By Melissa Fossum
By Lauren Wise
By New Times
By Amanda Savage
By Jason P. Woodbury
By Troy Farah
By New Times
By definition, grindcore is an abrasive form of music. It's fast, harsh and noisy, residing somewhere between metal and punk, and inevitably confusing fans of both. Born out of punk's mid-'80s search for an identity that the thrash metalers were co-opting at the time, its musical message remains intact. It's been 13 years since Birmingham, England's Napalm Death released the seminal Scum, and the fury is still there, if confused by genre.
Unruh is one of the Valley's foremost exponents of grindcore. They're a furious and uncompromising quintet defined by the screaming, often incomprehensible vocalizing of gangly front man Mike Edwards. Yet for all its sonic confrontation, this band tends to get as many questions about its name as its frightening musical content.
"'Unruh' means unrest and riot in German," explains Ryan Beutler, guitarist for the group. "It's also for Howard Unruh, who killed 13 people in 12 minutes. He was a military sharpshooter who made a list of people who did him wrong, starting with his mom. Our first shirts said '13 in 12.' Both meanings fit the band. Brutal music, brutal name, I guess."
Particularly in light of the Littleton, Colorado, murder spree, such a cavalier attitude toward violence may be galling to many, but the purest grindcore always flirts with dangerous, discomfiting emotions. Besides, one person's brutality is another's entertainment, and Unruh consistently attracts a dedicated flock of true believers, who relentlessly spit out the group's song lyrics every time Edwards dives into the mosh pit and sticks the mike in people's faces.
Though the group's members are averse to musical categorization and wary of cliquish scenes, Unruh unquestionably features many of grindcore's patented traits: fast drumming, screamed vocals, heavy guitars. But the slower elements keep them from being so easily typecast.
"I listen to more metal, though I consider myself a punk because of its attitude," Beutler says. "I don't care for metal's attitude. I'd say we live the punk-rock lifestyle, no sexism, no racism, trying for social change. We have no image to portray, we don't do anything special for a show because our music carries what we are."
No recording could possibly capture the willful chaos of an Unruh show. "Being in the studio is fun; you can work out many of the songs that way. But live is almost like a spiritual experience to me," Beutler agrees. "I've come out of shows and the head of my guitar was broken and I don't even realize it. We're such mellow guys, all our rage and anger come out onstage. Even though we don't play live all that often, we'd love to do it more. I don't throw up in my life at all except after we play, from all the energy I've released."
Unruh formed in late 1995 from the ashes of a project called Uruk Hai. "We liked playing together, so we tried something new in the summer of '95 and auditioned singers," Beutler says. "We came across Mike, and it just clicked with him. We still play the first songs we ever wrote. We'd like to keep the lineup we have now and stop replacing bassists. We've had three so far."
Though the group's existential rage suggests a political agenda, Beutler says this group of self-described "scumbags," stuck in aimless nine-to-five jobs, is more about giving vent to small daily frustrations than unleashing grand manifestos.
"Unruh doesn't have a main political focus," he says. "Mike, the vocalist, writes all the lyrics and he deals a lot with capitalism. He's 25 and has worked crappy jobs since he was 14. None of us thinks that working is totally bad, it just sucks doing shitty jobs. But we've never disagreed with what he writes. We read what he writes, and I think he's one of the best lyricists in hard-core today."
The band's willingness to work has been tested by its recent spate of activity. They spent six days in early April recording at Mind's Eye Studio in Tempe with Larry Elyea. It was designed for an upcoming CD project earmarked for Theologian Records. Theologian is a 15-year-old punk label based in Hermosa Beach, California.
"We've been going full blast on new material for a while, and Chris, who runs the label and is in the band Pessimizer, loves us," Beutler says. "He's been calling us since our latest seven-inch came out and said, 'A seven-inch, 10-inch, CD, whatever. Let us know and we'll send the check.' So we finally took him up on his offer. We've had a couple of delays, though. At first, he offered us Alex Newport of Fudge Tunnel to go to California and record, but we couldn't afford to take time off work. Yeah, we still have day jobs, except the bassist, Mike. He goes to school and is financially supported.
"We were going to record in October, but that was a stupid idea. We weren't ready, but it should be out in two to six weeks after we send him the artwork. Theologian has a press and distribution deal with Revolver Records."
Because the type of music they play is more aggressive than most NOFX fans can handle, Unruh's live-music options are inherently limited. They're simply too extreme for most local rock clubs, but for a time, they--and the rest of the underground punk scene--were able to establish an unlikely home base with Tempe Bowl. Now, with that option gone, they find themselves at sea in the local club scene.