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Gnaw: This faceGnaw: This face

14/04/09  ||  Khlysty

I’m not very much into noise: I don’t come home after a hard day’s work, mix a gin tonic and think “well, I need something to relax, so let’s hear some Merzbow or Wolf Eyes or some such shit”, y’know? I LISTEN to noise from time to time and I’ve even learned to appreciate some of it (Bastard Noise, anyone? Masonna? Sissy Spacek? We cool, or what?), but it’s not something I do often. But, as of late, I have a feeling that there’s a trend in metal, to use the harsh sonics of noise within the framework of “normal” genres and see what happens. For example, we have the blackened-doom-through-Skinny-Puppy-sequencers of P.H.O.B.O.S., the processed black metal noisescapes of WOLD and, now, Gnaw.

Well, Gnaw are into noise, but that’s not the whole story. See, they’re also into blackened industrial, into doom and they make forays into black metal territory. If all this sounds like a shit-soup to you, I have to inform you that you’re dead wrong. Why? Because, basically the musicians working in Gnaw are on top of their game; they know their shit inside and out and they’re totally capable of creating painscapes that are as ugly and pushbacky as they are compelling. Also, they seem to be ready to push the envelope as far as it can go, while staying within the “song” format, making this record somehow more approachable by normal human beings.

(As a side note, y’all know what? I fucking HATE “project” bands. I think that it’s the most miserable thing happening to music, besides gated drums and hair metal. Whaddafuck is a fuckin’ “project” band, huh? If some guys have some ideas and they want to work them out –probably out of their system-, ok, they should form real bands, not “projects”. Even for one 7” single, they should fuckin’ be a real, proper band, not a goddamn “project”. All this ranting is about that I hope Gnaw will NOT be another “project”, but something that will last. So, you guys at Gnaw, d’ya hear me? Be a fucking BAND, not a fucking PROJECT, ok? Cool, let’s move on).

Anyway, Gnaw’s bigger “names” are drummer Jamie “Thorr’s Hammer-Burning Witch-Atavist” Sykes and vokillist Alan “OLD-Khanate” Dubin. But, besides them, the real force behind Gnaw is multi-instrumentalist Carter Thornton, who’s responsible for the (barely) controlled sonic chaos that drives this record. Thornton lays down the riffs –and they are pretty interesting little bastards, seemingly taking cues from doom and black metal- and then he and two sound designers (Jun Mizumachi and Brian Beatrice) freely slather everything with a squall of electronic noise, distortion, feedback, processed found sounds and a jillion other little things, leaving breathing space only for the drums and the vokills to surface from the whole mess.

The genius of the band’s concept, though, lies in the way they attach hooks to the whole chaotic endeavor: be it a rhythmic repetition, a melody fighting for air, a bit of processed sound, or Dubin’s incredible performance (he sounds even more possessed than he did with Khanate), there’s always something that kept me from pushing the “stop” button and moving on to something else. Also, as I’ve said before, the band tends to write “songs” instead of “sonicscapes”, a strategy that makes the whole thing easier to swallow –if no less abrasive, experimental and excessively ugly. I hafta tell ya: if you go into this expecting “normal” music, you’ll be sorely disappointed.

For example, the record starts with “Haven Vault”, a pure throbbing noise piece with Dubin’s screams coming at you in clear and processed manner. The song is extremely assaultive and abrasive and plain scary. But then, things seem to change a little: when “Talking Mirrors”, the third song of this record kicked in –and I really mean KICKED IN- I almost jumped up and thought “Whoa, whaddafuck, NIN filled their scrotum at long last???!!!”. The bastard is a really industro-groovy song, with lots of heavy drumming by Sykes, a shitload of noise and sonic manipulation and, on top of that, Dubin screeching his lungs out, spitting forth such user-friendly lines as: “Stare into the face of scum, dead behind the eyes” and “Hey, floor, meet this dirty freak” and “Now it’s time to end Bleed out enemy”. It was as if Trent took the right drugs this time and decided to stop fucking around and really bring the pain to the masses.

And that’s how things go for the rest of the album: within each song, you’ll find elements of known genres (black, doom, industrial, noise, electronica), heavily manipulated so that they fit into the band’s method of madness. Through the whole thing Dubin shines brightly, giving a performance that surpasses the limits of dementia, moving towards audial snuff territory. As he screams (in “Backyard Frontier”) “Piled high / the dream is mine / if I was nice I would bless you with this knife / I like how it shines”, you get the feeling that this is not just a guy rambling and raving, that what he says rings to true for comfort. Dubin’s voice gives the music a kind of desperation and malignancy rarely found, even in the most extreme reaches of metal, making it much more compelling that it should properly be.

Of course, “This Face” is the quintessential “difficult listen”: the music is intentionally abrasive and confrontational, there’s not much linear progression within the songs, or the album as a whole and it exudes an atmosphere of palpable, throbbing rage and desperation. Also, the tactic of burying the riffs under tons of noise and ambience might alienate people who want a more conventional approach toward music. But for those who hunger for pain and ugliness done smart, I think that this record will pretty soon be considered a benchmark of sorts.

7,5 blackened noisescapes out of 10.

  • Information
  • Released: 2009
  • Label: Conspiracy Records
  • Website: Gnaw MySpace
  • Band
  • Alan Dubin: larynx and other noise
  • Jun Mizumachi: sonic makings
  • Jamie “The Bog” Sykes: percussion
  • Carter Thornton: bowed instruments, piano and field recordings
  • Brian Beatrice: soundwave mutilator
  • Tracklist
  • 01. Haven Vault
  • 02. Vacant
  • 03. Talking Mirrors
  • 04. Feelers
  • 05. Backyard Frontier
  • 06. Watcher
  • 07. Ghosted
  • 08. Shard
  • 09. ByF (reprise)