Originally founded in 1980 under the name Dark Self Image by brothers Jay and John Fox, United Mutation sprang from musical influences most hardcore punks either ignored, or denied knowing existed. The dementedly tranquil sounds of The Grateful Dead, the lysergic space rock of Hawkwind, and the complex arrangements of the ultimate anti-hippie Frank Zappa were some of their favorites, but when local punk bands started to pop out their own self-financed vinyl, it inspired them just as much — if not more — as those rare bits of strangeness major labels would release from time to time. Informed in equal parts by self-released singles from their local favorites the Teen Idles and ½ Japanese, the band came upon their own unique sound which combined the breakneck pace of hardcore with a frantic and cathartic take on psychedelia.
In 1982 United Mutation entered celebrated D.C. punk recording studio Inner Ear to lay down two sessions, the first with their original lineup of the Fox brothers, vocalist John “Monk” Harding and drummer Sean Sumner, followed by a second session for the Outside Records compilation "Mixed Nuts Don’t Crack", featuring new vocalist and former Dark Self Image drummer, Mike Brown.
1983 saw the band return to Inner Ear to record their debut 7” E.P. "Fugitive Family", a split release between Dischord Records and the band’s newly minted D.S.I. label. "Fugitive Family" is the most well-known of any of the band’s output, due to perhaps the inclusion of the Dischord logo on the back cover, or the sheer mind-blistering assault of the six tracks contained on the original record.
This LP compiles all of the aforementioned recordings — 26 tracks total, 6 of which are previously unreleased — all faithfully restored from the original master tapes at Inner Ear for maximum aural freak out. Also included is a 24-page full-color booklet chock full of the band’s politically-tinged xerox collage artwork, housed in a gatefold sleeve featuring more of the same. We’re proud to call this the definitive collection of early United Mutation material!
Our take: Radio Raheem once again works their magic on a lost punk classic, and this time DC outsiders United Mutation receive the love. I first heard United Mutation in the late 90s after stumbling on a used copy of their second EP, Rainbow Person, and they blew my mind. I had heard plenty of 80s hardcore at that point, but the sinister and psychedelic elements of their sound were new to me, having assumed the more straightlaced and one-dimensional sound of bands like Minor Threat was the best and only trick in hardcore’s playbook. United Mutation’s music seems less novel in a world where any curious punk can hear G.I.S.M. or Kuro with the click of a button, but it was revelatory to me, especially since UM operated right in my home state of Virginia. United Mutation’s music has gotten more attention in the internet era, but until now they haven’t been easy to hear in physical formats, with the only things available being the original pressings of the two EPs and a spate of compilation releases on the German labels Lost & Found and Bitzcore, all of which were out of print and impossible to find by the late 90s, particularly in the United States. As usual, Radio Raheem’s reissue job is impeccable. Dark Self Image compiles three early studio sessions and offers a wealth of unheard music for even the UM diehard, and the audio restoration and mastering sounds incredible. The packaging is also deluxe (a la RR’s Agnostic Front and Abused reissues), with a huge, LP-sized booklet. For me, the booklet would be worth the price alone, as it reveals UM’s graphical output was just as fascinating as their music. If you’re a fan of what some people call “outsider hardcore,” this is something you should own. It’s a true buried treasure, equally rewarding whether you’re familiar with the band or just coming to them for the first time.