Foundation and the Death of Tradition

Specific emotional itches demand certain musical responses.  And on Sunday, I was rather in need for something angry.  Not unhinged, chaotic rage, but rather focused, enunciated fury to cleanse the aftermath of a frustrating few days.  At such moments, there are a shortlist of bands who I know will hit the necessary spot and, in this instance, I reached for Turncoat by Foundation.

Foundation were a metallic hardcore band from Atlanta, who were active for a decade from 2006.  They were in many ways the archetypal hardcore band, or at least the embodiment of what we might think that is.  They progressed through demos and a couple of relatively low-key 7-inches before the excellent Hang Your Head EP (Six Feet Under, 2009) saw them propelled to greater prominence.  They had a huge appetite for touring, which reached its zenith with the release of their absolutely crushing debut full-length, When The Smoke Clears (Bridge Nine, 2011).  And they then bowed out with their ferocious final EP, Turncoat (Jawk Records, 2015), which heralded a set of worldwide farewell shows.

Foundation never soared to quite the prominence of some of their Bridge Nine predecessors, but they did forge a remarkably committed following during their lifespan and were an undoubted favourite of mine.  So, what defined their appeal?  When you appraise any hardcore band, there are perhaps three fundamental characteristics that for me demand to be assessed – music, message, and attitude – and I’ll take each of those in turn.

‘You sing the same song your parents sang about their unflinching devotion to everything, everything sick and wrong with yesterday and today’ (A Thousand Ways)

Musically, a single word comes initially comes to mind – monolithic.  Foundation’s riffs were simply monstrous (the opening riff to Purple Heart still never fails to make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up), a reimagining of their 1990s forebearers, Indecision and Unbroken, that brought a renewed shuddering velocity to bear.  But power alone is, of course, rarely enough.  Foundation also brought great craft to their song writing – almost from day one, their song structures were developed to maximise the band’s attributes.  The quintessential Foundation song would open with a riff of dark ominous, menace before segueing into a galloping, subtly reworked variation as the fierce, guttural vocals erupted.  The song would reach an emotional peak with a crushing breakdown – but with Foundation, these cathartic moments were almost always partnered with vocals that lent them amplified impact and evolved organically from the song itself.  This also speaks to how integral the vocal delivery was to Foundation’s sound.  While the emphasis lay on almost primordial roared power, Tomas Pearson’s delivery was also emotionally nuanced, ensuring that the required sense of rage, frustration, regret, and also hope was accurately evoked.

‘Conditioned to drag our fingers through the soil, hands caked black with dirt of a ground long made sour by a disease of generations that came before us’ (Failure Breeds Failure)

As regular readers will know, message holds an equal importance to the musicality in my own appreciation.  I need both to work in tandem for my engagement to be piqued.  As such, I’m often lured to bands who engage with political ideas, that develop lyrics that add semantic substance to their sound.  Foundation were definitely a band with lyrical substance, but theirs was a politics with a small ‘p’ – rather than grander political exposition, their emphasis was on exploring ideas through personal experience and reflection to inform how to lead day-to-day life.  As a straight-edge band, sobriety was clearly a central formative pillar.  The sense was that their commitment was initially shaped from exposure to family addiction and their treatment of the related issues displayed a subtlety and awareness that is not always evident.

‘Because there’s no perfect tomorrow that I would not trade for just one more chance to right the wrongs of today’ (Silence Above, Quiet Below)

However, perhaps, even more central to the band’s worldview was the exploration of themes around tradition, primed by the thinking of English writer, Somerset Maugham: ‘Tradition is a guide and not a jailer’.  Foundation’s view was not a simple one of casting aside tradition in its entirety, but rather identifying and, in the words of vocalist Tomas Pearson, ‘striking down the traditional values that keep us separated, scared, and second class’.  The band were committed to a view that hardcore can function as a vehicle for helping people to build ‘a new tradition not built on the truth of our parents, preachers, and peers’.

‘I will give every breath to this, will not hang my head, I’ll keep fighting for every inch, will not hang my head, I won’t let this become another place to hang my head’ (Hang Your Head)

The other defining characteristic of the band was their decidedly unassuming attitude.  I had the pleasure of catching them live four times – twice in 2011 (The Purple Turtle, The Bowery) and then in 2013 (The Black Heart) before their brilliant final London show in 2016 (T Chances).  On each occasion, they put together a performance that brimmed with authenticity.  It really did strike as five mates just delighted that people wanted to see them doing what they enjoyed doing most – playing hardcore.  And there was also a sincerity to their interactions with the audience.  Yes, Foundation had views they wished to share, but my sense was that they were very much people wanting to explore these ideas, rather than assuming that they had all of the answers fully worked out.

So, if you have not previously encountered Foundation, and have a taste for thoroughly well-executed and thoughtful metallic hardcore, then I would highly recommend exploring their catalogue.  You will probably need to do some Discogs digging, although I believe Bridge Nine still have When The Smoke Clears available on CD.  Foundation – a band who quietly yet passionately made their mark.