UNFD: ten of the Aussie record labels best and worst releases

UNFD do not need an introduction. Like any record label that’s been around for any lengthy period of time, they’ve released huge hits and utter duds alike. As they’ve hit that double-digit milestone this year, and while this is not a comprehensive list of all their many releases, let’s round up some ten of the best and ten of the worst releases from the UNFD household.  

Dream On, Dreamer – ‘Heartbound’ (worst)

These days, Dream On, Dreamer are no more, and you’ll likely find frontman Marcel Gadacz tweeting anti-vaccine crap. Yet they’re an important group for this label: they had the first proper UNFD release after the Boomtown rebranding and that ‘Music For The Recently Deceased‘ re-release. ‘Heartbound‘ (which also came out via Rise) set the tone for what this then-new label would become known for – metalcore – and was a dishearteningly generic release. Both upon release and when looking back at it. A humble yet barely memorable LP aside from one good song; uninspired doesn’t even begin to cover it. However, just like how Dreamer developed better on the well-rounded and emotionally-charged follow-up, ‘Loveless‘, UNFD also expanded in the artists they signed and the styles they became known for.

Northlane – ‘Alien’ (best)

Northlane’sAlien‘ is a towering pillar of excellence, not only for this label’s catalogue but for Northlane as a collective. Out with the old, in with the nü. ‘Discoveries‘ was sick – hence why it featured in our 2011 albums retrospective piece – and ‘Singularity‘ is a mostly great album. Yet ‘Alien‘ is the true zenith for Northlane. It’s a deeply personal experience of childhood trauma, bathed in crushing microtonal riffs and acid techno synthesisers, bolstered by the greatest songs they have ever written. (‘Freefall,’ ‘Talking Heads,’ ‘Eclipse,’ ‘Bloodline,’ ‘Sleepless,’ and ‘Details Matter‘.) ‘Alien‘ is a truly cybernetic and futuristic release, with each member’s musical dexterity and personality shining through. One of the most forward-thinking Australian heavy records under the UNFD banner and of the whole 2010s as well. Two years on from release, I still haven’t shut the fuck up about it.

Buried In Verona – ‘Faceless’ (worst)

Following the success and positive reception to ‘Notorious‘ (2012), Buried In Verona torpedoed much of their newfound interest with the ungodly dreary ‘Faceless.’ This 2014 record is a tough listen. Like an endurance test of how much awful metalcore can be crammed into your ears within the span of 40 minutes. It’s so exhausting to sit through and that’s me being generous. This was their highest-charting album in Australia (#15), proof that the ARIAs doesn’t account for taste. Its chart success can be mostly attributed to people taking a bigger interest in them during and after the well-received ‘Notorious‘ cycle. ‘Circle Of The Dead‘ was rough around the edges, but had that goofy late 2000s metalcore charm; ‘Saturday Night Sever‘ was decent if very dated deathcore-adjacent stuff; ‘Notorious‘ was their moment; and 2016’s swan song, ‘Vultures Above, Lions Below‘ was a dynamic, emotional send-off. Yet ‘Faceless‘ remains as just that: a faceless, black stain upon BIV’s discography.

Hand Of Mercy – ‘Last Lights’ (best)

Australia’s answer to U.S. types like The Ghost Inside, Hand Of Mercy went from mere youth-centre warriors and silly Simpsons references to releasing one of the strongest contemporary records Australia ever got from this scene. 2012’s ‘Last Lights‘ is a staggering example of how to make the familiar feel incredibly fun; to take such prolific songwriting templates of these sub-styles and capture what makes them work. ‘Absence Makes The Heart Go Wander‘ and the titular closer showed the band could offer hooks and heart; the violent Dexter-inspired ‘Dexter‘ and ‘Rumble In The Grundle‘ are mosh-pit anthems; whereas ‘Benson,’ ‘Quarter Deck‘ and ‘23 Hour Lockdown‘ nail the sickest three-track run Hand Of Mercy ever had in their time together. (‘Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop, Did Stop‘ also makes for a fitting prophecy about their trajectory and eventual end.) ‘Last Lights‘ was the pinnacle of Hand Of Mercy’s output, featuring everything that made them such a damn good band in the first place. Miss you.

