So I’m starting something new. Every now and again, I’ll reach back into the CD rack and pull out a favorite that I haven’t heard in a while. The objective of “classics” series will be to have us all relive those fond memories together. Or make new ones. Or argue. Whatever. So here we go.
The first “classic” will likely be a controversial pick to many here, but my feelings for this album haven’t changed.
The Union Underground, “…An Education in Rebellion” released in 2000 on Columbia.
Union Underground was a band who truly began as a band in a garage that made people listen. Singer Bryan Scott and guitar player Patrick Kennison started playing together in junior high. After high school, the pair from San Antonio filled out the band, bankrolled their own studio and production company, and then released an EP, playing for whoever would take the time. After their self-promoted EP sold over five thousand copies, Columbia took notice, signed The Union Underground, and the rest is history.
When I first heard their freshman effort, I didn’t think much of it. Four years later, I realized that I was still humming the lines to “South Texas Deathride,” and it was about time I purchased the entire album. I was not disappointed.
“…An Education in Rebellion” is one of those albums that only knows one speed, although in this case, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The songs are polished up pretty well, but the teeth didn’t go dull in the process. The guitars are cranked, the gain is left wide open, and the self-produced album screams “wall of sound.” The sound is one part Rob Zombie, one part Rage Against the Machine, and one part down-home thundering Texas metal, a la Pantera. The band showed only one radio hit, 2000’s “Turn Me on Mr. Deadman,” which perfectly represented the band’s sound, and the prevailing sound of the era. Whether it be that tune, or “Killing the Fly,” or “Revolution Man” or “The Friend Song” (the second song on the original EP, together with “South Texas Deathride,”) Union Underground never takes a break or a breather. If turn-of-the-millennium-distortion-heavy-metal is up your alley, you should give this a listen. Despite no band member displaying an singular talent, the songs have great hooks, and keep your attention riveted. The entire album is presented with an energy and pace that was clearly meant to keep the mosh pits moving. Going forward, I don’t know that Union Underground would have ever evolved beyond the heavy riffing and simple themes and profanity. For one album though, it came together nicely.
Ultimately, the Union Underground fell prey to a four horse race between them, Static-X, Powerman 5000 and Drowning Pool. In the chase to see who could ride the coattails of Rob Zombie’s eminently successful sound (remember horror fans, there was a time when Rob Zombie was unspeakably awesome,) Union Underground lacked the staying power after the first turn. It seems odd that a band so willing to initially run the race to get to the top would die out so quickly, but one thing led to another and here we are. The band’s biggest commercial splash came in the form of the opening theme from Monday Night Raw, which was both blessing and curse. Sure, the exposure was nice, but the song sounded like a Union Underground cover band, and by that point, it was too little too late. In 2002, the band released a live album to try and keep the fires stoked, but a six-track album that didn’t offer anything not on the studio record was not the cure.
If there’s a flaw with the album, perhaps the band could be accused of trying too hard. From top to bottom, each song sounds like the band was trying to craft a new metal anthem, a headbanging, sing-along favorite of crowds spanning the globe. It’s nice to have such aspirations, but an album of ten such songs fails to show any range, and is likely setting the bar a touch high. Lyrically, some of the songs don’t really hold water, but hey, who was listening to the lyrics anyway?
It’s been nine years since the album’s release, but if you find the right message boards, someone will occasionally whisper about what an excellent live show Union Underground was. Shame more people won’t get to know that. I get the feeling that the sands of time are going to wash over “…An Education in Rebellion,” and it’s too bad. With a little refinement, a little variety, and a solid sophomore effort, Union Underground could have left a better mark on metal history. A lot of people are missing out.