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Divide And Dissolve
Gas Lit Noel Gardner , January 25th, 2021 09:10

The new Divide and Dissolve album may be pitched at fans of James Baldwin, Octavia Butler, and Toni Morrison, but – whisper it – it is also a really good sludge record, finds Noel Gardner

The particularities of how music, especially music without a large commercial platform, is listened to at present will undoubtedly ensure that some people will check out the new Divide And Dissolve album without knowing anything much about the band. They’ll find a powerful, impressively unconventional, predominantly instrumental suite, linking sludge and doom metal with a desolate reading of jazz. Should a listener find themselves content with that – let the music do the talking – that is of course their right, but it runs counter to how this Melbourne duo operate, and what confers much of their importance.

Drummer Sylvie Nehill and guitarist/saxophonist Takiaya Reed stand in defiance to heavy rock’s core demographics from their band name onwards: according to the sleevenotes for Basic, their 2017 debut album, it’s what they aspire to do to white supremacy. Intriguingly, they’ve professed on a number of occasions to have little if any interest in doom and related styles from a fan perspective, and chose to play it on the basis of its potential for moving audiences through pure sonics. Gas Lit, which follows Basic and 2018’s Abomination and is D&D’s debut on UK label Invada, is billed as being “for fans of” various Black writers, ceramicists, philosophical concepts, states of being, natural phenomena and precisely one musician (Adrienne Davies, from Earth). The worthwhile point implicitly made by this list, about the cultural limitations niche metal subgroups suffer in the name of their self-regard, may serve to mask how weighty and punishing this album can get.

The 90 seconds or so of pastoral sax dappling which opens ‘Oblique’, thus the album, is like something you might expect to find on the ECM label. The guitar and drums, when they enter, are decidedly less so: Reed’s riffs don’t drone, exactly, but seem to melt into each other while sucking all the oxygen from the room. Nehill plays like a jazzer tasked with flattening their kit, snares leading a merry – if non-linear and skull-jabbing – dance. D&D’s drummer has an especially singular technique, a Neubauten-like leaden clang cutting through ‘Prove It’ (this may to some extent be credited to Gas Lit’s producer, Unknown Mortal Orchestra frontman Ruban Neilson) and ‘Denial’ wielding cymbals like ancient weapons during its seven and a half-minute journey.

I have an admittedly unevidenced suspicion that people are reluctant to reference other bands when describing Divide And Dissolve’s music, on account of Nehill and Reed avoiding this. Arguably good practise in many ways, but I do wish to emphasise that this is a really good sludge record: striking and individual, but not an unheard vanguard in sound or anything (though certainly D&D’s most fully realised release to date). Reed’s tone – “going deeper and deeper into the swamps,” she’s called it – has echoes of Steve Brooks’ in Floor on ‘Denial’; Burning Witch on the wretched tectonic slippage of ‘It’s Really Complicated’; a Godflesh-type industrial monotony on album closer ‘We Are Really Worried About You’, whose guitar sound is slightly cleaner than on previous songs, all things being relative.

The sole voice on Gas Lit is that of Minori Sanchiz-Fung, who has contributed spoken word to the duo’s previous releases and reprises this for the relatively brief, ambient ‘Did You Have Something To Do With It’. Their laments – “The legacy of greed has grown from its seed to infiltrate every place, every face” – feel oddly indirect, by design or otherwise, compared to Divide And Dissolve’s fiery broadsides against the global rot of colonialism and how it trickles down to even the best-intentioned musical subculture. I hope this very fine album creates a ripple through 2021 which paves the way for Sylvie Nehill and Takiaya Reed to return to live performance, where they can both challenge complacency and deal amplified body blows.