Sea levels are rising. Rain forests are being uprooted. Farmland is dying from drought. Our planetary resources are shrinking by the second, and our sense of futility to do anything about it at all is spiking. It’s enough to make you want to scream.
Maybe music can help ease the burden. Since the dawn of popular song, musicians have shouted signals of ecstasy, agony and every emotion in and out of that range through our ears as we wait to scream back in appreciation and understanding. In the ’50s, Little Richard hollered in quick staccato to get you jiving. In the ’80s, Prince howled in sultry exaltation. In the ’90s, Bikini Kill vocalist Kathleen Hanna snarled in urgency to rage against the patriarchy — is it surprising they recently announced reunion concerts?
And there’s screamo, a punk-rock subgenre that took shape in the early 1990s. The genre started with an antagonistic sound to the worst macho tendencies of the hardcore scene. Screamo began to take shape in VFW posts and church basements and eventually found its home in the heyday of the Warped Tour and beyond.
Screamo’s seeds are found in other waves of music that crawled through the airwaves in the past decade. EDM superstar Skrillex first breathed fire as the vocalist for the Tampa quartet From First to Last, and as a DJ cribs the screamo theorem of adding soaring peaks to creeping valleys when he lets the beat drop.
In 2018, with the world on the verge of pandemonium at the mere transmission of a presidential tweet, screamo — a portmanteau of screaming and emo — came back in full force with the release of ripping new albums from Infant Island, Portrayal of Guilt and Vein. All three bands delivered new life and scripture to adherents at screamo’s shrine of shriek.
Infant Island, a quartet from Fredericksburg, burst onto the scene with a self-titled debut that paid homage to the commonwealth’s rich genre lineage of pioneering bands such as Pg. 99, Majority Rule and City of Caterpillar. The seven tracks on the album are teetering push-and-pull compositions, which is a hallmark of screamo, that blend shoe-gazing sonic sounds that serve to buff up the hoarse screams.
Singer Daniel Kost’s desperate wails are pleas coming from atop a hazy mountain of reverb-heavy guitars and drums that threaten to drive his voice down the other side of that peak when he screams: “Where I’ll look down / If I am to fall into their hell / If we are meant to fall / Our love will destroy them.”
On “Let Pain Be Your Guide,” the newest album from Texas quartet Portrayal of Guilt, the first sounds you hear are dissonant bells that seem ripped from a futuristic orchestra. This crawling sound lulls you until the first growl, which erupts into a roar, announcing the band as an ear-rattling force. Although some tracks veer more metal and hardcore-leaning as they become less hyper-focused on screamo’s emotional core, the album pays deference to its screamo forebears with a production credit from Majority Rule’s Matt Michel (who also provides vocals on one track) and artwork courtesy of Pg. 99’s Chris Taylor.
Whereas Infant Island’s tunes give you a chance to breathe, Portrayal of Guilt’s Matt King relieves the pain bursting out of his lungs only when he lets other voices into the bedlam. The guttural spews from a suite of guests add a gang vocal component that shows screamo’s core value of suffering applies to many.
Sometimes it’s okay to judge a band by its cover. The album art for “Errorzone,” the latest album from Massachusetts quintet Vein, shows an eye pried open by a speculum, giving you a pretty good idea of the ferocity of music bottled within. The screams from vocalist Anthony DiDio sound like air is escaping his body as he’s passenger to a possessed motorist stepping on the gas pedal, weaving through traffic and never slowing down.
Vein doesn’t limit itself to one heavy ’90s influence for the outcasts, but rather it synthesizes the emotionally charged screamo with the industrial sounds of nu-metal popularized by Korn. DiDio and his bandmates operate at one speed of climactic catharsis and refuse to relent. Song after song is an emptying of the emotional arsenal over digitized screeches and sirens.
Maybe that’s a hint at a time-tested salve that can be found from screamo — and screaming. In a world dominated by tech behemoths, we can choose to exhaust our energy by screaming online where no one hears us. But maybe if we get together with our blaring brethren to shout into the air, we can refuse to let this world drag us down.