Unsane - Wreck (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick


Wreck (2012)

Alternative Tentacles

Few bands are able to combine bluntness and precision like Unsane. The group first album in five years, Wreck finds it continuing its high volume pummeling, but it seems that the gap between releases has forced Unsane to make its music even more cohesive.

As with previous albums, Unsane seems to pull from the mid '80s San Francisco noise rock scene. The drums and bass drive the music forward, in a rapid lurching, that throws back to Black Sabbath as much as early Swans. But, while the heavy grinding of the bass and drums form the platform, guitarist/vocalist Chris Spencer is given free reign to wander in and out of the sludgy path.

On "No Chance" he chooses to ride the thick groove, combining with the bass to juice up blues metal style riffs while wailing across the tail end of the wave, giving the track a hellish Howlin' Wolf feel. But, on "Rat" Spencer leaves the band's confines and strikes unexpectedly, playing against the band, attacking with sharp, white noise level guitars and screams that lash out against the riffs.

While Wreck isn't a radical departure for the band, it does seem to be a refinement in the group's trajectory. The songs seem more compact than former tunes, quickly establishing a theme, varying the theme, and then either combusting or abruptly ending. But, while Unsane is known for making nastier music, because the songs are so fluid, the music is easily listenable, despite the twisting riffs and extremism of both the vocals and volume.

Lyrically, the band seems to favor personal specificity over abstraction, which is a departure from the group's earlier, more ambiguous lyrics. On "Stuck" Spencer wails "I know there's something you can't say / Those pills won't help you with the pain." The delivery makes it feel like he's written the song specifically for a single person that he knows, and that he's just happened to share it with the rest of the world. Of course, the bloody hand on the cover and drops of blood on the jacket let us know that this is an album about personal destruction. The downfall of others, or maybe just one other, is documented through the piece as a whole. "No Chance" features the vicious rebuke "Your life is a mess / I can't care less / You live in distress / Just like the rest."

But, interestingly, the band never comments on its own destruction or situation. Is the band confident that it has made the "right" life choices? Are the members just so sure of themselves by comparison to a particularly wrecked individual? It does seem as though the band is passing judgment throughout the tracks, either through self superiority or frustration, which allows the listener to empathize with the band, as everyone has had a screw up in his or her life, but it also makes one wonder, "just who is wretched creature that is on the receiving end of these diatribes?"

"Judge not lest ye be judged," goes the old adage, but if this is the release which the band will be held to, then it certainly is a good time for the members to start pointing fingers...