After its '90s/early '00s heyday, screamo became an overly misused word within mainstream music, and most of the genre's best bands headed even deeper underground, maybe referring to themselves as skramz or emoviolence, but continuing to make great music no matter what anyone called it. The genre never went away, and its influence has continued to pop up within popular emo, post-hardcore, and metal bands, but lately it's felt like there's a real screamo resurgence happening on a wider scale than we've seen in years. 2020 birthed a ton of great screamo and screamo-adjacent post-hardcore releases, and I've picked 15 that stood out to me most, plus a handful of honorable mentions. I'm not framing it as the 15 best because there's so much great music in this realm happening all around the world (and my list is admittedly US-centric), and I'd rather just showcase a bunch of the ones I loved rather than start arguments about how I ranked them. Some lean more hardcore or post-hardcore (hence the headline), and others lean towards metal, but they all give off that passionate, emotive feeling that you get when you hear the word "screamo." If I'm missing any great ones, it's possible I haven't heard them yet, so leave your favorites in the comments.
Read on for the list, unranked, in no particular order...
Infant Island - Beneath
Virginia's Infant Island put out two records this year, the mini-LP Sepulcher and the full-length Beneath, both of which are very good, but it's Beneath that turns Infant Island from a great band into an extraordinary one. It's the kind of album that you can only hear start to finish, as it functions more as one grand piece of work than as a collection of songs. Each individual song is so different -- throughout the record, Infant Island touch on screamo, black metal, sludge metal, post-rock, noise, ambience, and more -- and they make the most sense when you hear them in succession. At various points, the album finds Infant Island at their most metallic ("Here We Are"), their catchiest ("Stare Spells"), and their most avant-garde ("Signed In Blood"), really scratching every itch you could've thought of this band scratching, and a few you'd never expect them to. It's a record that doesn't fit easily into any pre-established category, while being able to appeal to fans of all different types of punk, metal, and experimental music at once. That's a sign of a genuinely great record.
Record Setter - I Owe You Nothing
Denton, Texas' Record Setter have been gradually rising and expanding their sound since their 2014 debut Dim, and their Topshelf debut I Owe You Nothing is their best and most honest record yet. It fully embraces the screamo direction that Record Setter began going in on 2017's Purge without fully abandoning their more melodic emo roots, and it's a towering, intense album where almost every song segues directly into the next, making for an ambitious piece of art that needs to be listened to from start to finish. Judy Mitchell's scream is as throat-shredding as it is emotive and accessible, and her powerful lyrics touch on themes of gender dysphoria and self-worth in a way that leaves you hanging on every word.
Touche Amore - Lament
A lot's changed since Touche Amore first hit the scene just over a decade ago. Once part of the "new wave of post-hardcore," Touche are now elder statesmen themselves and influential on a ton of the younger post-hardcore bands that have emerged in recent years. They could easily have started plateauing and coasting on past successes, but instead they've pushed the envelope once again. Lament is their most musically varied album, with longer, more climactic songs, slower tempos, twangy pedal steel, melodic choruses, dual vocals with Manchester Orchestra's Andy Hull, piano ballads, and more, and Jeremy Bolm continues to expand the scope of his vocal delivery, making his most drastic departure yet on the hushed talk-singing of album closer "A Forecast." There are still plenty of classic Touche Amore rippers nestled within the album too, making for a record that draws you in with familiar sounds and then takes you into the unknown.
Respire - Black Line
Toronto's Respire have been making boundary-pushing heavy music since debuting a half-decade ago, and their third album Black Line just might be their best yet. Previously a band known for introspection, this record looks outwards at "a world growing increasingly ill... a world that abets the rise of fascism and drives climate catastrophe," and it's also their most musically ambitious. It's got melodic black metal blasts that nail the heavy/beautiful divide as well as anything by Deafheaven or Alcest, orchestral post-rock that's towering enough to rival Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and shouty screamo that brings to mind the emotive yet experimental sounds of bands like Circle Takes The Square and City of Caterpillar. It also works in an array of other sounds, from clean-sung emo to roaring sludge metal, and it does all of this in a way that's entirely seamless. This is an album where you don't know if you should call it screamo or metal or none of the above; it can't be pigeonholed. It's also an album that feels like heavy music's answer to Broken Social Scene - like on that band's classics, almost every individual song on Black Line is a mini epic of its own, and they're so climactic that almost any of them sound like they could be the grand finale. When do you finally get to the closing crescendo of final track "Catacombs Part II," though, you'd never argue with Black Line's sequencing. There's no better way this intense journey could have ended.
