On The Next Four Years, the once-clandestine, ever-evolving hardcore unit United Nations reveals its true identity. That goes for the band’s current lineup as much as it does the band’s revitalized sound, which — in succeeding 2010’s Never Mind the Bombings, Here’s Your Six Figures EP, the last UN record to see a major release — has been dialed up. The Next Four Years is meaner, blacker, and heavier than the band’s previous work. And while the band’s debut full-length paid homage to Refused’s The Shape of Punk to Come directly, the sequel promotes the same philosophy by shaping punk with tools more common in screamo and even black metal.
United Nations subverts without compromise. In the face of a cease and desist from the official United Nations organization, the band pressed on, having gone so far as to flaunt legal paperwork on the album’s front cover. Meanwhile, manipulation of the UN trademark elsewhere in the artwork is no less brazen. The band also continues to mock and parody. But while previous releases invited controversy by lifting near-exact artwork from the Beatles and the Sex Pistols (The alleged Beatles infringement held disastrous consequences by forcing the band to destroy copies of the record.), The Next Four Years merely replicates Black Flag’s iconic font.
United Nations was once so evasive that music publications routinely misidentified members of the lineup based on out-of-date information. But unlike the self-titled, The Next Four Years prints the album’s personnel on the album itself. Thursday’s Geoff Rickly remains the face of the band; Lukas Previn, Jonah Bayer, and (relative) newcomers Zac Sewell and David Haik join him. The latter two — both members of post-hardcore heavyweights Pianos Become the Teeth — play bass and drums, respectively, and it’s their presence that gives the record much of its bite. From the frenzy of “Fuck the Future” to the drawn-out cooldown in “F#A#$,” The Next Four Years is a rhythmic juggernaut.
“Serious Business” launches into dark atmosphere with previously unseen black metal undertones. “Between Two Mirrors” contributes to those undertones with tremolo picking and blast beats. Rickly is unrecognizable, even considering UN’s previous work. He audibly gasps for air before sustained screams. He’s frequently distorted. And he pleads exasperatedly on parts that might resemble unpolished takes from Common Existence, but that’s the closest to Thursday this comes. Pure animalistic rage drives “Music for Changing Parties,” not melody.
The Next Four Years isn’t exactly a seditious diatribe, contrary to what the band’s history and reputation should have called for. “United Nations Vs. United Nations” doesn’t make a case for free expression or detail legal troubles so much as it conjures vague images like “Sell our guns to the river. Drown ourselves in the sea.” And the otherwise-excellent “Music for Changing Parties” is too minimalist to be a scathing critique of politics. The album’s most well-rounded song, “Serious Business,” is a rather thoughtful recognition of white privilege, and it’s told from the perspective of a man in prison.
The Next Four Years is a compilation record that functions as a cohesive follow-up to 2008’s LP and 2010’s EP. The record spans four short, out-of-print releases, none of which leaked. For the handful of listeners who procured a rare tape, as well as for fans of angry, radical music, The Next Four Years should offer sequential continuity, not to mention 30 minutes of noisy, expansive hardcore. It’s United Nations’ best work, and it’s an indecipherable shape of punk.