Serious question: when ranking the best hardcore bands of all time, does Poison the Well ever get brought up? Because they should at least be in the conversation. It feels like an entire era of hardcore music was defined by the start and end of the SoFlo heroes’ career as a band. From 1999-2010 (and in the decade-plus since) there have been many imitators but zero duplicators.
The band also deserves respect for embracing the concept of the absentee bassist. Despite being officially active for about 10 years, somehow the band had a revolving door of around 15 bass players according to their Wikipedia page. Seriously, look at the list below; they have someone named James Johnson listed as a bassist with no official year or spot on the timeline, a mystery person just named “Albert,” and on one album they just skipped having a bassist entirely, having guitarist Ryan Primack record the tracks. This bass-by-committee approach to the 4-string just confirms The Hard Times’ stance that bassists deserve zero credit and should be eliminated entirely.Anyway, with five full-lengths and two extended plays, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better pound-for-pound discography than the band that some say are the inventors of modern metalcore as we know and love it. (As long as you ignore Cave In.)
Honorable Mention: I/III II/III III/III (2009)
This six-song EP (or three two-song EPs, whatever) is made up of extra songs during their time recording “Versions” that were released over a six month period while writing “The Tropic Rot.” I mean, it’s Poison the Well, so it’s still decent… but you can kind of see why they didn’t make it onto the album, and rarely make it into a setlist.
Play it again: “Purple Sabbath”
Skip it: “Bowie”
5. The Tropic Rot (2009)
Don’t try to twist this into a “They said Tropic Rot sucks!” spin zone. If this album was in any other band’s catalog, it would be one of their best. But these are the kings we’re talking about, and technically it’s still a Top 5 album for them. It’s just in our aging, “been down since the beginning” nature to rank the newest ones last, but truth be told, this album rules. Bold decisions to include songs like “When I Lose, You Lose As Well” and “Are You Anywhere” paid off handsomely, as it proves there is no sound the band can’t capture. Chris Hornbrook in particular, who may very well be the best drummer in all of hardcore, shines especially bright.
Play it again: “Pamplemousse”
Skip it: “Celebrate the Pyre”
4. Versions (2007)
After winning hardcore, apparently the band decided it would dominate post-hardcore with their fourth album. “Versions” is the first not to have Derek Miller on guitar, so to make up for the loss, the band had Jason Boyer play guitar on a handful of songs, and guitarist Ryan Primack added bass, banjo, mandolin, synthesizer, and Wurlitzer piano to his credit. Other instruments used on the album include trumpet, trombone, and a muu guitar; you know… classic hardcore stuff. That’s just Poison the Well though… whatever they decide to do, it’s gonna be good. Also, despite the plethora of clean vocals throughout, “Versions” boasts Jeff Moreira’s most pissed off performance of his career. I felt some of those high screeches way down in my prematurito el babies.
Play it again: “Nagaina”
Skip it: “Pleading Post”
Honorable Mention: Distance Only Makes the Heart Grow Fonder (1998)
The very first release from the band, and the only one to not feature Jeff Moreira on vocals (Aryeh Lehrer sang on this five-song EP), the foundation was set early that melodic hardcore was in for a rude awakening. Is the Angus sample that kicks off the first song the most famous movie quote in hardcore history?
Play it again: “Torn”
Skip it: There are only five songs, you can make it
3. Tear From the Red (2001)
This album is much better than it gets credit for, mostly because for some reason, when it came out, no one was satisfied. If you wanted a repeat of Opposite, it wasn’t that. The songs have more structure and polish, which is to be expected of a sophomore release. If you wanted a giant leap or a completely new progression of sound, it isn’t that either. It’s the perfect transition record from what they started out as to what they’d eventually become. Essentially, if you don’t like “Tear From the Red,” you’re a poser who probably pronounces the first word of the album like “Tears for Fears” and not “tear up that major label record contract after one release.”
Play it again: “Turn Down Elliot”
Skip it: “Pieces of You in Me”
2. You Come Before You (2003)
Speaking of… this entry is the band’s one and only album on Atlantic Records, who they signed to after their deal with Trustkill ended. A true masterpiece, and lynchpin of what hardcore can be when left to its own devices, this is the last album to feature Miller (alongside Primack) on guitar, who quit the band after vigorous touring to start the Christmas music duo Sleigh Bells. There isn’t a breakdown (or two) in every song like its predecessor… but when you write songs like Crystal Lake, one per album is enough. If you look up the phrase “ahead of its time” in the dictionary, the definition is just the album art for YCBY.
Play it again: “Crystal Lake”
Skip it: “The Realist”
1. The Opposite of December… A Season of Separation (1999)
A lot of hype and buzzwords get thrown around with this album. “Genre-defining,” “groundbreaking,” “legendary,” and so on and so forth. Well let us be the first to tell you… it’s all true. Every word, every praise, every single positive thing said about this album is spot on. The band’s first full-length LP raised the bar so high it wished for wings that work, and ushered in a new era of metalcore that has yet to slow down. The addition of Moreira on vocals (and his amazing lyrical style) is just the cherry on top of what was the perfect alignment of young musicians hitting their stride. Hornbrook’s monster drumming, the duo of Primack/Miller on guitars getting both heavy and melodic, Jacob Bannon of Converge’s iconic artwork, it all elicits emotions in hardcore kids a certain age (old). The lineups for this album’s touring cycle will live on in infamy forever. Oh shit, sorry… that’s an unpleasant word.
Play it again: Yes
Skip it: You fucking kidding me?