UXO

UXO-band

Considering that Chris Spencer (Unsane/The Cutthroats 9/Celan) and Steve Austin (Today Is the Day) are two of my favorite guitars of all time, it should be no surprise the elation I felt when I heard that these two monster gods of heavy, crushing noise guitar would team up.  Jeezus that was two years ago when I initially announced it on this here very site.  The rest of the band includes Pat Kennedy, who played with Austin in Taipan, on bass and Aarne Victorne on drums.

UXO – Reptilian (2016)

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Steve Austin actually stayed at my mom’s house a few months ago after Today Is the Day played at the Pike Room in Pontiac, MI.  I told him that, as long as he holds Republican views, he’s more than welcome there.  I gotta say, it was pretty surreal seeing this 6 ft plus man with a confederate flag plus snake tattooed on his arm talking to my 4’11” Jewish mother.

Anyway, UXO stands for Unexploded Ordnance, which are explosives that weren’t used, but still pose a threat of detonation.

The self titled debut LP/EP from UXO contains seven cuts and not one of them is a dud.  If you’re familiar with either Today Is the Day or Unsane, you should probably know what to expect from this record; brutal, heavy, noisy and consistently pissed off throughout.  But what really makes the record a winner is how Austin and Spencer play off each other.  On every track you can hear Austin’s whirling, swirling Fripp-style melodies and weird noises play off of Spencer’s low end riffs, while both gentlemen take turns shouting over the din; or in the case of “Redlegs”, shouting together.  Spencer throws in his bluesy, bottleneck slides as well.

As for vocals, Chris Spencer sounds like he always does, just angrily shouting at the top of his lungs, while Austin sings in his mocking, demonic tone, except for the track “Blind Suicide”, where he sounds a little like Steve Albini.  And lyrically, the songs are all thoroughly dark and depressing as titles like “Bitter”, “Trauma” and “User” would indicate.

It should also be noted that the song structures are closer to that of Unsane.  So, if you’re wondering how or if Steve Austin incorporated those excessively complicated song structures that you’d hear on Today Is the Day classics like Supernova or Willpower, he didn’t.  The songs are closer to the simpler Unsane approach, but sludgier, plodding along to angular, non-4/4 drum beats.  Also, “Everything’s a Mistake” has a beeping noise in the background that sounds like an alarm clock going off.

Only two months into 2016 and UXO is easily a contender for one of the best records of year.  I just wish it was longer.

The Cutthroats 9

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special introductory paragraph
The Cutthroats 9
Anger Management EP
Dissent EP

I don’t know if it’s fair to refer to The Cutthroats 9 as Unsane 2.0 but, I mean, they play nearly the exact same music.  That’s not a complaint, mind you.  More of Chris Spencer’s dirty, mean, hateful guitar riffs is better than less although it does sound odd hearing these songs without the violent packaging attached.

In 2000, guitarist/singer/songwriter Chris Spencer and bassist Dave Curran moved to San Francisco and started The Cutthroats 9.  The other two guys include second guitarist Mark Laramie and former Death Angel drummer Will Carroll.  Curran left after the first album and Laramie moved to bass and the group put out a second release that was an EP and not an LP for some reason. After that, Unsane was back and The Cutthroats 9 were gone forever, until…

As of this writing, Unsane is on hiatus again and The Cutthroats 9 (as well as Curran’s group, Pigs) are back and they have a new lineup which features High On Fire bassist Jeff Matz.  TURN IT UP!!!

The Cutthroats 9 – Man’s Ruin – 2000

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As I just said in the introduction above, The Cutthroats 9 sound pretty much like Unsane.  But since the Unsane albums don’t all sound exactly alike, it’s safe to say that The Cutthroats 9 also has it’s idiosyncrasies which help distinguish it among Chris Spencer’s and Dave Curran’s other works.