In Hearts Wake – ‘Ark’ (worst)

Depending on who you ask, ‘Ark‘ is either the worst In Hearts Wake album or one of their best. Many Aussie fans who’d been following them closely since their debut LP found it to be a wearisome, repetitive album by a band hell-bent on not growing in any meaningful way. Yet new fans (especially American listeners, where the band toured harder during this cycle) took to it quite well. You already know where I stand on it. When I came up with this UNFD list, I sighed heavily realising I would have to, at the very least, revisit parts of ‘Ark‘ to do my due diligence to see what shore time had washed this ship upon. Yet time has only made me loathe this flawed vessel of humdrum Bury Your Dead knock-off breakdowns and lazy hooks even more so. Abandon ship, let this one sink.

In Hearts Wake – ‘Divination’ (best)

On the flipside to ‘Ark‘ resides 2012’s ‘Divination‘, In Hearts Wake’s first big moment and also their finest. If someone says this isn’t their best work, I side-eye them hard. This debut was a polished, well-written mixture of the heaviness and melodicism that made so many other metalcore acts work, In Hearts Wake laying their claim to that with ‘Divination‘ and wicked tracks like ‘Winterfell (The Tower)‘ and ‘Release (The Moon).’ There’s also the gripping melodic hardcore speed of ‘Traveller (The Fool)‘; the heavier and spacier edge to ‘Shapeless (The Judgement)‘; the insane bounce of ‘Survival (The Chariot)‘ and its cheeky Halo sample; the blatant yet solid For The Fallen Dreams worship on ‘The Unknown (Strength), with Chad Ruhlig himself featuring; and the very real warmth and lush sounds to ‘Inertia (The Hermit)‘. Looking back, you could tell IHW was destined for bigger things, just a shame that nothing released in the last nine years has matched or surpassed ‘Divination.’

Drown This City – ‘Alpha // Survivor’ EP (worst)

Alpha // Survivor‘ came from a very personal place for vocalist Alex Reade and the things she had to overcome in her life. Me including this 2019 EP in the worst section of this list isn’t a knock on the personal growth and demons that she’s had to undertake and battle. On the contrary, it’s the only thing I found positive about Drown This City’s previous EP; the soul-bearing place that it comes from. My issue is basically everything else about it! Never before from an Australian band on a label like UNFD have I suffered through a release that sounds so troubled in its songwriting and production development; so hollow in its structure and delivery that you can clearly tell that – whether by the band, label or producer – things were chopped and changed around to a depressing degree, moving far away from the original vision. The result is an extremely uninteresting and painfully lacklustre experience. However! I think it’s only fair to mention that Drown This City’s newest EP, ‘Colours We Won’t Know,’ is a much better release. With stronger than ever TesseracT vibes, Alex sticks to her singing while bassist Toby Thomas brings in a feral range of screams for a very well-worn yet still decent vocal duality, furthering the emotional theme of their last EP to a backdrop of lockdowns. While I’m not saying it’s perfect, it is a step up. If you didn’t like that last EP or you’ve never clicked with the band’s music before, I’d urge you to check this new one out.

