Very few bands or artists in any form of music can claim to be truly unique. Some break new ground and some expand upon the work of others, contract it, distort it, or merely replicate it; some fit into a small niche with only a few like-minded artists while some deal in broad-stroke generalities that bring them mass acclaim or equal derision. But very few create such an idiosyncratic racket that they literally have no peers.
Confessor is one of those few.
This North Carolinian quintet debuted on Earache in 1991 with the long-underrated Condemned, and they garnered a bit of exposure from their opening slot on the European half of the misnamed “Gods Of Grind” tour with Carcass, Entombed, and Cathedral. (You will notice that only one of those four bands had ever been a god of grind, and by that time, Carcass was past those days and on the verge of virtually creating melodic death metal with their next release.) Then as now, Confessor’s music defied easy categorization – it wove through the expected tenets of doom and thrash, but it was neither; what it was, though, was undeniably progressive and complex. Drummer Steve Shelton’s rhythms were (are) intricate, head-spinning, and vocalist Scott Jeffreys can only be described as “wailing.” Jeffreys’ drawn-out melodies and oft-forlorn lyrics delivered in his emotional, piercing tone adds a further doom element to the mix, and Confessor is often described as a “technical doom” band, but even that tag falls a few feet short of adequate. Between the off-kilter music and Jeffreys’ anguished cries, Confessor has always been largely indescribable, and yet, they can be summed up in one word: “awesome,” in both its literal and colloquial senses.
But success eluded our heroes; label woes arose quickly, probably not in the least because Condemned fit virtually nowhere. In the process of recording a follow-up, the band splintered apart, and it wasn’t until the untimely death of guitarist Ivan Colon in 2002 that Confessor would reform and grace the world with new music. Two EPs and a full-length later, Confessor and the North Carolina-based Divebomb are plundering the vaults for Uncontrolled, which compiles the three demos the band recorded prior to Condemned – 1987’s The Secret, 1989’s Uncontrolled, and 1990’s Collapse.
These three are the demos that brought the band to Earache’s attention all those years ago. Eight of the nine songs herein were reprised on Condemned, in different recorded versions – “The Secret” didn’t make the cut, and “Deception” was given new lyrics and renamed “Defining Happiness.” Pulled together from the original DATs and reels and remastered for this compilation, Uncontrolled sounds surprisingly great for a batch of twenty-year-old demos – as you’d expect, it’s got a rougher, rawer feel than Condemned, but not to a fault. The guitars are stout, a bit thicker and fuller than on that later effort; Shelton’s drums have an open, live sound but they still pack a hefty punch; Jeffreys sounds almost exactly the same. These nine tracks are taken from three different sources, recorded at three different times, but the mastering job is good enough to eliminate the shifts, and Uncontrolled holds together brilliantly as a cohesive listening experience.
In terms of the songs and arrangements, aside from “Deception”/”Defining Happiness,” there’s often little difference between the versions here and those on Condemned – Confessor was a super-technical beast and undoubtedly insanely well-practiced – but there are a few minor switch-ups: both “Condemned” and “Eve Of Salvation” sport a slightly different intros, and “Prepare Yourself” is forty-five seconds longer in its demo form; there’s a vocal scream in the beginning of “Collapse Into Despair” that didn’t make the transition, and a film sample before “Uncontrolled” that was later excised. By way of bonus material, there are two additional tracks – the version of “The Secret” that appeared on Metal Massacre X and a version of the title track that appeared on Peaceville’s 1990 Vile Vibes comp. For the super-dedicated, there’s a limited edition expanded package of Uncontrolled that also features an archival DVD.
Despite its cult-classic status, Condemned remains out of print, so Uncontrolled is currently the only place to get early Confessor material in one convenient location. Between the high quality of the music, the historical value and the bonus material, there’s something on hand for both the long-time fan and the newly converted. Confessor’s musical approach may not be for everyone – “something not unlike technical thrash-doom” isn’t exactly a hugely popular sub-genre, and decades after their debut, there’s still nothing that sounds quite like this, at least not that I know of – but anyone interested in the truly progressive and the truly unique should know this band, should love this band.
“Why?” you ask.
Because they’re awesome.