Author: Peter Fryer

Unruh Tombs
Unruh Tombs Album Cover
This 3 LP release collects Unruh’s two full-length releases, along with an LP of demos and EPs.

Unruh
Tombs 3xLP Discography


King of The Monsters
Street: 03.10
Unruh = Catharsis + Terrorizer + Groundwork

In celebration of their 20th anniversary, Unruh’s discography is being reissued as a 3 LP box set. The set contains Unruh’s two full-lengths, Misery Strengthened By Faith and Setting Fire to Sinking Ships, as well as a third disc of their various 7”s and demo recordings. From the description on King of The Monsters’ website, it looks like they assembled a pretty comprehensive package for the LPs. Arizona’s Unruh threw a slew of metal and punk subgenres—grind, death, hardcore and punk rock—into a blender in an early iteration of metalcore. You know, metalcore before it became the maligned genre that’s spoken about in embarrassed and hushed tones across the Internet today. There was no template in the ’90s, no line of demarcation between polished and filthy had been drawn, and so, for bands like Unruh, there was just playing heavy, fast and loose with whichever influence they wished. Across their recorded material, this approach has had varying levels of success, but it has two notable results in listening to this today: There is no predictability in Unruh’s sound and it provides a fantastic look into what was going on in the underground in the ’90s.
What becomes clear upon initial listens is that many hardcore bands in the ’90s began to be more liberal in their adoption of heavy music genres. They found elements that they liked from across the spectrum and borrowed heavily from them. You can almost trace the roots of releases like Unruh’s to the first time they heard Napalm Death, Obituary or Repulsion. Youth crew was out, dark and spiteful was in. This stretched from the much-hyped shiny CDs Victory was putting out to the smallest, grimiest releases.
Unruh’s first full-length release, Misery Strengthened By Faith is more raw and frantic than Setting Fires to Sinking Ships. The guitars are blown out, the recording isn’t highly produced, and it’s not the most cohesive from back to front. What it lacks in editing it makes up for in intensity—this was meant for dank venues where danger felt real, and a subgenre had yet to be commodified. Because the music wears so many hats it can be hard to stay focused on, though. As a document of angst and rage it’s worth diving in, but other elements haven’t aged as well. It has a more punk rock vibe and leans towards grindcore in many instances, but still has that ’90s hardcore swing that is definitively of its time. Of the entire set, it’s the best listen.
Setting Fires to Sinking Ships is more focused than Misery Strengthened By Faith, but to some this can be a detriment. The vocal patterns are more drawn out versus the terse bark of Misery and while it may sound more experienced, it lends a level of sameness to the tracks. The musical ideas still vacillate frequently between fast, slow, blasts and grooved-out sections. All in all, it sounds like an album from the ’90s—which it is, but it doesn’t rise to the level of being an essential piece of history. And that is the overall takeaway from this set. It’s important to document this element of the scene, and there is much to find here for those interested in what was going on twenty years ago, but it doesn’t have the gravity that, say, Break Down the Walls, Age of Quarrel or Scum had in the prior decade.

The third disc is comprised of 7”s and unreleased demos. Compilations of material like this further support the document vs. crucial listen theory—but to be fair, that’s the case when things like this are included as a part of most albums. It’s nice to have every version of a song recorded and to trace its unique history, and the hardcore rule seems to be that bands can release some of their best material as a demo or 7” so it’s good to be able to dig in here. It’s pleasantly surprising that the “all of the other stuff” element of this discography contains listenable material, including the band’s unreleased demos. They, fortunately, don’t sound like a rabid dog barking and knocking over trash cans in a hallway.

