For a band and musical landmark that is rapidly approaching its 30th anniversary, New York City’s Unsane remain steadfast to their noise/metal vision. Outside of improved yet not overwhelming production and mix, Sterilize (Southern Lord) is vintage Unsane with its jagged guitars to the blood-spattered album art. It may all seem foreign to younger heavy metal converts, but to those in the know it’s a lovely revisit to the musical wild west that were the 1990s.
Ah, the 90s, what a time to be alive. It was a decade in which our president played the saxophone on late-night chat-shows only to be blown himself by an intern in the not so distant future. It was also a decade known for major labels rolling the dice on acts as extreme and diverse as Carcass, Ministry, Helmet, Sepultura and even Napalm Death in an effort to cash the ticket on another Nirvana. While the quest for the next Cobain never fully shook out, we did get a venerable treasure trove of extreme music from majors and indies alike.
And Unsane was very much part of that movement with releases like Scattered, Smothered & Covered (Amphetamine Reptile) and Occupational Hazard (Relapse). As it turns out, Sterilize is just as good to sit alongside those milestones. ‘No Reprieve’ and ‘A Slow Reaction’ are sandpaper massages that are powered by Dave Curran’s throbbing bass lines and Vincent Signorelli’s smashing his floor toms. Chris Spencer’s pained howls are the best compliment to his guitar shards on the not so subtle ‘We’re Fucked.’ Things take a dive into the post-metal Neurosis side of the pool on ‘Avail’ which might be the closest thing to taking a concrete bath.
But’s it’s not all industrial pistons and blast furnaces, Sterilize also injects enough melody on ‘Distance’ and ‘Lung’ to make sure the songs remain logged into your memory.
While a time like the Nineties may never roll around again (for one thing, labels had money) we can take comfort in knowing that its musical institutions remain as strong as ever.