Pennywise - Unknown Road (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick


Unknown Road (1993)


Have Pennywise been a pioneer, flagship or talisman for the punk rock movement over the past couple decades? Has Jim Lindberg been the ideal frontman to boast a place among the greats who helped usher in punk to its rightful rung atop the music ladders of the world? Well, before we bicker for days on end on those issues, take a step back and breath in what Unknown Road accomplished in 1993. 20 years later, and this album still rings sweetly.

The opening title track ironically ventured into not-so-new territory, as you sensed they were prepared to chart the waters that made 1991's Pennywise so remarkable. But a sense that Lindberg's return to the band, after a pretty uncalled for hiatus, would result in them letting the chains go with no need to hold back. That was done in spades. This showed why Pennywise was a strong contender for the heavyweight championship alongside the likes of NOFX and Anti-Flag and such, because they had that unbridled penchant to deliver the most apt 'don't-give-a-fuck' tracks in the most catchy manner possible.

"Homesick" drove home just how sublime this record was and it's highly noteworthy how stellar Byron McMackin was on the drums. Fuck it, this was his record. His work on the kit was raw and fucking epic. Never caught a breath in between tracks. Lindberg's delivery was not that drastic an improvement on this sophomore effort, but then again, nothing much was needed in terms of him being better on the mic. He depicted not-so-subtle tones of resistance and that's what this album represented. A wake-up call. A call to arms. The cutting guitars and thumping riffs that Fletcher Dragge eked out was another reason behind Pennywise's powerful sound and also why their signatures came into effect around the punk/skate/mosh/thrash/Warped Tour era. They really proved to be a cultural symbol and Unknown Road catalyzed that.

Lindberg's introspective view on politics and society, as referenced in "City is Burning" was just as profound as the anthemic, catchy, fists-in-the-air "It's Up To Me." Dual vocals and fringe background skirmishes of Lindberg's contrasting vocals commanded a lot of respect for what Pennywise were trying to do. "Nothing" also acknowledged this–the fact that Lindberg and posse were willing to take chances and not play shit safe. "Try To Conform" then swung along and represented the revolt and mismatch in society that punk rockers felt a need to follow. Encompassed with the slickest and amped whoa ohs, yeah, there's no way this couldn't get you jacked. Same with that goose bump-inducing guitar solo. And that's what encompassed a lot about Pennywise back then; they sent chills and shivers down your spine.

If you wanted a record with strong messages. and if you were looking for icing on the cake in the form of a near-perfect punk record, look no further. Pretenders were warned to beware: Pennywise set a high standard and raised the bar greatly. "Give and Get" exemplified just why Pennywise made more than a statement when they released Unknown Road. It took their fundamental skills and amplified their potential to the point that you realized that even if the Billboard charts wouldn't recognize this record, somehow, there was something majestic, mystical and emotive about it that made it difficult to ignore. Would their subsequent records live up to said standard later on? Well, that's a discussion for another day, but this record has withstood the test of time remarkably.