Monday, March 26, 2007

Unsane - Visqueen

Rating - 9/A

This is the album Bleach could have been if Cobain was a better riffer. In other words, it's a little bit like a Melvins album but heavier and more scary. I find myself constantly replaying the first three songs on Visqueen - 'Against The Grain', 'Last Man Standing' and 'This Stops At The River' in an attempt to fathom the visceral rush of dark power they contain. Not that the rest of the album is any weaker - 'Shooting Clay' is like a more pissed-off stripped down take on something similar to the early Soundgarden vibe, and 'Disdain' is completely disorienting, a burst of pure abrasion with hardcore-style riffing made dirtier and more terrifying. I've been listening to a lot of death metal lately, and this mid-tempo, mega-distorted belting drone is just as furiously heavy, uncompromising and intense as Vital Remains or Immolation, although stylistically there's a lot more in common with something like Helmet.

Unsane are not a new band - apparently they've been around since the late 80s and are considered pioneers of noise rock. For my sins, this is the first I've heard of them. This isn't your free-form post-Velvets Sonic Youth style art noise, however - it's a meaner, leaner hybrid sewn together from bits and pieces of hardcore metal and punk styles. It's almost kissing cousins with the stoner rock sound - the same low tunings and over the top fuzz, the same slow, pulsing tempos, but there's an aggression in the music that's not stoner at all. More aggression and an interest in not so much lulling the listeners into an opiate-friendly state of mind as in beating them into submission, albeit with great care and deliberation. The tortured vocals, placed low in the mix, add to the impression of something not quite wholesome, but threateningly nebulous rather than in-your-face blatant, which makes it that much heavier somehow.

It's a very tightly defined style, and Unsane certainly don't veer from a formula on this album - some songs like the epic album closer 'East Broadway' are so determined in making their point through the sheer crushing weight of repetition that the experience can get claustrophobic at times. And I think that's part of the point - this isn't amiable music. It isn't a ghastly cacaphony that jolts you from discord to discord, but it is a very cold, harsh and bleak style of music. I'm personally comfortable with such a musical atmosphere, and when that atmosphere is so skillfully conjured up with such simple tools, all I can do is listen in awe and, yes, just a trace of fearful unease.

The Eiderdown-Stuffing Bottomline: Powerful, uncompromising heavy music from a scarier place somewhere left of stoner sludge. This one's already a strong contender for my Best Of 2007 list, and a great impetus to check out more Unsane.


Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

Really good review; even more in-depth than mine for my column. I love anyone who challenges Nirvana in any, way, shape or form, so I applaud you.

JP said...

Thanks for the kind words, man. I'm actually reluctant to bring Nirvana into a discussion, because I'm still re-assessing my own feelings about the band's music about a decade after having been swept along by its initial momentum. I've decided Bleach is a decent album, and like quite a lot of In Utero (it's varied enough for some of ti to stick), but these days I have no idea what to make of Nevermind. There's just too much baggage yet.

Anyway, that's tangential - Unsane is really only passingly similar to Nirvana's initial abrasive, grinding approach, and they take it further and more extreme if you ask me.

Ravi said...

Dlded this on your reccy and it's definitely on the 'to buy' list. I thought they sounded like what Helmet could've sounded like if Page Hamilton hadn't got a severe attack of medocrititis after aftermath. It's sad - the guy who wrote so many brilliant riffs ripping himself off taking time out to rave and rant about ageism and how nu-metal ripped him off.