Posted by: Addison – Aug 09, 2012
I'm not entirely sure if there was something in Richmond's water supply around the middle of the last decade that led to the rapid upswing in bands mining the rich veins of 80s hardcore, but this city definitely produced a lot of the bands that made sounding like Jerry's Kids and Life's Blood cool again. It wasn't entirely akin to the “bandana thrash” that had been coming out of Umeå and the Bay Area, and it definitely wasn't anything like the youth crew and metalcore that had maintained a prominent position in hardcore in the preceding years, except that it provided something of a haven for the people who got burned out on the sterility and safety of both styles. It would be easy to dismiss the whole thing as a cheap rehash, a playing out of glory days that predated most of the actual musicians themselves, if there weren't some really killer bands who put a twist on the style, each pulling it in a different direction and drawing from a slightly different pool of influences than their peers. Whether that was the burly nihilism of Wasted Time, the snotty aggression of Government Warning, or the more rock-based approach of Southside Stranglers and Dry Spell, the crop of bands that have come out of Richmond have represented diverse takes on hardcore supported by a thorough understanding of their predecessors that often escaped the wave of bands that followed their lead.
The debut album by Unholy Thoughts fits comfortably in the middle of this spectrum. Sharing members with some of the aforementioned bands, they're undoubtedly affiliated with this sort of style, but don't associate themselves too strongly with anything current represented by their contemporaries. There's definitely some heaviness to their songs, aided in no small part by the spot-on production, which sits comfortably on the line between rawness and polish, as well as a solid helping of the sort of rock and roll hardcore that Annihilation Time peddled, all accented with some subtle twists that help keep the album interesting. It's this non-alignment that helps carry the album. What the band does isn't flashy, nor revolutionary - only a solid, singular take on a style that has, in recent years, turned from a breath of fresh air into just another uniform.
Similarly, the lyrics steer the album away from cliché, delving into a darkness that, in less capable hands, could come off as trite. It's really difficult not to compare it to Poison Idea, in the sense that the songs have a desperate quality; not just anger, but a deep-seated disgust that's phrased not in cheap “fuck you” sentiment, but with an almost claustrophobic sense of the inescapability of life's degradations. There's a hyper-critical nature to a good deal of the album, with lyrics often favoring the accusatory second-person tense that has been a favorite of hardcore vocalists since the genre's inception, but the actual imagery is often less than straightforward, instead opting for a more nebulous approach, with clusters of confrontational and desperate imagery overlapping and receding. There are no slogans, no singalongs, no light at the end of the tunnel, only an encompassing sense of dread and futility.
The Attic is notable not just for being a good album, but because it represents a band opting out of the sub-genre path of least resistance. Rather than relying on the tried-and-true, Unholy Thoughts pulls off the difficult task of evolving without straying far from a core aesthetic. What the band does isn't without precedent, either in hardcore's annals or in its more recent local history, but their debut is notable for the same reason as every good hardcore album - for its brief length, those antecedents seem temporarily irrelevant, overwhelmed by the music's force. It is bracing in its aggression, cathartic in its believable negativity, and ultimately, compelling in its accessibility.
By Graham Scala/ Live Photo By Tony Lynch