Unto Others – Strength Review

Expectations. We all have them, or have had them placed upon us, by parents, fans, and editors. Bands fall prey to expectations constantly, with fans most often demanding a band’s newest release be the same as their last, only better. It rarely happens. Portland’s Unto Others have some high expectations on their shoulders; their debut album, Mana, was the critical darling of 2019.1 It placed second on my year-end list, and third overall on our aggregated List to End All Lists, with no less than ten writers heaping accolades on it. So, now we come to Strength, a new album from the newly renamed band, and just what should our expectations be here?

Going by opening track “Heroin,” we can expect a heavy and angry album. The song features an ominous chugging riff and a very angry Gabe Franco on vocals. The band’s style is intact, with layers of clean gothic-tinged guitars providing catchy melodies beneath the palm-muted main rhythm guitar and Franco’s typically depressing lyrics—although the latter might be a bit more angry and frustrated than they were two years ago. “Downtown” is one of three pre-released singles, and hearkens back to Mana’s sound a bit more, with the anger of “Heroin” toned down. It’s a catchy song, although it doesn’t click until a few listens in. The song that does hit the sweet spot immediately is “When Will God’s Work Be Done,” the first single, which features a wonderful rhythm, a growling, percussive bass line, and majestic vocals. Franco’s Al Pacino-like “oohs” are more desperate and frustrated here than on Mana, and by the 3:00 mark the band has abandoned all gothic pretenses on gone full metal in killer fashion. But these guys are Unto Others,2 so of course they fade the song out with some chirping birds.

Strength loses some steam in the middle, however. While two more top-notch tracks, “No Children Laughing Now” and “Destiny,”3 round out the record’s front, Unto Others struggles to maintain its flow and intensity. While the middle of Strength is enjoyable, it’s not nearly as captivating as Mana or the first handful of songs here. Whether it was the urge to include too many songs or Franco’s possible weariness and frustration at the state of the world, the lull in Strength is skippable at times. Ultimately, the lull gives way to excellent tracks, though, like the vital and cowbell-laden “Summer Lightning” and “Instinct.” Much like on Mana, Strength closes out with the title track, another one that features enchantingly intertwined guitar melodies and an urgent, vital arrangement that will stand as one of the band’s best.

Unto Others still focus on the more morose side of things lyrically, but definitely with more frustration than depression this time around. The music is dark, heavy, yet melodic, thickly produced and mixed. Bands looking for a dark and murky sound that isn’t muddled should give Strength a listen, as Arthur Rizk has done a great job in the production and mixing department. And with only a couple of songs stretching much beyond four minutes, the band provides a lesson in succinct arrangements.

At the end of “Give Me to the Night” Franco sang “The darkness is calling my name.” Here on Strength, he and Unto Others have fully embraced the darkness, delivering a heavier but at times uneven development of Mana. The band’s trademark sound and influences are here in spades, and the angst and anger present gives many of the songs a bleak yet melodic veneer. While the middle of Strength sags somewhat, the album’s excellent bookends make up for this. If you’re someone who likes to give in to the anger, there’s a lot here to chew on.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: NA | Format Reviewed: Stream
Label: Roadrunner Records
Websites: untootherspdx.bandcamp.com | untoothers.us | facebook.com/untootherspdx
Release Worldwide: September 24, 2021

Show 3 footnotes

  1. It was released under the band name Idle Hands if you missed the name-change and re-release. – AMG
  2. Although I can’t help but think of them as The Un-toothers.
  3. There may not be any dragons on this album, but “Destiny” features the keening cry of a hawk many times throughout.
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