy Wallace (who, as mentioned earlier, mixed Relationship of Command, as well as Nevermind), but still, Thrice didn't get some big-name pop producer/songwriter to make their music more palatable for a mainstream audience. They just took the larger budget that Island gave them, hit the studio with their same producer who was already a hardcore legend, and churned out a polished, larger than life album that could appease MTV watchers and the hardcore community alike. Its lead single "All That's Left" is basically an alternative rock song with a bit of a punk bite, and it helped give Thrice a good amount of MTV2 Rock and Fuse airtime. It's one of the era's best pop-friendly punk singles, but if you dig deeper into Artist, you find Big Four-rivaling thrash ("Under A Killing Moon"), heavy-as-bricks sludge metal ("Silhouette"), tech-y metalcore ("Blood Clots And Black Holes"), atmospheric heavy rock ("Stare At The Sun"), and more. Thrice would continue to casually defy genre as their career went on (by The Alchemy Index, they were experimenting with just about every style of music they could think of), but the hard-hitting, concise, filler-less Artist in the Ambulance found Thrice at the height of their powers and it remains one of the finest, most timeless documents of the early 2000s post-hardcore boom.
The Sound of Animals Fighting - Tiger and the Duke (2005)
Two months before Anthony Green released his first album with the psychedelic, progressive, post-hardcore-adjacent Circa Survive (and after he had released music with Saosin, High and Driving, Zolof the Rock and Roll Destroyer, and other projects), he lent his voice to the debut album by the supergroup/collective The Sound of Animals Fighting, who were never as omnipresent as Green's main band but who came a lot closer to the "hardcore" part of "post-hardcore." Some of the gnarliest screams of Anthony Green's career are on this album, and the band -- which on this album featured three RX Bandits members and two Finch members -- churned out some of the most kickass proggy post-hardcore riffs of the 2000s on this LP. TSOAF may have been second fiddle to the members' main bands as far as live shows went (they've played 14 shows total, the first two of which were turned into their essential We Must Become the Change We Want to See DVD), but they took this band way too seriously in the studio for it to be considered a "side project." Tiger and the Duke was one of the most unique albums to come out of this whole scene at the time, and there's still almost nothing that sounds like it. It was as proggy and mind-bending as The Mars Volta but as heavy as Glassjaw, and even that description sells it short. After this record, the band's lineup kept revolving and they made the even trippier Lover, the Lord Has Left Us... (2006) and then The Ocean and the Sun (2008), which took elements from both of its predecessors and did plenty of its own weird stuff too. All three are great, but when you're looking for heavy, hard-hitting post-hardcore, it's Tiger and the Duke all the way.
The Fall of Troy - Doppelgänger (2005)
The Fall of Troy are another of the bands on this list who seem to be experiencing some increased relevancy lately. They've popped up as an influence/comparison point for some of the great bands in the current screamo scene (in particular, I hear a lot of Fall of Troy in Shin Guard, who are one of my personal favorite bands at the moment), their ongoing reunion still stirs up excitement, and their classics (and newer material) still sound fresh. If you didn't know any better, you could mistake their seminal 2005 album Doppelgänger as something from today's heavy music scene. It was their second album but first for Equal Vision and featured re-recordings of four songs from their self-titled 2003 debut, so it really felt like their proper introduction and it's got all the ingredients of their unique sound on display: flashy math rock riffs, proggy song structures, and a flamboyant scream/sung mix that seemed to take cues from predecessors like Alexisonfire and The Blood Brothers but added in a clear pop appeal that contrasted all the math/prog stuff. Doppelgänger's an album that can be appreciated by guitar nerds and radio listeners alike, and that "best of both worlds"-ness is a big part of what makes it stand the test of time. It's got more musicality than a lot of the pop-screamo bands it sounds like on the surface, and unlike a lot of TFOT's tech-y peers, it's got big hooks that stick in your head for years.
Trophy Scars - Alphabet. Alphabets. (2006)
Probably the most underrated band on this list, Morristown, NJ's Trophy Scars started out as a relatively straightforward post-hardcore band and ended up an experimental/blues/prog band, but right in between they released their classic Alphabet. Alphabets., which sat right on the fence between what they started out as and what they became. There's plenty of weirdness and moments that are totally atypical of post-hardcore on this album, which includes strings, horns, progressive rock textures, and guest rapping, but Trophy Scars were also still writing big, punchy, shoutalong anthems on this album too. It's also at least somewhat of a concept album, and you really need to listen from start to finish to get the full effect (though "Assistant. Assistants." is one of the era's strongest singles). Taken as a whole, Alphabet. Alphabets. sounds like virtually no other album before or since, and it's truly a crime that these guys weren't like 20 times bigger. As far as a balancing act between heavy music, fearless innovation, and pop songwriting goes, Alphabet. Alphabets. has it all.
