Unguilty – Gray Review

We’re all just moody meat, aren’t we? With crooked thumbs and stubborn fur that refuses to warm, what choice do we have but to face the cold sun? Slamming our heads on billowy piano keys and hammering our fingers against our funny guitars, the icy cave wall holds shadows and gods but no messiahs. Only mistakes. Ghosts. Ghosts whose violence is their worry and their gut drop feeling in facing a clammy world alone. Our world is gray, and who are we but gray shadows on a gray wall from a gray light that halos our unremembered heroes? Unguilty is gray, moody meat like me, and Gray is the project’s third full-length.

Unguilty’s legacy of misery dates back to 2018, having released two full-lengths, an EP, and a split with fellow Brazilians, Fentanil. Gray is DSBM, and everything you expect, but amplified with a mammoth doom heft, the emotional devastation reigns supreme. Perhaps an interpretation of Saturnus’ underrated Veronika Decides to Die, thunderous riffs and blackened sting settle into crevices unfilled by the melodic piano and acoustic guitar – and what a force when the assets collide. Ultimately, although hindered by amateurish production and mixing and bogged down by excessive length, Unguilty offers sonic misery at its most raw, and if its reception will depend on the listener.

There is beauty in the simplicity of Unguilty’s wailing surrender. F.R. manages to keep a cohesive hour-and-fifteen runtime interesting, thanks to his well-crafted dynamics. Like Saturnus’ use of death doom weight accenting its melodrama, Gray’s passages of shredding tremolo are balanced with walls of weighty bass-heavy doom slogs, punctuated by piano and acoustic guitar. Tracks like “Asleep with the Midnight Sun,” the title track, and “Coexistence” are slow burns, with effectively constructed blackened passages of None-esque mid-tempo shreds and meditative blastbeats transitioning to thick (almost containing a stoner fuzz) bass-led Dolorian-inspired doom beatdowns, utilizing Agalloch-esque instrumentation injecting an organicity to the processions. “Hill House” is easily the best track here, emphasized by follow-up instrumental “Rest” and revisited by majestic closer “III – New Meaning,” showcasing the album’s best assets into the most patient songwriting: crescendos of the best ilk, taking on a heart-wrenchingly post-rock quality. Gray’s simplicity is admirable, and in spite of feeling as amateur and raw as black metal ought to be, each instrument shines in its own way.

As the album proceeds, the full weight begins to wear, metaphorically and musically. Gray clocks in at an hour and fifteen minutes, and Unguilty could cut back on selections of such grim content. Although cohesive and listenable in their own ways, including unique melodies and majestic buildups, the three-part closer, “I – The Garden of My Suicide,” “II – After My Suicide (The Lost Land)” and “III – New Meaning” are almost entirely expendable, as the emotional bulk of the album has been foregone long before the awkward spoken word of “I – The Garden of My Suicide” grips the body in a cold wince. While the mixing undeniably works for the DSBM style, it also puts F.R.’s vocals front and center, which usually benefits the sound in a raw and vulnerable mood. However, given the rough vocal takes (i.e. husky barks), they can override the sound. This is similar with the spoken word; while generally lower in the mix, they either come across as fitting (“Coexistence”) or melodramatic and awkward (“Gray”) In terms of individual songs, “The Abyss and the Pendulum” offers off-key singing alongside excessive repetition, while “II – After My Suicide (The Lost Lands)” features off-tune plucking atop piano, and the title track feels relatively forgettable compared to the tracks that surround it.

As “III – New Meaning” closes, the echoes peel away skin and bone to reveal the red blood that passes through F.R.’s gray heart. Perhaps drawing more from the moonlit pool of Saturnus than the smoking gun of Silencer or Lifelover, Unguilty feels monumental in this monotone exploration of gray depression and red suicide – although it is nonetheless a funny beast. While it’s easy to see the moody meat we wear attracts rot and scavengers, Gray is a reminder to search for color, even when a bruised brain refuses to see it. It feels callous and simplistic to grade Unguilty on a scale of 1 to 5, a man’s Vesuvian heart on full eruption to our Pompeii. Whether you flee in terror or stay to witness this awkward, beautiful, overlong, and poignant piece of emotion is up to you.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 128 kbps mp3
Label: Eternal Awake Records
Website: facebook.com/unguiltyband | unguilty.bandcamp.com
Releases Worldwide: February 17th, 2023

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