Unholy - Awaken The Sleep
Since the nineties heyday of Syracuse straight-edge hardcore fell into the abyss, taking with it the once proud edges of thousands on this continent and abroad, little if anything has taken its place. Except for certain remaining musicians' curious obsession with fusing southern rock, old thrash, and tinges of the trademark crunchy hardcore that aimless Euros once traveled to Syracuse to worship. Of the bands who actually made a run for it like Godbelow, Santa Sangre, The Last Season, and Darker Day Tomorrow, none even made so much as a small splash on the hardcore scene or any other scenes for that matter. It's no surprise then that certain key players who were the most passionate about this appealing fusion of styles when the fringe movement in question occurred are still around, hungrier than ever for the attention that never came. Among them are Jonathan Dennison, founder and lead songwriter for Another Victim, Santa Sangre, The Promise, and recent side-project with members of Damnation A.D., When Tigers Fight, as well as key members of Godbelow and The Last Season. The band is Unholy, and on their debut EP Awaken The Sleep, their sound can best be described as a more cohesive, more metal, and less hardcore version of Santa Sangre, while retaining a conceptual and philosophical slant to the lyrics. There is a decided thrash influence in the guitars, bringing to mind Testament's Practice What You Preach, as well as Master-era Metallica and Wolverine Blues-era Entombed. Unholy really is a hybrid of old and new; on the one hand, songs like "Awaken The Sleep," "Man Behind The Sun," "The Medusa," and "Dreams In The Witchhouse" start off with progressive bluesy intros, but then it's arbitrary whether a breakdown, metal lead, or rock solo will close out which song. While managing to pack in at least four to five parts, Unholy's songs are more efficient than lengthy, which could either be an asset or hindrance to the band's progress since in this nostalgic modern era shorter songs have come to be associated with deriving from hardcore and thus lacking credibility in the metal world. On the EP however, song structure and tempos vary unpredictably much like in Santa Sangre, with fast parts, mid-paced parts, and some of the slow Syracuse crunch appearing once and then disappearing as the songs develop rather unconventionally. Again, this may or may not be an asset for appealing to a larger public, but the songs are unquestionably well-written and potent. Unholy features in their ranks the former singer and drummer for Godbelow, who prior to trading up vocalists for an Eddie Vedder clone and renaming themselves Brand New Sin, were arguably Syracuse's best chance to get on the map since the Earth Crisis hype of the nineties. But alas, 'twas a chance that self-destructed as its more image-oriented (and some would argue by vocal similarity, Creed and Godsmack emulating) members decided to become rock stars, which never actually happened to no big surprise. This choice sealed their fate while the band's most passionate member, vocalist and lyricist Dan Johnson, went on to form The Last Season, Assassin, and most recently, Unholy. On Awaken The Sleep, his dark Lovecraftian lyrics pick up from where he left off in his previous bands, while the agonizing scream he bellows is still a dead-ringer for Neurosis' Scott Kelly; a man whose anger has clearly subsided on Neurosis previous three albums, depriving lifelong fans of the band like myself of the voice that defined Souls At Zero, Enemy Of The Sun, Through Silver In Blood, and Times Of Grace. This to say that the deep-screamed vocals on Awaken The Sleep are off the charts and unlike anything else out there today. Guest vocals on numerous tracks from Earth Crisis/Path Of Resistance/Freya vocalist Karl Buechner add even more richness to the EP's vocal component. Maybe you grew up when metal had already lost the riff-driven essence of the late-eighties/early-nineties, but I didn't. And when I look for something new to listen to, it should ideally remind me of the stuff I cut my teeth on, like Metallica, Slayer, and Suicidal Tendencies to name a few. I don't want it coming from another planet. Besides being what appear to be the only survivors of Syracuse's southern metalcore uprising of six years ago, Unholy feature in their ranks some of the more known metal loyalists from an otherwise dead scene, making for some controlled, aggressive music that is not overzealous like many of today's younger bands play. This EP shows loads of potential; a decent amount which has already been realized here.