Soul Glo - Songs to Yeet at the Sun
Soul Glo have quickly become one of the most vital punk bands around, and their Songs to Yeet at the Sun EP -- while short -- is one of the best things they've done yet. Across its five songs, it offers up a chaotic cross between hardcore and screamo that sounds like it's gonna boil over at any second, and they seamlessly work in industrial rap too. On top of it all is a furious, stream-of-consciousness vocal delivery that tackles both personal issues and systemic ones, and points a middle finger at anyone who gets in their way.
Envy - The Fallen Crimson
Temporary Residence Ltd
A lot of classic screamo bands were short-lived, but Tokyo's Envy are a rare one who have maintained longevity and everlasting relevance. They helped shape the genre in the '90s, released splits with Thursday and Jesu in the 2000s, toured with Deafheaven and La Dispute in the 2010s; their influence is felt on so many screamo and post-rock adjacent bands, and they continue to put out new music that keeps them as interesting as all the Envy-influenced bands who have risen to prominence over the years. This year's The Fallen Crimson -- the band's first album in five years -- is up there with the band's best work, and it feels as fresh as any of today's newer screamo bands too. The Fallen Crimson finds Envy continuing to explore the prettier post-rock side that they've embraced in later years, and it does so without losing the intensity and the ferocity of their earlier work. It can be easy to take a band for granted after 25 years, but when they keep churning out music this compelling, it'd be a crime to stop paying attention.
Boneflower - Armour
Dog Knights/Zegema Beach/The Braves
The word "screamo" was widely misused in the early/mid 2000s to describe a lot of pop punk/emo bands who screamed sometimes, but there were bands (like Thursday) in that era who wrote catchy, anthemic emo songs that really were indebted to screamo. Madrid's Boneflower are another of those bands, and their sophomore album Armour is the best thing they've done yet. It owes as much to the raw sounds of '90s screamo as it does to the earworm hooks of '00s emo as it does to soaring post-rock (and there's a little black metal too). It has the raw intimacy of a band playing a basement show with the crowd huddled around them, but these songs sound huge, and Boneflower sound like they should be huge. Maybe they will be one day, but for now, Armour remains one of the more special post-hardcore gems in recent memory.
Nuvolascura - As We Suffer From Memory and Imagination
Zegema Beach/Dog Knights
With their sophomore record, LA's Nuvolascura have written one of the most in-your-face screamo albums of the year. A lot of the genre's best albums this year leaned post-rocky and atmospheric, and not that Nuvolascura don't have atmosphere, but As We Suffer From Memory and Imagination is blunt and forceful in a way that a lot of Nuvolascura's most talented peers are not. It was expertly produced by Jack Shirley (Deafheaven, Loma Prieta, State Faults, etc), and Jack helped them achieve a sound that's crisp and clear but without a single frill. It feels like you're right there in the room with them, and in a year where that was completely impossible, it's worth treasuring an album that gives you that same feeling.
NØ MAN - Erase
NØ MAN is the current band of all three members of the classic screamo band Majority Rule (Matt Michel, Kevin Lamiell, and Pat Broderick), and their vocalist is Maha Shami, who sang guest vocals on Majority Rule's "Packaged Poison" from their 2002 split with pg.99. Maha is a vicious, ear-piercing screamer and a vivid lyricist in her own right, and NØ MAN's sophomore album Erase is a force to be reckoned with. It's as much of an essential album today as Interviews with David Frost was in 2001, and NØ MAN avoid living in the shadow of their former band by just living in the present and being themselves. Erase doesn't really sound like Majority Rule; it's its own beast, and it's some of the most exceptional screamo/hardcore of the year.
Viva Belgrado - Bellavista
If La Dispute went in a more screamo direction after Somewhere at the Bottom of the River Between Vega and Altair instead of an indie rock one (and sung in Spanish), it might've ended up sounding something like Viva Belgrado's new album Bellavista. They nail the proggy post-hardcore passages and talk-singing that LD were known for in the early days, but they also embrace European screamo bands like Daïtro and they swirl these influences into something they can call their own. (They also work in some hip hop cadences in a way that fits right in.) The songs are as tech-y and complex as they are undeniably catchy, and they don't really sound like much other music that came out this year.
