Consisting of members Dave Claiborne, Steven Andrew Miller, Eric Allen, Todd Beattie, and Rob Moran, San Diego’s Unbroken were unquestionably among the most interesting ‘metalcore’ bands to emerge in the early to mid-’90s.
Released in 1994, their Life. Love. Regret. LP was considered by many to be one of the most influential pieces of hardcore music from its time. Blending metal, emo and a bit of what would have become the San Diego-style in the years to come, Unbroken were surely among the most hyped US bands before coming to their first European tour in the Winter of 1994/’95. Despite the cold European weather and band members getting sick, their shows were packed and remained special to all these kids who had the luck to be there.
The following article was originally published on the now defunct Some Will Never Know website in April, 2012. It was one of our favorite pieces ever published in this great Dutch hardcore zine, so hopefully they don’t mind getting a new spin here.
Photographs by Jean-Paul and Sander ‘Monkey’ made in the Goudvishal, Arnhem, and Vera, Groningen.
Unbroken has over the years become one of those bands of mythical proportions. With them playing some European reunion shows , we thought it was a good idea to go back in time and ask people just what made Unbroken so special back then when they came on their first European tour in the winter of ’94-’95. .
We pretty much asked everyone the same two questions:
1. Why did that band make such an impact at the time?
2. Do you have any crazy, nice stories about their first European tour?
Now let the people who were (or could have been) there have their say:
Marc Lohousen (Trustkill Europe)
I guess Unbroken did something new with the release of Life. Love. Regret concerning the music, lyrics and the whole approach the record had concerning the artwork , photos and booklet. Personally I loved the heavy riffs, and the sound of Dave’s voice that blended the songs into something that was unique in all aspects. For me the first 7″ and the first LP were average to good but all release thereafter remain classics. Not to mention their live appearance that was special. To make it short: somehow Unbroken cannot be explained and therefore remains special.
I remember that it was extremely cold that winter and sometimes it felt colder inside the bus than outside, and more or less nearly everybody was sick. After Salzgitter, the band stayed at my mom’s house and we all had a good breakfast with healthy bread (Vollkornbrot) , which led to some farts that day. (it happened to other American bands as well)
I am pretty sure David still has my grey Kangol cap I gave him someday and he continued to wear it.
Personally I like the fact that in Arnsberg (I think) the set was relatively short due to sickness of various Unbroken members and Christian (from Lebensreform) offered to play bass for the encore. Which always had Chain cover versions since Christian can play nearly every song out of their set list.
Edward (Goodlife Recordings)
Unbroken made such an impact because they were straight edge, emo and metal at the same time and did things stylishly so they appealed to a lot of different scenes at the same time. I saw them in Bologna, Italy, on that tour with about 600+ kids in attendance, no one had ever seen them before, so the anticipation was incredible… the tension in the hall… everyone was nervous because we somehow felt we part of something incredible, a show to remember. I remember everyone in the room X-ing up before the band went on, and when they did, all hell broke loose. That is why I’m not going to the reunions, I want to remember those magical original moments in time, not replace them with new ones that would probably be a lot less epic.
Jose Saxlund (Abhinanda, Desperate Fight Records)
In the first place Unbroken made an impact because they put out some great music. I also believe that they had that dark feeling over them that was a little bit different from all the posi-stuff we listened to back then. That made them stand out a little bit. Actually, i never got to see them play. Ever. I had tickets to the first reunion in the US, but had to cancel that trip. I had the flight and everything booked. Same thing with their UK show some year ago. Damn, the crazy story here is that I was supposed to see them live like a million times, but never got to, for one reason or another!
Hans Verbeke (Liar, Rot In Hell, Rise Above, Blindfold)
I’m pretty sure that Unbroken had that impact back then, because of that certain style they where playing. Unbroken played metal without their members actually listening to metal, except for Rob… Unbroken was the band that came in style. Black slick hair, dressed-up like rockers. We had the chance to play four shows with them on their first European tour, that was with my band Blindfold Somewhere early ’90s…it was freezing cold on that tour, most places where shitty, but we had a great time. On one of the last shows we played together, guitarist Eric broke his guitar on stage, and asked me to borrow my pretty much favorite Gibson SG back then…it freaked me out during their set. Afraid that he would smash mine as well in his going-off moment on stage. That tour sticks in my memory, and since then I always kind of stayed in touch with Rob, meaning meeting-up occasionally when he came over with one of his bands. I love Unbroken…
Christian Unsinn (Take It Back Records, Mine, Blue Water Boy)
I never got to know any of the guys in Unbroken, so I have no idea how these guys were in person. However from a distance they seemed like kids just like us. Kids in their teens who were trying new stuff and learning about life. For me this set them apart from most of the other bands. It was something I could really relate to.
