Album: Because You Were Home – EP
Trends come and go, ebbing in and out like the tide. This is true with fashion, slang, and of course, music. With every return of a style or sound to the spotlight of the public eye, there are refurbishments that take place—slight tweaks to keep it “relevant.” This happened with nu-metal, fading from popularity in the late 2000’s only to return five years (or so) later, including angsty lyrics from emotionally driven metallic counterparts and harsh breakdowns from the booming metalcore scene. The heavy-soft, synth-heavy post-hardcore/metalcore amalgam that reigned at the turn of the decade is undergoing the same experience, returning to the center of the heavy music forum with tweaks drastic enough to spark the listener’s interest, yet subtle enough to leave the bulk of the sound in tact. Case in point: Michigan experimental metalcore act Unalaska. Their debut EP, Because You Were Home is a diverse release that ranges from soft, spoken word segments to relentless, remorseless aggression that leaves the listener in tatters. Throw in some stunning guest vocals and fluid songwriting and you have a punchy, pervasive release that ignites the fire of promise beneath this magnificent Michigan quintet.
Unalaska are unlike a great majority of the bands spearheading the post-metalcore (if you can pardon the genre mashup) “revolution.” Because You Were Home sees the band boldly clashing driving, passionate energy and aggression with ethereal, mind-numbing calm. Unalaska’s percussionist enables this combination, facilitating it with careful percussion that is neither fill-heavy and overzealous or placid and dull. With colorful, bouncy toms and splashy cymbals to balance out the sharp attack of a snare and throbbing, meaty kick drum, Unalaska’s sturdy drumming is the baseline for their fluid mosaic of metalcore. “Arnold Friend,” as well as the revamped “There’s Always Money in the Banana Stand” showcase this excellently. The band’s moderate, tasteful percussive backbone allows bassist Johnny Pesenecker and guitarists Brandon Coulter and Bruce Christopher to drop from rampaging, riff-heavy moments to moments of ethereal, dynamic rest. Unalaska are equally proficient at both styles—even if the shifts in each track are predictable—so their dynamism keeps the listener engaged throughout the EP’s entire run time, ears kept peeled by catchy, creative synth lines and bouncy, bombastic moments of frantic-but-friendly energy from programmer and pianist extraordinaire, Sean Parker.
Unalaska’s heavy-soft dynamic continues with their vocals, and even their lyrics. Vocalist Steve Goldberg dominates a great majority of Because You Were Home with a hefty, harsh growl—but tracks like “There’s Always Money in the Banana Stand” sees the band experimenting with lengthy portions of crooned clean vocals and prose from Coulter, while “Caging Mark Throw” sees the addition of an excellent guest voice and beautiful vocal harmonies to create a wildly catchy and heart-touching track. Where “Arnold Friend” and “Greyshot” heavily favor more aggressive lyrical themes and harsh, abusive vocals, the other two full songs Unalaska offer are much more poetic, lyrically–and the vocal diversity reflects that. “There’s Always Money in the Banana Stand” speaks of storms and turbulence—as such, the vocals (especially those of the infamous Landon Tewers) oscillate from gritty and vivid to lush and smooth. “Caging Mark Throw” is a catchy, crooned adventure that sees the band honing in on their softer side with great success, filling out their dynamic. However, tracks like the two aforementioned are so vocally engaging that “Greyshot” feels lackluster, not fully able to sink its teeth into the listener.
Unalaska manage to paint engaging, incredible examples of bone-snapping heaviness (a la “Arnold Friend”) and tranquil beauty (seen in “Caging Mark Throw”) with ample ability to transition between the two. True—Because You Were Home hits minor snags, defined largely by a short run time and relatively predictable song structure. However, the album is redeemed by moments of insidious catchiness—like the sneaky one-line refrains hidden throughout “There’s Always Money in the Banana Stand” and the uplifting beauty of Kiarley Castillo’s singing in “Caging Mark Throw.” These moments guarantee that Unalaska will, one way or another, get stuck in your head, and only a hefty dose of repeat will get them out. So at the end of the day, Unalaska might not be the most polished example of post-hardcore/metalcore’s revival, but they are certainly one of the most unique, youthful and promising. If nothing else, Because You Were Home will have you sticking around to see what’s next.
For Fans Of: UnderOATH, Being as an Ocean, Like Moths to Flames, Memphis May Fire, The Devil Wears Prada
By: Connor Welsh