Coma Regalia - Marked
Lafayette, IN's Coma Regalia have been around for ten years with various lineups and tons of material, as evidenced by this year's 158-song career-spanning compilation, but they've still got plenty to say. Their latest full-length, Marked -- one of three releases Coma Regalia put out in 2020 -- is up there with the best of Coma Regalia's material, a fine introduction for new listeners and a welcome addition to the catalog for longtime fans. Vocalist/guitarist Shawn Decker made this one with Tom Schlatter (You and I, Capacities, Hundreds of AU, etc) on bass and Jason Wolpert on drums, and even in a year where they couldn't all be in a room together, they sound like a hard-hitting power trio with a ton of chemistry. (Tom recorded his parts in his home in Albany.) The songs tap into the harsh, raw sounds of '90s screamo with conviction, strong songwriting, and a fresh perspective. It's easy to see why they've become one of the most respected modern screamo bands, and it's great to see how prolific and consistent they remain year after year.
Frail Hands - parted/departed/apart
Nova Scotia's Frail Hands sadly had to part ways with vocalist Dawn Almeda due to vocal strain, but they continued on without her as a four-piece and she still contributed lyrics to their new album parted/departed/apart. So while Dawn's desperate scream is missed, Frail Hands have still managed to write yet another fantastic, chaotic record. Pulling not just from classic screamo but also math rock, post-rock, shoegaze, black metal, and more, parted/departed/apart swirls together a handful of different sounds and turns them into a total sensory overload. It's loud and disorienting but not ugly; Frail Hands always find beauty within the chaos.
Stormlight - Natoma
Stormlight is the new collaborative duo of Loma Prieta's Sean Leary (guitar, bass, and vocals) and Lord Snow's Erik Anderson (drums), and as you might expect from a duo like that, their debut album Natoma absolutely shreds. Loma Prieta and Lord Snow have both released some of the finest screamo of the past ten years, and together, Sean and Erik have written a record that stands tall next to their other bands while maintaining a distinct vibe of its own. Erik is a certified beast behind the kit on this album -- some of its best moments use drums as the lead instrument -- and Sean matches Erik's intensity, offering up a balance of caustic screams and bright guitar melodies. Natoma is far from the only album on this list to toe the line between aggressive and beautiful, but it does so in a way that doesn't sound like any one of them.
Sonagi / Obroa-Skai / Indisposed / Coma Regalia - The Cold Promise of Uncertainty
Not only did Coma Regalia release a killer full-length this year, they also contributed to one of the year's best four-way splits: The Cold Promise of Uncertainty. They're joined by 소나기 aka Sonagi (a new-ish band featuring Ryan Slausson of Brooklyn's Closer who made their recorded debut on this split), Edmonton's Obroa-skai, and Chicago's Indisposed, and each band brought something equally great to the table. Sonagi's songs have an apocalyptic desperation to them but are still atmospheric and melodic, while Obroa-skai's contributions are straight-up gnarly and eardrum-shattering. Indisposed's one lengthy contribution brings the split into climactic, post-rocky emo territory, while Coma Regalia go for something raw, shouty, and dripping with the sweat of a punk basement show. The best splits are when the bands complement each other without sounding too much alike, and that's exactly what these four bands do on The Cold Promise of Uncertainty.
Naedr - Past Is Prologue
Zegema Beach/Miss The Stars/Illuminate My Heart
Singapore's Naedr were formed in 2019 by members of a handful of other bands (Paris In The Making, susurrus, Amateur Takes Control, Bethari, hauste), and their debut album Past Is Prologue is a tremendous introduction. They kick the album off with the two singles that preceded it, "The Waltz of Fate" and "The Prodigal Son," both of which find Naedr sounding as in-your-face as possible, but those two songs were practically red herrings. After those tracks, Past Is Prologue heads into post-rock/post-metal/blackgaze territory, sounding like a cross between Envy, Alcest, and Caspian. Their soaring, celestial songs are just as stunning as their pummeling, eardrum-shattering ones, and together they make for a debut album with depth and diversity that really takes you on a journey from start to finish.
No Note - If This Is the Future Then I'm in the Dark
Crowning - Survival/Sickness
Plague Walker - Para Mis Enemigos
It Only Ends Once - Chasms Will Never Be Filled + Lost In My Own Hollow
Closedown - Bask In The Dancing Light
floral patterns./California Cousins Split
Pictures of June - Ghost of the Feast
Mouthing - Mouthing
Armywives - Armywives
Blue Noise - World of Harm
Dianacrawls - A Glitter Manifesto
your arms are my cocoon - your arms are my cocoon
Indisposed/To Be Gentle - Letters To
Hidden Mothers - Hidden Mothers
Apostles of Eris/Pique Split
Annakarina - Always Moving Forward