Double Play: Black Breath & The Unsane

Two reviews for the price of none!

Iann Robinsonby Iann Robinson

The Unsane


Alternative Tentacles


The Unsane is back!

Excuse me? Did you hear me? The Unsane are fucking back! Rise up and celebrate!

With the return of one of the dirtiest, meanest, thickest and most powerful bands ever to crawl out of the festering sewers of downtown Manhattan comes their new audio cement block Wreck. This is an album that just beats the shit out of you from start to finish. Some call the Unsane’s music violent. I disagree. Violence is usually quick and sudden. To me the Unsane’s music is the power of suffering. The slow and maddening decay of your soul as you stammer through the 21st century. Wreck is another testament to how well the Unsane sheds light on the bitterness we all feel after years of simply trying to exist. 

First and foremost it’s good to have the team back together. Chris Spencer may front the Unsane but it takes the rattling bass crush of Dave Curran and the pounding bones-to-dust slam of drummer Vinnie Signorelli to make the band work. Don’t get me wrong, the Unsane’s signature is the swamp ass filthy fuzzed out guitar of Chris Spencer and on Wreck it’s in prime form. The attack on your nervous system begins with “Rat”, a classic Unsane jam. I don’t know how they do it but these guys can write these songs that sound they’re being played backwards in a circle. 

“Rat” is a prime example of this fucked up song writing style. The drums, bass and guitars all play like they’re collapsing on each other backwards. There’s definitely a groove going on, but it’s buried within this swirling vortex of punishment. “Rat” constantly keeps you off balance; the only anchor it has is Spencer’s vocals, which cut through the noise like so many thousand razor blades. Who starts their record by fucking with the listener? Oh, right. The Unsane do.

Having worked with the band on two of their music videos (“Scrape” and “Sick”), I thought I had a grasp on what Unsane was all about. The second tune on Wreck, “Decay”, illustrates a new dimension to what these three men can do. Chris Spencer’s riff is epic, less guttural and disturbed and more emotional. “Decay” feels like a broken heart or the end of something beautiful. Capturing that kind of isolated sadness without losing the Unsane punch is a new layer of the band’s song writing. Then there is “No Chance”, reminding us that the Unsane groove like a motherfucker. Fans looking for that fat bass and guitar style of old jams like “Alleged” or “Scrape” will be punching themselves in the head over “No Chance”.

Throughout Wreck the Unsane experiment with new elements. “Pigeon” turns the typical hammer attack of the Unsane on its head. The song is ethereal, moving around itself like a noisy whirlpool.  Here the song is anchored to reality by Vinnie’s drums, which pound a focus through the swirls of guitar and bass. “Metropolis” is the busiest song on the album, playing with an almost jazz like swing to it. “Don’t” is a molasses-slow tune, plodding along like it’s wrapped in cellophane and swimming in glue. The Unsane have always played with volume and noise, they have always been artistic visionaries in the world of feedback manipulation. On Wreck they turn that expertise to dynamics and tension with fantastic results.

As far as new ideas go, the six-minute “Stuck” is the shining moment on Wreck. It opens with a slow and easy beat surrounded by an almost country style guitar line. Chris Spencer trades in his scream for an embittered singing voice.  When the song goes big, the power is undeniable. Imagine the Pixies attempting to cover Melvins songs and you get an idea of what “Stuck” is all about. Peaks and Valleys are key here. This isn’t about the standard power of the Unsane; this is about their ability to address the dark parts of our soul that aren’t filled with anger but rather loss and regret. It’s easily the most emotionally impactful song on the record.

New ideas mixed with old perfections are the base of Wreck. Producer Andrew Schneider does great things with the Unsane sound. He keeps it dirty, keeps that wall of sonic death, but also cleans things up a bit. Each instrument is present as another brick in the wall (yeah, I said it. WHAT?). You hear the bass, the drums, and the guitars clearly but Schneider never sacrifices the uniqueness of the Unsane sonic bulldozer.