Ocean Grove – ‘The Rhapsody Tapes’ (best)

Is this one of the best Australian releases of the 21st century? Probably! ‘The Rhapsody Tapes‘ remains Ocean Grove’s most creative, highest-flying moment in the sun. The killer vocal dynamic between Luke Holmes and then-bassist/singer Dale Tanner (who now fronts the band) drives this album forward wonderfully. So much so that coming back to it now makes the current absence of their vocal chemistry inescapable. Within the space of this debut LP, Ocean Grove went from local heroes to a prospective emerging international act. Any and all expectations were crushed as soon as the first three tracks – ‘What I Love About About A Natural Woman‘, ‘Beers‘ and ‘Thunderdome‘ – confidently roared through the speakers. A smooth-talking, often cryptic hybrid of various styles, musical eras and differing aesthetics, ‘Rhapsody Tapes‘ was (and still is) fucking brilliant. A debut album like this is so rare; the seldom nature of that alone makes Ocean Grove’s eclectic and energized full-length so special.

Void Of Vision – ‘Hyperdaze’ (worst)

The biggest criticism of Void Of Vision’s first album, ‘Children Of Chrome‘ (which was also in the running for this spot) was that it was the same song repeated ten times barring the 80-second interlude ‘Under Skin‘. So ‘Hyperdazeneeded to expand. Credit to the band, they did try to grow their sound outward, except the final product missed the mark gloriously with a synth and djent-infused offering of polished but lifeless metalcore. Often times falling into the exact same trapping as their 2016 debut LP: repeating the same tricks, the same riffs and melodies, again and again, like no one would fucking notice. First impressions are everything. With a useless intro (‘Overture‘), and two brief yet mind-numbing metalcore tracks (‘Year Of The Rat‘ and ‘Babylon‘), the latter ending on the awful line “no gods, no masters, motherfucker“, is a grim first impression. Even the titular ‘Hyperdaze,’ ‘Adrenaline‘ and ‘Hole In Me‘ feature parts that sound like off-brand ‘Alien‘ ideas. Anecdotally, the first time I saw much of these songs live was when VOV supported Northlane in November 2019, and guitarist/singer James McKendrick was quite noticeably off-key the whole time.

I Am Zero – ‘The Winter Sun’ EP (best)

One of the lesser-known greats from the UNFD vault is the band Bryant Best formed following the original end of Saviour. Once that Perth-based melodic hardcore act bowed out during their touring cycle of 2013’s ‘First Light To My Death Bed‘, Bryant teamed up with members of Temporal to form I Am Zero. While the likes of DVSR and Hacktivist blended prog and tech metal with rap elements to an extremely popular effect, I Am Zero did it just as well as those two big hitters on their one and only release, 2015’s five-track EP, ‘The Winter Sun.’ They just never received a fraction of the attention as those others did, is all. Yet tracks like ‘The Winter Sun‘, ‘The Ocean,’ and ‘Plastic Seams‘ showed how competent this project was with this new-age style of dark, heavy and prog-inflected nu-metalcore. Definitely a band to check out if you like Saviour and the 2010s resurgence of nu-metal!

ERRA -‘ERRA’ (worst) 

When ERRA wasn’t ripping their past selves off on their colder, heavier 2021 self-titled LP, recycling previous riffs and choruses left and right, they jacked shit from peers and luminaries alike. ‘House Of Glass‘ shamelessly lifts a slight variation of the riff from Tool’s ‘Jambi‘. It’s fine to like and be influenced by Tool, many bands are, but you don’t need to do it so publically. On ‘Snowblood,’ ERRA outright copy the opening synth line, rhythmic feel and first verse of ‘Trilogy,’ a great single by fellow UNFD-signed legends, Silent Planet (‘When The End Began‘ was terrific stuff). It’s one of the most shocking “can I copy your homework?” moments I’ve ever seen. Then there’s ‘Scorpion Hymn‘, easily the most egregious. A blatant Meshuggah rip-off of their 2008 track, ‘Dancers To A Discordant System‘, chopping the original Shuggah tune down by two-thirds and re-packaging it as some mundane prog-metalcore. The more I think about this one, the angrier I get. How ERRA, their management and label didn’t notice these are beyond me. Maybe they thought no one would notice or care? Well, I noticed; I cared. All this shows me is a band full of talented performers, but lazy ones at that, all espousing empty platitudes about the relationship between society and technology.

