A Metalhead's Guide To... Emo

It’s no secret that metal and emo don’t exactly go hand-in-hand. A lot of metalheads perceive emo as girly whining, black nail varnish and poetry about bats. This is unfortunate because emo did not, in fact, begin with My Chemical Romance. Emo was actually born out of the same scene as early American hardcore – bands like Minor Threat and Bad Brains, bands that Slayer and Hatebreed have covered. And it was designed to combat the less thoughtful, more narrow-minded element of that scene by writing… y’know, songs and that. Yeah, it’s certainly more melodic and far more openly emotional than punk rock’s ‘three chords and the truth’ mantra, but the genesis of emo was a genuine counter-culture movement that was ruined by people dressing up in Halloween costumes and moaning. But fuck that, here’s some glorious emotive hardcore for metal fans!

Grade – Head First, Straight To Hell

Okay, let’s start you off with something you can really relate to. Canadians Grade were the first band ever to have the screamo mantra bestowed upon them, thanks to their lovelorn lyrics atop driving, harder punk rock. Their Under The Radar album is a genuine lost classic, but its follow up, Head First, Straight To Hell, saw them adopt a much more metallic approach. Gothenburg style leads and Iron Maiden basslines are all prevalent, as is a much more macabre lyrical approach. With vocalist Kyle Bishop singing about riding along with ‘her severed head,’ we dunno who she is, or what’s she’s done, but it’s as metal as emo ever got.

Handsome – Handsome

If you used to be in Helmet then there’s a very good chance that you know how to write a big fuck-off riff. So step forward Peter Mengede, who quit Page Hamilton’s building-levelling, groovemongers to start something slightly more cerebral. Handsome only existed for one album, but it’s quite a stunning one. Featuring a stellar cast of hardcore’s underground, including ex-members of Cro-Mags, Murphy’s Law and Quicksand, and produced expertly by the legendary Terry Date, who has worked his magic on White Zombie, Pantera, Deftones and Soundgarden to name but a few, Handsome is an album of breathtakingly deep emotional beauty juxtaposed by some of the most concrete thick and instantaneous riffs heard this side of Dimebag Darrell. Sweet and sour working in perfect harmony.

Far – Water And Solutions

Jonah Sonz Matranga is an underground music legend. And though his various bands, New End Original, Gratitude, and his solo work as Onelinedrawing possess some great music, it’s with Sacramento’s Far that he hit his peak both creatively and commercially. Coming from the same scene as Deftones (who brought them over as support on their first ever UK tour) and Will Haven meant that there was always a chance that Far were going to end up cranking their guitars now and then, as they do here on the staccato thump of Bury White and the punk blasting of The System, but Far are at their most powerful when they let Jonah’s incredible voice loose.

Garrison – Be A Criminal

Although it would be hard to define them purely as an emo band, Boston-based punks Garrison melded enough emotional weight with elements of shoegaze and early hardcore to concoct a unique blend. It all came together perfectly when Revelation Records released the excellent Be A Criminal album in 2001. Frankly you could pick many of their releases, but this one gets the nod for metalheads as it’s just that bit more aggressive, when take the handbreak off on Dump The Body they really slam, but also as it’s a concept record about the best way to commit a murder. Kvlt as fuck, huh?

Fireside – Do Not Tailgate

Swedes Fireside came from the same scene that produced punk legends Refused, Raised Fist and Millencolin, However, they deal in a much more straight-ahead rock sound and could write songs that would put the Foo Fighters to shame. They could, should really, have been massive. But when the chance at mainstream success reared its head they had a tendency to obtusely walk off in the other direction. 1995’s Do Not Tailgate was supposed to be their breakthrough record, but they filled it full of angular, awkward noise and everyone bought the new Bush record instead. Their loss, this album is brilliant.

Quicksand – Slip

You probably now know Sergio Vega and Walter Schreifels for their work in Deftones and Rival Schools respectively, but to a legion of musicians and underground fans, the two will always be half of Quicksand. The hugely influential post-hardcore band was formed after spells in legendary NYHC acts Gorilla Biscuits and Youth Of Today. Debut album Slip is the perfect blend of inward looking distain, melodic vocals, punk rock attitude and weighty (if not heavy) musicianship. For a long time they were the band that perfected and defined what it was to be emo, and influenced everyone from Deftones and Pitchshifter to Taking Back Sunday and Thursday.

The 11 best emo albums, from 1985-2000

Stephen Hill

Since blagging his way onto the Hammer team a decade ago, Stephen has written countless features and reviews for the magazine, usually specialising in punk, hardcore and 90s metal, and still holds out the faint hope of one day getting his beloved U2 into the pages of the mag. He also regularly spouts his opinions on the Metal Hammer Podcast.