"This Face"

(Conspiracy Records 2009)Gnaw - This Face

It isn't easy listening to (or reviewing, for that matter) an album like "This Face." The prototypical Difficult Listen, Gnaw's debut effort is at times impenetrable or even unlistenable, but there is definitely artistic merit lying in these weeds. The brainchild of Alan Dubin, formerly of Khanate (that should tell you something), Gnaw's music is a weapon aimed at your ears, and sheets of unbelievably warped guitar, electronic sound manipulation, and shrieking vocal terror is their ammunition.

"Haven Vault" opens the album with quavering spacey electronics buried under a sheen of squealing white noise and disconnected drum meandering. It's a relatively useless track that doesn't inspire confidence in the rest of "This Face." "Vacant" follows up in redeeming fashion, though, and surges along via a lumbering drum beat, rocksalt against chalkboard vocals, and wrenching guitar that's the sound of rotting teeth getting yanked with rusty pliers. In a good way. This kind of dichotomy between the first two tracks pretty much tells the story of the whole album, as it stumbles between genuinely intriguing sonic nightmares and frustratingly self-involved nonsense. There are moments when the mist lightens enough to allow Gnaw moments that almost approach transcendence; the bouncy yet incredibly sinister bass line in "Talking Mirrors" springs to mind. Regardless of the listening ease (or lack thereof), "This Face" is an altogether unsettling album; a stalker lurking in the darkened alleyways of your mind.

"This Face" is an album that dares you not to like it. It tries to force you, with its abrasiveness and abstractness, into liking it because you may seem like a slack-jawed poseur who doesn't "get it" otherwise. But you know what? It's okay not to like this album. It really is. It's okay to not "get it." It's even okay to "get it" and not like it anyway. As an eerie experiment in noise-scape mindfuckery, "This Face" gets full marks. As an effective means of drawing listeners into their warped world, however, Gnaw is far less successful.


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