The Lead Review: Mick Middles On Gnod's Mirror
, March 31st, 2016 17:04
Where to go? What to do next? And why? Mick Middles assesses the latest output from the Salford group, out tomorrow on Rocket Recordings
Formed in 2007, as more of an arts collective than a band, Gnod managed to add true innovative substance to the unlikely swell of pysche in the North West. As their membership fluctuated, so the course and vision of their musicality continued to sway. Today they seem settled as a four piece, albeit one whose musical stance has changed drastically even since their gargantuan 2015 outing, Infinity Machines. This 109 minute triple album was seen by some as the Yessongs of contemporary psyche, although that lazy genre seems incapable of encapsulation a band with such expansive musical movement. It was an album you could easily live within and for several months before the inevitable would occur, seeing you running, screaming from the enclosure. It was certainly captivating and, in places, blindingly brilliant. That sense of being enclosed in sound – and vision – offered both a sense of release and incarceration.
Oddly enough, Gnod's music does seem to manifest itself within a brick framework. The building in question being Salford's lively 'arts centre;' Islington Mill, Gnod's distinctive and evocative HQ. Home, literally, in the true sense and certainly home to their music. 'Is Mill' is actually a fine and unique little venue which provides many bands the attraction of industrial edge. The finest gig I attended last year concerned Holland's joyous jam unit, The Ex, whose sheer exuberance seemed to explode to new levels within that performance space. To catch Gnod perform anywhere, let alone in 'Is Mill' is something truly special. For the pulsating heart and jagged attack of their – often very long – songs really does seem to have soaked into the walls. Islington Mill is Gnod. Their sound appears to have soaked into walls. It hangs for the very rafters.
If all this sounds a little pretentious then the fault is mine, rather than the band's. They tend to set my mind spinning. Perhaps it is because I am old enough to remember embryonic Pink Fairies and young enough to enjoy the acerbic thrust of Sleaford Mods. Somewhere within those two extremes and relating to both, sit Gnod. A little uncomfortably at times, but thrilling to witness.
The problem with Infinity Machines was simple. It was such a vast and powerful statement that it seemed to carry the finality of one mighty full stop. Where to go? What to do next? And why?
Mirror provides the answer. This is a different beast, not in terms of content, for it still folds its angry polemic within layer upon layer of suffocating sound – indeed the closing track, the epic 18 minute Sodom and Gomorrah, implodes spectacularly at the death, leaving the listener stranded in eerie silence. Such things are a Gnod staple, of course, but hear the difference lies in the band's – if, indeed, they are now happy to be called 'a band'- approach towards the recording. I may have overstated things with the Yessongs comparison but Infinity Machines did pose as many questions as it answered. Most obviously, could Gnod, despite the abrasive nature of their attack, actually fall the way of many before them. Could they become bloated and, worse, irrelevant? It was a question worth asking.
One senses that Gnod were aware of such dangers. Why else would they choose to record the follow up album in three short days? For Mirror is practically a live recording. Positively a punkish attack. That's not to say this is Cock Sparrow live at The Bridge House. It isn't. But if there is a place in the world where Wire might meet Van Der Graaf Generator, then this is it. Actually, and for once, I fully endorse the accompanying press release which describes Mirror as an unholy blend of early Swans and prime Public Image. I couldn't have put it better myself, for one can certainly hear Metal Box within these audio shadows. Metal Box, that is, delivered with the stomach churning sonic ferocity of a Swans gig.
The 'live' nature is apparent from the start. The opening and title track – only three songs here although it feels like thirty – hangs entirely on a the most simplistic of two note bass lines. Yes, for a minute, this really does sound like Wire on the gloriously shambolic Live At The Roxy. What's more, the bass line dominates throughout, delivering a curiously attractive if doomy state of rhythm. As ever, with Gnod, it's difficult not to square this entire lovely musical mess – a compliment, since you ask – with the current level of discontent felt within this country at this precise moment. Not since the early 80s has such an under-swell threatened to so explode. And so it might. Whether this transpires or not is of little consequence. This music is contemporary to the second and, as such, will remain locked in place.
The unexpected delicacy of Mirror is swept clean away by the brutally uncompromising 'Learning To Forgive'. This mechanical beast of a song clangs, roars and rattles like a Victorian iron smelting plant. “It was really cathartic and satisfying to know we can still bang it out like a punk band,” says Gnod's Paddy Shine. With that in mind, I would suggest that 'Learning To Forgive' is more howl of frustration from the shadows than a full blown attack on the hideous Tory government we currently suffer. This hints at the true continuum from Infinity Machines. There seems to have been an abandonment of hope and all that is left is to accept the curious freedom that this brings.
These are epic views of a small album. For Mirror only weighs in at just 35 minutes. Nevertheless, the nature of this album is deceptive. Every second of this album feels gargantuan. The aural vistas seems to stretch for mile after mile of mountainous terrain, complete with giant peaks and chasms. This is where Gnod stride gloriously ahead of many of their contemporaries. While many believe them to link back to the early 70s, (Notting Hill, perhaps?) the sheer forceful power of their vision builds them into their own genre. I spoke, recently, to Gnod devotee and legendary Hamsters front man, Ian Moss (Moey) who more or less stated, “I love Gnod because they do it better than all the others but the problem lies in the bands would flounder in their wake.”
What Moss was stating is the simple fact that psyche, as a genre, is all too easily filled up by under-rehearsed non-musicians who claim their listless musicality to be some kind of anarchic statement. This is not punk rock. A certain command is needed. This fact is forcedly imposed by the final track here, the aforementioned and deeply threatening 18 minute death jam sweetly sweetly titled Sodom and Gomorrah. This is the heart of the matter of Gnod. As I write, one day after the Brussels attacks, a sombre malaise seems to cloak the western world. And here are Gnod. Offering no answers or solutions, merely commenting obliquely on a darkening world. There is no room here for shallow echoes. Take it or leave it. This is simply a comment of honesty.
Although they now appear to enjoy a settled dynamic and are capable of striding way beyond the pack, who knows where they may tread? Nor least, I sense, the band themselves. I think we should simply enjoy the moment. For me, this apparently punkish slam out, is their finest to date. For it seems to capture the very essence of Islington Mill which, coincidently, is situated in the darkest corner of Salford. There are a thousand ghosts and echoes within the deadening streets which surround it. Through the past darkly. It even lies a hop away from Ewan MacCall's 'Gasworks Walls' and Gnod do seem to sit comfortably with that great visionary.