As a proud citizen of Aotearoa New Zealand, let me remind you that NZ’s tourist-poster image is mostly smoke and mirrors. Sure, we’re a relaxed, friendly, and socially liberal bunch down here, and we’ve got beautiful rivers, majestic mountains, and endless golden beaches. But do you know what else NZ is home to? Shocking levels of environmental pollution, untold intergenerational poverty, and appalling amounts of gender-based violence. We have rising homelessness, a meth epidemic that’s tearing communities and families apart, and all the ravages of unchecked hyper-capitalism. Most painful of all are the deep scars of systemic racism, which are the brutal legacy of colonialism.
All of that hardship and horror is grist to the mill for an NZ band like Te Whanganui-a-Tara (Wellington) trio Unruly. The three-piece’s self-titled, feedback-spewing debut emerges from a dark pit of inspirations where crushingly bleak sludge meets soul-destroying punk. Unruly’s squalid tales don’t make for a pretty picture, but like similar bands Grief, Dystopia, and Noothgrush, Unruly’s slow-baked trawls through muck and misery are glorious in their ornery filth and narcotized intensity.
Unruly’s debut was recorded, mixed, and mastered by the band’s co-vocalist and guitarist VV (aka Vanya Vitali) at his Scumbag College studio. Vitali has been the go-to studio wizard for scores of underground NZ bands, and Scumbag College’s name is attached to an ever-increasing line of first-rate NZ punk/metal releases. Like most of Vitali’s work, Unruly’s debut sounds like hell on earth, with the band’s tar-thick riffs, percussion, and anguished vocals all delivered at a crawling (and often suffocating) pace.
It’s all K-hole carnage on tracks like “Floorboards,” “Catfish Hemorrhoid,” and “Absence.” Unruly pile buzzing distortion on top of scuzzy riffs, with brain-drilling percussion, throat-scouring yowls, and cement-mixer bass powering the traumatic momentum. The band sound like prophets of doom on disgusting dirges like “Problem,” “Primordial Hash,” and “Stare into the Fire.” VV slowly hammers punishing riffs into your skull –over and over again – while SLD’s grinding bass and TRAP’s pressure-point drums thicken the choking haze.
All of Unruly’s songs hit the hope-shattering mark with ease, and the band’s spirit-smashing aptitude is no more apparent than on lengthy album closer “Blood of Satan.” The band lurch from one gut-wrenching scene to another on the track, amplifying all the existential dread, and testing your mettle along the way. I’ve said it before, but it’s always a pleasure highlighting releases tailor-made for the horrible fucking person lurking inside us all. Some albums are magnificent because they make us feel utterly awful. And Unruly are clued-up and dialed-in on both of those counts.
Unruly’s downtempo debut oozes negativity in a thoroughly sadistic fashion. The band’s ugly music mirrors the ugly truth of our existence – namely, that we’re all bitter, cruel, and self-sabotaging pieces of shit sometimes. Unruly grind up life’s abundant agonies and absurdities (and our ignominious failings) in a churning morass that’s somewhat akin to gargling on sewage and choking on our wretched regrets. Adversity, misery, suffering – Unruly have plenty of that! Tune in for bad news that sounds real good.
(PS: there’s a wide range of NZ bands – both active and not – who deal in similarly slow/harsh/horrible noise. For a start, see Meth Drinker, TVX, Shallow Grave, Draulicht, Ritual Abuse, Total Ruin, Open Tomb, Swamp Dweller, Stone Angels, and Mosquito Control.)