Hellions – ‘Opera Oblivia’ (best) 

Come on, you all knew this Hellions record would feature here on the best side of the aisle. ‘Opera Oblivia‘ came out of nowhere from Hellions in 2016. A grand record that displayed deeper lyricism and maturer themes, being infinitely more musically interesting and ambitious in scope than anything seen by the Sydney band beforehand. Even people who don’t like Hellions love this thing! Leagues ahead of what many of their peers were content with, Hellions third album is some world-class stuff. Try as they might, I don’t think anything they’ll do will come close to this epic.

Columbus – ‘A Hot Take On Heartbreak’ (worst)

One of the best up and coming pop-punk acts in Australia drove off a cliff with their second album, following a very solid debut EP and a robust, honest and well-written full-length. Columbus‘ ‘A Hot Take On Heartbreak‘ embodies, in embarrassingly written pop-rock form, the worst kind of hot takes you’d see online. Ill-thought-out, hilariously bad, and lacking in nuance and depth. The try-hard Simple Plan and wannabe Five Seconds Of Summer vibe of their sophomore LP are still so uneasy to hear to this day.

Stories – ‘The Youth To Become’ (best)

Back in 2015, Stories shocked many by shifting lanes from the stupendously heavy prog-metal of the ‘Void‘ EP (2013), heavily emulating Underoath circa 2008 instead with their anticipated first album. Metal smoothbrains who judge a song’s quality by how heavy it is and how many strings the guitarist has really shit the bed over ‘The Youth To Become.’ (A photo posted showing one of their guitarists rocking a six-string upset multiple Stories fans I knew at the time.) “It’s a good album, just not a good Stories album!” No, shut the fuck up, this was a good Stories record. ‘A False Sense of Security,’ ‘Highwater,’ ‘Alone In The Fallout,’ ‘For A Second…I Couldn’t See A Thing,’ ‘Zuko,’ and ‘Under Haze‘ – all great tracks. It’s also a good spiritual successor to ‘Lost In The Sound Of Separation.’ While it’s certainly a jarring jump from where the Aussie band were pre-UNFD signing, I must say that the years have been kind to this emotionally heavy, dynamically layered and sometimes quite atmospheric post-hardcore album. Apparently, Stories recently posted a story pic on their social media showing a guitar pedal. So maybe we’ll be hearing more from them again soon? Honestly, I hope so! Whether it’s like their older work or akin to this sorely misunderstood LP.

UNFD – ‘Spawn (Again): A Tribute To Silverchair’ (worst) 

The Spawn Again compilation – a UNFD-branded cover of Silverchair songs by their artists – came from a good place but was far more miss than hit. One that I tolerated at first but have since done a HUGE turnaround on. The embarrassing cover of ‘Freak‘ by In Hearts Wake, to the plastic-sounding ‘Tomorrow‘ rendition by Amity Affliction hold the compilation release back. As do covers from Tonight Alive and Hands Like Houses that amount to nothing more than wallflower tracks. However, Storm The Sky stepped up with a wonderful re-arrangement of ‘Emotion Sickness‘; Northlane redid ‘Anthem For The Year 2000‘ in fine fashion; Ocean Grove and Void Of Vision were comfortably at home on ‘Spawn (Again)‘ and ‘Isreal’s Son‘ respectively. Yet for every match-made-in-heaven cover presented, there’s another that’s at best, just filling space, or at worse, horribly questionable.

Thy Art Is Murder – ‘Holy War’ (best) 

During the 20 seconds that Thy Art Is Murder was signed to UNFD for their Aussie distribution, they released the explosive deathcore of ‘Holy War‘ in 2015. (Don’t care if you liked that pun or not, we’re just going to deal with it together.) ‘Holy War‘ was the best, most logical follow-up to 2012’s much-lauded ‘Hate‘ – one of the best deathcore albums of the 2010s and one of the best Aussie metal releases from the last decade – and its successor went hard. The mental ‘Fur and Claw‘ and the hellish ‘Deliver Us To Evil‘ saw Thy Art Is Murder operate at their most hectic, as the titular ‘Holy War‘ stood its ground with the band’s firm anti-theist stance and antireligion message. Even after two more albums, ‘Holy War‘ features the sickest deep cuts that Thy Art ever produced.

