(Here’s Todd Manning‘s review of the new EP by Gnaw, which is set for release on January 31st via Sleeping Giant Glossolalia.)
New York-based Gnaw produce the kind of brutalizing listening experience that just can’t be achieved without coloring outside the lines of genre rules. They’ve been producing their Metal/Industrial/Noise mash-up since 2009, and their latest EP, Barking Orders, shows they definitely have not lost their edge.
For most Metal bands, the music comes first and the vocals often seem to default to the style that best matches what the instruments are doing. This isn’t the case with Gnaw, who are fronted by scene veteran Alan Dubin, whose unique vocal style has been at the forefront of such acts as O.L.D. and Khanate. “Unsettling” doesn’t even begin to describe the brutal screeches, yells, and bellows emanating from him. Perhaps the most notable part of his style, though, is the clarity with which he delivers the lyrics, despite the means he uses to deliver them. With Gnaw, the band seem to construct their sounds to complrment his powerful and unique style, utilizing whatever sort of cacophony best accompanies his voice and the harrowing lyrics it conveys.
Barking Orders begins with a cover of Einsturzende Neubauten’s 1981 track “Kollaps”. It’s a telling choice, the original portraying a skeletal Post-Punk architecture, seething with tension and paranoia, yet with plenty of space open for Gnaw to paint there own blood-splattered picture upon it. Their take on the song is both more immediate and more visceral, with the hypnotic drums of the original being amped up to a Neurosis-level of intensity. And while Neubaten performed the lyrics in German, Dubin delivers them in English. “The collapse of time,” he intones, followed soon after by “Our wandering destroys the cities!”. His mantra-like repetition seems intent on invoking nothing short of Armageddon. As the song progresses, his lines begin to be punctuated by stabs of noise and feedback. There is the briefest moment of silence, a last gasp if you will, before they bring everything to a vicious conclusion.
The next track, “Cry Louder”, is an unsettling noise collage. There is a drum beat, albeit one interlaced with quite a bit of improvisation, that gives form to all the noise. Some of the sounds resemble detuned strings and bits of piano. The effect is like hearing a horrific act from behind a closed door, terrifying in its proximity yet unclear what is actually transpiring.
“Rid the City” once again begins with an understated yet almost danceable Post-punk throb. The song is inspired by the Son of Sam killings, and when Dubin whispers, “Don’t go outside, Don’t go for a ride”, the implication is painfully clear. The guitar that joins in midway through channels Caspar Brotzmann at his most abrasive before settling into more unsettling atmospherics. As if the whole Son of Sam case wasn’t bad enough, the whole feel of this track almost invokes the murderous cult described in Maury Terry’s controversial book on the case, The Ultimate Evil. “The dog is talking” indeed…
The final track, “Then the Sunrise”, is a transmission from a destroyed city, Dubin’s tortured vocals sounding like a distant message from the shattered mutants left alive in the concrete and steel husk. There is no beat here, rather just pulsing and arrhythmic drones. The noise is jagged, making cuts that cannot be stitched back together. It is a fitting end to a powerful release.
My love for all sorts of Death, Black, and Traditional Metal runs deep, but yet, the experimentation and abstract horror of a band like Gnaw conveys all the hyperbolic talk of violence and brutality more so than almost any conventional band. This is truly challenging music. For those who truly crave extremity, I encourage you to check this release out, and in fact, to explore Gnaw’s entire discography.