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Album Of The Week

Do I Need To Wear A Crash Helmet?: GNOD’s Chapel Perilous
John Doran , May 3rd, 2018 07:52

The glorious berserk pulverisers are on a winning streak, and this album is easily one of their greatest

I shouldn’t have taken it as a personal slight but I’m simply too full of anxiety and paranoia to let these opportunities slip by. The no-doubt righteous, hard-working and fine-smelling I Love My Brick promotions hub in Newcastle Upon Tyne let fly a celebratory tweet after witnessing GNOD play live at that fair city’s The Cluny venue on April 29: “Fucking barbaric. Like being twatted repeatedly over the head with a shovel. ” The renegade, experimental psychedelic band’s minister for information and grand vizier of the @GNODgnetwerk twitter handle replied: “Best review ever of Gnod live.” To which I thought huffily, ‘Seriously? Better than the review I wrote for VICE six years ago!? I DON’T THINK SO.’ Because I am an emotionally unstable, high-maintenance idiot.

The trouble for me though is that ILMB’s earthy, semi-plosive, A-okay hand aloft emoji bearing, social media borne, digi-blast really does get down to the pulsating, fractally deep, sub-molecular nub of whole the matter. It galls me to say it, but this is exactly what effect GNOD currently have on live audiences.

I was at their Rocket 20 weekender closing set at the Garage in London on Sunday 11 March and it was an event I’m still recovering from. They topped a bill that had already included stellar sets from Teeth Of The Sea, Anthroprophh and Zimpel/Ziołek, so the bar was set perilously high. But GNOD just strode in like damn colossi and savaged Highbury and all of the surrounding ancient Tolentole manor right down to the ley lines. By selecting just four songs to play over a period of about 70 minutes (‘Donovan’s Daughters’; ‘Tony’s First Communion’; ‘Bodies For Money’; and something that might have been ‘Genocider’ that essentially sounded like being trapped inside a collapsing cathedral surrounded by screaming nuns) they reduced these already muscular tracks into super-dense battle weapons, the relentless riffs ratcheting up the tension and heaviness with each neverending, crushing rep. It was too much for some friends of this site who, despite being seasoned gig-goers of many years, had to leave halfway through the set, visibly shaken. Why? Well, it genuinely was like having a skip full of anvils and bowling balls dropped from the loading bay of a Lockheed C-130 Hercules directly onto your head. Or - hands up - to put it more precisely and succinctly, it was fucking barbaric, like being hit repeatedly over the head with a shovel.

Here’s the thing though: this current live incarnation of the group are really just one tiny fraction of what GNOD are about. In the last year or so, as with most of the previous ten years, they have been the model of industriousness and inventiveness. They have released the Butthole Surfers (Rembrandt Pussy Horse), The Fall (Perverted By Language) and This Heat inspired compilation of militant protest songs, Just Say No To The Psycho Right-Wing Capitalist Fascist Industrial Death Machine; a powerful trepanation and LSD-themed collaboration with Radar Men From The Moon (Temple Ov BBV); two live albums (Live At Roadburn 2012; Be Aware Of Your Limitations); three cassettes (R+D vols 1 & 2; Live At Concrete); a Record Shop Day reissue (the Aquarian Downer White Hills collaboration); and a ten year box set (GNOD X). Somehow they also found time to do several tours and stage a live collaboration with fAUSt in both Portugal and England. Oh, and guitarist/vocalist Paddy and bassist Marlene moved from Salford to rural Ireland. And that’s not counting the many solo projects that emanate from the core of the band.

As you would imagine, this level of almost berserk creative restlessness is matched by a constant adjustment in sound and process. Which might leads you to ask the very sensible question: do I need to wear a crash helmet when listening to Chapel Perilous? Where is god’s great golden shovel? Being swung with great force straight at my noggin or hanging neatly from its peg back in the Arcadian potting shed? The answer is: both.

The sound of this album won’t come as a total surprise to those who have been following the band closely. This is not the GNOD who pawned all of their guitars to go completely analogue/electronic, and it’s not even the GNOD who released the sprawling and experimental three-album set Infinity Machines. There is no continuity-displacing rupture here but instead more of a pleasing evolution, from the tar-thick noise rock/industrial grind in dub of Mirror to the aforementioned Just Say No… to this current album, a deep-listening skull-crusher with overtones of apocalyptic post-punk, intelligent post metal, neo-space rock and reverberant dubbed-out sludge metal.

The album is sequenced like a pulverising futuristic space-rock version of Reign In Blood: bookended by overbearing monolithic structures that initially cast shadows over the relatively hard-to-penetrate middle section. It’s great to finally hear ‘Donovan’s Daughters’ in a home setting. While it still slaps hard - and oh, sweet lord Jesus and all of your apostles, that drop - Raikes Parade’s masterful dub creates abyss-deep currents of echo and sky-scraping vapour trails of reverb. It is no longer merely a blunt instrument of godlike destruction; it is a blunt instrument of godlike destruction that seethes with detail. And as a bonus, this song contains one of rock music’s hardest won and most justly deserved key changes since Hawkwind’s ‘Space Is Deep’.

The central triptych of ‘Europa’, ‘Voice From Nowhere’ and ‘A Body’ transports the listener into more esoteric territory, calling to mind Simon Fisher Turner’s The Epic Of Everest soundtrack; and the most recent incarnation of Wolf Eyes and their dank, gothic noise; and the caustic analogue electronics of Pan Sonic; and the clangorous workshop rhythms of Einstürzende Neubauten. (This middle section apparently took shape quickly after the band jerry-built a drum kit out of scrap metal and blacksmith tools in order to lay down beats.) This section most clearly features the welcome input of temporarily returning former vocalist and tape operator Neil Francis. But all of this spatially aware spectral exploration in sound and ambience just serves to throw the titanic sludge metal finale, ‘Uncle Frank Says Turn It Down’ (with a riff that is genuinely worthy of Eyehategod’s Dopesick or Mudhoney’s Superfuzz Bigmuff) into even sharper relief.

Arguably the overton window of GNOD’s sonic field isn’t currently as all encompassing as it has been in the past, but I’d argue that this is almost certainly a good thing as their output over the last year or so shows they’re on a winning streak and Chapel Perilous ranks easily as one of the best things they’ve produced to date. Any partial retreat from the far margins has seen them redouble their efforts to deterritorialise what can loosely be referred to as their ‘core sound’ - and that’s whether they’re guiding you through unfamiliar electronic soundscapes or merely twatting you repeatedly over the head with a shovel.