10 Essential Deathwish Inc. Albums

A guide to the legendary heavy music label celebrating its 20th anniversary this year

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10 Essential Deathwish Inc. Albums

When Converge lead singer Jacob Bannon was having trouble with record labels, he reached out to Tre McCarthy about starting one of their own. The new millennium was beginning, and the two music devotees worked hard to conceive what became a breeding ground for some of the most influential hardcore and metal bands out there. That label was called Deathwish Inc., and this year marks its 20th anniversary.

Over the course of two decades, Deathwish has built up a catalog full of beloved heavy music, pushing boundaries further with each release. It nurtured eccentric, genre-bending supergroups like Self Defense Family and Fucked Up, as well as idiosyncratic post-hardcore upstarts like Gouge Away and Touché Amoré. Deathwish are not simply a metal label or a hardcore label—they’ve created a home for unique acts whose footsteps are sure to be followed by new generations, widening the spectrum of loud music like an elastic band that will never snap.

When musicians—or anyone in the music world—speak of Deathwish, their words are warm with both reverence and gratitude. Though record labels often revolve solely around money, the amount of effort and love that goes into making Deathwish a family, not a revenue machine, is palpable. To celebrate their milestone anniversary, here are 10 essential albums from their catalog.

10. Frail Body: A Brief Memoriam (2019)

A Brief Memoriam is the 2019 debut from this Rockford, Ill. trio, and it’s an explosive, evocative portrait of grief. The band reckons with religion, love, redemption, guilt and denial in nine blistering tracks, mostly screaming at the top of their lungs and playing as fast as they can. The music feels as intense as the experience of grief; Frail Body’s riffs are restless and searing, and their screams are almost disturbing, creating something that will haunt you long after the album ends. The longest track, “Your Death Makes Me Wish Heaven Was Real,” is dynamic and cathartic—starting with discordant, high-speed noise-rock, falling into a brief interval of slowness halfway through and lurching back into loudness.

9. Integrity: To Die For (2003)

Without this Cleveland, Ohio metalcore outfit, a lot of kickass bands wouldn’t exist today. This record—which arrived during their comeback—featured the group at their loudest and grittiest. The growls are ruthless, the drums are at hyper-speed and the lyrics are morbid and sadist: “All my life / I’ve loved you / Now you betray me / Loyal return deceived / The reek of human blood / Brings laughter to my heart,” roars vocalist Dwid Hellion on the cutthroat “Dreams Bleed On.” The record is completely unrelenting in its chaos, paving a dirty path for bands to follow.

8. Touché Amoré: Is Survived By (2013)

This L.A. five-piece pioneered their own blend of post-hardcore, emo and slam poetry—too chaotic and fragmented to be compared to La Dispute, and too melodic to be of the same kin as Defeater. Frontman Jeremy Bolm’s relentless honesty and raw delivery permeate their third album Is Survived By. The fiery “Just Exist” kicks off the record, with the opening lines reckoning with mortality: “I was once asked how I’d like to be remembered / And I simply smiled and said ‘I’d rather stay forever.’” Bolm’s fearless dive into life and death make this record a classic, and the dynamic sonic landscape makes it all the more intense.

7. Blacklisted: Heavier Than Heaven, Lonelier Than God (2008)

These Philadelphia hardcore-punks were loved as soon as they started putting out seven-inches in the early 2000s. Between their second studio album ...The Beat Goes On and this iconic record Heavier Than Heaven, Lonelier Than God, they took a necessary hiatus. They returned with an amalgamation of metal, hardcore, punk and grunge. “Wish” shows off razor-sharp riffs, and “Circuit Breaker” explodes with energetic instrumentals made for pits. Even the vocals range from clean-cut screams to ugly roars, experimenting with different darknesses.

6. Modern Life is War: Fever Hunting (2013)

After a four-year hiatus that had been announced via MySpace in 2008, the Iowa melodic hardcore five-piece reunited in late 2012 and put out 2013’s explosive hardcore masterpiece Fever Hunting. The album guides its listener through the wreckage, showing gritty glimpses of emotional, political and religious damage. The second track, “Health, Wealth & Peace,” is melodic and noisy as Jeff Eaton reckons with growing up: “Picking up the pieces from the days when / Youth was my religion and friends were gods.” It’s only the beginning of what’s to follow: funerals, loneliness, war, sickness, depression, all against caustic guitars and hyper-speed drumming.

5. Code Orange: I Am King (2014)

Taking influence from classic metal and punk, Code Orange Kids churned out the madness that makes up Love is Love // Return to Dust. Then they established themselves as adults by rebranding as Code Orange and marking a new era. They weren’t playing around anymore, and I Am King—a more cinematic, refined and disturbing project—proved that. “Dreams in Inertia” can only be described as an experience rather than a song. It features a patient, creepy build-up of whispers and darkening instrumentals, and it drips into the following track “Unclean Spirit,” a metallic anthem. From start to finish, the growls and roars are ruthless, attacking from all angles. The riffs are unpredictable, and the rhythm bounces back and forth between hardcore frenzy and pure metal.

4. Gouge Away: Burnt Sugar (2018)

Following their phenomenal 2016 debut Dies, Gouge Away took a more melodic approach. The untamed clamor of Dies was channeled into rhythms listeners could headbang to and still keep up with. The opener “Only Friend” is an all-encompassing introduction to the heaviness packed inside this record, with its bouncy rhythm at the forefront of this less-than-two-minute track. The instrumentals are what make this record unique, blending noise-rock and hardcore, twisting and distorting in different directions, especially in “Dis S O C I a T I O N” and “Hey Mercy.”

3. American Nightmare: Background Music (2001)

These Boston hardcore-punks have gone from American Nightmare to A.N. to American Nothing to Give Up the Ghost due to legal battles with another band called American Nightmare. Either way, Background Music won them a following for mashing together savory anthems of melodic hardcore and unpredictable punk. The 2001 record contained no songs over three minutes—they compacted as much as they could in the shortest amount of time possible. Breakneck drumming and metallic riffs propel the first track “(We Are),” oscillating between no-nonsense punk and melodic hardcore. On the scathing anthem “Am/Pm,” Wesley Eisold’s tortured screams offer some of the most dismal thoughts: “I was hoping I’d never / Have to write this song again / The kind of song that makes / You want to hang / Your headached head.”

2. Deafheaven: Sunbather (2013)

Though this idiosyncratic black metal/post-rock group didn’t get nominated for a Grammy until 2018 (for the single “Honeycomb,” from Ordinary Concrete Human Love), this well-loved record catapulted them towards that level of prestige. Each track rattles with layers and layers of intensity; under the blood-chilling screams are cathartic riffs, under the riffs are meditative rhythms, under the rhythms are heartfelt melodies. The songs move meticulously yet freely, as if there is not a simple band behind the music, but a whole orchestra flowing through a symphony. When tracks change, the switch is seamless and enchanting. It’s the same when parts build up to a cathartic break—the chaos reveals itself so gradually, it feels like black metal magic.

1. Converge: Jane Doe (2001)

The ’90s Salem, Mass. metallic-hardcore pioneers inspired a generation of bands to come with Jane Doe. The first track “Concubine” became one of the most significant heavy anthems, with its staticky, guttural screams and messy breakdowns showcasing Converge’s power to take metal to the next level. Most songs follow this lead of nonstop craziness: sporadic solos overlapping with feral roars and fast drumming, plus everything at its loudest and its fastest colliding into each other. There’s a surge in every track as Jacob Bannon puts in his all to express his grief: “I’ll take my love to the grave,” he chants on the furious “The Broken Vow,” alongside corrosive guitars and backing vocals chanting with him.