Hardcore is nothing if not anachronistic. To be interested in the genre – to participate in its inherent subcultural-ness – is to not only yearn for the past but to try and make it tangible. A hardcore show in 2019 is an attempt to re-create something that's come and gone: to dress and to dance and even to feel like maybe They (our once-teenaged forefathers, of the Rollins and Mackaye and Cappo variety) really did.
And it is true that, in this way, those acts which burn brightest and fastest often directly mirror (read: rip off) that which has already happened. It's relatively easy to gain success when you bill your band according to your influences: "FFO x and y bands," "sounds like x band meets y band" ... you get it.
But for those contemporary bands who wish to stick it out past that flash-in-the-pan "here's a demo that sounds like Breakdown!" popularity: They have to figure out what to do next.
In the past few years, the solution has typically taken the form of signing to a major label, or at least one that doesn't exclusively release hardcore. Epitaph is a good bet, maybe Roadrunner. And with their release on this larger platform, the band in question will inevitably introduce some sort of "accessible" element: they'll position themselves for metalhead appeal, they'll force us into the unenviable position of considering a nu-metal revival and the musical legacy of Limp Bizkit.
So what's a band like Fury to do?
Fury, the quintet from the other Orange County, the one on the West Coast, started off according to the pattern: Here's a new band, '80s Southern California hardcore meets youth crew! Uniform Choice, but also Turning Point! This Fury was meant to be something fun, something not quite built to last – a project vocalist Jeremy Stith was initially hesitant to even sign on for.
"The way [Madison Woodward, lead guitarist] convinced me," says Stith, "was we would maybe play two shows tops. It was mainly just a recording project." He laughs: "That just kinda snowballed into what it is now."
What it is now: After that 2014 demo, Fury "just kind of started doing [their] own thing." First a 7-inch on Triple B, and then in 2016, Fury released their debut LP, Paramount.
Paramount, the summit, where heaven meets earth; Paramount, a band at their very peak. The record is what you might call a hardcore epic, an attempt at addressing Big, Wandering Questions (those of the meaning and existence variety) in the context of a genre best known for variations on the lyrical theme of "pissed-off guy." That's not to trivialize seminal hardcore lyrics, or to deny that some real soul-searching took place in '80s and '90s hardcore, but to say that hardcore en masse is largely concerned with the rather ... practical.
Paramount, then, in opposition, tries to get at something almost immaterial – see, for example, the sheer religiosity and whole-body catharsis of album closer "The Feeling."
And the angels did indeed descend to herald Paramount's greatness: Almost immediately, the record was heaped with praise, deemed sui generis, called "important" and "life-changing," – maybe even one of the classics of Our Era!
So by the time it had been decided that Fury would release a follow-up, Stith's mind was set: "I was gonna do the yin and yang to that with this new one. I kind of wanted to cut people off at the cross. I'm not trying to make another 'important' thing: I already know I've failed." And something else, something key: "I was trying to find a way to be vulnerable and make something beautiful and make something that'll last ... longer than I'll be around, but in this very ugly world of hardcore."
This is Failed Entertainment, Fury's sophomore effort and first release on Warner-distributed label Run for Cover Records. And in Fury's case, the new ingredient they've added to their major label debut isn't a spice pulled off the shelf of hardcore history. Instead, the something-else is culture, allusion, what the eggheaded among us might call "intertextuality."
Where previous releases have drawn from literature, film, art and music outside the hardcore canon – culminating in Paramount's borrowing of the phrase "a love supreme" – on Failed Entertainment, Stith is practically begging the listener to sign up for a Criterion account just to follow along.
Failed Entertainment draws from David Foster Wallace, Raging Bull, Gang of Four, Boogie Nights ... and that's just the title. Songs leap from reference to reference, weaving together something like a young life's worth of ingested media: Oasis, Paul Thomas Anderson, Embrace and Fugazi, Sam Shepard, Nick Cave, Crazy Horse. Watching over it all are the dark-coated angels of Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire, invoked almost literally on opening track "Angels Over Berlin."
A hardcore record that unabashedly proclaims its love for a semi-obscure 1987 arthouse film to the point, indeed, of the loving homage "Angels Over Berlin" music video, starring downtown Orlando as Berlin-by-proxy and directed by UCF student Mario Escoto: Is this bloated over-intellectualizing? Is it sucking the fun out of hardcore? Is it just an attempt to get the kids to read and watch and listen more?
Stith gets how it all can come across. "My last intention," he says, "was to be cool guy, look at all this avant-garde stuff, hee hee hee, aren't I so fucking smart?" He's impassioned, almost earnest, when he says that these references – the bricolage of Failed Entertainment – "are the things that changed me, and things that I really, really love. ... I don't have the answers, I can only try to be as good of a person as I can every day, and these are the things that have helped me do it."
Failed Entertainment isn't jaded or cynical. It doesn't try to be anything it's not. It knows it's a hardcore record, it knows it doesn't have the answers, it knows that it will never puzzle-piece match the expectations you may or may not have set before listening. With Failed Entertainment, Fury establish themselves as a band comfortable in nebulous gray areas, up for the challenge of treading territory in which there's really no precedent. And maybe – just maybe – this is how hardcore stops reaching for its past, and begins to carve out a future.