Saturday, September 30, 2017

Unsane "Sterilize" LP

Southern Lord
Released: September 29, 2017

Photo by James Rexroad


I still remember when I purchased Unsane's Sub Pop debut 7" "Vandal-X"/"Streetsweeper" (Sub Pop SP76, released September 1990
Sub Pop Singles Club #23). Never heard anything like it before and it inspired a few generations of noise mongers in the last 3 decades whether they know it or not. 

Sub Pop was killing it back then. Every record they put out was something magical. I bought every record on Sub Pop in the years around 1990, knowing the magic that was to treat my ears (like Southern Lord now). 

"Vandal X" was no exception. It was magical. I remember being in a band practice after we all got the record and were like, how do they do that? "Play the note of the first string and then all the rest open". "Then the other guitarist just holds the finger across all the strings". "Distort everything all the way, bass and vocals included". "Break your cymbal". We had no freaking clue, but were all amazed at the dense sound. The phrasing of the songs had a lurching effect. Attack, then draw back, all within a few measures. Not the standard hardcore punk format we were used to of attack for a verse and a draw back for a chorus (mosh part) or any other song format for that matter either. The orchestrated noise carried you on a desolate journey.

Photo by Dan Joeright

Everytime Unsane played Philly I made the drive. I believe I was lucky enough to see Unsane live with the early drummer, Charlie Ondras, who died of a heroin overdose in 1992. (Editorial note: please don't try heroin, not even once). Back then I was entertaining my own devil's concoction, so the facts may or may not be correctly recalled. But if I ever missed an Unsane gig in Philly, one of my Philly friends forgot to send me a flyer in the mail. 

Unsane wrap up their current tour in Philly on December 19, 2017.

I followed the band throughout their career and as they switched from label to label (Matador, Atlantic, AmRep, Relapse...). Always loving their records. Always looking forward to the horrific album and 7" covers. 

Like all Unsane, what is pretty is ugly. "Sterilize" may sound like an optimum goal, but as we all know, great music isn't about being clean and pretty. "Sterilize" is more about the travels and the integrity of not getting to that not so great sterile theoretical optimal goal. Or, proof that sterile isn't happening (From "No Reprieve" - "just a f*cked up reality"). 

“Aberration” Lyrics:
Drained, let it all happen again
Grave, face it no matter the strain
The filth will win
A million times before
Had to keep it quiet
Never want for more
Set the trap and wait
Crazed, smash it all, throw it away
Played, cringing, mistakes were made
Can’t fail now
A million times before
Had to keep it quiet
Never want for more
Can’t do it
All on the make
Fits the pattern
In on the take
The real burn
Fake, couldn’t see past the game
Fate, hollow, there’s no escape
No use now
A million times before
Had to keep it quiet
Never want for more

The real burn

Photo by Dan Joeright

"Sterilize" is a worthy jumping on point for those not familiar with the sound Unsane has consistently generated. This is an outstanding, heartbreaking, mood shattering, loud, solid listen from beginning to end. This is one of Unsane's best to date. Although I am a biased fan, having all the studio albums (only missing "Blood Run" on vinyl - had to settle for the CD) and somehow managing to score a vinyl test press of 1995's "Scattered, Smothered & Covered". 

After you absorb "Sterilize" and are transformed, and find it necessary to dig deep, start at the beginning and work your way through the discography. It is a great trip.

Those in the know, just know that this is yet another Unsane record you want.

Photo by Dan Joeright
Frank FOE