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Hell Is Here Nick Roseblade , September 16th, 2019 09:20

Hide's Hell is Here showcases a group fiercely angry at the world, but the album is still shot through with a stark beauty, finds Nick Roseblade

Heather Gabel and Seth Sher, AKA Hide, have always pushed themselves since their early days as part of Chicago’s DIY scene. Since 2014 they have released a slew of forward-thinking singles and EPs. 2016’s Black Flame EP was dedicated to the memory of Reyhana Jabbari, a 27 year-old Iranian woman who was hung for allegedly killing someone who tried to rape her. Their debut album, Castration Anxiety, a bleak and tormented album full of stark percussion, deep basslines and harrowing vocals, questioned issues of power and representation. Now they have returned with its follow up, Hell is Here, their bravest and strongest work to date.

Hell is Here takes caustic synths and deep bass rumbles to create hostile avant-garde compositions that delivers something hitherto only hinted at. Themes like misogyny, toxic masculinity, objectification, social anxiety and an unending feeling of isolation and fear are tackled head on throughout.

Opening track ‘Chainsaw’ is a minimal masterclass that lives up to its name. Short sharp bursts of glitchy electronics make up the backing track, but it’s the lyrics that are the most vicious and unsettling: the one-sided conversation of someone trying to pick up on the street. At first it starts off as catcalling “Hey baby” but as the object of their affection is uninterested it quickly gets more aggressive and abusive. “I said hey baby. Are you deaf?”, “You too good for me? Bitch. You’re too ugly for me anyways” and the most degrading “How much?” before ending with “Bitch. Fuck you then”. It is heart-breaking and vile in equal measure, but its Gabel’s delivery that is the most challenging. At the end of ‘Chainsaw’, Gabel vomits. This feels like one of the most brutal and unexpected endings to a song this year, but after the volleys of abuse it feels like a natural reaction. And this is the point of the album.

There is a disorienting feeling that permeates Hell is Here. Everything has been designed to be off kilter, to make the listener feel uneasy and uncomfortable. ‘Grief’ is one of the most fully formed and devastating songs on the album. Lyrically, Gabel screams “Grief as a numbing agent. Mourning as a method of crowd control. Sorrow as a weapon of mass destruction” as the backing track, claustrophobic and paranoid, slowly builds the tension until it feels like we can’t take anymore. Then it gets built up some more. ‘SSSD’ has a grating feeling to it, like nails down a chalkboard but, again, it’s the lyrics – “Become the pawn. Become the prey. Become the victim. Become the same” – that make you feel the most uncomfortable.

While Hide are angry at the world, Hell is Here is also dripping in sadness. At times it’s almost too much to take. But take it we must. Hell is Here shows us a mirror of ourselves. Sometimes the image is clear and pristine, but mostly we’re grotesque and maligned. This is not an album for the faint hearted, but with repeated listens its becomes compelling, shot through with a stark beauty.