Locals: Unholy Two at No Place Gallery

Andy Downing
Photo by Michael O'Shaughnessy

Unholy Two frontman Chris Lutzko grew up enamored with professional wrestling, and more particularly the villains, or “heels,” who stood in opposition to traditional fan favorites.

“I have a picture of me at Christmas in 1985, and I'm holding the Iron Sheik and Nikolai [Volkoff] tag team [action figures] — not Hulk Hogan,” said Lutzko, who's joined in Unholy Two by his wife, Kellie Morgan-Lutzko, and Bo Davis (Ipps). “I've always liked the villains, being interested in why everyone hates them so much, because to me there was always more to it.”

Unholy Two's music emanates from a similarly dark, complex place on its excellent new record,The Pleasure to End All Pleasures(12XU Records). The album finds the noise-rock crew expanding on the menacing ground it staked out onTalk About Hardcore, from 2014, incorporating new instruments (bass guitar makes its first-ever appearance on “Be Careful What You Wish For,” courtesy of TV Ghost's Shawn Ghost) and choking new sounds from old standbys (the drum machine sounds as though it's been retrofitted with a bump stock for “Zero Tolerance”). Throughout, the sound builds on feedbacking guitars that mirror thick squalls of acid rain; crusty, relentless drums; and tortured vocals via Lutzko, who howls, screams and barks his largely unintelligible words as he's being dragged beneath the dense, foreboding swell.

“By the time I was 17 I had seen [avant noise-rock band] U.S. Maple three times. I was never into the paint-by-numbers, garage kind of thing, or bands playing ‘Louie Louie,'” said Lutzko, who joins his bandmates for an album release show at No Place Gallery on Thursday, Sept. 6. “I wanted to get a little more out of music.”

WithThe Pleasure to End All Pleasures, much of which was captured over the last year with recording engineer Zac Szymusiak, Lutzko said he envisioned making “the most mean-spirited and transgressive record of all time.” This is the type of statement you'd expect from someone who admitted to being enamored with the U.S. Army's use of loud, heavy rock music to torture and eventually break Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega in the late 1980s, leading to his surrender. “How maniacal would that be for music to do that?” Lutzko said. “Maybe we can be on that level.”

Lutzko compared his evolution as a musician with his progression as a wrestling fan, which has seen him shift from the traditional realm of the WWE to more extreme leagues like Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling, with its piranhas and barbed wire matches and electrocutions — a sensation Lutzko experienced firsthand while recording vocals for the album. “There was one moment where I had my hand on the microphone and the other hand on a register on the ground, and it shocked the hell out of me,” he said. “I think that was the moment I was like, ‘This record is finished.'”

While Lutzko never pursued any in-ring wrestling, he has been able to craft a similar kind of alter-ego within music, channeling his fascination with dark, historical figures, human atrocities and over-the-top violence into an onstage presence far bleaker and more horrifying than his day-to-day reality, where he said it's important to maintain some semblance of optimism for humanity as he and Kellie ready for the birth of their first child.

“It's one thing with the music,” he said, “but you can't turn this baby that isn't even born yet over to the world.”

Correction: An early version of this article said Unholy Two collaborated with TV Ghost's Brahne Hoeft rather than Shawn Ghost.

No Place Gallery

7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 6

1164 S. Front St., Merion Village

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Unholy Two