Essential Hardcore Punk Albums

The Hardcore Bands That Played It Loudest, Fastest and Best

All too often, hardcore punk bands think that playing hardcore is simply playing as loud and fast as you can, with little thought to style or musical construction. This isn't really the case--at least not all the time. Many hardcore bands have played with style and skill, and even some of the best that favor playing really loud and really fast developed their own style of doing it.

If you want to get into hardcore punk, it helps to first know those who did it first--and best. Here are 10 albums no self-respecting hardcore fan should be without.

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Germs: 'MIA (Complete Anthology)' (1993 Re-release)

Cover of the Germs album (MIA):The Complete Anthology. Because the cover consists only of simple shapes (a blue circle against a plain black background), it does not pass the threshold of originality necessary for copyright in the U.S. Date Domain

Despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that their first appearance took place before the band had even written any songs--or even really knew how to play; despite the fact that their sound was simply a noise riot, and that their shows were chaotic and consistent, the Germs hold sway as strong influences on many punk bands today. They were a band that typified the sound of So Cal hardcore.

Although the band was never prolific in the studio, only releasing one full-length recording in 1979 and a scattered handful of songs elsewhere, these songs and the barely-controlled way they were performed made a solid impact on punk bands that would follow.

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Agnostic Front: 'Victim In Pain' (1984)

Victim In Pain. Rat Cage Records

While they attracted criticism for their right-wing, conservative stance on many issues, New York's Agnostic Front was really about playing no-nonsense, in your face, blue-collar hardcore. A hardcore band for the working man, Agnostic Front was light on pretense, expressing themselves with raw attitude and aggression.

Subsequent years and albums would see ​Agnostic Front move to be a crossover/thrash metal band, but in these early days, Roger Miret and Vinnie Stigma were poster boys for New York hardcore.

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7 Seconds: 'The Crew'(1984)

The Crew. BYO Records

One of the originators of melodic hardcore, 7 Seconds hit a hardcore high note with this debut album, and despite the fact that they're still together decades later, they have yet to truly match the fervor this record instilled in its fans. Breakneck riffs combined with melodic lyrics to forge a record that helped define a movement and a sound. It is filled with songs that still hold up today, both for their raw intensity and singalong catchiness.

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The Adolescents: 'The Adolescents' (1981)

The Adolescents. Frontier Records

They were doing the same thing as a lot of hardcore bands in the California scene, but somehow the Adolescents were doing it better. On songs like "I Hate Children," they were a snot-nosed maelstrom giving the finger to suburbia, their parents, police, and even their fans.

What was simple standard fare for many punk bands of the time was elevated by the band's ability to play guitar hooks that pushed their impudent anthems to circle-pit classics.

That, and the fact that they wrote a classic punk tune about an amoeba.

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Minor Threat: 'Complete Discography' (1988)

Minor Threat. Dischord

Despite a short run as a band, Minor Threat's influence on hardcore is undeniable. Not only did they create an influential hardcore sound, but they also inspired the straight edge movement. A song on their first EP, “Straight Edge,” with its anti-drug and alcohol stance, launched a dedicated following that continues today. And although other straight edge bands have come across with a more militant take, none have matched Minor Threat's intelligent songwriting.

The band has also been a vital influence in the DIY movement through the creation of Dischord Records, a vehicle for releasing all of the band’s recordings.

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Husker Du: 'Zen Arcade' (1984)

Zen Arcade. SST

Husker Du's 1983 EP, ​Metal Circus, found ​Husker Du coming into their own as a hardcore band and rising above the pack, but it was 1984’s ​Zen Arcade that truly elevated them to one of the greats. While still predominantly a hardcore record, Zen Arcade toyed with other sounds, including jazz, psychedelia, acoustic folk and pop-– all sounds frontman Bob Mould still explores today as a solo musician.

An ambitious undertaking, Zen Arcade was a two-LP recording concept album, a first-person story about a teen who runs away from home, seeking refuge in both drugs and religion. It's a bold, chaotic record, and many punk musicians from all schools of sound describe it as being an inspiration.

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Dead Kennedys: 'Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables' (1980)

Dead Kennedys
Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables. Cleopatra Records

With the election of Ronald Reagan, political hardcore began to explode out of California, showing a passionate, angry side of American youth that hadn't really been displayed since the Vietnam protests, and one of the first and best to do it were Dead Kennedys.

Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables is a timeless primer for anyone looking for advice on raging against the machine; specific political namedropping may place it firmly in the Reagan era, but the attitude, anger, and sarcasm expressed on tunes like "Kill the Poor,” “Let's Lynch the Landlord,” “California Über Alles” and “Holiday in Cambodia” keep this record relevant, and frontman Jello Biafra’s delivery keeps this record enjoyable.

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Negative Approach: 'Total Recall' (1992 Re-release)

Negative Approach
Total Recall. Touch & Go

While '80s hardcore is often remembered best for what was coming out of the East and West coasts, there was a strong Midwest hardcore scene as well, and Negative Approach helped forge and lead it.

With musical foundations laid by the Stooges, NA was one of the most intense, angry and nihilistic of any American hardcore band. Their music is fast, heavy and abrasive, and vocalist John Brannon has a voice that sounds shredded by razors and battery acid.

1992's Total Recall gathers up the band's discography, making it the only release by the band you need, but you really do need it. This band is hardcore personified.

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Black Flag: 'Damaged' (1981)

Black Flag
Damaged. SST

Black Flag's first full-length record (and their first recordings with frontman Henry Rollins), Damaged carried Black Flag to a different realm from where previous frontmen had taken them. It found the band exploring a sound that was darker, and employed songwriting that was more intense and personal.

While many (myself included) preferred Keith Morris at the helm of Black Flag, the fact is that he was only around long enough to record a handful of songs. As an album, Damaged was Black Flag's peak. The band is so tight that their ability shines through lo-fi production, and the with and sarcasm of Rollins is readily apparent on even the most paranoid tracks.​

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Bad Brains: 'Bad Brains' (1982)

Bad Brains. ROIR

When the Bad Brains hit the D.C. punk scene in the late ‘70s, they had previously been a jazz-fusion band. This gave them a fast advantage over many of their contemporaries because they were already accomplished musicians. Their musical ability allowed them to play punk rock at blistering speed, which made them arguably the first hardcore band, and a band that showed that punk doesn’t need to be sloppy.

The band was composed of religious African-American Rastafarians who also were adept at reggae. That part of their sound influenced a range of bands from Fishbone to the Beastie Boys. Later on, the band would stray from hardcore, but their self-titled album is easily one of the greatest hardcore albums in existence.