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Close to Far Away

Seminal Mid-Atlantic outfit Universal Order of Armageddon rises up onstage again

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Universal Order Of Armageddon returns (but does not "reunite").

Universal Order of Armageddon with Oak, Regents, and the Gift

Sonar, Jan. 20

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Universal Order of Armageddon is a band outside history. After breaking up 16 years ago and an unlikely reformation less than a year ago, this timelessness is the goal of the Maryland-born punk quartet and one of the more vital and undersung pieces of the vast tattered tapestry of underground music. Parked around a table in a Station North bar, guitarist Tonie Joy and now-Seattle-based vocalist Colin Seven—bassist Anthony Scott Malat and drummer Brooks Headley both live in New York City—explain emphatically that the word “reunion” is and will be for the foreseeable future a null term.

Reunion implies history and legacy and acknowledgement of such, but UOA just is, a band that would prefer to live always in the present and always in that present moment’s own context. A show, whether this year or in another 16 years, should be like “popping out of a manhole,” Joy says. No genre, no time.

You can’t get too far in talking about old punk/hardcore/metal bands without noting that many of them have gotten back together in recent years. From Corrosion of Conformity to Mission of Burma to the Buzzcocks, just look at the sheer number of reunion tours revolving around a single classic record. And if there’s a more historic way to do a reunion than dusting off an early record, it’d probably involve costumes.

“In the beginning I was very hesitant, and resistant to the term ‘reunion,’” Seven says, speaking in a voice best described as a low boom and in a manner that suggests every word is being mentally carved in stone before leaving his mouth. “The thought of it being some sentimental revival thing where the bros from back in the day get together and throw down like they used to—that disgusts me. And I would have no part of that.

“For all of us,” he continues, “it had to be done in such a way that felt it was relevant now to do what we were doing. I think we all feel good about that.”

UOA’s first show since 1995 happened last summer at Whartscape. Thank local writer Tim Kabera, UOA’s “unofficial historian” and close friend of the band who initially suggested the booking to festival organizers and was trusted enough by the band that “if Tim didn’t say it was OK, I wouldn’t have done it,” Seven says. “The way I look at it is that Tim asked me to do it.”

The festival was also a chance to pop out of that proverbial manhole, a space where some listeners would be a blank slate. “Part of the appeal of playing at that particular festival was that there would be a lot of people who wouldn’t know who the fuck we were,” Joy says. “If someone asked us after not playing for a decade and a half to play a stereotypical hardcore or punk festival, I wouldn’t have done it.

“This was an opportunity to play to people that would hopefully be, What the fuck is this?,” he continues. “Who are these weirdos and where are they from?

That effect seems to have been achieved, at least in part. Seven remembers a new fan coming up to him after a New York show last summer with No Age, following Whartscape. “He was maybe 20 years old,” he says. “And he was like, ‘I heard this was your first show in New York. That was really good for your first show.’ That meant so much. It was so genuine and so sweet. That kid was probably infinitely more hip that I ever was or ever will be. It was really fucking cool.”

At issue for UOA playing at any time is relevance. Is UOA relevant to what and whoever it’s currently surrounded by? Can the band be important to a new time and different people? “I want it to be like we can just pop out of a time portal in 2015 in a dance club [and play],” Joy says.

“I think if we had put any thought of what scene we were trying to be part of, who we were trying to appeal to, we would have been failing ourselves, and the people that were listening to us,” Seven adds, speaking about the band’s early days in the area’s punk/hardcore communities. “We’re very fortunate to be supported by the people that support us, but there was a definite sense of being outsiders, even in different scenes we were involved with.”

Manhole-traveling, decontextualized, anti-hardcore hardcore band or not, UOA will never shake that place in history—of making poetry into hardcore or vice versa, of making powerful, loud, noisy music into something inward-gazing and near spiritual. Seven and Joy only mention one band they feel UOA had any truck with: the Motor Morons, the SoWeBo Festival staple of absurdst junkyard-industrial music, an ultimate square peg of a band.

“Times and dates and years, it’s all pretty irrelevant,” Joy says. “It’s all about the music, the vibe, and the feeling. Some people might attach it to early ’90s hardcore. We don’t have anything to do with that. If we can just pop up out of nowhere and play and make it our 20 minutes that’s completely void of date or label or genre, that’s ideal. That’s the goal.

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