mewithoutYou - Brother, Sister (2006)
On that note, this list wraps up with another post-hardcore concept album that sounds like virtually no other band in the world. mewithoutYou started out as a band clearly taking cues from Fugazi and At the Drive-In on their early EPs and 2002 debut album [A→B] Life, but by their 2004 sophomore album Catch for Us the Foxes, they perfected an art rock/post-hardcore blend that could sound like OK Computer as much as it could sound like Relationship of Command. The band's unique guitar patterns -- which could range from atmospheric post-rock to hard-hitting but atypical riffage -- sounded like no other band on their own, and then once Aaron Weiss' distinctive spoken/shouted vocals came in, there was a 0% chance you'd ever mistake mewithoutYou for someone else. Catch For Us The Foxes is a near-perfect album. Its 2006 followup Brother, Sister uses mostly the same formula, and it's even better. More so than CFUTF, Brother, Sister is a start-to-finish concept album in the tradition of albums like Sgt. Pepper's. It starts and ends with the same lyric, it has a recurring song that shows up in three different forms throughout the LP ("Yellow Spider," "Orange Spider," and "Brown Spider"), songs flow right into each other, and there's no better way to hear these songs than in the order mewithoutYou sequenced them. Brother, Sister has some baroque pop instrumentation in the form of harp, horns, and melodica, but what makes it so unique is it really is still largely a post-hardcore album. Heavy guitars and raucous screams still drive the bulk of the album, and sometimes -- as on the devastating album closer "In A Sweater Poorly Knit" -- they use guitars to mimic baroque pop arrangements. (They also have guest vocals on two songs by Jeremy Enigk, who deserves a Grammy for his stunning performances on this LP.) It makes sense that the list ends here, because after Brother, Sister hit, it felt like post-hardcore's wings had been spread as far as they could go. (Even mewithoutYou themselves ditched the genre on their next couple albums.) The genre needed to go away for a little while, reset, and come back in a new exciting form, which it did (and which mewithoutYou also contributed to). Now, post-hardcore is going in directions that we probably couldn't have even imagined in 2006, but still, Brother, Sister remains an album that sounds like the future every time you listen to it.
FIVE SONGS BY NEWER BANDS TO LISTEN TO IF YOU LIKE THE ALBUMS ON THIS LIST
It's fun to get nostalgic and revisit classic albums like the ones on this list, but if you like these bands, there's a whole new crop of bands you might also like. Here are five...
Shin Guard - "Kennedy"
As mentioned in the above Fall of Troy blurb, Shin Guard are one of my favorite newer bands and they've got some pretty noticeable TFOT vibes, especially on standout song "Kennedy." They're usually more grouped with screamo than post-hardcore, but they often defy genres, especially on "Kennedy," which is one of their most tuneful songs and clearly shares some musical DNA with the bands in this article.
SeeYouSpaceCowboy - "Late December"
SeeYouSpaceCowboy started out reviving the type of sassy hardcore that bands like The Blood Brothers helped define in the early 2000s, but they've been taking their music in a lot of other directions too, and this song -- which incorporates sparkling post-rock, spoken word, skullcrushing metalcore, and more -- is in line with several of the boundary-pushing bands highlighted above.
Brutus - "Sand"
Not the first time I've mentioned Brutus in this column, but this killer song wasn't out the last time I did and you can never have too much Brutus. They've toured with Thrice, whose knack for being very heavy and very catchy is something you hear in Brutus, and this song has stuff in common with the post-rocky and mathy bands on this list too.
Holy Fawn - "Candy"
Speaking of bands who toured with Thrice, Arizona's Holy Fawn (who just did a tour with Thrice and mewithoutYou) dropped the three-song, Matt Bayles-produced The Black Moon EP on Triple Crown earlier this year, and opening track "Candy" is a must-hear for fans of the music in this article. It's a thick, heavy, atmospheric song but it's also beautiful and melodic and frankly I don't know what genre would best describe it. That's a good thing.
Microwave - "DIAWB"
Microwave started out as a Manchester Orchestra-esque alternative rock band, but last year's Death Is A Warm Blanket saw them getting heavier and more throat-shredding, and this intense title(ish) track is a great example of why post-hardcore fans need to be listening to them.
* If live shows are happening again by then, a few of these bands are playing Furnace Fest's 20th anniversary festival
Read past and future editions of 'In Defense of the Genre' here.