Before anyone grossly overreacts: I did not count any crossover records that were out of bounds from the NYHC scene. This includes Agnostic Front's Cause For Alarm, later Cro-Mags records, and Carnivore.
Madball - Set It Off
Leeway - Born To Expire
Gorilla Biscuits - Gorilla Biscuits
Gorilla Biscuits - Start Today
Crumbsuckers - Life Of Dreams
Bold - Speak Out
Nihilistics - Nihilistics
Sick Of It All - Blood Sweat And No Tears
Crown Of Thorns - Mentally Vexed
SFA - New Morality
Judge - Bringin' It Down
Youth Of Today - Break Down The Walls
Kraut - An Adjustment To Society
Sheer Terror - Just Can't Hate Enough
Beyond - No Longer At Ease
Token Entry - From Beneath The Streets
Warzone - Open Your Eyes
Murphy's Law - Back With A Bong
10. Underdog - The Vanishing Point
One of those bands whose demos are lauded as the highlight of their career. The Vanishing Point is such a great album for two reasons: the rhythm section (one of the best ever in hardcore) and Richie Birkenhead's vocals. Birkenhead's vocals are a bit of a gem when it comes to hardcore. The man's voice was always too good to be a part of this, but the man himself lived for being a part of this. On TVP, we got to hear Birkenhead's vocals for Underdog truly done justice. It wasn't just the guy who got stabbed outside of CBGBs and played a show in the same night anymore, it was the guy who would go on to Into Another.
9. Sick Of It All - Just Look Around
Another album I'll catch flak for picking, but there's so much more going on Just Look Around that it merits a lot of discussion. The album's eponymous track features one of the best bass intros of all time. The track's lyrics, whose chorus dealt with the ongoing racial tensions in Crown Heights, are dripping with more political cynicism than a hundred anarcho-punk records combined. The scary thing is that this is the downtempo song on the album. The rest of the album are Sick Of It All songs tuned lower and so they come in hard and fast the entire time. The other thing that makes this album worthy of note is that by the time it was released, most of the NYHC scene had moved on from hardcore. Either people were in crossover thrash acts, post-hardcore bands, or moved on entirely. Sick Of It All were one of the few who stuck around in this era (especially as holdovers from the previous era). The band never loses perspective of where they came from while producing something that spoke the times they lived in.
8. Supertouch - The Earth Is Flat
The first time I ever took ecstasy, I listened to this album. I frantically called every friend in my phone book that I had determined the greatest NYHC album ever. All they could ask me was "James, are you on drugs?" I quickly said yes and they proceeded to hang up. The Earth Is Flat is not the greatest NYHC record ever, but it is a very special one. For one thing, it is the perfect bridge between NYHC and the post-hardcore movement that would take over New York a short time later. Mark Ryan's lyrics and vocals are some of the ambitious from the scene (mirroring scene contemporary Richie Birkenhead). Everything on TEIF is about nuance and subtlety. Rather than try and drive in as much as possible, the idea was to create a soundscape putting listeners in a sonic desert. Despair, grief, and fear come in many shapes and forms. Supertouch did it completely different than anyone else in the scene, serving as a forerunner to New York post-hardcore.
7. Leeway - Desperate Measures
I'm going to catch flak for this pick but the fact is Desperate Measures is the better album. Born To Expire has the hits, but pound-for-pound this album blows it out of the water. While BTE tracks has a lot of the attitude that other NYHC records of the day had, DM bears a lot of cynicism about life on the streets that were destroyed by drugs. The riffs on DM coupled with Eddie's vocals tackling the reality of a city that basically lost the war with drugs is so tragic. The album being able to maintain its intensity makes it hard to ignore what's really going on with DM. From the opening track "Make Me An Offer" to "The Future", DM takes listeners down a path of addiction and a feral will to survive in such a beautiful way that only Eddie Sutton's vocals could do it justice.
6. Rest In Pieces - My Rage
Everything about Rest In Pieces is off-putting. It is an album that personifies the ugly side of NYHC. A scene of drug-addled, drunken goons out looking for a fight. The album itself is a perfect soundtrack for street fights. The funny thing about Rest In Pieces is that these were the songs that weren't used for Sick Of It All or leftover from Straight Ahead. The virtuoso guitarwork of Rob Echeverria really shines on this record (including the underrated solo on "Balls N All"). Whereas Sick Of It All wrote anthems about making a point, Rest In Pieces made a point to demonstrate that they were degenerates and would have no problem putting you through the street to remind you of this fact.
5. Killing Time - Brightside
Following the two best demos in NYHC history, Killing Time (formerly Raw Deal) released their debut LP Brightside. Most of the songs from those demos comprised the track listing on the LP. The songs are grating in their purpose. The idea was to incite violence. It was a reflection of the times. By the end of the 80s, everything in NYC had to be resolved by violence. The scene was in a losing battle on every front: with the city, the incoming gentrification, with each other. All that was left was violence and Killing Time provided the songs to paint a picture of what was left of old NYHC in the face of its destruction.
4. Warzone - Don't Forget The Struggle, Don't Forget The Streets
A lot has been said about Raybeez as the years have gone by. A lot of what he did later in life and what he did before hardcore punk. I don't care about any of that. I know that when this record came down, he lived for every single block of the Lower East Side. I know that this album was written expressly for the kids coming into the NYHC pipeline. This was the album to let them know this was the code of conduct and their philosophy from now on. Every single track is a subculture Art of War lesson. It is so goddamn easy to say "Don't Forget The Struggle, Don't Forget The Streets" but so few really understand it. Add in Jay Skin's riffs which never lose potency alongside an excellent rhythm section, this album is more than just a few catchphrases.
3. Bad Brains - Rock For Light
The band who brought hardcore to New York. Before they came along, there was punk in New York but the Bad Brains brought the city vision on just what they could do with it. There can be argument on whether or not the Bad Brains can lay claim to New York City, but anybody from New York who was there will adamantly tell you they're a New York band. This record by itself is perfection and an amazing encapsulation of them harnessing their sound. Before this, the goal was to play as fast as possible, on Rock For Light the band understood that they could use a lot of the rhythm they knew how to use and put it toward their hardcore punk songs. The result was classic songs like "Coptic Times" and "We Will Not".
2. Agnostic Front - Victim In Pain
This is the album that made NYHC, NYHC. Before this it was just hardcore punk in New York. Agnostic Front minted the scene with this one. They were no longer the city between Boston and DC. This album put New York on the map and gave everybody after them the way to go. Every single song is biting and raw from Miret's vocals to Stigma's riffs. It's all completely untouchable. It also laid out a lot of themes we'd see later in NYHC such as patriotism ("United & Strong") and inner-scene conflict ("Fascist Attitudes"). Agnostic Front didn't just do it first, they did it best.
1. Cro-Mags - Age of Quarrel
This album personified an entire lifestyle. By 1986, NYHC's ranks had fully developed. The world was in the death throes of the Cold War. AIDS was destroying entire areas of New York City. Gentrification was in full swing and the concrete jungle was on its way out. This album was basically a reminder to all New York hardcore kids who they were as they looked the world in the face. There's a reason why NYHC originals look back on this record with such fondness. It inspired them to fight harder than they ever had. It's remarkable how far we've come in thirty years on Age of Quarrel. The songs still teach kids about hardcore as a way of life. This album is in every initiated person's DNA.