During their ten-year tenure on New York’s teeming Lower East Side, Unsane—formed in 1988 by college chums Charlie Ondras, Pete Shore and Chris Spencer—made a name for themselves in the noise scene in much the same way that the Hungarians who tried to outmuscle Keyser Söze’s crime syndicate did in The Usual Suspects: with a willingness to press it further, heavier and uglier than most of the other guys were willing to go. As notorious for their horrifying cover art—generally gore-caked murder/suicide scenes—as for their unremittingly ugly contents, the numerous Unsane recordings released on Matador, Sub Pop, Glitterhouse and Amphetamine Reptile records set new high-sludge marks for scraping, dirgy metal sewage with density and acute guitar attack in equal measure.
To the surprise of many, Unsane survived the death by overdose of their original drummer, the charismatic Charlie Ondras, in 1992 and went on to refine their brutalist approach to metal to much popular and critical success, touring the world and elsewhere in the company of bands like the Cows, Slayer and the Entombed for several years before checking out for good last year. Now relocated to Baltimore after 15 years in New York, founding member Spencer and second-round bassist Dave Curran still find plenty to be angry about in their new band, the Cutthroats 9, a four-man mangle that—surprise, surprise—sounds more than a little like Unsane.
All the crucial aspects that kept Unsane exciting in a carpet-bombed and picked-over ‘90s noise rock scene are conserved without the slightest loss of momentum in the Cutthroats: a huge, raw-as-hell guitar sound with pulverizing riffs dropping like bergs from a calving tungsten glacier, tormented slide guitar giving the blues angles proper beating, and Spencer’s bleak vocals spat with maximum hatred and prejudice. A great night with the wife and kids, you know? Fans of Unsane will feel immediately at home, as will fans of similarly malign, vituperative, eye-gouging noise metallurgists like 16, Eyehategod and, well, I can’t think of anything else that blends ugliness and a certain swingin’ grooviness with such gruesome appeal.
On a custodial note, let me just say that I always know when an, ahem, kinetically participatory show like this one is going to attract a clutch of mosh-happy meatheads who’ve seen it on MTV but don’t know how to do it properly, and mystifyingly lack the common sense to realize that not everyone standing within a scything elbow’s length of Jay’s arcade seating wants to have some bonehead trying to seize him bodily and shove him into the fray. For starters, you kids today don’t even know how to mosh. What you want to do is keep it low and get a circle going, however sluggishly, and you don’t crouch down and then spring up to butt chest and shoulders with your pal in the Korn T-shirt like you’re trying to knock a can of paint off the wall. Above all, keep it consensual, i.e., hands off the kids who are there to see the show. If they want a trip around, they know where to go.
Cutthroats 9 play Jay’s Upstairs with Japanther and Early Humans this Wednesday at 10 PM. Cover TBA.