Meet Unto Others, The Band Reinventing the Goth-Metal Sound With New Album ‘Strength’
The time has come for you to get to know Unto Others, the band formerly known as Idle Hands who are set to reinvent the goth-metal sound with their new album, Strength.
The group formed in 2017 in Portland, Oregon, out of the ashes of traditional metal band Spellcaster. Carrying over some of those classic heavy metal elements, singer and guitarist Gabriel Franco sought to pursue an entirely fresh sound, or at least what he perceived to be as a brand new direction in metal.
As we found out in our interview with the frontman, Franco was mostly unaware of the pre-existing goth rock acts, save for Sisters of Mercy, when starting up Idle Hands, who released their Mana debut in 2019 and changed their name to Unto Others in September of last year due to a trademark issue, which also coincided with the band signing a new record deal with Roadrunner Records.
Throughout the decades, the realm of goth-metal wasn't defined by one overarching sound, a quality that feels rather strict in countless metal subgenres. This affords any band who dares tangle with these dark, atmospheric overtones a wide-ranging creative license, one Unto Others have clearly seized on Strength, due Sept. 24.
Below, Franco takes us through the development of the band's unique sound, what inspired his over-the-top wolf howl vocalizations, why signing with Roadrunner made the most sense for his band and he dives deep on the dark subject matter that prevails on Strength.
Before the name change from Idle Hands to Unto Others, this band's sound could be traced back through your earlier band, Spellcaster, at least through the traditional metal elements. Strength, to my ears, has put the goth sound more at the forefront. Did the name change feel opportunistic to make this sort of leap?
The last interview I just did, they said it seemed like I dropped the gothic influence and went more heavy metal [laughs].
With this record, the goth aspect went away a little bit on the guitars. I still have the clean guitars, but the drums are less electronic sounding and more vintage heavy metal.
I mix heavy, distorted guitars with clean guitars and I try to utilize them in a way that nobody in heavy metal is doing right now. It’s all cool stuff, but it’s by-the-book heavy metal.
I’m a huge Sisters of Mercy fan, but my knowledge of goth rock, post-punk and new wave in general was pretty limited when this band began. I was a straight up heavy metal dude and after we put out the Don't Waste Your Time EP, a lot of people told me I sound like Robert Smith (The Cure), Dave Gahan (Depeche Mode) or Dave Vanian (The Damned). So, I checked those guys out and I could hear a little bit.
Here I was thinking I was doing something somewhat new — fuck [laughs].
It wasn’t an opportunistic move though. The name change to Unto Others had a more metal ring than a goth ring. It’s interesting you see it that way, but I’m happy because I was afraid we were losing a bit of that side of ourselves.
What aspects of that music did you pick out and enjoy the most that had an influence on your playing once you did become aware of this more goth-oriented music?
The big one was Héroes del Silencio. After we put out the EP, my booking agent hit me up and said I had to check them out. He’s from Portugal and they’re a huge Spanish goth rock band from the ‘80s, and I listened to one of their records 100 times, which did have an influence on what I was doing later on.
I am a metal fan who was drawn to different music out of sheer age. At a certain point you’ve listened to all the big heavy metal bands and you either go deeper into the underground and the obscure or you branch out to different genres, and I decided to branch out. The more obscure I went, the more watered down everything became about metal.
I was drawn to goth, punk, black metal, etc. by the aggression. They’re all relatives and I thought, ‘Why can’t I bring these all together?’ I love all these bands and there’s not only aggression, but beauty in them — this sort of savage grace. I wanted to name the band Savage Grace, but there was one from the ‘80s — an obscure heavy metal band from the ‘80s [laughs].
Héroes del Silenco, "Entre dos tierras"
Tom G. Warrior (Celtic Frost) has the “Ooh!” and “Hey!” vocalizations and Peter Steele (Type O Negative) was always rolling his R’s… and you’ve got this wolf grunt/howl going on. How did that start?
Maybe I got it subconsciously from Jake [Superchi] from [Portland, Oregon black metal band] Uada because he does wolf howls, too, and we toured with them, but the record was recorded before then.
“Nightfall” [off Mana] with the wolf howl at the beginning was about some spooky forest/magical mystical darkness of the forest and I thought, ‘What would you hear?’ You would hear a werewolf howl.
People do it at shows too and it’s fun.
I take the music seriously, but not too seriously. If I think it’s a good idea, but it’s corny then it’s still going in. You have to be honest with yourself. If I removed it because of what I thought people might think about it, I’m really just fucking over them and myself.
I love some cheese! Manowar, ‘80s KISS…
I think most metal fans and goth rock fans do. One of the huge things that drew me to The Smiths was Morrissey whining, “Please for once in my life let me get what I want / Lord knows it would be the first time.” Oh my god, you’re so overdramatic!
Unto Others, "When Will Gods Work Be Done"
You opened for King Diamond and Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats as Idle Hands. I heard you were being scouted by a few labels on that run. Why did Roadrunner feel like the ideal home for this band?
I had already met with Roadrunner before that and flew to New York in August of 2019.
I met with Roadrunner and Spinefarm at their offices and it was a total trip for a musician like me. It was like it was out of a movie — come out and meet the label. You fly to New York by yourself, you get in a car that shuttles you to your hotel, meet up in some fancy high-rise building with a security guard at the door. They chat you up, everyone plays their part and we got lunch and got drunk. It was cool.
On the King Diamond tour, Ghost’s label, Loma Vista, flew out and I talked to the dude for an hour. He didn’t seem super interested, so he flew back out and we never heard from him again.