Beartooth – ‘Disease’ (worst) 

Before I remembered that Beartooth’s Disease‘ LP existed, I was umming and ahhing this spot between Make Believe Me’s debut EP (who? Exactly) and any number of the below-average EPs Crossfaith released during the 2010s. (Incredible live band though!) But then this rotten limb from Beartooth’s discography slipped back into my consciousness. Their third album does one thing – the same radio-friendly, chorus-driven rock-metalcore blueprint they’ve flogged to death – and that’s all they’ve ever done following the ‘Sick‘ EP and 2014’s ‘Disgusting‘. That fear of change and obsession with repeating oneself came home to roost on this horrid, backed-into-a-corner record where I could no longer buy the lyricism being shared. Highly likely the exact same thing will happen on their new album, ‘Below,’ which is out June 25th. Though I’d love to be proven wrong and be pleasantly surprised.

House Vs. Hurricane – ‘Crooked Teeth’ (best) 

House Vs. Hurricane’s first album with Nazarite Vow’s Dan Casey, following the exit of screamer Chris Dickerwho nowadays makes beautiful neoclassical piano pieces – is a super punchy, hyped-up aggression fest. Ditching the key-mosh sound of their previous EP and debut LP, and getting closer to something reflecting Every Time I Die and Alexisonfire, this was the most furious HVH had ever sounded. Full of character, cool lyrical references, and spirited hardcore energy. Off the back of sick numbers like ‘Get Wrecked,’ ‘Blood Knuckles,’ ‘40 Deep,’ ‘Head Cold,’ and ‘Lost World‘, the band hadn’t felt so heavy or polished. While 2017’s ‘Filth‘ wasn’t bad, it’s this killer 2012 LP that remains a stellar listen from one of Australia’s more underrated and sadly forgotten heavy music greats. (Weird flex, but I actually won a limited vinyl pressing of this bad boy from Melbourne’s Fist2Face back in the day.)

Northlane – ‘Node’ (worst) 

Well, this is awkward. ‘Node‘ is an album I didn’t enjoy seven years ago, and it’s an album that I still don’t like, even in the current year and the big personal turnaround I’ve had with Northlane’s music thanks to some of the best cuts off ‘Mesmer‘ (2017) and their latest cyber-punk exploration. I can see what the band were aiming for on this 2014 album, but I feel what followed it marked a stronger interpretation of that sound. ‘Node‘ is more ambient and meandering, more progressive in parts, but often to a fault. It really has the noticeable growing pains of a band in flux, of an unsure band finding their feet with a new singer as they re-work their up till then highly favoured prog-metalcore sound. When it comes down to it, Northlane as a unit today does not exist without the transitory period of ‘Node,’ and while that’s a positive caveat, I really only like two songs out of full 11: ‘Rot‘ and ‘Obelisk.’ Not a good ratio.

Slowly Slowly – ‘St. Leonards’ (best) 

The success of Slowly Slowly is, in huge part, down to 2018’s heartfelt ‘St. Leonards.’ All down to the power of its emotional authenticity, the real stories that it so carefully and bravely shares, the charm of Ben Stewart’s vocals and lyrics, the size of its electrifying choruses, and the sweet happy medium it strikes between indie, emo, pop-punk and good ol’ Aussie rock and roll. If their wonderful 2016 debut LP, ‘Chamomile‘ was a light breeze, then ‘St. Leonards‘ is a fucking hurricane in comparison to its size, impact and songwriting. For Slowly Slowly, there are only two eras: before and after ‘St. Leonards.’

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