A Sludge for the Working Man
Rabbits are a venerable three-piece band from Portland, Oregon. Over their more than ten years together, they have perfected an amorphous mixture of sludge metal, noise rock, punk rock, thrash metal, stoner metal etc. etc. On Untoward, Rabbits deliver a set of plainspoken, catchy anthems that are an approachable, entertaining homage to the off-color, scuzz-coated underbelly that accompanies a certain way of life.
Sound-wise, Rabbits are pretty much in the same beer-and-weed-fueled, workaday-sludge wheelhouse as Melvins or Harvey Milk. The lead vocals—courtesy of guitarist Booze—are gruff, manly bellows whose closest comparison might be Pink Eyes from Fucked Up. Rabbits have two guitarists, but no bassist, which results in Untoward sounding more transparent and less room-rumbling than other music of this kind. The guitars, drums and vocals generally sound raw and untreated, giving the recording a dry ’80s/’90s black-painted room feel. The absence of loud war trickery means that you can turn Untoward way, way up—until you feel the cold, sweaty tallboy in your hand and face the decision of how close to stand to the stage.
Compositionally, Untoward features the aforementioned blend of genres. They are more blended than sequenced, making even the more drastic dynamics sound natural and good. Untoward is well-appointed with melodies and grooves, most of them catchy. The vocals and lyrics are thematically oriented, driving home the album’s sensibility.
And there definitely is a sensibility here. Untoward sounds like a chronicle of nerves stretched thin, late night band practices after double-shifts at menial jobs, jocular insults delivered with ambiguous intent, foamed-over beers and vomit and drunk men pissing in the bathroom sink because they just don’t have the patience. “Pack Up Your Shit” is a good example of this feeling, as Rabbits take the listener inside the awkward process of telling a friend that they have become terminally uncool to be around. “Yeah / you’re just like us / we drink and fuck and cuss / we curse and puke and shit / were covered in it,” Booze commiserates, before delivering the deathblow: “but you / you’re the worst / I’m sure your life’s still cursed / something to think about / when you’re on your way out.”
If Untoward has a failing, it is that the album is not particularly ambitious. Closing track “Like You A Lot” is ten minutes of tension with no release—a serious sin in many corners of punk and metal. The other songs mostly blow right past, although “Reek And You Shall Find” has a dynamically pleasing multi-part feel to it.
But to be fair, much of Untoward’s strength comes from its sounding comfortable, its not trying too hard. The intimate, unadorned feel of the album makes it more immediate and honest than so many of the polished-up productions on the market today. On Untoward Rabbits become endearing and wise—grizzled griots of the dive bar sharing their gruff wisdom for the benefit of all. If you are seeking a heavy record that is not afraid to show its age and share a brew with the weary and the overworked, Untoward is the album for you.