This searching and trying that I could relate to so much is something I fell you can see in Unbroken’s releases: Unbroken’s first EP, You Won’t Be Back, was bad generic straight edge mosh. Ritual was good, but not groundbreaking either. Then Unbroken seemed to get into the Ebullition-type emo stuff and released a great split 7″ with Groundwork and the And/Fall on Proverb EP. And soon after came their metallic masterpiece Life. Love. Regret., and as a final encore the punk-ish Circa ’77 EP. Unbroken did not only change its musical style from release to release, but the band members also seemed to change their personal styles from release to release as well. They went from the baggy straight edge look to the then popular emo look to their trademark Elvis-style outfits.
Even with all these changes in music and style I never thought of them as being a band that was trying to do what’s popular at the time, but of kids that were influenced by what happened around them that were trying to find their way. Basically kids that were trying to cope with becoming adults—just like I was struggling with the same things in my life at the time. You can also notice that in the booklet that came with Life.Love.Regret: None of the writings in there were groundbreaking, but they seemed damn honest and something I could relate to, e.g. Todd’s statement about how he’d rather go fuck himself than do the right things for all the wrong reasons. It was also this honesty and their trial and error approach that made me relate to Unbroken more than to most other bands around at the time. Because I seemed to fuck up in my teenage life on a daily basis too.
Today, all these years later, the only Unbroken releases I still listen to are Life. Love. Regret. and Circa ’77. There are few releases from the ’90s that give me goosebumps like these two records. And even today, I can relate to these words and songs like few other bands and records.
As an exchange student in ’92 in ended up with an exchange family in Oceanside, which is about one hour north of San Diego. It was the time I got really excited about the No Answers and Ebullition communities. So I was eager to see bands like Struggle, Amenity and Unbroken play in San Diego. Unfortunately my host family were US marines and I was not allowed to leave our military base, Camp Pendleton, to go to shows or even a record store. So I missed Unbroken for the first time back then.
Soon after I ended up moving to another host family in Indianapolis. I had a great time there, and I went to the same school and even some of the same classes as members of Split Lip, Jackhammer, Once Again, and Birthright. So yes, I did see some great shows in Indianapolis (mainly at a place called Sitcom), but I missed Unbroken on their summer tour, because I had to leave to go back to Europe.
When Unbroken and Battery toured Europe in the mid-’90s I was in a band called Mine. My fellow band members followed Unbroken for a string of shows. I didn’t come along because at the time both bands had releases on Lost & Found (the label we all hated the most), and because I was trying to date this girl around the time of the shows. Well, I learned that Unbroken never approved of the four-song CD on Lost & Found, and I didn’t make it down that girl’s pants either. So I missed Unbroken again—this time obviously for all the wrong choices.
When the Burning Fight book came out I tried to make it to one of the reunion shows, but was unable to score a ticket, because the shows sold out so fast. So I missed them once again.
Finally, in 2010 I made it to the London show. I went with my sister, who has the words “Life.Love.Regret.” tattooed on her arm. The show was great, but way too big. And it was without Eric, of course. So while I really enjoyed seeing the band play, it didn’t feel like really seeing Unbroken. Yet it was cool to be there with my sister who loves Unbroken as much as I do.
Unbroken is going to play in Berlin this month, the city I now live in. I made sure to get my ticket the first day they went on sale. I am excited to see them again, yet I often wonder how it would have been to see Unbroken in the early ’90s at the Ché Cafe.
I truly miss the ’90s feel—Hardcore was so much more exciting back then.
Johan Boomsma (One Day Closer, Strip The Threads)
At the time Revelation wasn’t releasing lots of really good records. There was Burn, Quicksand and Inside Out but that was it. New Age Records on the other hand was up and coming with bands like Mouthpiece, Outspoken, Resurrection and Unbroken. New Age did something new as well as stayed true to their Straight Edge roots. A new generation of bands came up. Raw, emotional, less positive, political. Unbroken was one of those new bands. They did new things like the Joy Division typo graphics, the darker artwork and personal messages in the liner notes.
I saw them in the Goudvishal. It was very crowded. As far as I remember people came from all over Europe. The band played a short set because they all had a cold and or fever. It was in the beginning of January. Unbroken inspired many people. From my band One Day Closer and Congress to The Hope Conspiracy, Ceremony and Ritual.
Jean-Paul Frijns (Value of Strength zine / Birds of a Feather / Echoes/SWNK)
It’s not that Unbroken during the early ’90s made the kind of impact on me that they stood out from any of the other bands around. At the time it was more that all bands who released records on labels such as Revelation, New Age, Ebullition or Victory records were in advance bands you were looking forward to see live. Those were the bands I read about in John Dudeck’s Very distribution catalog or saw ads from in Maximum Rock ‘n Roll.
Since I was living in the south of Holland during the ’90s, I went to possibly every show in Holland, Belgium or Germany that was easy to get to. There were no ten shows in a week. You didn’t have to choose and I was looking forward to that one show every now and then. It was totally cool and something special if there were overseas bands on tour.
