Formed as a Ministry cover band in 2017, the quartet has since developed a brutal, unflinching style all its own
Unchipped’s music can be violent and ugly, with songs tackling corrupt, abusive cops, America’s seemingly endless thirst for war and, on “1,000 Lives,” a person suffering from dissociative identity disorder who expresses fears of possessing a more violent side. “If they knew the real me,” the narrator howls, “they’d all be dead!”
At times, the music itself feels like a full-body purge, the bandmates building sonic hurricanes of snaking bass, pavement-pulverizing drums, skin-on-fire vocals and guitar riffs that mirror twisting shrapnel. Witness the song “Unchipped,” which doubles as a band statement of purpose, singer Pat Snyder repeating the line, “I am unchipped!” with wild animal desperation as the music froths, seethes and threatens to boil over.
In an introduction that opens both the song and the band’s unreleased album, a narrator speaks of a dystopian future when all people are tagged with microchips before adding, “We are humanity’s resistance. … We are unchipped.”
“I’m pretty certain there’s going to come a time where there are going to be chipped people and unchipped people,” said drummer Joel Archibald, who joined bassist Ty Owen, guitarist J.R. Fisher and singer Pat Snyder for a mid-September interview (the band plays at Dirty Dungaree’s on Saturday, Sept. 28). “And I plan on remaining unchipped as long as possible.”
While there are elements of sci-fi incorporated into the themes of the full-length, which the band recently recorded at Weird Music with Zac Szymusiak and is currently shopping to labels, much of it is grounded in the horrors of day-to-day existence.
“I think [the music] is a reflection of reality,” Owen said. “There’s no shtick in it. There’s no shock. It’s not an Alice Cooper act. … If you’re shocked by it, take a look at the world around you. Nothing in any of our songs is a shock. It’s a wake-up call.”
The band members experienced this ugliness firsthand in early August, when Unchipped was scheduled to perform at Bob’s Bar in Dayton’s Oregon District on the night a mass shooter attacked, killing nine and injuring 27 before being shot and killed by police. Fisher said he’s still haunted by the sound of his boots scuffling against gun shells when the band was finally escorted to its car to make the drive back to Columbus in the early morning hours following the massacre.
“I think it says something about America. I was sitting at the bar at Bob’s reading about the El Paso shooting that happened the day before, trying to understand how a white, active gunman was taken alive by police, and as I’m reading that article, I have to run out of a bar because of gunshots,” said Owen, who joined his bandmates, none of whom were harmed, in expressing gratitude for the outpouring the musicians received in the wake of the tragedy. “That’s pretty on-point for where we’re at in America right now.”
Unchipped traces its formation to Halloween of 2017, when it started as a Ministry cover band before realizing there was a real musical camaraderie and a shared interest in writing original material. In the months that followed, the four stowed away to write and rehearse, developing a blistering groove/industrial metal sound that pulls from its myriad influences (Ministry, Voivod, Pantera, White Zombie, the Jesus Lizard) while remaining beholden to none of them.
“Not rushing any of it was the big thing for me,” said Archibald. “I just wanted us four to get together and have fun. … We’ll get a good set of songs down, and if it takes a year it takes a year, and then we go out and start playing shows. And that’s what we did.”
Unlike some bands of its ilk, though, where lyrics can often be secondary, guttural moans and larynx-shredding howls signaling a tortured existence more than the actual words, Unchipped placed a premium on songwriting from the jump — a fact that momentarily terrified Snyder, who came up in bands accustomed to a more obscured approach.
“Usually I’m just screaming and yelling and growling, not making any sense,” he said, and laughed. “Now people can actually understand what I’m saying… sometimes. I’ve still got this wall-of-noise behind me with these three, which is great. This is the band I’ve wanted to be in since I was a teenager, and now it’s finally happened in my mid-30s.”