Whenever I see bands like Slayer and Motörhead emblazoned across shirts for sale in fashionable high street clothing stores, I always have a little internal conflict with myself. On the one hand, I feel I ought to be enthusiastic about anything that introduces people to the world of heavy music. On the other, a childish part of me kind of likes metal being a bit of a secret society. While the bands commonly touted to fashionistas tend to inhabit the most easy-to-digest end of metal’s accessibility spectrum, there also exists another end of the scale too. This is a place where newbies dare not tread—the home of bands whose sole reason for existence is to be as abrasive and inaccessible as possible. It is this dark, macabre recess of the musical world in which one might run into Maurice de Jong—the misanthropic mind behind Gnaw Their Tongues. Set to arrive on December 9th, de Jong’s newest nightmare Hymns for the Broken, Swollen and Silent is not for the faint of heart.
Gnaw Their Tongues is typically classified as noise and pushes the boundaries of what can even be considered music at all. De Jong’s work is entirely devoid of structure or melody. Instead, through the medium of sound, he seeks to transport the listener into hell, crafting horrifying soundscapes that are profoundly unsettling and oppressive in the extreme. Utilizing synthesizers and a lone bass guitar, he makes effective use of the flexibility that programmed instrumentation offers. His approach entails the heavy use of samples and repetition, with clashing notes and erratic tempo shifts dropped in seemingly at random, adding to the sense of foreboding and unpredictability. This is music whose raison d’être is to be as suffocatingly uncomfortable as possible and, in this specialty, de Jong is without parallel.
Gnaw Their Tongues has an absolutely enormous back catalogue of material—nine full-length LPs along with countless EPs and splits—and what has made the project so successful is the manner in which it seamlessly melds terror with grace. With Hymns for the Broken, Swollen and Silent, de Jong has once again struck this balance magnificently. Oftentimes, as the stress of the music starts to become overwhelming—and believe me it does—its energy will suddenly shift completely. Enhanced by impressively delicate production, it will take on a gentle, fragile quality that provides much-needed respite from the madness, without at any point ever becoming entirely comfortable. What I love most about it, however, is the sense of motion that often accompanies each track. The strings heard on “The Speared Promises,” for example, have a freakish lurch to them that invokes images of the ragged contortions of a marionette, and to my brain the listing choral interlude heard in “Your Kingdom Shrouded in Blood” feels like the licking of flames, slowly rising up towards the heavens. In a style that is so irregular and unstructured, it is little details like these that can make or break a record, and when analyzed in the context of movement, de Jong’s music really does take on a life of its own.
While HftBSS is undoubtedly impressive, however, were I forced to pick out a point for criticism, it must be said that it does at times feel a little disjointed. Abyss of Longing Throats and All the Dread Magnificence of Perversity—two of de Jong’s finest works under the GTT name—felt cohesive from start to finish, with each track complementing those around them. For me at least, those showcased on Hymns for the Broken, Swollen and Silent feel a bit more standalone in nature; they are all eminently effective in their quest to disturb and unsettle but they don’t quite gel as seamlessly as previous outings. At the end of the day, however, this is more of an observation than an outright criticism, and need not be taken too ardently to heart.
While it may not be up there with his most formidable works, Maurice de Jong has nevertheless proven yet again his mastery of all things sinister. Hymns for the Broken, Swollen and Silent feels like a portal into the tortured, tormented mind of the clinically insane. It’s an exhausting listen that will test even the most resilient of audiences, however, it is stylishly executed and grotesquely rewarding for those who are tough enough to stick it out. Just don’t expect to pick up a Gnaw Their Tongues t-shirt at H&M anytime soon.
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Consouling Sounds
Websites: devotionalhymns.com/gnawtheirtongues | facebook.com/GnawTheirTonguesOfficial
Releases Worldwide: December 9th, 2016