Live Review: Unsane, San Diego, CA, Aug. 1, 2017

Perilously low above the Casbah venue, every five minutes or so, an airliner screams its approach into San Diego International Airport. Anywhere else in the neighborhood, the sound is unpleasantly loud and disruptive. But in this cozy club on the northern edge of the city’s playful Little Italy, the din doesn’t even qualify as background static.

For Unsane is in town.

The New York trio’s noisy blend of hardcore punk and gritty metal shatters eardrums with a violence that’s glorious in its simplicity. A new release entitled Sterilize is due out in September, and judging by the half-dozen of its tracks played tonight, the LP promises to be as flesh-ripping as anything else in a catalog stretching back 30 years.

The plodding and grinding “Aberration” from the upcoming album, for example, recalls Blood Run’s punishing “Killing Time.” But set highlights “Scrape” and “Committed” are the performances that showcase Unsane at its most inspiring: urgent, brutal and thoroughly no-nonsense. The three musicians perform like mechanics wrenching the songs out of their instruments with muscle and elbow grease.

What the original punks did for classic rock—stripping out its pretensions, restoring its immediacy—Unsane has done for metal. Gone are the cartoonish exaggerations, the cock-rock superficialities, the inane chest-thumping. Unsane prunes metal down to its slasher-pic essentials. The group’s music is so earsplitting, unfiltered and savage that, in comparison, a 747 crash-landing would register as little more than a coquettish whisper in a lover’s ear.

At the close of the set, guitarist/vocalist Chris Spencer politely thanks the audience and steps off the stage without underlining the band’s alpha status. Unsane’s soundtrack for murder speaks, or rather shouts, for itself.

—Eric Bensel