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CD Review: Dead Unicorn

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Independent, 2007

Grinding tectonic plates effect explosions of rock and magma that savagely drive the Earth’s surface underwater: Dead Unicorn is obviously a band practicing the art of rock and roll on multiple levels. The Kingston-based trio’s debut song cycle, Yellowstone Supervolcano, aurally dramatizes geologic apocalypse in 12 musical and spoken-word tracks. Producer (and occasional vocalist) Jason Martin successfully creates the broad sonic framework for bassist/vocalist Paul Heath and drummer/vocalist Zac Shaw to cinematically illustrate this widescreen vision of mayhem.

Dead Unicorn tears through the material with a gleeful malevolence reminiscent of early Killing Joke. This is a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its impressive parts. The sound is broadly low-end, staccato riffing and machine-gun drum fills, but with hairpin turns in tempo, majestic squalls of distortion, and supple musicianship allied with superb production, lending the disc a very dynamic feel.

The songwriting is often infectiously catchy and propulsive, as on standout track “Yellowstone,” which includes the audaciously reductive chorus: “Tectonics in motion / underground explosion / Earth sinks into the ocean.” Unicorn’s sing/speak tracks are by turns eyewitness, authoritatively detached, shot through with urgency, and newsreel-ghostly. The vantage points are threaded together with a deft inventiveness.

Interestingly, the draconian logic of Mother Nature as interpreted by the band is anything but a bummer. The commitment and enthusiasm of the players make total destruction feel like a roller coaster of elemental thrills. An added bonus is the stellar packaging detailing other “imminent Apocalypse scenarios.”

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