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Unsane | ‘Sterilize’

Consistency of sound and vision. A compliment or a term of abuse?

Think about a band like AC/DC, who often get accused of making the same record over and over.

I think the above phrase can be used to describe their approach.

And I use it as a compliment. They know what they want to do, and current trends do not influence their thinking when in the studio.

But to some, it’s a weakness.

An indication that a band are creatively dry and happy enough to keep churning out more of the same until sales/show attendances dictate otherwise.

While there’s certainly a validity in some of this, I suspect that these are also people uncomfortable when confronted with a headstrong artist with an unwavering vision.

Regardless of where you stand on this debate, there’s little doubt that the phrase certainly applies to Unsane.

Fractured Scene

Emerging from the fractured and ever mutating New York scene of the late 1980’s that gave us bands like Cop Shoot Cop, Pussy Galore, Prong and Helmet, Unsane made their mark by playing a form of noise rock that was much more violent and unhinged than their predecessors and contemporaries.

While some of their peers split up, signed to major labels, mutated into other bands or became backing bands for legends like J.G Thirlwell, Unsane have ploughed their own furrow for nearly thirty years.

And while a new album might bring a new label, you can be guaranteed of a few things: bloody covers, filthy and prominent basslines, robust drumming, guitar riffs straddling a line between noise and blues, and demented wailing.

‘Sterilise’ is no exception.

The cover is, unbelievably, their most subtle yet. Lacking bodies, instruments of death or grand locations of murder, the seasoned fan can be forgiven for thinking Unsane are mellowing in their old age.

However, a quick glance at the song titles may hint at a vague concept flowing throughout (‘Factory’, ‘The Grind’, ‘No Reprieve’, ‘We’re Fucked’). So could the cover be a reflection of this concept: the after effects of a worker gone postal?

Who knows? But it’s an interesting angle to keep in mind when listening to the LP.

Call To Arms

‘Factory’ is an involving opener, featuring a lovely climbing guitar line and vocals a little further back in the mix than normal, allowing clarity for each instrument in the mix. Pounding, driving and relentless, it has the feel of the daily grind running through it’s tempo.

Which leads, quite nicely, into ‘The Grind.’

Tribal drumming, a seven note riff and a Dead Kennedys style bassline acting as a catchment net, it has an atmosphere of oppression which never lets up until the very end.

The vocals act as a point of respite for the listener, acting as a call to arms.

‘No Reprieve’ has a Killdozer / NoMeansNo vibe about it.

This time around, the vocals have a touch of distortion, adding a more deranged feel to the song. Segwaying into ‘Lung’, the listener is subjected to an old school Unsane hard groove.

And is there a concept?

I would say ‘yes’, but (as previously suspected) it’s a very loose concept about the daily grind which builds and builds until closer ‘Avail’ and it’s knuckle dragging groove suggests that the imagined protagonist has been demoralised to such a large degree that only murder can offer respite. Hence the cover.

If you think that’s me reading far too much into the album, here’s all you need to know: this is an Unsane album.

No deviations, no fucking around. Just straight ahead noise rock.

For a long term fan, it hits the spot. For a newcomer, it’s as good a place as any to discover them.

Consistency of sound and vision may frustrate critics trying to write about such albums but, for dedicated listeners, it’s a principle that results in never being disappointed.

3.5 / 5 –Christopher Owens ::: 13/09/17

One Comment
  1. “While some of their peers split up, signed to major labels, mutated into other bands or became backing bands for legends like J.G Thirlwell…”

    You are aware I take it that Vincent Signorelli drummed for Foetus for some time during breaks in Unsane’s lifespan?

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