Retrospective: Union of Uranus’ “Disaster by Design”

We recently looked back on German metallic hardcore powerhouse Acme‘s classic …To Reduce the Choir to One Soloist record, which got us thinking about all manner of era-appropriate heaviness, and the very of-the-time sound that bands like Acme laid down: somewhere between hardcore, second-gen emo hardcore, and thrash, with huge production sounds and just a bit of Gothenlove in there as well. That thought process led us pretty quickly to Canadians Union of Uranus and their excellent Disaster by Design double 7”.

This record, released on the excellent Great American Steak Religion label in 1995, immediately put Union of Uranus up there with the His Hero Is Gones and Acmes of the scene, the band… hold everything, did we say double 7”? Why, yes, we did, and I’m glad to finally have the chance to say this with an audience of more than just my bored wife pretending to listen to me: double 7”s rule. It’s an incredible format for punk and hardcore, and one I’d love to see utilized more in metal.

So, yes, Union of Uranus (later known just as Uranus: see their incredible split with His Hero Is Gone, who Uranus guitarist Yannick Lorrain went on to join; he’s also been a member of Decibel Hall of Famers Tragedy since their inception) established themselves with this record as a heavy hitter in this incredibly heavy-hitting scene, the band over these four sides of wax showing that something very, very heavy was brewing up north, once again.

The record—which you can also find as part of their 2004 discography release, To this Bearer of Truth—starts out ominously, with “Panacea” slow-burning its way to a proclamation that the brutality will begin, right now. It’s a bit sloppy and all youthful energy, which totally works in its favor, the band exploding in a sound that, oddly, all these years later, also sounds sort of black metal when the eruption finally hits. At 4:47, this is basically the “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” of this era’s metallic hardcore, but it doesn’t get tiring, the band squeezing out tons of emotion through every second.

Union of Uranus then go short and fast for the blasting “Circumstance,” a two-minute frantic hardcore rager that conjures up memories of horrible sound and incredible nights at all-ages shows, where songs like this weren’t just scissor beats and temper tantrums, they were, well, everything.

Ah, yes, then there’s “Face Value,” where the band showed that this is more than just a vomiting of anger; this is music. And this is well-written music, this song featuring an extremely memorable opening riff which then went into a—gasp!—groove part, but, you know, not-garbage groove part. And as the song goes on, things build and build, until those opening chords come back and… god damn, this right here is a good song, one that still gets my adrenaline pumping all these years later.

Where do you go after “Face Value”? Union of Uranus went to “Pedestal,” a mid-paced momentum-chaser that almost serves as breathing room after “Face Value,” even though there’s absolutely nothing relaxing about this song, which also uses smart guitar dynamics to keep things rolling along, the band showing again that they were on to something behind all the chaos.

Then, with the five-minute closer “Revolve,” Union of Uranus bring this brief record to an end; but, much like the band’s lifespan and their entire discography, the briefness is part of the joy, this song serving as a good closer, another mid-paced cut that, again, has black metal overtones (something I never thought of listening to this band back in 1995, which has me scratching my head a bit here today, because I would never, ever think to describe Uranus as having black metal overtones, yet, here we are).

Union of Uranus meant a lot to us in 1995; often when bands of this or similar ilk meant a lot to us in 1995, the music doesn’t hold up, at all, in 2018. But Disaster by Design sounds as great today as it did then, and it still moves me in all the same ways; sonically, these songs can still move mountains.