Explode

explodeBefore anyone’s hopes get too high, let's get one thing straight -- this is NOT the Unseen you know and love. The hard hitting political lyrics, angry street punk riffs, and sing along choruses are all absent, and what is left is a lackluster rendition of heavy metal and rock influenced punk (if you can call it punk).

The Unseen first formed in 1994 in Boston, releasing several seven inches and a full length on Toxic Narcotic’s Rodent Popsicle Records. After many shows and a growing fan base, they released "Lower Class Crucifixion" on Anti-Flag’s AF Records. Then the Unseen put out “The Anger and the Truth” on BYO and toured with Anti-Flag. Their most recent -- and worst -- musical endeavor is “Explode,” also out on BYO.

My first experience with the Unseen was when they opened for Anti-Flag on a tour supporting “The Anger and the Truth” in April 2001. While I considered that album mediocre, they soon became one of my favorite bands after I heard their earlier songs. They were something special among most of their contemporary street punk peers due to intelligent, honest, and highly revolutionary lyrics. They transcended the “F--- the system” politics that most of the other bands fell victim to and spoke out on specific issues, such as how capitalism creates a whole loser class that then becomes dependent on state welfare. Even the non-political songs, such as “Are We Dead Yet?” spoke of a gritty realism that came from life on the streets of Boston.

Already the changes in the Unseen's sound were beginning to manifest themselves in “The Anger and the Truth.” Many of the songs were slower, more slickly produced and notably less political. However, other songs still reminded one of the old Unseen, particularly “Live in Fear.”

On the album “Explode,” Unseen confronted the question that musicians and particularly punk artists have grappled with for ages. After playing a successful formula for several years, should they continue on with the same style or change and expand? If they stay with the same kind of music, then they may grow bored of the formula and not satisfy themselves. However if they change the kind of music they play, the artists risk alienating fans and producing sub par music.

Unfortunately, with punk bands, if a band decides to change their sound to something more mature and musically complicated, it almost always means that they lose their original intensity and urgency and become a hollow reflection of what they used to be. Punk as a musical form is largely effective due to the explosive energy a punk band brings to a live performance. The bands that are most effective when recorded are those bands which can communicate this energy through a CD or record player. When a punk band decides to “grow up” musically, often they lose the ability to communicate this energy and feeling.

The Unseen are no exception to this. They even address the issue of punk formulas in one of the songs on “Explode,” called “False Hope.”

I have not changed my views
But every band reports the same news
I don't wanna repeat someone else's lines.
That's such a waste of time.

Time, boredom, and too many Warped Tours have dulled their once potent rage. “Explode” steers clear of political lyrics, and has only vague expressions of rage and confusion that lack the direction and urgency of previous releases. With well written political lyrics being one of the qualities that defines the Unseen as a band, the change in writing was disheartening to say the least. The musical side of the album is also not up to par with their old albums. It has a somewhat split personality, not being either straight forward punk or a rock/metal hybrid with strong punk influences. The advance in technical musical skill is not an acceptable substitute for the missing energy and spirit. This album fell far short of my expectations and ended my dwindling faith in the Unseen once and for all.

Max Raynard is a musician and activist. He currently attends City College of San Francisco and is a writer for Wiretap. Email him at max_raynard@yahoo.com.

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