Integrity - live in Philadelphia (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick


live in Philadelphia (2023)

live show

One of the most interesting things about Integrity is how malleable they are, and also, how much of a paradox they can be. One minute they are the standard bearers of hardcore, the next they are an experimental noise act. One minute they are floating through a six minute Metallica-meets-Mick-Taylor guitar solo and the next they are sprinting through a 45 second Japanese inspire blast. One minute they are a straight edge group called Die Hard and the next they are dropping acid and soaring through the astral plane wherein they discovery reality is just the dream of some giant chicken-man that has snakes for feet… or something like that,

Well, that malleability/paradox ability was in full force at Philly’s This is hardcore fest on August 2, 2023. That is, Integrity was headlining the first night of the proceedings, having taken the stage after hardcore hallmarks like Earth Crisis, Chokehold, and Deadguy. Except, the joke being, Integrity isn’t really a hardcore band. They’re more like a punk-hardcore-metal-noise-blues act or something. That was apparent by their opening salvo.

As soon as taking the stage, the band immediately blasted into classic opener “Vocal test,” which is a lyric-less track that charges like Motorhead while singer Dwid Hellion howls out primal screams. And of course, at the show, he let the audience handle about half the shouts as concertgoers literally climbed on top of each other to give their own lungs a shot at the mic. Despite the fact that people were jumping on each other’s heads and charging each other, it is interesting that there is a sort of psychic community at play here. That is, my understanding of the purpose of hardcore, or my vision of the genre, is different than a lot of people and my take on the genre is most likely in contrast to the average TIHC attendee. Likewise, their take on the genre is probably different than mine and both would think the other is “wrong.” Indeed, throughout the night, a lot of different bands talked about unity or “being true to hardcore,” but each were talking about THEIR VISION of what hardcore is. By contrast, Integrity, who probably isn’t JUST hardcore, had all those different fans sprinting for the mic and screaming in unison. Is it a little silly? Maybe. Is it fun? Yes. But moreover, is it a way in which all these different factions of a sub-sub-sub-genre meet on some primal level and connect on a, perhaps, special-level? Most certainly. And isn’t interesting that this is done WITHOUT the use of any words whatsoever?

Maybe I’m being too cerebral, but throughout the night, Integrity meshed the brainy with the brawny. After vocal text, they smashed right into “Hollow,” in a fierce, punk rendition. The band was sounding REAL good. Integrity does morph between metal, punk, and hardcore, and at TIHC, while they were undeniably heavy, the band seemed to be in their punk form- they thrashed from one song to the next. Instrumental control was sacrificed for speed and power (always the right choice, mind you) and the whole band had a sort of controlled combustibility.

With the Howling for the Nightmare Shall Consume era now concluded, the band focused mostly on their better known cuts, as opposed to the deep rarity dives heard 2017-2020, or so. Only three of the bands 15 songs came from outside of their first albums, which sort of made sense since the band just reissued their first four classics via Relapse.

Like David Bowie and his band, Integrity shifts its lineup fairly frequently in order to create different textures. The TIHC texture was particularly invigorating and punchy. “Abraxas Annihilation” was partially berserk as the band sprinted though the refrain sections. Guitarist Francis Kano gave “Systems Overload” and particularly hard smashing low end. Live, the song always reminds me of the ocean and waves in that it first lumbers down low with the bass before rising up and smashing on the top end with a crackling guitar. This happen in real time at the show as during the mosh pit, people kind of dropped low only to slam upwards with some people being launched into the air as the waves broke and the guitars came breaking down.

Mid-way through the show, semi-retired guitarist Dom Romeo appeared and played three tracks with the band- “Rise,” “Diseased Prey within casing,” and “Judgement day.” It’s always a blast to hear Romeo drop his thrash-via-hair-metal style on top of Integrity’s lumber and in a way, that appearance alone kind of made Integrity feel more like a collective, or maybe a project, as opposed to a “band.” That is, they are not limited to the vision of four or five people, but rather, they have a host of current and former members to throw magic into the cauldron.

To that end, maybe the biggest surprise of the night was the appearance of original guitarist Aaron Melnick who grabbed the guitar and smashed out the classic “Misha.” One of the great things that Melnick brings to the band is that he seems to have an understanding the classic 70s blues and blues rock acts, and he is singularly able to weave that into a modern nasty-n-mean punk context. It was also neat to see Romeo and Melnick, switch places and nod to each other, a la, say, Mick Ronson and Robert Fripp might do had the occasion ever arisen.

After “micha,” the band played an extended, soaring rendition of “Jagged Visions,” which was trippy and hard at the same time. Again, it sort of showed that no matter the context that you put Integrity in, they sort of never truly fit, which is their core strength- well, that and that their songs are kick ass and they have really freak lyrics.

And yet, just as the band concluded one of their most serious, dramatic songs, they turned the tables again. Jerry Other, who is Jerry Only’s son and replaced Dez Cadena in the New-Misfits, jumped on the stage, in full skull makeup, and sang “Hybrid Moments” while the band stormed along in the back. The entire audience played karaoke and smiles abounded. So much of hardcore is frowning and moshing and scowling and mean mugging yet, TIHC night one ended with a lightning bolt of fun. Can hardcore be fun? Integrity proved that it can… but then again… is Integrity hardcore… and if not, why are they headlining a festival that by the virtue of its name, defines what hardcore is… am I overthinking what is really just an excellent show… or is thought stimulation the purpose of Integrity… Leave it to Dwid Hellion to change “This is Hardcore” to “Is this hardcore?”… and does that even matter? And even if we all exist as the figment of the dream of some giant chicken-beast, does anything matter? If not, should we just have fun for the sake of fun and definitions don't matter?