When Unbroken was on tour in Europe (for the first time in 1995) they just released their second full length record. “Ritual“, their first record was a pretty decent record, nothing outstanding. With their second record Unbroken took it to the next level. On “Life. Love. Regret” they created a style of its own. On the split 7″ with political band Groundwork we got a preview of the new Unbroken sound. The new musical direction Unbroken headed into was fairly innovative back then.
Unfortunately they couldn’t live up to my expectations during their show in Arnhem, the Netherlands. Half of the band got sick during the tour, and because of this, their set wasn’t very convincing. Nevertheless the intensity and atmosphere around this show were overwhelming and the band definitely gave it all. There were stage dives and sing alongs from the moment they kicked off.
[Follow This Myth Called Freedom on Youtube for more stunning ’90s hardcore videos from across Europe.]
Just recently I found the tape with recordings I made from that particular show, amazing to relive the event by listening to the songs and looking at many pictures that capture the feeling of this cold night during one of the first days of January 1995.
Also important, but not what this writing should not be about, is that the show got kicked off by Mainstrike. It was their first show ever. Battery also played that night, but I can’t remember anything of their set. After all Battery was a band who put their records out on Lost & Found, which was a not done record label. I was considerable disappointed the moment I found out that Unbroken was about to release a MCD on this label as well.
So when talking about the impact this band made on me. It’s something I started to appreciate more later on, after their European tour and after listening countless times to the “Life. Love. Regret” record. I could relate to the lyrics that came from the heart. They were kids my age and were able to capture their ambitions, frustrations and collective fears in essential riffing, rhythm and heavy singing.
Sander van der Kroft (Monkey zine)
It must have been spring 1994 or so, at least it was the afternoon that Feeding the Fire played the now infamous Glasfabriek-squat in Groningen. I remember hanging out at our place with the Crucial Response Records-crew and putting up Unbroken’s ‘Ritual’ LP. For us, this LP was rather fresh as it had arrived through Very Distribution not too long before. We thought it was quite raw, metallic even. Michael Mueller reached for his backpack. He mentioned he recently came back from the States where he teamed up with the Unbroken guys. He grabbed for a cassette tape with some demo recordings he urged us to play. “You thought ‘Ritual’ is the shit?”, he said. That particular afternoon Life. Love. Regret. entered my life full frontal. From that moment on, the sound of hardcore punk had been changed forever. Heartfelt, hands down!
The impact of Unbroken is encaptured in those nine songs that each stand out for itself in musical and lyrical importance, and altogether synergy-wise lead to an augmented state of significance. In other words; the Life. Love. Regret. album was the unleashed sheet anchor to accompany my teenage struggle with growing up in general and dealing with loved-ones in particular.
The concept of the album, whether it’s the combination of harsh vocals screaming meaningful yet almost poetic lyrics with inciting metalcore, was a concept in defiance of the status quo in youth-crew or mosh-core as I knew it till then. Yes the music is metal, yet it stays miles away from being generic—it never even comes close. The influence of Eric Allen, or more specific the bands he’d played in, boosts up the sense of urgency that I hear in the guitars especially when the fast parts hit in hard.
It definitely further adds up to the emotion of the songs, songs that are initially already punctuated with emotional lyrics anyway. Dark. Painful. Drowning in an emotional quagmire. Yet also fuelling sparks of positivism. “We live and die with our opinions”. The ultimate quote I will have tattooed on my arm before I’ll turn 40 years old next year, I have promised my friend Bas from emo-band Shikari (who did an excellent ‘Fall on Proverb’ cover song by the way). Stop pinpointing on the differences, yet focus on what we have in common. Adopt the energy, crow over.
With ambiguity within the range of topics, Life. Love. Regret. features the contradictions in the different songs itself. Therefore it resembles the confusing cycle of mind of an up-growing teenager, one who’s angry and joyful, understanding and disappointed, revolting and conservative, all in sequence or even occurring at once. That’s why at the time I could relate to it so much—and I still do as of today. And with me, to an entire generation X(XX) I suppose, due to their popularity. Unbroken had proved to be able to write down and perform the soundtrack to that process. That’s exactly why they made such an impact. Unbroken was ahead of their time music- and lyric-wise, and they dropped their masterpiece right when it was needed. Because of the timing and the quality of their work, Unbroken proved themselves to be the significant other band.
And no, their impact had nothing to do with Rob Moran walking through Groningen’s red light district January ’95, after rounding up an interview for Monkey fanzine, and having a boner.
Eric Sefton (Kindred, Enemy Of The Sun, Trouble Loves Us)
Unbroken grabbed me by the neck from the first time I listened to them. ‘Zero Hour’ was that song! It was something new and fresh in the hardcore scene at that point of time and also their lyrics were more personal, emotional, straight from the heart. That’s why I think they made such an impact on people. For me Unbroken are “The Smiths” of hardcore!