Gnaw - This Face (Conspiracy Records, 2009)
Abstract the words from Alan Dubin's howls and they become industrial textures, as harsh and electrical as a rotating saw blade on sheet metal. That's why the debut album from his Gnaw project feels so right -- the band complements Dubin's feverish screeches with clanking noise, swirling sound effects and baptismal static, courtesy of Carter Thornton (Enos Slaughter), Jun Mizumachi (of 80s industrialists Ike Yard), sound designer Brian Beatrice and Jamie Sykes, drummer for doom legends Thorr's Hammer and Burning Witch (whose re-issued Crippled Lucifer I reviewed here).
Gnaw - "Ghosted"
Sykes is the switch that controls the band's inhuman assembly line, his rhythms drilling "Vacant" and "Backyard Frontier" into the floor. But you don't get such a fucked up group of sonic adventurers together to pound out metal riffs. These guys excel at raw sonics, dank atmospheres that can't quite be boxed in by rhythm or song structures. Gnaw fulfill their destiny on "Haven Vault" and "Ghosted," which sound almost improvised (check out this interview with Dubin about Gnaw's writing process), totally uncomfortable, and about as close to free-form as music that's still rooted in industrial or metal gets. Dubin's other band Khanate sounds dead...Gnaw sound alive and murderous. Check out this classic Dubinism, from "Ghosted:" "We are here / Shadow and bone / Haunting from the alley / Dank and rot deserved / Chase the ghosted memory / In the shadow we die alone." I want to hear him scream that at a Hoboken open mic night.
Khanate - Clean Hands Go Foul (Hydra Head, 2009)
You could have predicted this would happen. A band that always sounded so moribund on disc had to die sooner or later. Khanate broke up in 2006, shortly after the release of their Capture and Release EP, but not before improvising the basic tracks of what would become Clean Hands Go Foul (for more on its creation, read this piece from the Village Voice). While they were perched at the very precipice of the doom metal cliff, Khanate discs never called for repeat listens, because their bombed-out, caved-in take on doom was just too naked, too dark to visit that often. Guitarist Stephen O' Malley (Sunn0)))), bassist James Plotkin (O.L.D./Khlyst/Atomsmasher) and drummer Tim Wyskida (Khlyst/Blind Idiot God) played so slow that their "riffs," where they existed, released their relationships to one another. Khanate songs were lengthy metallic scrapes and rusty water droplets on an endless black canvass, with Dubin howling over the silence. Listening to Khanate's early recordings feels like revisiting horrible traumas.
Khanate - "Wings From Spine"
The first three tracks on Clean Hands Go Foul lessen Khanate's tension, and pretension, ever so slightly by filling in the gaps. Suspended guitar chords and pendulous bass lines ring out over empty space. Chords coalesce and dissolve in semi-regular succession; Wyskida has crests and troughs to follow. This shit is still abysmally downbeat (check the final stanza of "In That Corner," where Dubin seethes "Don't you move / A kick will fix it / Stay in that trench / In that box / In the corner") but it paints in shades of black and grey that the older Khanate material was too bleak to bother with. Occasionally, Clean Hands Go Foul is quite beautiful, at least until you reach the blackened behemoth that is "Every God Damn Thing." In its full 32-minute incarnation (whittled down to nine minutes for the vinyl version), the song has more emptiness than music. You'll hear the squiggly distortion of a plug inserted into an electric guitar. A single feedback tone gets louder and recedes. A bass drop, a few hits of a tom, a lone kickdrum. Dubin howling over eternal quiet. He's resigned to being alone forever. Not that I'd ever accuse music so emotionally shattering of delicacy, but this shit sounds like Japanese gagaku in its eternal restraint. Faced with such pregnant tension, stretched over half an hour, every sound makes me flinch. Life affirming this is not. If Khanate found it cathartic, good for them. "Every God Damn Thing" certainly makes me feel less alive. A fitting epitaph for a band that sounded like death to begin with.
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And here's the video for Khanate's "Dead," directed by It's like they knew.