Let’s get this out of the way early: TURNSTILE’s 2021 album GLOW ON was one of their genre’s biggest “we’ve made it” moments, launching that group into a sort of superstar stratosphere that few hardcore bands have achieved in the past 40 years. Well-deserved as it all was, their success also gave newer bands more visibility along the way as more people started to pay attention to what was happening in aggressive music. However, the new album by Philadelphia’s Soul Glo, Diaspora Problems, should be viewed as nothing short of a new tectonic shift in the world of hardcore punk.
Sure, this comparison only really holds water on the basis of broad genre similarities alone. TURNSTILE’s chill, major-chord sheen and crossover level-up primed them to be perfect bumper music for the ’22 Winter Olympics, with dazed hooks that made them the Euphoria generation’s favorite hardcore band. Listening to Diaspora Problems, you get the sense that Soul Glo are less concerned with getting the opportunity to perform a medley of new tunes on a prestigious late-night spot than hanging behind to dismantle the stale conventions of the often white male-dominated underground scene they cut their teeth in. And my goodness, do Soul Glo deliver. The rage contained within the 12 songs on Diaspora Problems is potent enough to launch anyone clinging to the status quo or softening of aggressive music out of an airlock into space to make way for a better tomorrow.
The album begins—as every great album should—with the sounds of a bong hit mimicking the wind-up drumbeat of the 20th Century Fox theme song. From there on, the album is a long exhale of thick smoke that can leave you dizzy and delirious when inhaled secondhand. The first song “Gold Chain Punk (Whogonnabeatmyass)” gives you a taste of the undeniable force of what’s to come. Singer Pierce Jordan shrieks and screams his vocals at the velocity of tumbling stones as the band—(now-former) guitarist Ruben Polo, bassist GG Guerra and drummer TJ Stevenson—constantly realigns itself with different time signatures and pummeling riffs.
As the song enters its final breakdown territory after two minutes of anthemic chords and shifts, Jordan—furious with the thought of explaining himself to anyone ever again—is ready for his last stand. “The unlimited worlds in this one Earth / Their work and its worth motivate my love of life undermined by / As it were / Feeling insecure,” he concludes, after feverishly trying to convey that it’s not the chain that he bought (and lost) that makes him. As it comes to a close over chunky beatdown riffs, Jordan is outside drunk with a Smith and Wesson in his pocket, welcoming anyone who wants to talk some more shit to show their faces. “Who gonna beat my ass?” he screams repeatedly, with his vocal cords shredded like damning evidence in the hands of an intern at a shady hedge fund.
The song contains as many musical ideas and rich narrative turns as a lesser band could fit into a single album. So where could they possibly go from there? Well, as it turns out, when you melt away the skin on somebody’s face, you can still find a higher setting on your blowtorch to make sure there is no trace of a head left behind.
With blistering tracks like the horn-assisted “Thumbsucker” and the unstoppable single “Jump!!(Or Get Jumped!!!)(by the future),” the swing found on post-hardcore from the early days of Touch & Go and Dischord records and classic New York hardcore aggression are jumbled to perfection. Song after song, Jordan’s rapid-fire lyrics offer rich widescreen narratives that are not often found in heavy music. “Jump!!” is a prime example of the high level of his writing throughout the album, as he breaks down the everyday fears of being a Black man in America and losing his chances to make something great as time rapidly slips away. But in his mind, even though Soul Glo have fought tirelessly to get to this point, there is no way in hell they are going to sit back and take it easy.
“Everybody wants their ideology to be the one that enslaves the world. We just left a century of artists whose screams went purposefully unheard,” he urgently lays out. “We live in the future. We die in the present. I have our next two shits in my mind already. We started conceiving in 2016 in a windowless van driving through the desert. It took so much time, life, advice and effort to make the first half of this shit come together.”
Midway through the record, Soul Glo offer a welcome change of pace with the industrial rap of “Driponomics,” featuring a verse from Philly rapper Mother Maryrose. It’s easy to equate this stylistic detour to the reggae interludes on Bad Brains’ classic self-titled album, or the bebop jazz and pastiche samples on Refused’s game-changing The Shape of Punk to Come. I type this with no sense of hyperbole behind my words: Those are comparisons that should be welcomed. In time, Diaspora Problems should be revered as much for its innovation in blending genres as those two landmark releases are now.
If there is another band that you could point to in that similar boundary-less hardcore lineage, it’s Boston’s Converge. Much like that band with their 2001 album Jane Doe, Soul Glo seem to have arrived with Diaspora Problems. This is by no means their first album, but rather their third full-length, with a slew of EPs and singles behind them. But each song on the album’s tracklist seems intentionally placed to service the whole, like Jenga pieces stacked with a graceful gentle touch. It’s also the first time one of their releases does not contain a song under two minutes in length, as they go for broke stretching each of these cuts as far as they need to go. At the tail end of the album, they offer two of their most complex compositions. On the metalcore-influenced “John J,” Jordan passes the mic to Kathryn Edwards of the great Nashville hardcore band Thirdface and a verse from lyricist Zula Wildheart for one of the album’s most towering moments.
After the hellbent pace of “GODBLESSYALLREALGOOD,” the album closes with “Spiritual Level of Gang Shit.” The song features verses from McKinley Dixon and lojii, and—along with everything heard before—it provides evidence that there are more interesting ways that both hardcore and hip-hop could live in harmony. On Diaspora Problems, Soul Glo have caused a clearing in the forest with an album so boundless in its creativity that it cannot be ignored. This is the shape of hardcore that we had been promised.
Pat King is a Philadelphia-based journalist and host of the In Conversation podcast at Ears to Feed. He releases his own music with his project Labrador and is a tireless show-goer and rock doc fanatic. He recently took up long-distance running, which he will not shut up about. You can follow him at @MrPatKing.