First of all, just the fact that it was released on Man’s Ruin should already tip you off that the guitar tone is not going to sound as “metal” as on the prior Unsane record Occupational Hazard or, for that matter, the next one, Blood Run.  Although Spencer’s tone is still heavy it’s also noisier, filthier and grungier like it was on Scattered, Smothered & Covered.  This tone is so much more heavenly than the one on the Relapse albums in my humble opinion.

Also, for the first time, there are two guitars.  I’m fine with this, mind you; it’s just that I don’t see the point since both guitarists play the exact same, simple, brutal, power chord progressions the entire time except for when Spencer breaks into a solo.  Spencer throws in the occasionally classic rock influenced riff as well but I supposed, with such a heavy level of distortion, distinguishing between a metal, hardcore or classic rock riff becomes sort of moot, doesn’t it?  And I know that Laramie is the “rhythm guitarist” but it’s nothing that a heavily distorted bass couldn’t do, ya know?

Furthermore the songs on The Cutthroats 9 are more uptempo than those on the last Unsane record.  They’re still not fast but, for the most part, they’re not as sludgy as those on Occupational Hazard except for the song “Sludge” which has a simple, hynpotic riff and ends in minutes of awesome feedback, which is always a wicked way to end a record (see Independent Worm Saloon for another fine example of this).

Yep, just like with Unsane, the songs all pretty much pummel you with catchy riffs and non-standard drum patterns.  There are some exceptions like the slow and bluesy “Can’t Do a Thing” which has some awesome bottle-neck guitar,  the slow-burn, six-minute epic “In the Eye” and aforementioned “Sludge.”  I also love the “EEEEE” feedback at the end of the riff in the otherwise, overly-distorted “Move.”

Also Chris Spencer’s vocals are a bit clearer this time.  I always wish they were slightly louder in the mix so I every time I hear and understand the first three lines in a verse, I’m not lost on the fourth.  But I think I’ve done a fair job deciphering these examples so let’s see what positive, life-affirming messages appear on The Cutthroats 9:

“he learned the hardest lesson
he got (something) into me
he learned the hardest lesson
you can’t take shit for free”

“don’t care where you’re from
she won’t give you some
it breaks you
it takes your mind and leaves you numb”

“it’s a long way
you’re stuck in bed
there’s no way
you should be dead
it’s what they said
you should be dead
it’s what they said”

“I can’t take you
I know you well
I’ll burn and break you
it serves me well”

“it’s getting nowhere
looking down the cross-hair
you really don’t care
what it takes away
always a way
always a way”

Actually, those last couple lines like they have an anti-suicide message, which I guess is kind of positive.

Anger Management EP – Reptilian – 2001

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Dave Curran split so guitarist Mark Laramie moved over to the bass, which is fine as far as I’m concerned.  Why did they need two guitarists in the first place?  Now they’re a tight power-trio and have one less member to pay.

What’s with this EP bullshit?  Did they just forget to make a side 2?  Either way, here we are with six more songs with curt, one word song titles (except for “Saw It”) that imply negativity and hatred.  Well, “This”  and “Believe” may be a little vague but “Prey”, “Bleed” and “Vacant” give you a pretty good idea of what the mood and tone of this record will be; well, that and the title and the picture of machine guns.

Once again, Chris Spencer’s guitar tone is filthy and grungy and not as metally as how it sounded on Unsane’s Relapse LPs.  Just like on The Cutthroats 9, the songs definitely rock more than the sludgy ones on the previous Unsane record.  I don’t have much to say about Mark Laramie as a bassist.  His tone isn’t as heavy and crunchy as Dave Curran’s except in the song “Vacant”, where the bass distortion is hella turned up and sounds awesome.  Also, for what it’s worth, the drums sound louder and more powerful than they did on the previous CT9 release.

