Gnaw – Horrible Chamber (Seventh Rule Recordings, 15 October 2013)
Hello again, readers. As I’ve mentioned numerous times lately, things are still crazy busy around here, and I’ve been having some trouble finding much time for writing. But, I suffered a pretty traumatic experience this past weekend — while attending a bachelor party for a friend of mine, I found myself squished into a van with a bunch of other guys, subjected to something called “redneck hip-hop” at very a high volume. Trust me, the less said about that, the better.
But as unpleasant as that experience was, an even worse thought came to mind: I imagined a scenario in which folks didn’t have access to any good music simply because they didn’t know where to find it. That sounds like a nightmare, for sure! Now, I’m not going to pretend like I’m anybody important, or that there aren’t plenty of other places out there to learn about new music, but if my writing this helps even one person discover something that they might otherwise have missed out on, and if it saves them from listening to some other sort of rubbish, then it’s worth the effort.
Having said that, I’m pleased to bring to your attention Horrible Chamber, last fall’s sophomore full-length from the experimental/industrial/noise ensemble Gnaw.
Although this NYC-based group has been together for the better part of a decade now, and had released their debut back in 2009, the name was unfamiliar to me when they were announced as part of Pittsburgh’s two-day Winter’s Wake festival which took place back in February 2013. But I soon learned a bit about the band when I had the opportunity to chat with vocalist Alan Dubin as part of a series of interviews leading up to that event. At that time, the band had just completed work on Horrible Chamber and were in the process of signing with a record label (later revealed to be Seventh Rule) for its release.
Through that brief conversation, combined with a bit of research on my own, I learned that the band augmented the typical vocals/guitar/bass/drums instrumentation with samplers and a variety of audio manipulation techniques, combining all of its members’ various influences into an eclectic experiment where pretty much anything goes. However, no amount of information could really have prepared me for what I actually witnessed when the band came to town. As a point of reference, here’s one song I managed to capture on video, “Haven Vault” from the first album.
In Monday’s review of the latest from Indian, I made a comparison to Today is the Day; here is another band who bears a bit of a resemblance , particularly in the oppressively nightmarish atmosphere they create.
Not unexpectedly, considering the unconventional nature of their sound, Gnaw produced a range of different reactions among the festival crowd: some people I talked to were sort of indifferent, unable to see anything beyond a bunch of random noise, while others (myself included) felt engulfed by the immense soundscape we’d witnessed, with each twist of a knob producing more and more layers of intensity. One person in particular (a friend of a friend who’d been introduced to me at that show, after having commented on some of my pre-fest coverage) seemed so affected by the performance as to almost have entered into a transcendental state, going off to sit quietly in the corner for a while to recuperate from the experience.
I saw and heard quite a few bands the rest of that evening and the next day, but still that sensation of being overwhelmed by such a huge expanse of terrifying noise really stayed with me. For a long time afterwards, two songs in particular had been stuck in my head: one in which Dubin kept repeating the phrase “so cold” (and the harsh reverb on the vocals as well as the stark arrangement definitely reinforced that imagery), and another that kept returning to the lines “it ends up here, it all ends here, this is where you end up” with the vocalist sometimes emphasizing the word “here” with a huge wave of echoes as he pointed at the spot where he stood. Both of those songs were big highlights of seeing this band, and I later discovered that they were both on the new album (“Widowkeeper” and “This Horrible Chamber,” respectively).
Both of those songs are highlights of the album, as well — but the whole thing is so engrossing, and compelling, and intriguing, I just had to include it on my list of the year’s best releases. The compositions vary somewhat in their instrumentation: sometimes utilizing the whole band in a more standard “metal” sense, with guitar riffs and drum beats and vocal patterns that follow a somewhat more “song lyric” style of phrasing (for example, “Of Embers” and the heavy-doom flavored “Widowkeeper”), while elsewhere a more “industrial” style is employed, with guitar and bass parts spliced and looped over throbbing, pounding drums (such as “Water Rite”).
The most unique aspect of this band, though, is where they venture into more experimental, less structured territory. Opening track “Humming,” for instance, is primarily built upon a two-note piano phrase, with loads of sound effects and noises, and various shrieked words and phrases that give the impression of a poetry reading in a haunted house. Likewise, while the twelve-minute-plus “This Horrible Chamber” does include some sporadic drum and percussion sounds as well as the occasional doom-metal-esque chords, it’s mostly made up of grating and terrifying atmospheric sounds surrounding the screamed apocalyptic messages (“Everybody, this is where you end up! You want out; the torch burned out! It ends… like… this!”)
In the eleven months since this album was released, I’ve listened to it quite a few times in several different places. But if I may offer a suggestion, for maximum effect, use headphones while sitting in a darkened room all by yourself. Just don’t blame me if you never sleep again.
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