I like the beats and I like the yelling: Ischemic, Gadunhas, Final Gasp

Ischemic: Ischemic (2021)

2021 is as good a year as any for a statement of personal intent. A time to take stock and declare our presence to the world. This is the subtext I’m reading into Ischemic’s self-titled second LP in any case. The fact that it’s self-titled implies a clarity of purpose, a degree of confidence in the music presented on the album that, as it turns out, is entirely warranted. There is a compelling purity to the earthy blackened doom metal on display here. The music itself hits many familiar touchstones of the style, but Ischemic approach it with a stripped back, unfurnished sound that speaks of a degree of confidence in the raw musicality that greets our ears.

The production is warm and unpretentious. No excessive reverb has been applied to any of the instruments. The guitar tone is roomy and intimate, eschewing the chasmic obsessions of so many others operating in this field. The same could be said for the drums, which cut strongly through the mix despite the rehearsal room aesthetic. The performance itself is straightforward but filled with character, swinging from the rigid rhythmic remits of metal to the looser grooves of bluesy stoner doom with ease. They also do a good job of navigating the other instruments through the depressed tempos with a degree of showmanship, keeping things refreshed and the listener engaged without detracting from the delicate tension of the droning riffs.

The whole thing could almost be called relaxing in a dank sort of way were it not for Isa’s ungodly vocal performance. She makes full use of the entire vocal range at her disposal, with guttural death growls and pained high-pitched shrieks jumping out of the speakers, and everything in between these poles carried through with confidence. There is an obvious degree of control behind even the most passionate outbursts however, with no note sustained past its welcome. Speaking of sustain, Isa is also able to hold notes for a frighteningly lengthy period, seemingly regardless of where they land in the vocal register.

The music itself hangs on a modest concoction of classic blackened doom riffs, usually kept at a slow, plodding march, but these are occasionally broken up by blast-beat segments that still manage to retain the downbeat, drab quality of the overall work. Despite the overt glumness of ‘Ischemic’ the music carries within it many simple joys beneath this veneer. There is a wholesome pleasure to watching the elegant melodies unravel and give way to droning, sustained doom chords or harsh but brief moments of dissonance in a manor similar to early My Dying Bride. There is an unvarnished charm to Ischemic’s approach to composition. Their insistence on having nowhere to hide in terms of studio trickery or novel instrumentation allows the music to shine by virtue of traditional talking points such as quality riffing, creative rhythmic play, and unbridled passion.

Each track is a lengthy journey of multifaceted moods and intensities despite the modesty of the actual arrangements. But it’s the album’s closer ‘Scattering Garden’ that sees Ischemic really spread their wings and explore the epic corners of their compositional chops. This is where delicate clean guitar arpeggios are contrasted with achingly slow yet malevolently aggressive blackened doom, and the guitars take on a percussive quality in unison with the drums, only for swirling and tense lead melodies to navigate and challenge the slow plod of the rhythm section. And as ever, the vocals lay down a marker at the limits of raw human expression. All these disparate moving parts come together to round off a work that transcends the simple DIY aesthetics that it apparently arose from, reaching for artistry with a truly lasting resonance.

Gadunhas: 1 (2017)

Conviction during the creative process can be a hard thing to measure as a listener at the receiving end of music. For those operating at the extreme peripheries of already experimental styles, sorting the artists who are just fucking around for its own sake from the genuinely thought provoking material can be a fool’s errand. But sometimes a release comes along that stands out from the pack. One containing that intangible ingredient that eludes definition; call it magic, call it finesse, you know when you hear it.

Such is the case for the ominously titled debut LP from the Portuguese outfit known as Gadunhas. ‘1’ is a disorientating journey into the limits of raw black metal at its most minimal. Look to Mutiilation, Ildjarn, Yamatu, and early Black Funeral for obvious antecedents, but Gadunhas are clearly striking out on their own path.

The album itself is made of eleven tracks that all take the form of a persistent rumination on one particular tempo or rhythm. The latter of which is articulated on the most basic of drums machines, with guitars and bass submitting to these rhythmic dictates whilst at the same time sounding almost improvised. Each track functions by introducing a basic punk-cum-black metal riff, before wandering off to material completely unrelated to the original refrain, or else the guitars decide to drop out entirely and allow the bass to carry the torch. By the mid-point the guitars will pick up the original riff, as if remembering their calling. The track then proceeds according to convention of sorts, by driving the material through the most rudimentary variations and developments. Vocals are a cartoonish blend of gravelly spoken word and pained roars. 

Such haphazard arrangements would be considered a severe detriment in conventional writing. But Gadunhas have apparently grasped one of the fundamental tenants of minimal experimental music such as raw black metal: utter commitment to the moment. In throwing their lot entirely into this minimalist template we find ourselves sucked into their world. Through an act of sheer creative will they force the otherwise senseless to make sense. This is a place of angular and alien riff shapes, weak but oddly persistent percussion, which is only enhanced by the mindless rhythmic consistency of  the programmed drums, a void where creative percussion should be circles back around to complimenting the music’s indifferent emptiness.

All is hints and ideas, leaving fully fleshed out music a distant memory. But as the guitars work through these dirt simple variations on a theme, there is a cumulative effect over the course of ‘1’. There are hints of conventional structure, indications that there is intelligence behind the seemingly random meanders that make up the bulk of the music. But this in turn ultimately strikes at the underlying philosophy of musical minimalism: finding those creative and expressive spaces where no one else is looking, passed up as too basic, too limiting, too rudimentary. But Gadhunas have set up camp here, and etched out a living among these sparse and ghostly fragments of proto-music, and in doing so they have given birth to a more starkly unique sonic landscape than the boisterous orchestrations and polished production jobs of bigger budget operations.

Final Gasp: Baptism of Desire (2019)

For fans of punk at its most nuanced, Finals Gasp’s debut EP ‘Baptism of Desire’ is a cornucopia of delights. The music itself is filled with familiar faces. The staccato dissonance of early Killing Joke, the rampant crooning of Danzig, the raw d-beat dynamism of Disfear. But despite these touchstones of common parlance, Final Gasp craft a unique and unsettling sonic corner of their own.

The production is frankly massive, boasting a rich atmosphere for music that leans so heavily on the traits of hardcore punk. The drums are the one solid anchor through the chaos. The performance is tight enough to harness the raw energy of the d-beat rhythms whilst working in plenty of creative shuffles and accents along the way.

It’s the guitar tone that completely dominates the mix however. At first it feels like it would be more at home on a death metal album. But as the EP unfolds and some of the delicate post punk melodies find their voice – tempering the fray of the bombastic opening number – they prove to be as expressive as they are aggressive. Vocals have been treated with a retro garage sheen of tight reverb. But underlaying the performance is a degree of consistency that knits together elements of measured singing with desperately urgent wails, as if beseeching the listener to stand up and take notice.

Whether it’s pounding hardcore punk, slower passages with a marked swing to them, or full-on rockabilly rhythms, each track is guided by a singular alienating pulse. The music is imbued with a unique and all-encompassing atmosphere almost akin to industrial at its best. The cloying claustrophobia of tense urban environments, the alienation felt in spaces filled with people, the need to make something of these modern settings we find ourselves in, even if it is just a cry of negation.

Such moods work throughout this short EP, demonstrating an impressive degree of diversity. This is truly music of character and depth that is able to manipulate and ultimately transcend the genre borders and influence checklists we may wish to apply to it. A violent jolt of energy that seems to have sprung from nowhere to reinvigorate the cause of punk with a need to convey a message of substance.

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