Casting a bloodshot eye back over Unsane’s career, one question aches for an answer – why is it this band never reaped the full rewards for the dues they’ve paid? A number of possible reasons come to mind – timing issues, management decisions, personal tragedies, lack of a gimmick and the glaring lack of a definitive album. The previous six records released bearing the sanguinary stamp of Unsane demonstrated varying levels of hostility and staunchly held grasp of the band’s corrupt sound, without one release reigning over the rest. It therefore comes as no surprise that with seventh full-length Wreck, Unsane remain resolute in their approach; singer/guitarist Chris Spencer continuing to spit liberal doses of realism upon the polluted bass-lines and fractured riffs that made the band’s grammatically incorrect name.
Unsane’s resolve for consistency continues to flow over to the packaging for Wreck, the picture of a hanging hand completely covered and dripping with blood bestows an equally stark, beautiful and distressing image as that which clothed previous album Visqueen. The disturbing part being – this is real life, and even though fantasy may be a pre-requisite for all things metal; gory tales of horror and the devil are not half as frightening as the day-to-day realities we face living in this modern world. This cynical world view has always been engrained in Unsane’s DNA and upon visiting Spencer’s lyrics for Wreck, it clearly remains a major part of Unsane’s aesthetic. On “Rat” he desperately howls, “No way back / Live like rats,” as the drums cut through the song’s corkscrew groove, and on the downtrodden “Decay” he proceeds to lament upon the negativity resulting from a recently failed relationship. Instrumentally these tracks are up to carrying the heavy lyrical subject matter with the bass-heavy, verse groove found on “Rat” twisting and turning like a Rottweiler on a leash and the volcanic mid-riff found on “Decay” underscoring the pained, quasi-screams of vocal lines such as “All hope has gone away.”
Third track “No Chance” also provides a note-worthy highlight, it’s use of the harmonica recalling “This Stops at the River” from Visqueen which gives the track a dusting of “spit on the floor” Americana comparable to the sound explored by Coalesce on Ox. Spencer’s vocal performance on this song sounds especially unhinged, as if he is gripping sanity’s fringe for dear life. From here, however, the album’s dynamic quality snags somewhat on the predicable and repetitious “Pigeon” and “Metropolis”. The instrumentation and vocals here sounding uninspired compared to the quality of the preceding tracks. Consequently the album loses its potency. “Ghost” claws back some of the listener’s attention with its growling bass-lines and crooked riffs, but it’s not until the swampy sprawl of “Stuck” that full attention is finally restored. This track has the variety that was missing from the songs that form the mid-section of Wreck, and its placing earlier on the track-list or indeed another song in the same vein could really have benefited the flow of the album. It’s quiet/loud dynamics and gruffly sang verses giving the song an air of post-grunge gloom before the crumbling wall of hardcore riffs take over. Wreck ends with a sneering cover of Flipper’s “Ha Ha Ha” – Unsane capably make this their own but the b-side feel of the track and the grating chorus ends the album on an uneventful note.
Wreck ultimately is a solid yet frustrating listen. The opening three cuts are amongst some of the finest the band have ever produced, while the majority of tracks that form the second half of the album lack real personality and invention, sounding like Unsane on autopilot. When Unsane hit their stride their collision of Amrep noise rock, hardcore and the garage grunge of Seattle’s lost sons Mudhoney played through the sonic rumble of the Melvin’s is colossal. Unfortunately, Wreck‘s lack of magnetic song-writing from start to finish means that definitive record has yet again eluded them. Cynicism edges towards the reality that this elusive record may never come. Let’s just hope for Unsane’s sake that they leave the pessimism to the lyrical subject matter and approach the next album with a cup being half full mentality. If their past artwork is anything to go by, the odds are that this proverbial cup with be more than likely half-filled with blood. As it stands, Wreck is only half filled with memorable songs.
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