Systematic Deletion, the new EP from Unchipped, opens in isolation, the song's narrator driven to gradual madness by the sight of his own reflection.
“His eyes are full of hatred and also full of sorrow,” singer Pat Snyder bellows atop metal-tinged guitar riffs and thick, rubbery bass. “I can’t even imagine the horrors that he’s seen.”
The song, "Reflections," has roots in the early days of the pandemic, when a sharp pivot to remote work left many seated alone at home on a computer during a seemingly endless string of Zoom calls.
“And when I read and heard those [words], it echoed so clear,” said bassist Ty Owen, who joined Snyder, drummer Joel Archibald and guitarist Chrys Cornetet for a late-April interview at Spacebar. “I was sitting on work calls and Zoom calls, interacting with people but staring at myself. It was just ‘Groundhog Day’ every day, and there was no escaping it.”
Unchipped released its appropriately titled debut album End of Times in the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the virus forcing the cancellation of planned concerts and sending the band members into forms of isolation that lingered for more than a year. Even after the release of a vaccine, Unchipped couldn’t get right back to work, its return delayed when Owen fractured his elbow in a bike accident. “Luckily it was like, ‘Don’t do anything for a month and you’ll be fine,’” Owen said. “But it was still like, holy shit, I’m vaccinated, and we can finally get back to this, but now I can’t play. So, that was a little soul crushing.”
Once Owen healed and the band members were able to gather, the players initially struggled to regain earlier momentum, citing a growing disconnect that led to the departure of founding guitarist J.R. Fisher.
Eventually, Fisher was replaced by former Salvage drummer Cornetet, who at the time of the invite was still reeling from the March 2021 death of Salvage bandmate Chris “Spanky” Hughes. The guitarist described Hughes as his “partner in crime” going back nearly 20 years – a loss that briefly left him questioning if he even had a future in music.
“I was really like, well, that was fun. Is it going to happen again?’” said Cornetet, who even tore down the jam room he’d constructed in his garage, figuring he’d again need the space for working on cars. “There was that minute where I was questioning if I even needed all of my amps. It was like, ‘What am I even going to do with all of this stuff?’”
“When you see your friends and people you admire not having a band anymore, it sucks,” Owen said. “And it was part of the reason we wanted to start jamming with Chrys, because he’s a fucking awesome guitar player and a great human being. It was like, ‘You should be in a band and it’s sad that you’re not. Let’s hang out.’”
The instinct paid off for both parties in early jam sessions, Cornetet integrating seamlessly while introducing a welcome "wildcard” element, the band members said. Snyder compared the guitarist’s unpredictable persona and approach with “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome,” while Owen said his presence lent the crew's music a heavier, old-school shredder vibe.
“The first thing that he added was this really nasty, slow, heavy, Slayer/Dave Lombardo, half-speed drum riff that was a bridge to a song that I had, and I was like, ‘This is fantastic,’” Owen said. “And it was not something we could have come up with without Chrys. And having that click in the writing process was great.”
While the band’s debut arrived steeped in dystopian themes centered on technology, climate change and policing, among other headline-generated topics, the EP amps up the devastation, two of its four songs documenting widespread global annihilation. On “Hive Mind,” a meteor strike unleashes a swarm of alien predators that proceeds to slaughter the population, while on the title track humankind cements its own destruction, embracing automated technology and then losing control of it, leading to nuclear catastrophe. (Think the current ChatGPT debates filtered through the worldview of Cormac McCarthy.)
“When everything went to crap [during the pandemic], it was just like, well, what we said before, but let’s just up it,” Snyder said. “Let’s bring in space bugs. Let’s bring in A.I.-controlled robots that start wiping everything out.”
“I don’t think technology is inherently good or bad,” Owen said. “But the application of most technology has historically not been great.”
As bleak as the music can be, at times, the band is not without a sense of humor, which surfaces in everything from the professional wrestling-themed promotional videos Owen cuts to hype concerts to the cover of Salvage’s “Uniformula” that closes out Systematic Deletion.
“What the fuck am I doing? I hate fucking music!” Snyder howls. “Fucking pointless.”
“I think the idea if playing ridiculous, tongue-in-cheek songs like that … is so much funnier in this era, when you can’t not appreciate the real privilege it is to be able to play music with your friends,” said Owen, who invited a smattering of Unchipped’s colleagues to join the band for a massive release show at Dirty Dungarees on Thursday, April 27, including Lo-Pan, the Whiteouts, Prolific Secreter and Suffering, Praying Hands. “And that’s what I want it to be. All I want to do is make music with my friends and play shows with my friends. That’s what Unchipped is. If I’ve taken anything out of all of this, it’s do more fun things with your friends when you can and appreciate every minute of it.”