Sterilize by UnsaneRelease date: September 29, 2017
Label: Southern Lord Records
Thirty years is a long time in the musical world, especially in the realm of abrasive punk. Bands can become blunt whilst the new blood pushes the limits ever further. The vitriol of youth is hard to keep up with in a world full of tax returns and dodgy hips. Unsane’s eighth studio album, Sterilize, closes in on their thirtieth anniversary; and to celebrate they have released an album up there with the very best of their career.
The secret to their longevity comes from a forward thinking signature sound lashing menace smothering an often overlooked ear for rhythm and hooks. Sterilize tumbles along with a deranged southern rock swagger, albeit southern rock marinated in kerosene. Take the left field guitar lines laden throughout album highlight ‘Distance’, a chorus heavy track that relies on catchy jangling riffs contrasted with jagged guitar tones puncturing through the noise. It’s a trick that is reused to great effect throughout the album, leading to a breakneck pace – even if it does lead to very little room for deviation. There isn’t anything with quite the ingenious inventiveness as Wreck’s harmonica in ‘No Chance’, but there certainly is more subtle underlining experimentalism. Sterilize is an album with a singular dead end destination and nihilistic purpose, but with many ways of taking you there.
Leading the strangely anthemic track listing is Chris Spencer’s strained vocal lines performing cynical street preaching. Spencer’s vocals have been a steady constant throughout Unsane’s lifetime, and they still retain their acidic bite. There’s the feeling of a desperation bubbling under the always bounding rhythm, with the lo-fi like vocals often arriving enveloped in distortion. It’s difficult to make out with any clarity lyrics on tracks like ‘The Grind’, but singular phrases and words leap out from the obscurity to form a drowned out eulogy.
A lot can be said for the rumbling atmosphere and harsh sounds, but Sterilize‘s real strength is very simple: it has some absolute ragers. There’s an undeniable maddening catchiness throughout Sterilize that is unrelenting, and it’s this strong song writing across the board that puts Sterilize up there with the best Unsane have released. Over almost thirty years of material may have made Sterilize less shocking, but what Unsane may have lost in shock they have more than made up for where it counts. Sterilize is a battery farmed pen of screeching serrated swaying noise rock brilliance cured for 30 years.