Nearly 15 years ago, Lancaster, Pennsylvania’s Tantrum of the Muse were making waves in the Christian music industry with their albums The Heart is a Two-Headed Sperm and Modernmu$ick(2000)! (released on Takehold Records, who would eventually get acquired by Solid State). Praised for their creativity, they were much-talked about for the controversial (or sometimes downright offensive) nature of their artwork, lyrics and live show.
Tantrum of the Muse were one of the most interesting acts to ever come from the underground Christian music scene. Stephen Mark Sarro, vocalist, guitarist and songwriter (primarily from Tantrum of the Muse) is back with a new brainchild: Unteachers. Picking up where ToTM left off, Unteachers has refined the art-metal sound of ToTM, and with A Human Comedy, has perfected their heavy, intricate noise-rock by adding in a new slab of sludge.
The first proper song, “As Bright As Black,” introduces you to Unteachers’ sound, not unlike a handshake between Melvins and a slower Dillinger Escape Plan. It’s technical and progressive, but it’s listenable, the primary thing missing from most noise-rock bands. Here, Unteachers excels: These songs feel like songs. The overarching groove helps to ground each track’s more intricate moments — the thick and dirty bass lines really drive these songs, letting the busy drumming (courtesy of Solamors’ Travis Turner) and layers of guitar weave in and out. This is thinking-man’s music, successfully avoiding the stuffiness and pretension commonly associated with it.
When Unteachers plays something, they mean it. The loud parts are loud. The technical parts are technical. The heavy parts are heavy. (I mean, the main riff in “Cusp” is just gigantic.) Everything on A Human Comedy feels intentional. This is an album that was written with time and care, not one detail ignored. The quieter, more intimate songs (“Cast My Cares” and “Higher Horses”) don’t feel like filler like so many quiet-songs-in-the-middle-of-heavy-albums do.
A Human Comedy isn’t just a collection of songs. It’s a ride you’re on; it’s a movie you’re watching. It’s meant to be taken in as a whole; clocking in at about 40 minutes, it’s not too much of a commitment, either.
Vocally, where Tantrum of the Muse sounded somewhat unrefined, Sarro has benefited from more than a decade of being able to fine-tune his vocal presence. The end result arrives somewhere between King Buzzo of the Melvins and Geddy Lee (that’s the singer of Rush, kids), and he doesn’t miss a note on A Human Comedy. These aren’t auto-tuned melodic-chorus vocals; it’s raw power.
The lyrics are heavy, one of Sarro’s strong points. Most of the record is rather misanthropic, with a strong disdain for what humanity has become. But the closing song, “Death Has Been Swallowed,” fills the listener with the hope of God’s eventual resurrection of all things.
Heavy, interesting, abrasive and beautiful, all at once, A Human Comedy isn’t an album to be taken lightly. It’s a challenging listen, but one worthy of the challenge, worth the fight. With A Human Comedy, Unteachers has taken Tantrum of the Muse’s legacy and not only resuscitated it, but perfected it.