So, what’s the verdict? Unruh hailed from AZ in the ’90s and certainly had an impact on the scene there, even if they didn’t have monumental success nationwide. This may not be an essential collection of ’90s underground music, but it is a document, and an illustrative one at that. With ’90s nostalgia ever on the rise, it’s the perfect time to look back and see just what was going on 20 years ago. –Peter Fryer

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V/A
Grudge City Activities Mix Tape Vol. 1
Grudge City Activities
Street: 12.7.09
Mix Tape = SLC Hardcore 2009
The size, popularity and volatility of the Salt Lake hardcore scene has ebbed and flowed over the years, and it only takes a cursory glance at the posts on grudgecityactivities.com to realize this. However volatile and large or small, the scene is (I remember packed shows at Bricks back in the late 90s and small shows in band practice spaces) something that is never absent is intensity. GCA put together this compilation as a document of what’s going on in the Salt Lake hardcore scene currently and in true DIY hardcore fashion, it’s free. The comp features 10 unreleased tracks by a slew of bands including: City to City, Reviver, Dogwelder, Tamerlane and Glacial, to name a few. It’s amazing how far the history goes back with members of each of the groups on the comp and is a testament to the “never say die” attitude of the hardcore scene. Musically, a span of hardcore-related genres are represented—from the heavy, to fast punk infused, to experimental. I’ve always liked hardcore comps because they show the diversity that can be found in an oftentimes one-note genre. The thing that is striking about Salt Lake’s hardcore music is that it has such a unique sound that is decidedly Salt Lake. Whether this is because of the cultural atmosphere or the isolated locale, I don’t know, but one thing is for sure: if it’s from Salt Lake, you know it. If you haven’t checked out Salt Lake’s hardcore since Triphammer and Clear were kicking around, this comp is not only a good reference point, but it’s free, so there’s no reason not to give it a spin. Here’s to the past days of DV8 basement shows and the like, and to the future of Salt Lake hardcore.

Rocky Mountain District
Goodbye Blue Sky
Self-Released
Street: 12.05.12
Rocky Mountain District = Touche Amore + Pianos Become the Teeth + Orchid
For the past few years, bands have been rescuing the screamo moniker from its relegated position as an evil music genre epithet, a cause furthered by Rocky Mountain District. Brandishing their swords and screams proudly, and recording their performance in brilliant lo-fi glory, any notions of the negative connotation of emo and screamo are cast aside. The most noticeable aspect of Goodbye Blue Sky is how raw and lo-fi the recording is. For the musical genre equivalent of an exposed raw nerve, this choice is impeccable. Lest they tread on worn ground, Rocky Mountain District let their songs flow, avoiding the 1:30 running times of many of their peers, giving their spacey guitars time to breathe and swirl in front of you. This release feels very live and alive, and as a free download on their bandcamp, there is no excuse not to grab a copy. 

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Esther
Common Choirs
Self-Released
06.21
Esther = Touche Amore + La Dispute + End of a Year
Esther’s self-released EP, Common Choirs, finds its groove in the post-hardcore/ screamo realm—it would sit well on the shelf next to late ’90s/early ’00s genre releases. The hallmark heart-on-your-sleeve, metaphorical lyrics are abundant, just waiting to be turned into tattoos/T-shirts/Facebook status updates, and are backed by emotive guitar lines that dip into heavier territory than others of this genre might. The only real complaint about the album is the inclusion of double bass drum kicks. For some reason, it doesn’t fit the style, but they occur infrequently enough as to not be a deal breaker. The guitar tones that appear halfway through “Exotically Common” are reminiscent of the bluesy tones of the White Stripes—a welcome departure. The album is a free download on bandcamp, and has enough for fans of this genre to warrant a download.

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Riley Gale
Photo: Greg Anderson

It was an interview that almost didn’t happen. After not one, but two failed attempts at speaking with Power Trip frontman Riley Gale, it seemed that this piece wasn’t to be. Fortunately, a third go found SLUG and Gale on the phone discussing everything from the awesome, “WTF” lineup of Power Trip’s upcoming tour and new material to graphic novels and the militarization of police. SLUG caught up with Gale about their upcoming tour and future plans.

