From the blood-soaked crime scene photos that adorn the sleeves of its releases to the unmitigated aggression of its sonic attack, New York’s Unsane spends most of its time on the “wrong” side of the tracks separating mere catharsis from genuine menace. Metalheads and hardcore punks alike might find varying degrees of satisfaction in the grinding gears of the Unsane machine, but you’d be hard-pressed to fit the band — especially the early singles compiled on 89-92 (red-river bathtub) — into a genus with nearly as much socially redeeming value as either of those.
On its raw full-length debut (decapitated body on train tracks), the trio lurches through virtually structure-free material with a bipolar propensity for mixing precision and unbalance. Guitarist Chris Spencer’s overly distorted vocals screech atop the graceful-yet- pugilistic rhythms anchored by drummer Charlie Ondras, who died of a heroin overdose shortly after the album’s release. After an extended period of retrenchment, Spencer and bassist Pete Shore linked with ex-Swans drummer Vinny Signorelli for Total Destruction (gore-covered radiator grille), an even more abrasive collection of songs, a disconcerting number of which give off dumbed-down thrash metal vibes. Still, feral tracks like “Body Bomb” run through the system with the speed (and side-effects) of flesh-eating bacteria.
After parting ways with Matador, Unsane cast its lot with Amphetamine Reptile’s hatecore HQ for Scattered, Smothered and Covered. The sonic tumult is still manifest, with the trio (including new bassist Dave Curran) lobbing contrapuntal grenades in what sounds like an aural game of Rollerball. The songs, however, lack some of their predecessors’ inherent urgency. The Peel Sessions EP marries two of those BBC rituals — an incendiary eleven-minute, four-song medley recorded with Ondras in ’91 and five slightly more measured tracks cut with Signorelli in ’92.