(Andy Synn reviews the new album from Knoll, out this Friday)
Riding the hype wave is a lot like surfing, when you think about it.
Sure, you look cool when you’re doing it, and as long as you stay ahead of it you’re all good, but the moment you fall behind the curve… that’s when it overtakes you and drags you down.
And while the prolific (and pretty damn impressive) output of unorthodox American noise-mongers Knoll has, so far at least, helped them ride that wave a long way from their humble beginnings – going from a practically unknown name in 2019 to one that’s been on almost everybody’s lips going into 2024 – it’s basically inevitable that, some day, maybe even some day soon, they’re going to crash out and go under.
But that day is not today.
While Knoll have, unquestionably, always been somewhat of an outlier on the spectrum – more “Avant-Grind” than simply “Grindcore” – on previous albums some of their more “experimental” impulses occasionally felt, for lack of a better word, a little too impulsive (though their success rate has always been impressively high).
But on As Spoken it feels, more than ever, that Knoll are truly pushing the envelope with purpose, with songs like the bar-setting opening title-track and late-album highlight “Portrait” combining all the crushing intensity we’ve come to associate with the band with an even more claustrophobic sense of asphyxiating atmosphere and droning, doom-laden darkness (reminiscent, in places, of Nadja‘s most nihilistic numbers) which, more than ever before, thoroughly justifies the group’s self-described “Funeral Grind” tag-line.
And while, on first impression at least, the seemingly anachronistic bouts of tortured trumpet which pierce the abstract chaos of “Revile the Light” and the unbound fury of “Fettered Oath” might seem like an odd choice of “gimmick” (though this isn’t the first time that Knoll have toyed with more unorthodox instrumentation), repeated listens reveal them to be anything but, and I can actively confirm from seeing the band live that these brassy bursts of squalling strangeness feel like a surprisingly seamless addition to their sound.
That’s not to say that the quintet don’t still possess the “gift of grind”, as tracks like the jagged, jerking attack of “Wept Fountain” and the frenzied, Fawn Limbs-esque “Unto Viewing” emphatically demonstrate, but even these more unashamedly abrasive moments feel as though they’ve been designed with a greater purpose in mind, providing a punishing blast of palette-cleansing fury which enables the listener to appreciate moments like the dissonant drudgery of “Mereward” and the dizzying denouement of “Shall It Be” in all their “Post-Grind” glory.
Looking back on both Interstice and Metempiric it’s clear that Knoll were never going to be satisfied with being just another Grind band, and keen ears should be able to perceive – especially with the benefit of hindsight – early hints of what they’ve achieved here on songs such as “Loom of Wills” and “Of Troth to Atom”.
But the huge steps they’ve taken on As Spoken – reminiscent, to an extent, of Full of Hell‘s similar evolution circa-Trumpeting Ecstasy/Weeping Choir, only with less sludgy savagery and significantly more sinister overtones – really have to be heard, and experienced, in full to be appreciated. And, thankfully, you won’t have to wait much longer to do so.