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Reliving the pain 

After three years in the void, Unsane returns with force

Echo Lounge, Dec. 28 -- If anyone can appreciate the dangers of re-opening old wounds, it's Unsane. Though "Scrape," from 1995's Scattered, Smothered and Covered, was the group's only song to get any MTV play, a decade-long body of work made Unsane the definitive noise-rock band of the '90s. Its shifting lineup solidified with Chris Spencer (vocals/guitar), Dave Curran (bass/vocals) and Vincent Signorelli (drums), the New York City three-piece reigned supreme.

But after its 1998 Relapse Records debut, Occupational Hazard, Unsane fell silent, and the fate of the group became the subject of speculation. Spencer re-emerged with a new group, Cutthroats 9, that one-upped the intensity of Unsane and wrenched the music to a much more personal level. Now, almost as quickly as Cutthroats 9 appeared, Unsane has reconvened for the first time in three years for a "reunion tour." But after three years of inactivity and the success of Spencer's new act, would Unsane's soul-pummeling dirge still be as jarring?

The answer is a resounding "yes." Unsane's hour-long Atlanta set spanned the group's career, releasing a torrent of body fluids and leaving the stage in shambles.

The show began around 11 p.m. with a 35-minute set from Atlanta post-hardcore trio Hex Error. Keeping audience interaction to a minimum, the band plowed through 10 songs, some new, most from its self-titled CD.

Hex Error seemed an appropriate choice as an opener for Unsane, even if its politically charged spin puts the group in a slightly different class. "Deerlodge Prison," "Corporate Sheep" and "Mission Statement" foster a more extroverted brand of hatred that contrasts the inner torment of Unsane. But to the passive listener, these idiosyncrasies are barely noticeable.

Hex Error played a courteously short set, exiting with the words, "Thank you for coming out and supporting the music." But the second act, Keel Haul, wasn't as thoughtful. The St. Louis metal-heads took their sweet time setting up before launching into a self-indulgent hour-and-15-minutes. While Keel Haul is quite passionate about its music, playing for so long is inconsiderate to both headliner and audience.

Unsane took the stage shortly after 1 a.m. It was only the group's third show in three years, but all three members clicked into place without showing any signs of being out of practice. The group tore through the set, performing songs from every album, including almost all of Scattered, Smothered and Covered.

Spencer has never been one to hold back the bodily fluids on stage. In fact, it wouldn't be Unsane if he weren't spitting, sweating and shooting snot out of his nose, adding a certain primal flare. True to form, Spencer expelled an unprecedented amount of mucous, spit and whatever else dripped from the microphone as he performed.

Through it all, Signorelli worked out his own demons on the drums, while Curran remained the most self-effacing of the three. As the end drew near, the group plowed through a wall of feedback that left amps turned on their sides and microphone stands in audience members' faces. Conducting the mayhem, Spencer bent the neck of his guitar until the roar subsided.

Now that Unsane has returned refreshed, the possibilities seem endless. But whether this is a one-time reunion or a second coming remains to be seen. As Signorelli put it after the show, "We're just going to wing it and see how it goes."

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