By J Howell
If there was ever a band I thought would be easy to review, it’s Unsane. Don’t get me wrong—I LOVE Unsane—they’ve been one of my top five or so favorite bands since Total Destruction, and one of the best things about the brutal NYC trio has been their remarkable consistency.
While I’m loathe to compare them to a band I dislike, Unsane is just a little bit like a post-whatever noise rock AC/DC: While there has been marked evolution in the band and its sound, it’s remained focused enough to more or less know what you’re gonna get going in. This is not and has never been a bad thing, as I can’t think of a single band that has remained so remarkably satisfying to listen to year after year, record after record. Just as sure as fans knew the album cover would be drenched in blood, it can easily be said that longtime fans of the mighty Unsane won’t be disappointed with Wreck.
That said, listeners following NYC’s finest for some time may notice a subtle shift or two present here that’s perhaps a little unexpected, but by no means for the worse. I should point out that I somehow missed the band’s last record, Visqueen, entirely; I lost track of the band after Blood Run, so it’s possible that I missed a significant chapter in the ongoing story of Unsane.
Wreck‘s first track, “Rat”, brings to mind the band’s earlier Chris Spencer/Pete Shore/Charlie Ondras lineup—just as intense as ever, but a bit more scathing if a little less crushing when compared to, say, anything from Scattered, Smothered and Covered. A couple of songs in, though, and it’s apparent that Wreck is less a retread of anything than a convergence of everything the band has done and then some. This is Unsane doing what they do, and doing it well.
While Scattered, Smothered and Covered focused the band’s inimitable crush into perhaps its most palatable, accessible form, Wreck is somehow just a bit cleaner sounding, but also more complex, and both musically and emotionally more intense. Vinnie Signorelli’s drumming is the same flavor of badass it’s been forever, and Dave Curran’s bass sound is still amazingly taut and wooly-mammoth fuzzy at the same time, but Chris Spencer’s voice is clearer than I’ve ever heard it on record.
The lyrics are as wrought with tension, anxiety, fear, and loathing as ever, but—strange as it seems to say about one of the heaviest (but arguably not “metal”) bands that has ever been—there’s a just barely perceptible undercurrent of sadness in places on Wreck, particularly toward the end and most overtly on “Stuck.”
Unsane has said this is Spencer’s most personal record to date, and it’s believable; something besides the unusual relative clarity of his vocals suggests experience more than narrative throughout Wreck. While the band is as musically tough as they’ve ever been, there’s a feeling throughout this record that only comes from witnessing an awful lot of self-destruction from pretty close.
Wreck has the toughness of a survivor, but not one without some scars. Heavy indeed.
Wreck was released through Alternative Tentacles on April 10 and can be purchased from the label’s website. Unsane is currently touring extensively in Europe with Big Business. Check the band’s website for tour dates.