Monday, May 28, 2007

Nobody ever thought they’d be talking about progression, development, maturity or what not when it came to NYC’s premier scumfuck powerscuzz trio Unsane. Indeed, their whole raison d’etre seemed to be a fierce rejection of any such values, they pursued a doggedly ugly, autistic, anti-Art, anti-hipster ethic wallowing in gore and brutality, with a series of notorious real-life splatter stills for sleeves. The trademark Unsane sound is monolithic, crumbling concrete guitar and lumbering punk dynamics topped off, or more rightly middled-out with heavily vocoderized vocals, sunk somewhere deep in the mix, Big Black’s hardcore disco demolished and rebuilt in slow-drying cement. “Bludgeoning,” “gruelling” etc are the trademark adjectives in any Unsane review.

Naturally, Unsane had witnessed the horror of existence both outside and in and, angry, wounded, they were determined to stare all that was most traumatic unblinkingly in the face, confront the true horror of it all and in doing so anneal themselves. (“Maybe if I watch “Savage man, savage beast” one more time I really will stop being nauseated by/terrified of violence and death”) These kinds of sentiments and strategies (which run all through metal of course, especially in it’s abject/apocalyptic modes) are largely those of sensitive, wounded boys and girls who have never been able to get over the early and quite natural shocks that flesh is heir to, Humbert Humberts whose development was arrested at a certain point by the overwhelming power with which some insight or other hit them in adolescence, because a girl cheated on them, their friends turned out not to be so nice after all, or they came too quickly and she looked a bit disappointed/ he came bit too quickly and looked perfectly satisfied. Henceforth they knew: love is only ever a cruel charade, sex always a theatre of power, the body a repulsive, humiliating imposition and that anyone who feels or believes differently is a purblind fool swaddled in illusion. It’s right that Unsane should be such traumataphiles/phobes as Metal is the music, precisely, of the wounded, those who find life unbearable and who are obliged to build a world of their own. For hardier or more robust souls it will always appear ludicrous, but it is that Millenarian sense of a tribe of the elect, those who have truly seen and live with that truth, who attempt to bind the trauma of unbearable insight through ritual, sacrement and alternate cosmologies that gives much metal its quasi/religious character and opens up a different domain to that inhabited by the realist “soundtrack to life” stylee cappuccino-sippers (actually I like a cappuccino myself, better be careful!), indeed, Metal, however “childishly” is fundamentally opposed to such practices, is opposed to “reality”, (hence the disdain it’s held in by “functional” Poptimists.) It expresses (among others) an ontological* antagonism. Unsane embody this in one of its aspects, the desire to assault the consciousness of the unbearably/incomprehensibly contented in all their idiocy, tearing the veil of illusion from their eyes, thrusting the full traumatic horror of their own materiality in their face.

So it may come as a bit of a disappointment to Unsane themselves to discover then that with “Visqueen,” more than anything they seem to have become, after more than a decade of digging for feculent nuggets with which to besmirch our smug, bovine faces, one of the great Rock-groove bands of all time. Not only have they honed their knack for crotch-twangingly fat slabs of viscous Blue Cheer/Iron Butterfly/Vanilla Fudge boogie to a tee, but the riffs are rubberised beyond Bootsy’s wildest expectations, a truly rugged elasticity, conjuring (verily!) to the mind’s eye stock-footage of poorly constructed 1950’s suspension bridges bouncing up and down in a storm. We all know that groove equals funk, equals sex, equals seeing your baby getting sloppy and “Visqueen” is, I’m afraid, downright funky, but rest assured it is a properly abjected, suppurating and syphilitic funk shorn of all that is deodorized, depilated and dolled-up, this is funky in the most feral, horny-handed, and hornery, stale sweat and salty secretions sense. If it is sex music, it’s a bit of warts-and-all, bunioned-and-carbuncled rough, it’s a knee-trembler between the wheelie bins round the back of Wetherspoons, you’ve had your beer bi-focals on and you’ve pulled a pig, it’ll be sordid, probably regrettable, possibly a health risk, but hard to say no to come closing time as yet again the empty bed-blues start cutting through the booze. Unsane’s sex is sex nicely spiced with anger, desperation and disgust. Sex as a battle with and against loathing and fear, dry lips and dripping armpits, pungent, musky, a queasy thrill.
“Against the grain” starts of all Alt-Country-purdy before the fuzz pedal ( a Big Muff, no doubt) tumesces mightily and starts dry humping the rhythm section, tongue out, every few bars the riff slewing into a bit of boss-eyed slide guitar (whoops!-quickly whipping it out- nearly came then!) “This stops at the river” drags a harmonica in to vamp its way through the thick, waist-deep, relentlessly thumping gumbo of guitar and bass. “Line on the wall” has a salacious solo unspooling like a long, spittle-soaked tongue, a wheezily thrusting stop/go dynamic and arthritic-hip-pivoting drum fills, while “Windshield” wazzes off-white ziggurats of bottle-neck guitar all over the listener’s face. Elsewhere the trademark Unsane hardcore cacophony i.e “Eat Crow” (oh, yeah?) is even more mercilessly honed and pulverizingly exciting than before (kind of like the bits where you suddenly speed up for a while but then get a stitch and have to ease off.) Miraculously, as a post-coital treat, just to show their sensitive side, there’s even a semi-industrial, eight-minute number to close, an outright arty/experimental piece that still manages to be rather danceable (a kind of stolid, finishing-off-by-hand.) “East Broadway” is a rolling, slow-building bass rumble layered over with all kinds of metallic shearing and snickering, ghostly sirens and slowly agglutinating guitar, the fruits, no doubt, of time spent in the studio with the mighty Book of Knots.
A fucking stormer, as we say up North.