We also had interest from Metal Blade and Century Media, but I felt like Roadrunner was the better option. All my favorite bands and, specifically, my favorite band as a teenager — Cradle of Filth — were on Roadrunner, so that was always my goal.
Dave Rath in A&R was in a sweet ‘80s hair metal band (Heaven’s Edge) and he worked his way up from the bottom, too, and I respected that.
I don't come from much here in Portland. I’ve had more than I’ve ever had in my life right now. I come from a family of six kids. My real dad came over the border from Mexico, met my mom and then later got divorced and then I was raised by a Vietnamese man. I’m half-Mexican, half-German, raised Viatnamese and pretty fucking poor in southeast Portland.
I was like, ‘I want more than this,’ so here I am. Am I happy? We’ll see...
Strength opens with a particularly dark song, “Heroin.” Is this a reflection of the world around you or is this something more personal?
That song is, like most of my songs, fact and fiction at the same time. It’s the story of someone struggling with a heroin addiction — or any drug addiction — basically just dying in the street.
I grew up around a circle of punk/metal kids in high school, and I was in danger of going down a shithead road, but luckily I had just a good enough head on my shoulders and my parents loved me just enough or something — I don’t know — and I thought, “Fuck that.” I saw a lot of my friends go down that road. My older singer and drummer got addicted to drugs and we had to kick them out of Spellcaster for that. They’re doing well now, though.
It always fascinated me how evil it could make people. I realized that evil is just selfishness and that was an eye-opener, so “Heroin” is about the outward effects of your selfish decisions. It’s not just about you. Even though you didn’t choose to be put here, the decisions you make about yourself affect everyone else around you. It’s a fucked up story.
The next song on the album, “Downtown,” has some juxtaposition — it’s more upbeat but lyrically a bit... down (pardon the pun).
It’s a song about social anxiety. The message is simple — I’m just not in the fucking mood to talk to you, to walk with you, to look at you. I just want to be left alone, but I’m surrounded by people. It seems when you want to be alone is when people want to bother you the most, but it’s all in your head.
Unto Others, "Downtown" Music Video
Between the two records, there’s also themes of suicide. Would you describe yourself as someone who has been suicidal at any point in your life?
I consider myself and my character in this band as a storyteller. I’m fascinated with the extremes — war, drug addiction, suicide, murders. A lot of people are fascinated with this stuff because you wonder why and how.
I’ve never seriously grappled with suicidal ideation. I’ve had moments where I’ve been so anxious and so depressed, that I think I can understand why people might want to do that. If I felt like this all the time…
But the messages are just stories. Mana was a collection of fairy tales and “Double Negative” in particular was just about a guy going and jumping off a building. A simple song. On the new one, I don’t think I was as direct, but the themes are going to be present in my music forever. It’s a total tragedy and it just ends up coming back up when I’m writing lyrics.
I think a lot of this stuff is rooted in my childhood.
Growing up, my brother’s friend across the street, her mom killed herself and jumped off a bridge in Portland. My buddy Nick from elementary school killed himself through a pill overdose. My friend Terry, who I was loosely acquainted in high school, hung himself in a closet when a girl broke up with him.
Another buddy and I had a class about writing speeches and public speeches. He called me ‘Skittles’ because I liked Skittles and I called him ‘Jitters’ because he would shake so violently when he had to speak in front of the class. It was friendly ribbing and we got along, but I found out later he shot himself.
I’m fortunate enough that I haven’t had to deal with any heavy tragedy directly like that, but throughout my life and I think most peoples’ lives, it’s present. I don’t like to turn a blind eye to that kind of thing. I think it’s morbidly fascinating and such a weird aspect of human behavior that deserves a place in my music.
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website. Resource information is provided for free as well as a chat message service. To speak directly to a professional, call 1-800-273-8255. You are not alone and help is available. Every life is important.
Unto Others, "No Children Laughing Now"
There’s a cover of Pat Benatar’s “Hell Is for Children” on Strength. What other cover ideas were thrown around and how did you settle on this one?
I did two interviews where they didn’t know that it was a cover. I hope young people don’t know what it is because some of my favorite songs, such as “Hallowed Be Thy Name” from Cradle of Filth... I thought they wrote that song and I didn’t find out it was Iron Maiden until months later. So it’s fun in that sense.
My drummer came in one day and said, “Dude, I was drinking beers with Brian last night. We need to cover this song,” and he played it. I already knew the song and I said, “Yes! This would be a fantastic cover. Let’s do it!”
I didn’t want it to be on the record though but the label loved it. Now I have two songs with the word “Children” on the title and I’m going to look half-assed like I ran out of ideas [laughs].
I knew the root notes and I just threw my chords on it and arpeggiated and that was that. I’m glad it sounds different enough.
The future is a bit uncertain with tours and the pandemic. What else are you going to do to keep busy with the band?
We’re planning a North American tour for this fall. It’s totally hectic out there, but we’ll be on the road, COVID permitting.
We have some time off before Christmas and I’m going to do pre-production for the next album, which we’re already working on. Then we go to Europe early next March and April and then April and May do another U.S. tour then in the fall we've got the Behemoth and Arch Enemy European tour. There will probably be some scattered European festival dates, too.
My hope is next year we will be restarting the momentum, turning the grinding wheel again and coming back to life. In 2023 I want to be roaring at full fucking engines with a third album out, the band at peak performance, just killing it. Then it's all downhill from there [laughs].
Thanks to Gabriel Franco for the interview. Grab your copy of 'Strength' here (out Sept. 24) here and follow Unto Others on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Spotify.