Ryan Hill, vocalist of the punk band War Criminal. Courtesy of Michael Cox Photography

By Josh Deakin

Hardcore punk is an often considered abrasive genre of music that isn’t talked about or discussed much in modern times but in the 1980s it was a huge movement, in Washington, D.C. especially. Bands like Black Flag, Bad Brains, Minor Threat and the Dead Kennedys dominated the underground scene. When I say underground, I mean this music was completely off the beaten path. You had to search for it, which in a way is very punk rock. Shows often took place in extremely small venues such as local community centers, VFWs and DAVs, as well as run of the mill house parties. There was quite the reputation behind the shows as brutal affairs. It would not be a surprise to leave the show with someone’s blood on you. The bands traveled by van and saved every penny they could by crashing on fans’ living room floors. It was a raw, aggressive, fast type of music that is admittedly an acquired taste. Songs are very short, usually in the one to three minute range. The popularity grew enormously through the exchange of crudely recorded copies of cassette tapes. The popularity began to die off in the late 1980s and early 1990s in favor of the LA hair metal scene and a slower, heavier sound emanating from Seattle that would later be defined as grunge.

Despite the drop off in popularity, hardcore punk remains very much alive. In Maine, Bangor has its very own taste of the scene with War Criminal. An explosive four-piece band that is well known in the area and continues to grow in popularity.

The band is rooted in the in-your-face attitude reminiscent of Henry Rollins but also incorporates a slower, groove oriented sound that is derivative of the New Orleans sludge band Crowbar. “From Converge to Black Flag to Prince to Coal Chamber. We are all over the place in our musical tastes,” stated bassist Jamie Way. The group is currently a three-piece, in search of a full-time drummer after Wayne Howe’s departure. Since then, Ryan Paolilli of Kaonashi has filled in on the kit for the recording of an upcoming EP. Guitarist Anthony Brown and vocalist Ryan Hill make up the rest of the group. “We have all been friends for years [with] Anthony joining the band in late 2018,” explained Way.

Lineup changes are common in the beginning of bands’ histories and usually make or break the band. Ever heard of Pete Best, the drummer for The Beatles before Ringo Star took over? As previously mentioned, the drummer for War Criminal left towards the end of last year as well as their second guitarist.

Musically, the band blends together quite nicely. They have a fresh take on an older sound that old school punkers can enjoy as well as a younger generation maybe just discovering the genre. If you’d like a chance to see War Criminal, under normal circumstances that should be relatively easy. “[The band played live] as much as possible before COVID happened,” said Way. “We recorded a new EP that should be released later this year. We had a few runs set up with different bands and had to cancel plans for a tour this summer.”

COVID disrupted their year in a major way, but the group still managed to record a new EP with temporary drummer Paolilli.

Their music is available for purchase on the band’s Bandcamp page. If you’re a fan of heavier music, I would highly recommend checking it out. War Criminal’s sound isn’t for everyone, but those that do enjoy hardcore will love the rough around the edges approach the band takes.

As far as the future of the band is concerned, things do look bright but it all depends on how things progress with COVID-19 disrupting live musical performances in an effort to keep people safe from the dangerous virus. Way elaborated, “As we mentioned we have a new EP coming out later this year, touring is really up to how things go with COVID and when things open.” 

Currently, the group is searching for a new full-time drummer as a permanent replacement for Howe.