And largely it’s looking like Metal’s year for all things cutting edge. It’s a critical cliché to reference Hip-Hop’s “furious rate of innovation,” but I wonder whether metal hasn’t been the innovatory form par excellence, both in terms of a kind of hermetic, structural self-transcendence, increasingly pushing the envelope in terms of technical and sonic proficiency out to where non-initiates are simply lost AND in terms of cannibalistic, genre-assimilating hybridity, it’s mongrel vitality nourished on an absorbtion of hip hop, post-rock, ambient, new-folk, world, drone, classical….

Even a cursory glance around what look like the best albums of the year would see metal leading the pack, occupying the avant-garde high ground. First up and suddenly streets ahead in the Album of the Year stakes (in any genre) there’s “The Angelic Process”’ truly titanic debut LP “Weighing Souls with Sand” and this time the trauma is of a planetary kind. If George Bush ever gets his wish and the Rapture comes, this is what it will sound like, not the clouds parting and a few bun-faced cherubs alighting at our sides but the vast irruption of some inimical, alien realm into ours, smelting mountains down into lakes of dusty glass and winnowing out humanity with purgative fire. The Angelic Process as envisioned hereabouts will clearly involve a colossal sundering of the space-time continuum in which megalithic, world shattering blocks of mineralized light periodically scour the earths surface, hoovering up the tattered remnants of mankind. Seraphic, liturgical, funereal this is the sublime in that words truest sense, a kind of exultant horror, a cosmic maelstrom in which the wails of the damned and the ecstatic keenings of the saved interlace as they are swept up as one to undergo the great Tribulation.

You think I’m going too far, but that’s because you haven’t heard it yet. It's Death Metal's "Loveless." Believe!***

Metal, metal, metal. Listening to what’s been best in it so far this year i.e the latest from Neurosis, Grails' magnificent “Burning off Impurities” ( an album that basically fulfills ALL my World/ Metal fantasies and which has been dealt with so well with by Fire in the Mind here that frankly I don’t have much more to add (except to say that his observation that what’s so great about it is it’s very much of this world** seems absolutely spot on) the reinvigorated Savage Republic, Sunn(i)))))’s latest epic, the Book of Knot’s et al stuff like Soul Jazz’s recent “Future Dub” dubstep comp just feels pallid and sapped in comparison.

Lets knock out the top five thus far at the year's approximate half way point, just to keep a tab on things.

1) The Angelic Process “Weighing Souls with Sand”
2) Panda Bear “Person Pitch”
3) The good the bad and the queen “TGTBATQ”
4) Grails “Burning off Impurities”
5) The Book of Knots “Traineater”

Bubbling under: Von Sudenfed, Unsane, Neurosis

* I promised myself I'd never use that word.....

** although thinking about it, the importance of this observation does require a lot of unpacking.

*** I apologize for the incorrect spelling of this word, which remained**** on the post for twenty four hours! I will have myself shot at dawn.

****I apologize for the incorrect spelling of this word, which remained on the post for about an hour and a half. Although if I start apologizing for poor spelling, I'll be here all day.....


parody center said...

This is very good, serious and quite in the spirit of New Sobriety; I think K-punk should now consider a full blogroll linkup. I will contact him shortly with a recommendation!

the Cultural Parody Center

Dominic said...

Xasthur's next one will be called "Defective Epitaph", apparently. Can't wait.

I do think "Subliminal Genocide" is as near-as-dammit metal's "Loveless" anyway, but am always up for hearing alternative candidates for the crown.

(But isn't "Loveless" metal's "Loveless"? You could play the opening track - forget what it's called, it hardly matters - in the style of Sabbath and it would work pretty well...)

parody center said...

Yes what distinguishes this music from the commercial ''mainstream'' genre is its seriousness bordering on catatonia. In an all-fun world you gotta have a bit of no-fun fun, riiiight?

This music has rough edges; it means business. It's not like these endlessly self-looping and self-referrential filmed rollercoaster rides.

Realism, above all, a sense of the possible, is what's needed in this age of the dekline of simbolik efikasy, where the DAMAGE HAS BEEN DONE.

What's also very good and very serious about this music, is its deep embrace of Dario Argento and John Carpenter horror films from the 1980s.