Since its glory days in '77, punk's hinged on the fact that punk rockers have no future: From Johnny Rotten's timeless mantra to the harsh realities of blue-collar life, there really wasn't much for the average punk to get too excited about. That's all changed, though. Punks have a future, and, for many, it's pretty bright. Their faces are on the cover of mainstream rags. Their music finds its way into massive-budget Hollywood blockbusters and used as jingles to peddle crap products. They can, with just a little agency help, land a spot on some high-profile, corporate-sponsored tour or another and rake in the merch sales while banging a star-struck fan in the back of the bus. (Then, if you're really tacky pseudo-Viking asshole, you can write an entire album about it).
Punk is big. And when it's big, punks have a future.
The Unseen isn't letting all that hoopla go to its head. On the band's Hellcat debut, the Boston act ups production values while sticking to its core principles -- namely kicking out the nihilistic, pessimistic street jams -- in a reminder that punk rock can still provide shelter for pissed-off dropouts from time to time.
The Unseen don't reinterpret the street-rock formula as much as polish it to a stainless-steel gleam on this album. Equal parts Boston street rock and anthemic So-Cal punk, The Unseen barks out tunes that, despite their atonal, yelped vocals and grimy guitars, let melodies seethe alongside their angriest moments. There probably won't ever be a band that unites the world of Jimmy Pursey-loving street punks with pop-loving skate rats and mall-punk types, but The Unseen is the next best thing. "You Can Never Go Home" takes high-octane punk out for a test spin, letting the band revel in a weird no-man's-land between melodies and dissonance. "Social Damage" and "Weapons of Mass Deception" are exactly the screamin' punk nuggets you'd expect, though in The Unseen's hands, the formula still doesn't sound beat to death. Darker overtones add shades of metal-core despondency to "Scream Out," though outside of the brooding, minor-key AFI moments, The Unseen's still a hard-rockin' punk act. That goes double on a puzzling cover of "Paint It Black," where the band loses sight of its heart of darkness for street-rock power.
Don't let the upped production values trick you: The Unseen is still as fired up and ready for revolution as ever before. The band has a bit of songwriting experience from which to draw, of course, so State of Discontent is slicker and edgier regardless of production budgets. Nonetheless, The Unseen isn't the sort of band that'll riding punk's gravy train to a big house in the Hollywood hills. Thankfully, some bands haven't lost track of punk's spirit.
- Matt Schild