Unruly – Unruly Review

Look, I’m not saying I judge books records by their covers but, come on, everyone likes nice artwork, right? When I’m plumbing the murkier depths of Bandcamp, a cool cover can lure me into that one extra purchase that I swore I wasn’t going to make. It’s just as well for Te Whanganui a Tara, Aotearoa (or Wellington, New Zealand) trio Unruly then, that I didn’t see the cover of their self-titled debut before I hauled it out of the promo pit. Because … well, you’ve got eyes (I must assume, as you’re here, reading this). Reuniting members of defunct Kiwi sludge outfit Meth Drinker, Unruly take their name from an (apparently) infamous family of British travelers whose beach littering escalated into a 2018 media spectacle – slow news summer in NZ, I guess. In any event, the music on Unruly’s record has to be better than the cover. Right?

Playing a raw and abrasive brand of snail-paced sludge, Unruly don’t mess around. I wouldn’t go so far as to say they come out the blocks all guns blazing – see the aforementioned ‘snail pace’ – but they clearly have no time for moody, atmospheric intros and the like. Instead they open up Unruly with a dirty, fuzzed riff and slow, rhythmic drums, over which come the harsh roars of vocalist V.V. The heavy, chugging bass underpins a sea of heavily distorted guitars and simple, but effective, drumming. As it crawls through its nine tracks, I feel like Unruly is the spawn you’d get by mating the stoner doom of Goblinsmoker with much-missed UK sludge dealers Charger, which, incidentally, is also how Meth Drinker’s last record, OIL, sounded.

What I suppose we take as the title track, “Unruly Family,” ups the tempo just marginally and carries a sort of punky intensity that I wish next track, the brilliantly-named “Catfish Hemorrhoid”1, had a bit more of – its middle section sounds like it may be heading in that direction before it trails off into a monotonous drone. Album highlight “Absence” has a keening, sorrowful melody to it that feels almost grungy at times, setting that track apart from much of the other material and feeling like a more complete and interesting piece as a result. Indeed, it’s a shame that the mood generated by “Absence” is not really replicated across the rest of the record, which feels like it’s playing things a bit safe.

By ‘safe,’ I mean that Unruly seem to have found their comfort zone and, largely, stick to it across the record’s run time. Speaking of which, Unruly clocks in at 47 minutes, which frankly is pushing it for most sludge albums – and I speak as a fan of the genre – but on an album with as little variation as this, it feels looooong. This is disappointing because there are glimpses of a slightly more daring, and interesting band on show, in cuts like “Absence,” which is a stellar slab of melodic sludge – if that isn’t a contradiction in terms – and album closer “Blood of Satan,” which opens on a melancholic, brooding note that again offers something a little different to what Unruly display the rest of the time. In fact, there’s a distorted Black Sabbath-like vibe to this final track, which makes you wonder where that’s been for the rest of the album. As for the sound, it’s everything you expect from stripped back sludge, with a heavily fuzzed guitar sound, meaty bass and uncompromising, throat-shredding vocals. The drum sound isn’t great, however, with the snare and cymbals sounding clipped and a little thin.

Better than the artwork? Undoubtedly. Great? No. Unruly show flashes of brilliance across an mostly workmanlike performance. There’s little to dislike here but also little that really leaps out at the listener, leading to a – for the most part – rather forgettable outing. There simply aren’t enough ideas here to justify the length of the record and Unruly would have benefited hugely from having ten minutes shaved off its runtime, and the band taking a few more risks, as they do on “Absence.”

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Sludgelord Records
Website: unruly666.bandcamp.com
Releases Worldwide: July 31st, 2020

Show 1 footnote

  1. Yes, I know there is an ‘a’ missing from ‘haemorrhoid’ – take it up with the band.
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