A quick’n’dirty blast of socio-political skull-fuckery.
The promo material for ‘Eras of Forfeit’ poses the following question: "Who/What suffers for your entitlement and empowerment?"
In terms of enquiry, there’s a direct, accusatory tone there that’s frankly hard to miss. And for a group as savage and succinct as Perth grinders Unravel, this makes a lot of sense. Extreme music – in all chimeric shapes and sizes – typically has some form of agenda and point to prove, whether that be musically, stylistically, or, in a more poetic fashion, lyrically. While waxing philosophical on the notion of suffering is certainly nothing new either: in the West, old dudes with gnarly beards and severe cocaine dependencies have been musing on it since the time of the steam engine, and in the East, old mate Buddha dropped some knowledge on the subject before J.C. was even old enough to have severe daddy issues.
The key difference between ‘Eras of Forfeit,’ and these previous iterations on suffering, is one of discourse. Unravel are here to educate you; they speak their own language and they speak it fiercely, with lumbering death metal grooves, caustic paint-stripping grind and fist-pumping bursts of hardcore punk. It’s not often that someone can highlight the socio-political disenfranchisement of marginalised groups and the benefits of human liberation with blast beats, anvil-in-your-stomach gutturals and chainsawing riff sections but fuck it — that’s exactly what’s happening here on their debut album.
Ripping the musical band-aid off within the first four minutes, ‘Eras of Forfeit’ gets down and dirty without any need for foreplay. Opener ‘Arbitraitor’ goes straight for the throat, with demonic growls and punctuated drum hits from the outset. There’s a definite '90s death metal feel that surfaces, especially when guitar riffs and solo bursts pop off like glimpses of oblivion from a firing squad. ‘No Validation For Violation’ then switches things up slightly with a charging lead riff, vocal interplay and a little hardcore two-step action to boot. At this point, the instinct to headbang is undeniable and all is permissible.
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To get a real sense of Unravel’s sonic wheelhouse though, before even taking ‘Eras of Forfeit’ for a spin, one only need look at their recent support slots, alongside the hired guns for the album itself. The WA brutes have been lucky to share the stage with metal icons like Cattle Decapitation, Psycroptic, The Black Dahlia Murder and Parkway Drive, and enlisted the audio talents of Taylor Young (Nails, Disgrace, Skinfather) and Brad Boatright (Integrity, Obituary, Converge) to mix and master respectively, taking the group’s already potent sound to formidable new levels.
As a complete listen, ‘Eras of Forfeit’ is ruthlessly efficient in execution, blitzing through 11 tracks in a whirlwind 23 minutes. With an average track length of just over two minutes, it’s no surprise then that the record delivers duality on either side of that marker. The shorter numbers get in and out like a bullet through your temple: ‘Perpetual Servitude’s schizophrenic ending and bellowed vocals; the grind blitzkrieg of ‘Carcinogenesis,’ with its stomping refrain of “All meat is venomous/Cease the pretentiousness/See all the evidence/Don't kill them to kill yourself” (‘ALL HAIL VEGAN DEATH METAL’ indeed, as the liner notes make clear) and a lightning-quick solo; the stop-start bludgeoning of ‘Fostering The Festering Spawn’; blast beats used as exclamation points in ‘Scorched’.
Whereas longer cuts give Unravel the chance to use their dynamic range like the slow twist of a knife in the gut. ‘Reign Of Wasps’ builds up with a HM-2 riff that wouldn't be entirely out of place on ‘Left Hand Path,’ before swinging a mid-tempo sledgehammer with a huge beatdown part, complete with slam riffs and double-kick bursts. ‘Sycophant’ worships at the altar of the headbang, as a dark and moody instrumental mid-section lets the album flex its progressive muscles, with haunting, melodic riffs floating ominously in the ether. There’s some stellar guitar interplay in ‘Isle Of Rot’ that makes the best of harmonised leads, before cutting itself off abruptly like a question left unanswered. Closer ‘Vermankind’ might be conventional in length by most metal standards, coming in at an almost radio-friendly 3:41, but it’s practically an eternity for Unravel. The band takes their time before dropping into a thunderous, earth-shaking passage in the midsection. But before you can raise a closed fist in solidarity, it's straight back to grinding, with the album’s final utterance a fitting send-off: “Glimpse to a future so morbid/Enter this era of forfeit.”
Lyrically, and going back to the original question posed above, most of ‘Eras of Forfeit’ can be effectively summarised as the dot points you’d add to a list called ‘Things That Are Proper Fucked About Humanity in General’. Such as: the rise of nationalism and white supremacy globally and right here in Australia (‘Reign Of Wasps’); human misanthropy and injustice (‘Vermankind’); the health and sustainability of a meat-based diet (‘Carcinogenesis’); the harmful impacts of anti-vaxxer anti-logic (‘Fostering The Festering Spawn’); religious hypocrisy (‘Perpetual Servitude’); racism and the subjugation of Indigenous culture (‘Isle of Rot’); and irrevocable environmental damage (‘Scorched’).
In essence, ‘Eras of Forfeit’ is an exercise in intellectual blunt-force trauma; it’s a record that deals exclusively in weaponized philosophy, life-threatening lectures and screaming screeds. Whether the more discerning listener can parse the lyrical content and meaning behind each track and growled verse, will ultimately come down to the upper threshold of their own patience and enthusiasm for this record. However, taken purely at face value, Unravel have certainly delivered one hell of a statement here with their debut album: it’s angry, it's dirty and it's ready to fuck your skull to school and back again.
‘Eras of Forfeit’ is set for release from April 9th through Life Lair Regret Records here in Australia and from April 13th through Testimony Records in Europe. You can find respective links for pre-order/streaming purchases here and here, along with Unravel’s Bandcamp page here.