La Mort Du Sens

*La Mort Du Sens* is Gnod at their most grindingly direct and brutally succinct, says Bernie Brooks

About a week ago, my friend Mike and my partner Kristen and I were searching YouTube for a moderately perverted German cartoon about a cat detective when the “listen again” queue caught my eye. There it was, the thumbnail of the music video / skate vid for Gnod’s grindingly heavy single, ‘Pink Champagne Blues’: a skateboarder crumpling mid-bail, nothing if not a perfectly composed HD rectangle of agony.

When it comes to skateboarding, I’m an idiot moth repeatedly singeing my antennae on an energy-saver bulb. As a thing, I can’t recall being unaware of it, although I clearly remember being transfixed by my much older cousin, in vert pads and bright shorts on a Vision board, freestyling in his driveway. I remember my seventh birthday, in the fall of ‘86, when he taught me how to skate. Skateboarding wasn’t cool then, and it especially wasn’t cool where I grew up. It certainly wasn’t socially accepted. It was a fringe thing, a type of flat-out rejection, an ideal way for a certain sort of kid to clearly articulate their philosophical position – “NO” – simply by being. I was never really any good, but I loved it then and I love it now, thirty-seven years later.

Anyway, I clicked on the thumbnail, slightly delaying our in-home screening of the moderately perverted German cartoon. Now, Mike has this great, loud, abrupt laugh, something like a clipped cackle that he deploys whenever something strikes his fancy. He laughed a lot during ‘Pink Champagne Blues’. By about ten minutes into some 2019 live footage of Gnod at Raw Power, he announced, “I can get into this. Sort of a Flipper vibe, but not really. You can almost smell them!” This was a high compliment, uttered just as the band launched into ‘Regimental’, a feral tune that opens their brand-new LP, La Mort Du Sens (‘The Death Of Sense’).

It occurs to me now that I watch footage of Gnod – who by my estimation are near peerless in the realm of heavy psychedelia – in the same way that I watch good skate videos. I’m content to zone them repeatedly, and somehow the experience never suffers for it. The wonder is still there. Just like clips of rippers ripping, Gnod plugs right into my child brain, and I think I know why: there’s no band who better exemplifies the power of “NO”. Whether they’re spelling out this negation clearly – as on their roiling, acerbic, noise-rock masterpiece, JUST SAY NO TO THE PSYCHO RIGHT-WING CAPITALIST FASCIST INDUSTRIAL DEATH MACHINE – or churning out riffs, or simply being, Gnod reek of “NO”. You can almost smell it!

Weirdly, this isn’t an inherently negative position. It’s the opposite – a sort of negative positivity. There is, quite simply, no way to embrace a just and sustainable and humane future without rejecting those things spelled out in caps in the previous paragraph. And those things? They’re in everything – present in every transaction we make. It is impossible to truly say “YES” to the world without first saying “NO”. You could say it’s both politically impractical and quixotic, sure, but when they play, whether live or on record, I see in my mind’s eye all the world’s varied ghouls shrinking away from Gnod’s withering aggression. I don’t know if they think of themselves this way, but in a sense, Gnod make the best protest music. Like on ‘Regimental’, when Paddy Shine barks “DON’T JOIN THE ARMY”, it’s somehow easy to imagine scores of hamburger-faced military recruiters retiring their clapboards for good. And that’s what great protest music tends to do: it makes the Sisyphean seem attainable, maybe even inevitable. Even if it’s not.

Gnod foreground that quality on much of La Mort Du Sens, which ultimately makes the album feel like a proper follow-up to 2017’s JUST SAY NO, even though they dropped a bunch of releases between the two. If you don’t know already, Gnod have modes, plural. On 2018’s Chapel Perilous, they brewed up a cauldron of sprawling, psychedelic dub sludge. Then, on 2020’s percussion-heavy Faca De Fogo, they vibed out with João Pais Filipe, exploring a more meditative, trance-inducing sort of drone and repetition. It’s funny – that’s the first time I’ve used the word “repetition” here. Alongside “heavy”, it’s one of the most important words to use when talking about this crew. Regardless of the mode Gnod is working in, they relish repetition, and have done since day one.

Anyway, both Chapel and Faca are sick, and I’d hate to imply that they’re somehow lesser than – they’re not. It’s almost as if Gnod decided to tease full records out of the most indirect, esoteric aspects of JUST SAY NO. The bulk of Chapel seems spun out of the dub damage of ‘People’, while Faca might’ve unspooled from the lengthy seven-minute coda of ‘Stick In The Wheel’. La Mort Du Sens, on the other hand, feels as if Gnod decided to reduce JUST SAY NO to its core. There aren’t too many overtly dubby digressions. There definitely aren’t any chill codas.

This album may be Gnod at their most direct, but Gnod are still Gnod. They cover a lot of territory in just over thirty minutes, while still taking time to get more than a little weird. The aforementioned ‘Pink Champagne Blues’ thrashes unrelentingly. ‘Town’ stomps and groans. ‘The Whip And The Tongue’ goes full-on S&M sleaze skronk. On the album’s longest track, ‘Giro Day’, Gnod ratchet up the intensity of their scorched-earth noise over twelve bracing minutes. By the end, it’s like getting sandblasted – but in a positive way.

Mostly, listening to Gnod just makes you feel rad. We hear, all the time, about records and bands and artists that are “empowering” in one way or another, and usually, it’s all bullshit. Buzzy PR describing the incredibly normal. Gnod, though, they empower, they embolden. On La Mort Du Sens they do it through heaviness, through the sheer power of the riff, two drummers, and a few immediate lyrics. But it’s also possible they do it without even trying. Maybe they do it just by being Gnod.

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