Friday, 13 February 2009
I am, by my very nature, a quite miserable, reclusive character. They are not mutually inclusive traits; the former blinks on and off and takes different shades depending on events and experiences while the latter is so much a part of me that I barely even notice it. It is present when I'm happy, sad or indifferent. I tell you this because it helps explain why I am writing about a music record released in 1994 by a band from San Diego California called Unbroken. This record, 'life.love.regret' is my favourite LP of all time. Not many people have the unbending conviction to make that sort of concrete statement.
life.love.regret is not just another metal-influenced 90s hardcore record, it is the expression of a collision of ideas and influences that were thrown together to create something that, in my humble opinion, has never been replicated. Integrity and Judge had incorporated metal into hardcore music at the turn of the decade and many DC/East coast bands had thrown melody and emotion into their music since the Revolution Summer days of the 80s. Until Unbroken came along, no one had really combined the two. Of course many would come do so, but they didn't do it in the way that Unbroken did, and I'm going to try and explain why I think that is.
At the heart of the band was a strong abohhrence of convention. In some respects they were inspired by San Diego's fledgling 'ebullition' scene of screamo bands. What have come to be seen as the generic fashions of this scene - the writing of slogans on the skin with marker pens, the tight pants and chain wallets and clunky shoes and handwritten lyrics - were at the time simply flurries of a new way of thinking about punk music. Unbroken took that free-thinking mindset and applied it to their own aesthetic. In thier self-described , 'Slayer' phase, Unbroken blended their chugging metallic riffs with the frantic drum parts that could be heard in early Nation of Ulysses or Antioch Arrow records. They incorporated discordant guitars and almost incomprehensible whispers to add layers to the breaks between the raw intensity of the metal parts. The outcome is unnerving, aggressive and vulnerable.
What I find mesmorising about life.love.regret is its completeness. The artwork is dark and understated to match perfectly the bitterness and aggression of the music. The very title 'life.love.regret' encompasses such a universal set of emotions with which we can all relate. As the final track - Curtain - tails off with a mix of feedback noise and random guitar notes after seven minutes of ebbs and flows and a journey through a failed attempt to understand the end of a loving relationship, I feel like there is nothing the record is missing. There is nothing I would change, not even the low pulse of the drums that occasionally makes itself known in the mix. Perhaps the emotion invoked by the lyrics is made more intense by the fact that guitarist Eric Allen would succumb to the depression that fed his input into the record only a few years later. An Ian Curtis-esque sense that the emotion was undeniably sincere for it led to its own ultimate, even unescapable, conclusion: suicide. Perhaps it is the ability of the lyrics to explain the logic of self-isolation: the comfort of silence when noise means nothing but confusion and pain. I don't know what it is, but there is something about this LP that strikes a chord in me that can't be replicated by any other. There is something to be said about the parallels with Joy Division - not untempered by the fact Unbroken did their own version of 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' - the mystery and the timeless feel to the music induces a similar fascination. I suppose this is the 'Unknown Pleasures' of hardcore, except without the commercial glean that time has ungracefully tacked onto that records' legacy. I just hope that Unbroken's pending reunion later this year doesn't do the same and preserves the sense of authenticity that helped me fall in love with this record....
When I have a bit more time I shall dig out some pressing information. For now I'm going to embed a video of Unrboken reunion show of 1998 that commemorated Eric Allen's death. I think with the all-black attire, the visible sadness of the occassion and the intensity of the music, it really enscapsulates what the band was all about. Thank you for reading.