I have to give huge love for the last song on Wreck. Unsane, one of my favorite bands not only cover Flipper, another of my favorite bands, they cover “Ha Ha Ha”, one of my favorite songs. There are few people I wouldn’t give the middle finger to if they attempted to approach the genius of Flipper, but Unsane knock that shit right out of the park. Wreck is a nearly flawless return to form for the Unsane. When people bitch that no good music is coming out of New york City anymore, hold this up and say loud and proud “Fuck you”.



Black Breath

Sentenced To Life

Southern Lord

In the continuation of a phenomenal week for me in music, I give you the new Black Breath album Sentenced To Life. If you don’t know Black Breath, then I urge you to drop what you’re doing and find out. Imagine if the members of Black Flag grew up listening to Slayer and Immortal. Sound good? Then please, come along with me and enjoy the violent birth of something dark and sinister. Sentenced To Life is a relentless album. It never stops coming at you, it never lets up and it never gives you a second to breathe.  Ten songs clock in at just over thirty minutes so you do the math. Sentenced To Life is like a high school shooting. Fast, violent and resigned to leaving no prisoners. 

Black Breath begin the record with the first of their ten audio car accidents. “Feast OF The Damned” announces exactly what you’ll be dealing with for the next half hour. “Feast Of The Damned” isn’t just fast; it’s severely brutal as well as all over the place. The guitars play at a break neck pace but never straight ahead. Coming from so many tiny angles is unsettling but par for the course for Black Breath. They want you unstable, the want you feeling tense and nervous over their music. This is one of those fuck you records where the band is almost daring you to like it.

To the laymen, Sentenced To Life will sound like a simplistic collection of fast metal songs. What they miss in that assumption, are all the tiny bits that Black Breath throw into their songwriting blender. The first ingredient is the power of youth. The frenzied, frenetic energy of the record is something only the young and driven can accomplish. Black Breath vomits everything they have into each song. There’s no filler here, the band wouldn’t stand for it.  They also have a lot to prove so they ratchet the musicianship up, attempting to cram all their influences into each song.

The title track has roots firmly grounded in bands like Discharge and Necros, while “Forced Into Possession” is a testament to how much these kids love them some black metal. “Home Of The Grave” is where Black Breath rearranges their attack, leaving fast alone for groove. This is the Slayer love, the worship of all things thrash. “Mother Abyss” is their noise song; a blast beat cacophony of riffage that absolutely pummels you into the ground. At first glance Black Breath might seem like a band devoid of dynamics, but again that proves you aren’t listening.

Dynamics are a funny thing. Most think of them as highs and lows but they can also be elements that pull your mind a thousand ways in one song. That’s where Black Breath shine. As fast and brutal as the guitars are, they are always moving in new directions, adding textures and ideas into a song even if just for a moment. That constant movement of particles is why Sentenced To Life is so fucking jarring. You’re kept off balance because your ears hear all these things before your brain can process them. At that point you either turn the record off in disgust or, like I have, embrace the insanity and make it your own.

Committing themselves to fucking with you is what gives Black Breath their power.  Fast records are a dime a dozen, records that are filled with other influences usually come across as boring or trite. Black Breath avoids that by exploding their influences into all at Sentenced To Life is the audio nervous break down of a band that just can’t hold their ideas in any longer.   

This isn’t an album for everyone. Even some metal fans will find the violent symphony too complex for their ears. You have to understand why Neurosis, Throbbing Gristle, Black Flag, Slayer, and Emperor are all parts of a greater musical consciousness. If you get that then you can tap into the full flavor of Sentenced To Life.  This is a pretty exclusive club and I think Black Breath want it that way. Sentenced To Life is an acidic, bitter and violent explosion tempered by the intelligent creativity of the band behind it. I’ve seen many futures for extreme music and one of them is Black Breath.