Rock isn’t Dead… and it Never Died
Ask any music critic, connoisseur, or even just any ordinary fan about the current state of rock music, and you will always get a version of the same answer.
“Rock is dead”
“Rock ain’t what it used to be”
“I miss the 80s man”
“Rock gone soft”
From a bird’s eye view, this seems to be exactly the case. Recent Billboard rock charts have been filled to the brim with watered-down pop hits by bands such as 21 Pilots and Imagine Dragons and Panic! At the Disco, undeniably good bands, but nothing remotely resembling the underground ostentatious maelstrom of incredibly loud guitar chords and anthems of political strife that dominated the rock and metal scene of the late 20th century.
As for the old-timers, the heavy metal giants of the old guard are very much still around, with Metallica and Iron Maiden cranking out new and innovative records, that attempt, yet sometimes fail to, capture the authentic sound of rock & roll. But there still remains an immense amount of nostalgia and longing for the old days, and for the new generation of rockers, one has to ask, what’s next?
Well, we’re all in luck, I’ve seen the future, and the future is now. The future is the present, and in fact, the future is the past. Just beneath the surface, behind the great wall of radio rock, lies a community, a substantive army of dedicated, talented, and incredibly vocal rock, punk, hardcore, and heavy metal artists that continuously prove that rock never died, and the old ways, are still around, just with a new coat of paint.
Describing the state of rock music today is virtually impossible, because to anyone tuned into the scene, there is almost too much music to describe. So instead of a grotesquely bloated list that simultaneously even fails to scratch the surface, I will attempt to give a comprehensive overview of some of the greatest underground rock artists tearing up the streets.
Hardcore punk music has been around forever, with the earliest bands dating back to the late 70s, and the industry could not be stronger. For a perfect example of Hardcore’s finest, look no further than Wilkes-Barre PA’s Straight Edge juggernauts, One Step Closer (Straight Edge refers to a subculture of Hardcore characterized by the resistance of authority and abstinence from drugs and alcohol, but that is a whole other article in itself). Their music feels greater than anthemic, it’s raw, it’s edgy, it’s badass, and it’s exactly what any disgruntled rock fan needs to hear.
Their 2019 masterpiece, The Reach off of their From Me To You EP, is a gutwrenching outcry that calls out to lost vagrants and those searching for answers. If the instrumental, characterized by insanely precise yet aggressive guitars and drums that would blow out the best of speakers don’t already pique your interest, then the lyrical content surely will. With lines like “What does this life entail, so close to be” and “When you feel alone, nobody seems to care”, this song feels relatable to the bone. All of this is delivered through screaming vocals that race by in the blink of an eye and ring in your head for hours.
Post Hardcore/Post Rock
If you thought Hardcore was all that was left, you could not possibly be more wrong. All over the world, Post-Rock bands are creating innovative masterpieces that are just too hot to handle. Coming out of France, Birds in Row exemplify exactly what it means to be Post-Rock. Their 2018 EP, entitled “We Already Lost the World” is a work of pure genius. The song “We Count so We Don’t Have to Listen” threw me out of my chair the first time I heard it. The beat is mathematically infectious while maintaining the girth and depth that is virtually required to even be considered rock. With lines like “We count and locked the doors. Who the fuck defines the justice? In a land of cheatery.” How can you not fall in love?
Plain Old Rock
Not a fan of the heavy stuff? No worries there is plenty of music out there for the casual rock fan who maybe isn’t ready to suffer permanent hearing damage. Rock doesn’t have to be screamed, it just has to have one thing, undeniable rock soul. For an example of rock that feels just classic enough to satisfy your nostalgia, yet just modern enough to keep you hooked, look no further than German rock band Swain.
Their 2019 album Negative Space is both electrifying and introspective. The title track utilizes a mix of old-age guitar and drum sounds and new world production to create a deeply chilling soundscape that suits the lyrics absolutely perfectly. The lyrics cry out that it “Feels better when it hurts like this. Been waiting for my goodbye kiss. This negative space, I’ll give it a try. To beat death, you only have to die” All of this is wrapped up in a package this harmonically and rhythmically intricate and just light enough to captivate listeners without deafening them. I could not think of a song that more defines “Rock”. The vocals are soulful, the production is anthemic and haunting, and the guitar solos are unforgettable.
The list that I just gave is not even the tip of the iceberg. For any aspiring rock fan or disgruntled punk, exploration is a must. In order to begin to uncover a scene teeming with beautiful music, a good place to start would be with our very own Traklife playlist “Rock Isn’t Dead” created by Traklife writer, curator, and rock aficionado, Adam Godown.
So while on the glittery surface of the pop music scene, it may appear that rock in its original form is very much dead and that all we have left to settle for is the pop hits of the Billboard charts. But to anyone who truly knows rock, or to anyone eager to learn, there is a whole world out there filled to the brim with intricate, anthemic, and ingenious music that sounds just as good if not better than the hits of the 80s, all you have to do is dig a little. Not only is rock not dead, it never died in the first place, it has always been here, right under our noses, just hidden beneath the surface, and stronger than ever before.
Arie Likhtman is a double major in music industry studies and Critical Communication and Media Studies with a minor in philosophy at Butler University. Originally from St.Louis Missouri, he has played music since the age of 4, studying everything from classical piano to ballroom dance to saxophone. He is deeply passionate about all aspects of music from the hot 100 charts to underground indie rock. He hopes to use his voice as a writer to bring new artists to the forefront of the conversation, and to offer new perspectives on music, culture, and society as a whole