Oh and if you’re wondering what the songs “This” and “Believe” are about, here are some lyrics I think I deciphered:

“This”
“she can’t anymore of this
she’s got it written on her wrist
it’s not like when she’s gone
she’ll be searching through sheets of paper (???)
waiting for the drugs to take her
I can’t take anymore of this
it takes a lot of time to miss
I know that cop is getting pissed
waiting for his…” arrrghh, goddammit, I can’t understand that part then
“waiting for the drugs to take her
taking time to break the preasure
any more, I know it’d break her”…

and

“Believe”
“I don’t wanna believe
you took something from me
(line I didn’t understand)
It’s all coming to me
I can’t believe
you took from me
It’s all for free
I think you’ll see…
get down on one knee and pray”

As per usual, Spencer plays awesome noisy, basic, angry riffs along with some bluesy solos and yells through a distortion pedal the whole time.  Like on the first CT9 release, there are classic rock-style riffs – especially on “This” – but most are simple and hardcore influenced.  “Vacant” has a particularly cool herky-jerky rhythm and stop/start arrangement where everything stops and we get to hear Laramie’s bass all by its lonesome for a fraction of a second.  Also, “Believe” has some “sheeeewwww” sounds created by running the pick along the fret board.

The only song I’m iffy about is “Saw It”; the riff is okay but I don’t like the other singer who just says everything rather than shouting intensely.

Then they went on a long break but they’re back!

Dissent EP – Lamb Unlimited – 2014

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In the thirteen years since the last release by the Cutthroats 9, Unsane reformed and put out three studio albums (Blood Run, Visqueen and Wreck) and guitarist/singer Chris Spencer started another band with members of Oxbow and Einstuzende Neubauten called Celan, who put out an excellent album called Halo.

However, after that last Unsane record, it became clear that it was going to be the last one for a long time if at all. So Spencer wasted no time putting the Cutthroats 9 back together for another go ‘round, along with launching his new label Lamb Unlimited.

Reassembling 2/3 of the old cast – Spencer with returning drummer Will Carroll (of Death Angel) – and introducing new bassist Tony Baumeister, the Cutthroats 9 are baaack.. ANOTHER EP??? Only seven songs??? Maaayyybe this was Spence and co’s move in a more progressive direction, longer songs, lotsa weird changes or maybe they’re doing a Neurosis type thing. But nope these are typical songs from the master of the filth-distortion, power riffmeister who yells at the top of his lungs into a distortion peddle but not exactly…

WOA this album is REALLY slow and Chris Spencer is singing like a death metal guy-

Oh shit, it’s in the wrong speed! Just a sec.

Actually, even in the correct speed, Spencer’s voice sounds lower than it usually does on the opening track “Speak.” As for the rest of Dissent, it has seven new songs and people who are familiar with the Unsane/Cutthroats 9 formula should know exactly what to expect; Chris Spencer passionately yells over ass heavy, mean as nails, basic but catchy riffs which are accentuated by angry and depressed sounding blues leads while drummer Will Carroll pounds out rockin’ but confusing patterns. They have this sound nailed to a fault but I like it so who cares? I do have to wonder what could possibly be going so terribly wrong in Spencer’s world that helps him maintain that level of intensity and anger, especially living in San Francisco.

Woa, there’s a harmonica on “We Could”!

But man, that production makes it sound like the recording mic was held outside the door of the studio or like you’re listening to the band play through a wall. Make no mistake, the guitars are very low endy and the drums sound like overly amplified Tupperware containers but the record just sounds a bit muffled. So, it helps if you listen to this thing really loud.

So what else is there to discuss? Ah, the lyrics! Too bad the album doesn’t come with a lyric sheet because with song titles like “Trouble”, “Eraser”, “Hit the Ground”, “Dissension”, “We Could” and “Induction”, it’s not clear who or what Chris Spencer is yelling at. These lyrical snippets should give no further insight:

“Kill the light/disconnect the phone/take what you need/don’t disagree/try to prepare/you just don’t care!”

“Pain, hate, scream!”

“We’ve made mistakes!”

In other news Spencer has made a record with the endlessly pissed, metal, noise guitar god Steve Austin in the form of UXO.