With Sterilize, Unsane reaffirm their status as the kings of noise rock and show no signs of being dethroned any time soon.
Since rising to prominence in the underground heavy music scene in the 90s, Unsane have continuously been a driving and influential force in the realms of punk and metal for well over two decades. Their abrasive, non-conventional take on what is concidered “rock” music, coupled with biter lyrics and jarring artwork depicting real-world violence, created a lasting impact in the scene that can still be felt today. Though noise rock has still thrived and progressed (and has had a bit of a quiet resurgence in recent years) since the Amphetamine Reptile days, no newer players within the genre have been able to outmatch the tried and true formula Unsane has perfected.
Unsane was last heard on 2012’s Wreck, whose sound was quite a contrast to its predecessor’s, 2007’s Visqueen, blues-soaked vitriol and despondency. Though Wreck still possessed the Unsane, its share of angular guitar riffs (“Rat”, “Roach”) and sprawling melancholic moments (“Stuck”) created a grimy and hopeless vibe that helped paint a portrait of urban decay. Compared to the rest of their discography, the record is arguably one of their darkest, which is quite a feat for a band who regularly has blood and bodies grace their album covers.
Five years after Wreck’s release, the New York trio return revitalized and more destructive than ever. On their highly-anticipated eighth studio album, Sterilize, Wreck‘s somberness is replaced by unbridled aggression and angst. Anger has never left Unsane‘s sound, but Sterilize shows an almost uncharacteristically pissed off and violent version of the band. It’s almost as if the sonic grit of the band’s seminal 1995 album, Scattered, Smothered & Covered, collided with the unforgiving menace of 2005’s Blood Run, creating one of the band’s heaviest records to date and a noise rock record to end all noise rock records.
From the opening bulldozing riffs of “Factory”, to the suffocating sprawl of “Avail”, Sterilize relentlessly batters listeners across its 38-minute runtime. Chris Spencer’s ever-venomous guitar riffs and spiteful yell trade blows with Dave Curran’s monstrous bass lines and vocal rasps, while Vinnie Signorelli’s concussive drumming ties everything off with a nice, noisy bow. On the surface it would seem like business as usual for Unsane. But, after subjecting themselves to just a few moments of Sterilize, listeners will see that the band are out for blood this time…more so than ever before.
“Factory” kicks off the record by grabbing the listener by the throat and dragging them through miles of sonic broken glass. The band churn out menacing, metallic chord progressions that bleed seamlessly into earsplitting, percussive harmonics and bludgeoning rhythms on this grimy tune. This steamroller of a track paves the way for the seismic sprawl of “The Grind”, which opts for drop-tuned sludge and oppressive sonic weight. Tracks like the stampeding “Aberration” mow over listeners with its penchant for dissonance, blues-tinged solo work and distorted punk assaults, while the hammering “We’re Fucked” is all groove and bite.
Some of the more standout cuts include the seventh track, “Distance”, which weaves together angular dissonance with disfigured blues and sludgy hardcore. Here Spencer uses his trademark wail to belt out a melodic (as melodic as his fierce scream can get) chorus that is beyond catchy. The lurching “Lung” get props for its crushing, stop-and-start rhythms, while the aforementioned “Avail” closes out the record on a lumbering, cataclysmic note. As stated previously, Sterilize is unrelenting from beginning to end.
Even the tracks that, for one reason or another, do not stand out as much as the others still ram violently into the listener like the vehicle that graces the cover of Total Destruction. Sterilize shows Unsane at their heaviest in quite some time, which is hard to say of a band that has never had a reputation of being “soft”. It’s ugly, mean and one of the band’s best works to date. The kings of noise rock have indeed returned, rejoice.
Release Date: September 29, 2017
Label: Southern Lord
Favorite Tracks: “Factory”, “The Grind”, “No Reprieve” and “Distance”