It could be said that for every album, there’s a movie counterpart that reflects it. For every piece of disposable boy-band fluff, there’s a phoned-in tearjerker with a white couple embracing in the rain on the cover; for every Cannibal Corpse clone, there’s Eli Roth, but for Horrible Chamber, the return of doom-industrial nightmare-weavers Gnaw, only something like Event Horizon can really come close. The unmistakeable whiff of violent insanity and visceral biomechanical oppression, even the times where familiarity rears its head to reveal something misshapen and disjointed – they all seemingly echo that dark vision of isolation, madness and self-destruction.
They may not have Sam Neill on board but they go one better with Alan Dubin (a.k.a. the dead scary one from Khanate), a man whose voice flits between an agonised screech, an expulsion of misery that’s so sharp it practically punctures the eardrums, and a barely-audible whisper that is even more affecting. Hardly louder than a breath, he sighs over the staggered progressions and industrial ambience of ‘This Horrible Chamber’ like the echoes of a figure you think you hear in the static of an untuned radio, before abruptly switch to vomiting up curses and misanthropic sentiment, Linda Blair in a black t-shirt. Though there is an understandably visceral reaction to be felt when he lets loose, the chill that his insidious moans brings lies closer to what makes this album what it is.
While Horrible Chamber is unmistakeably cut from the same cloth as their debut, the seething miasma of gloom that was This Face, in the time between they have become noticeably more adept in handling not only heaviness, but also emptiness. The most striking moments on Horrible Chamber contain very little of anything – the two-note piano intro to ‘Humming’ is a truly haunting sound, a metronomic pulse that, even as a tsunami of static drone and Dubin’s voice caterwauls around its unceasing tone, remains at the forefront, a tone that proves as hypnotic as a number-station pattern that spirals off into nowhere and everywhere for reasons known only to the shadowy figures that launched it. ‘Widowkeeper’ echoes the sentiment, a cut of industrial ambience that retains the billowing, clattering air of a machine going horribly wrong, but it shows a side that is perhaps more artistic and less rooted in doom. Much of this is down to Eric Neuser’s percussion who, for a brief moment, abandons the precision he maintains throughout the album, often in opposition to the chaos unfolding around him, and simply lets rip in a clamorous flurry. It’s striking in its oddness and puts them in the region of Æthenor, which is never a bad thing.
It’s not all ambience, white noise and obtuse free-percussion, though – Gnaw have always been a product of their environment, from the noise rock of Unsane to the peculiar doom of Unearthly Trance, and while Horrible Chamber might not be party material, there’s no lack of material to bang your head to. ‘Of Embers’ is a sludgefest of the best kind, an unrelenting assault of downtuned, riff-based heaviness; the rumbling centre of ‘Water Rite’ will raise eyebrows amongst Swans fans, especially the sung vocals which bristle with arcane sentiment, and ‘Vulture’ is a propulsive monster with an insurmountable aggression that steamrolls over subtlety, dials it back and then does it all over again.
At just under an hour in length, it never quite outstays its welcome, which is handy. Whether it’s Dubin’s voice, the abrasive edge on the guitars or the insectile whirr of machinery that repeatedly surfaces, there’s an intensity here that is as hard to absorb as it must have been to maintain – the sparser sections are pregnant with so much tension that they hardly register as breathers. As a result, consecutive listens can severely dilute the experience but, kept isolated and brought out when misery is necessary company, it’s an engrossing and affecting listen. It brings to light something typically kept buried in the subconscious and in its meeting of the physical and the mental, it offers something that few bands would even look for, let alone manage to convey.
Scribed by: Dave Bowes