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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Yaktooth
Consensual Healing
Street: 02.07.13
Self-Released
Yaktooth = Knut + These Arms Are Snakes + Sleep
There are a few key things you need to know about Yaktooth: They like to talk about North Korea and Kim Jong Il, and they like to play math rock. Yaktooth wouldn’t be out of place on Hydra Head’s roster, and their jams rock. In a time where it seems like so many new bands try to be darker and play fewer notes than their peers—all over the course of 20-minute song lengths—Yaktooth is upping the energy and injecting a sense of humor. The North Korea jokes are currently funny, but in the long run this may detract from their appeal, as they do have the musical chops to play it straight. Either way, fun is fun, and with song titles like “Exploding Shark” and “Weekend at Burmese,” it’s nice to see humor mixed with solid tunes.

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