Sunday, September 11, 2016

Psychology and Extreme Violence: The strange and frightening world of Unyielding Love

Have you seen these guys before Ellie?”
“Not yet”
“Fuck. Okay. Brace yourself”.

And lo behold, less than five minutes after I’ve said that, my friend and I are watching Richard Carson of Unyielding Love scream into a contact mic’d handsaw. Which he is also attacking with an angle grinder, thus sending sparks all over the tiny, packed venue.

I’ve seen him do this to himself before, Richard. I’ve seen him bleed from the head. I’ve seen him almost knock himself out, almost set himself on fire. Almost. The man is a liability to himself and everyone around him, in the best possible way. The way he performs, that the whole band performs in fact, the way they sound ..Unyielding Love is about being at war with yourself. There’s an element of the flagellant about them, and about Richard in particular that’s both thrilling and terrifying to watch. You ever fall into one of those youtube rabbit holes of watching stunts going wrong? You know the way they’re thrilling to watch but you also have that voice in your head going “oh nooo”?That’s what Unyielding Love are like live. Though there’s obviously an inbuilt mechanism that stops them actually destroying themselves. But you can't be 100% sure something terrible isn't going to happen to one of them.

photo by Cairbre O Fearghail
Their new album “The Sweat of Augury” sounds like all the windows smashing in Hell at the same time. It’s a beautiful noise. In addition to ripping themselves apart physically and mentally, they rip open various elements of what we call “extreme” music (ie metal and hardcore) and suture them back together in a way that leaves unique scars on both themselves and you. They’re nominally a grindcore band, yet rather than simple blasting and sped up Discharge riffs, they offer up what I kinda hoped Grindcore would become when I first heard “Need to Control”. 

They’re Frankenstein. You know the basic idea behind the Frankenstein’s monster story, but you’ve probably seen and heard the tale told many different ways over the years. That’s what’s going on with UY – they reassemble things you think you’re familiar with but in a way you aren’t entirely familiar with. You could put them in a blind listening test with, say Full of Hell and Dendritic Arbor and it would make perfect sense but they’d also be instantly recognisable from the other two bands. Noise rock, death and black metal, dark ambient and Godflesh-esque dirge all seep into the blast driven nastiness in a way that at no point seems patchwork. It flows. It flows perfectly.

I'm not interested in record reviews. Sure, I ocasionally do them elsewhere, but I'm not interested in describing music in the manner of an Argos catalog descriptive sales pitch for the most part. I'm interested in how music plays out in relation to real life. I'm interested in how it works for the listener and the player, the context of it, how I utilise it, what people get from it. So look, "The Sweat of Augury" is a fucking amazing release and you should pick up a copy as soon as you can of course,I absolutely mean that, but Unyielding Love are fascinating to me as an entity outside of the fact that I think their music is genuinely fucking brilliant.

That live show. 

I dread the day that UY start playing bigger venues, with real stages aside from the tiny rooms in pubs and DIY spaces across the country that they’ve turned into blood and spark filled blast furnaces over the last year or so since I saw them. I worry about how they’d translate in a bigger room where they had to be on a proper stage, but I also worry they won’t reach that point in spite of knowing they should. They feel necessary in this country because they capture rage and internal strife, the kind we’re all going through, in a way that’s more direct and affecting than either the safe space driven outrage of crust bands or the cryptic smoke and mirrors theatrics of the (largely meaningless lyrically) metal scene.

I know a lot of people in underground music who have had, or continue to have problems with mental and physical health issues. Which we all know of, but we never really talk about.

 photo by Andrew Cunningham
A lot of the music, or perhaps to be more specific a lot of the scene (loosely speaking the DIY hardcore/punk end of things, though sonically they're closer to extreme metal really) that Unyielding Love are associated with is very much about externalisation - the "voice of the voiceless" idea, roaring against injustice and the ongoing struggle with the realities of day to day life in a  world ruled by the ever present  iron fist of "The Man", a segregated and greed driven world that doesn't share the worldview of that particular subculture. While not a genre or scene I have a great deal of interest in personally at this point, it's an undoubtedly important tool for young people to communicate to other young people that they are, as they say, all in it together. This is why punk is a community. There are a shared set of interests and goals nominally that are catalysts for people to gather and in theory work together or bond over a shared worldview. 

See, that's fine but I'm not a community-minded kinda guy. And Unyielding Love are, contrary to that, dealing with a particular kind of internal strife in a still mostly internalised way. And the thing is, even though they perform in front of other people and interact with them, at the end of the day they are still very much about that internalisation. Struggles with mental and physical health, the latter of which in particular has informed the slightly more daredevil and urgent manner they conduct their musical and lyrical affairs with. And they aren't dealing with them in the - let's be frank here - slightly exhibitionist manner that, say political issues are dealt with by some of their peers.  There isn't the thing that I've sometimes encountered as a part of punk in my experience; a subconscious need for validation by a peer group.

They deal in what are ostensibly vague, coded bursts of information that only need to be deciphered by the person singing them really. You can tell something's not right but there is the sense that in some ways, it's none of your fucking business what the specifics are. But just because the intention doesn't seem to be to spell things out for everyone, that doesn't mean it can't be connected with completely. It just maybe won't make sense to everyone. It'll make sense to you if you've been there. And that's sometimes the best way to communicate experience, to do it in a way that makes sense to those who've been through it, but not make it obvious to those of a more, shall we say voyeuristic persuasion. This isn't pain tourism. It's an internal dialogue that just happens to have slipped out briefly.

                                              "Flesh is defeat and hope will cease
 Infirmity swells in a sea of fucking midodrine.
Silken marrow cuts through the calm. 
 Assuaged, cleft in twain. 
 Wretch asunder.
 Burdening flesh and abandon. 
 Cling to Life. 
 Lecherous worth. 
Cling to Life."
(from "Abandon The Body")

Sure, there is the human timebomb element to their (literally) explosive live sets, four people having a panic attack in unison, but it comes out that way as a result of the personal circumstances that drive the music and not any form of contrivance. They remind me of early Swans in a way: an entirely selfish act of turning the wall of sound being created in on the creators. Unyielding Love aren't confrontational, that would be assigning far too much importance to the other people in the room; they simply don't care about the audience. I imagine the four of them in an otherwise empty room playing the same set minus spectators would be just as raucous and physically harmful.

I think back to the end of that set in Galway. Richard clambering down from his mixer and array of noise making devices. I'm talking to Ellie again.
“What did you think of that so?”
“That was savage”.

Savage. That says it all.

Unyielding love are on Bandcamp  and Facebook

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