Power Trip turned heads in 2013 with their full-length debut, Manifest Decimation. Even though crossover thrash is well-worn territory, Power Trip have the secret sauce. It might be their background in the DIY hardcore scene, the reverb on the vocals and drums, their impeccable riffing or their detonating live show—regardless, they have it. If you’re going to see them play, come prepared to be stage-dived upon—a lot. Conversing with Gale is smooth. He’s laid back and thoughtful in his responses, lacking the pretension you might expect from someone who often mentions Michel Foucault in interviews. It’s not all that surprising if you’ve ever seen Power Trip live. They may tackle important topics, but first and foremost, they are there to blast riffs and have fun.

Gale and the rest of Power Trip are about to head out on tour with Title Fight and Merchandise, which is such an eclectic and bonkers lineup that it would be criminal not to catch it. As Gale says, “We’ve talked about doing stuff like this in the past, and it’s kinda been like ‘too weird, too weird.’ Now we’re just kind of like, ‘Fuck it—let’s do it.’” That’s as sound of a sales pitch for a tour package as any. Power Trip are the common link between Title Fight and Merchandise, having known both bands for a few years now. Gale is more excited than anything to just “hang out with those dudes” and is pretty sure that anyone who digs the spectrum of genres represented on the tour “has good taste in music.” Indeed.

Not only is the lineup stacked, but this will be Power Trip’s first time bringing their always amped crossover to Salt Lake City. When asked about expectations of their introduction to Salt Lake, Gale says, “We just go out and just play. We don’t expect anything, and that’s what makes good shows even better.” He promises, “I try to give people what I would want a good band to give back to me.”

The lineup on this tour will feature Power Trip’s prolific drummer Chris Ulsh (Mammoth Grinder, Hatred Surge) assuming guitar duties—nay, “riff stick” duties, as Gale likes to say—in Blake Ibanez’s stead, since Ibanez will be in school. Gale’s pumped about the lineup, as they have toured with this lineup before with Eyehategod, and says that Ulsh brings his own style to the guitar.

Prior to embarking, Power Trip are regrouping in Dallas (Gale lives in Chicago now) to write new material for their next album. They’re in preliminary stages, and when asked about what the new songs will sound like, Gale says, “We haven’t really talked about it. To be honest, we’ve kinda flexed some riffs and thrown them around in some jam sessions. We’ve got a lot of cool ideas left from the first LP that we have to flesh out.” Gale also mentioned Ulsh again, says, “Ulsh is going to be writing quite a few more riffs—he wrote most of “Crossbreaker,” and that song turned out really well. That dude rocks a riff stick.” Because the songwriting is in such an early state, Gale said that they probably wouldn’t be playing anything brand new on the upcoming tour.

As we began to talk about what inspires Gale’s indirect but political lyrics, conversation turned to the seemingly endless ills of the world. Although Gale finds plenty to be angry and negative about, he said the police top his list, saying, “I guess the police always piss me off. Same with government and politicians and all of that … Anybody who’s corrupt and pretends they’re not. I have way more respect for someone who will stab you in the front than stab you in the back.”

The conversation inevitably made its way to the recent explosion of protests against police in the wake of the Michael Brown and Eric Garner decisions, and Gale talked about what compelled Power Trip to take to Twitter to discuss the topic. “I was so beside myself,” says Gale: “‘Damn, I should say something about this.’ I guess that’s one of the bigger outlets for people to listen to my bullshit. I felt like it was such an important thing that people overlook. It’s still frustrating. It’s still frustrating as hell. It’s just frustrating that only now people are starting to see it.”

Not everything is so intense with Gale—we ended the interview swapping notes on our current graphic novel reads, with Gale being particularly enamored with the Dungeon Quest series and early Grant Morrison. We both came away with plenty to look into. So, if you see Gale at their show with Title Fight, Merchandise and locals Sights on March 10, you may be able to talk some world events or catch up on your favorite graphic novel reads.