Review Summary: A Lesson in Intensity
Hailing from Arizona, Unruh was a short-lived metalcore band with strong crusty undertones. Their sound can be defined as sort of a cross between early Converge, Pig Destroyer and even a dash of death metal. Recognized for their dark, brooding atmospheres that explode into firestorms of grimy distortion and absolutely devastating drum work, these guys sure knew a thing or two about musical intensity.
Opening with the track “Spoonful of Tar”, you may not think this will be as much of lesson in intensity as, say, a Dillinger Escape Plan record. Starting with a quaint but prideful acoustic guitar and piano piece, one may even start to wonder if they are listening to a hardcore record: hell, it’s pretty comparable to the introduction of a folk metal album. But lo and behold, the soft (yet rusty and hollow sounding) acoustic guitar quickly phases into a cacophonous mix of tremolo guitar, blast beats, cymbal and snare rushes. Oh, and one absolutely pissed off vocalist. Altogether, they form a thick and impenetrable wall of sound which is as unrelenting as it is massive.
Unrelenting, that is, until the band decides to shift atmosphere mode. Frequently, their breakdowns and introductions will be quiet clean, arpeggiated guitar sections coupled with some whispered (yet still very rough) vocals, a brooding and fuzzy bass line, and some very erratic, but precise drum work. Through this, they manage to create an extremely emotionally burdening atmosphere: you never know what’s going to come popping out of the shadows; whether it’s the vocalist’s banshee-like scream (he’s kind of like Jacob Bannon only throatier), a spoken word passage, a sudden shift in BPM or even a change in time signatures, Unruh always manages keep you on edge, but always wanting more of that sweet, sweet angst.
The musicianship on this record, for the most part, is pretty average and typical of a hardcore punk group. With the exception of the drummer (who I swear is on speed for most of these recordings), the guitars, while they get the job done, don’t do anything truly jaw-droppingly incredible. But what they do, they do perfectly in the act of creating an unsettling and slightly anxiety-inducing atmosphere with some surprisingly catchy riffs underneath.
That said, I do have to talk about the drummer. This drummer, man. Never leaving a single piece of his kit in the dust, he is constantly changing up his rotation and working his way all around his toms, cymbals, and changing things up mid-song without losing a single beat. Even during the quiet, melodic breakdowns, the guy never gives himself a break, pummelling his way through the murky dissonance with thunderous tom-slams that invoke a stormy, slightly schizophrenic atmosphere.
At times, this album feels like an exploration of different styles of hardcore: one moment, it will be bringing in riffs that wouldn’t sound too alien on a Morbid Angel or Obituary record; the next, you will hear gang vocals akin to Integrity or Madball, followed (or even done in unison with) a massive wall of sound and fury very reminiscent of Orchid or, as mentioned earlier, Pig Destroyer. It’s this experimentation that makes Unruh’s swansong such an interesting album to listen to over and over again, while noting it’s plethora of influences. However, this isn’t to say the band is unoriginal, as they blend these influences seamlessly without forgetting to bring their own slices of originality in the atmospheric breakdowns.
If you like extreme music that feels like it has a soul, a passion, or are just looking for something to test your ear drums in a brutal aural onslaught, you really ought to look no further than this album right here. While it is not quite perfect – the production could be a little less flat at points, and the drums can be slightly overpowering (though this is forgiven because of how good a job he does) – it is about as close to perfection as most bands can get in just under a half hour.