Screaming Emotional Hardcore, or screamo for short, was an outgrowth of the post-hardcore scene that emerged during the 1990s. Like all modern (sub)genres it borrows heavily from both what came before it and similar styles that were developing at around the same time. The interconnectedness of it to 80’s new wave, punk, hardcore, emo, pop-goth, 80’s college rock, 90’s alternative, third wave ska, indie rock, shoegazer, singer-songwriter and so on. This allowed a tremendous amount of diversity to arise as the early bands were drawing from their influences rather than being bound by the genre’s cliches.
Granted, over the years some parts of the genre became more about the look than about crafting illuminating composition but that wasn’t always the case. Some of the more interesting techniques a songwriter can undertake were centerpieces of some of the stalwarts of the emo and screamo genres. Take, for example, the concept record. The Who did it with their pre-punk aggression meets prog rock experimentation back in the 1960s and since then it’s struck an unusual chord with the post-punk scene which resulted in Green Day’s success at parlaying one of theirs all the way to Broadway. In the interim Coheed & Cambria, Cursive, Thrice, Alasana, defeater and others have put together stings of them in their careers carving out a unique niche along with My Chemical Romance, Boys Night Out, The Receiving End Of Sirens and so many more who made respectable ones too.
But there’s an even more intriguing aspect of what was to become screamo’s contributions to composition. There are a large number of bands, particularly at the genre roots (and not it’s subsequent misdefinition) that brilliantly eschew many of songwriting’s core techniques and yet, in spite of, or, rather because of this newfound freedom they create challenging and yet memorable songs. Gone is the need to adhere to anchoring a song with a chorus or build it in the traditional a-b-a-b-c-b type of repetition so much of pop culture has relied on. Missing are the predictable rhyme schemes, if there’s even any rhyme at all in some cases as well as a lack of Consonance, Assonance, Alliteration or other literary devices to provide a foundation for versus. And, of course, the use of meter and rhythm doesn’t follow tradition either, rather, the interpretation of lyrical execution comes from an emphasis on emotional presentation more inline with the likes of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg or William S. Borroughs.
What we’re left with are songs that flow from their lyrical expression in all it’s dysfunction in an endearing way allowing the emotional depth of the lyrics to come across not only in the vocals, but also in the compositional structure of the songs themselves. What you’ll find through this list will be sonically as well as lyrically challenging as you explore the depth and breath of what the human condition is about at it’s most painful and sorrowing moments. Yes, despite all their attempts at breaking the songwriting mold, it wouldn’t be screamo unless it were about loss in some way, shape or form…
Alexisonfire “.44 Caliber Love Letter” Aof – The first thing you notice is how well conceived the intro is: a dynamic, haunting lead up into a song filled with haunting dynamics. This is important because when the vocals kick in they are the expression of lyrics that are designed to build up in the same way climaxing without a chorus at an ironically awkward sonic spot that encapsulates the most emotional aspect of the lyrics rather than the more blistering compositional way the song ends.
Poison The Well “Apathy Is A Cold Body” You Come Before You – PTW always managed to turn around something unexpected from album to album, sounding like themselves but never really re-tredding their sound. With YCBU the eschewed much of the prototypical metalcore they were previously known for and breathed out compositions that defied categorization. Apathy in particular flows from the lyrics which conveniently leave out the normal songwriting conventions and just builds like an oncoming tsunami.
Pg. 99 “In Love With An Apparition” — the DC area kids come up in a post-Fugazi approach on relying on repetition but not in the anchor of a chorus way to develop their songs. It’s angry and upseting and yet cathartic in the way the song undulates in the repetition and that’s part of the point and yet, the repetition isn’t really a chorus, it’s just another part of the development of the composition itself. And, they would borrow from this idea ad nausea through every chapter of their fictitious career
Everytime I Die “Ebolorama” Hot Damn – Keith Buckley’s lyrics are the catalyst for the band’s dysfunctional sonic approach and how ETID develop rhythm out of the words that seemingly are just splattered on the page to be screamed, and yet because of this, the song takes on it’s own blisteringly unique dynamic as it moves from passage to passage. The band props up Keith’s eccentrics and in that Keith’s ability to execute comes from the band’s brilliant extrapolation of his wackiness.
From Autumn to Ashes “Cherry Kiss” Too Bad You’re Beautiful – The dual vocalist/lyricist approach forced FATA into exploring compositional abnormalities that reflected the band’s inner turmoil. The result here is not only one of the most heartwrenching explorations of relationships but a series of songs that try desperately to rewrite screamo conventions. Although the compositions use repeating guitar passages the lack of a quantifiable chorus, coupled with very lose lyrical meters allows the vocals to focus on delivering the emotional expression.
Haste the Day “American Love” Burning Bridges – The lyrics are all over the place in structure, and, thus the song follows suit moving through parts like a derailing freight train. And, yet, it is because the riffs are a reflection of the disjointed nature of the lyrics (or vice versa) that the song, and almost everything on the album, works. The lack of continuity would be reined in later in their career but for a moment the chaos of their writing was what made them endearing.
Grade “In the Wake of Posideon” Headfirst Straight to Hell — Later in Grade’s catalog than sone of their most explosive works and past the point where the genre is defined, the approach here might be at it’s most mature in developing a link between the complexity of lyrics are interpreted by the vocal execution and in some ways how even the textures in the compositional structure are more developed from the band’s perceived “peak” of Under the Radar (truth be told, it was really tough not picking off that actually)
Thursday “Paris in Flames” Full Collapse — Jersey’s emo answer to the storytelling of Springsteen, Geoff Rickley brings to life something of an enigmatic view of the world and although this, and other classics, employ something of a chorus it is how the song(s) resist the need to be anchored to it, ebbing with climaxes that forshadow or postshadow a chorus instead.
Emery “In a Lose Lose Situation” the Question – Emery’s approach to their multi-vocalist execution is to allow the lyrics to flow through the songs in almost a stream of consciousness approach. Their lyrics always explore the push-pull of social expectation on the definition of being a human male and those complexities are bore out in the awkward way in which the songs are occasionally developed trying to find an equilibrium that just doesn’t exist which is why the ebbs and swells are so dysfunctional and yet feel natural within the lyrics.
Boysetsfire “Unspoken Request” After the Eulogy — The original version from the split EP was productionwise far superior at expressing the gripping lyrical content but LP version is solid too. Actually: This. Is. The. Greatest. Song. Of. The. Genre. Full. Fucking. Stop. The lyrical content explores the dynamics of rape which in and of itself is absolutely the extreme of diving into the fucked up psyche of the human condition but then to craft the music in a way that moves through the complexity of emotions and ideas reflecting off the lyrics and develop into a stressful, aggravating, empathizing, teary-eyed, beat-the-shit-out-of-broholes melodic interpretation pretty much just obliterates any and all other attempts at writing screamo. That’s why the list ends here. Where else could you go??