Full Length, Gilead Media
March 8th, 2011
Yet another record I should've gotten to far too long ago. I'm not fucking around when I say it definitely should've been on my 2011 year end list (easily in the top 10), and I have only myself to blame for not getting to it before the year was out. After fully absorbing it I'm here to tell you this is a beastly album and you should not pass on it as I so foolishly did.
Clandestine Abuse is another brilliant record from Gilead Media, and the first full record Northless have released after a string of EPs and splits. I've read a few reviews comparing this to early Mastodon, one where it was said
the song-writing wasn't as strong nor the riffs as interesting; I completely disagree. It is actually the complete opposite. What Northless have achieved on this album is nothing short of amazing. Clandestine Abuse is loaded with passion and great song composition. Comparisons to Mastodon are unwarranted in my opinion, but then again I'm not a fan of theirs. It is a truly daunting hunk of groove-filled, oddly dissonant atmospheric sludge unlike others in the genre.
In fact there aren't much sludge acts I can think of that manage to place dissonant metallic chords expertly amongst bludgeoning slabs of sludge and make it work so well, while managing to keep the dirges unfathomably heavy and keeping a strong direction all at once. It's complex in a deceiving way as the album seems simple on first listen but as you progress through it you notice the shifts in tempo, subtly atmospheric arrangements in riffs. The droning angularity is what I must stress once again. It came as a major surprise to me as I thought I was in for straight sludge but there's much more here.
It is undeniable that the members of Northless are very creative. The guitars have a warm, crunchy tone, the drumming is thick doing well to prop up both the fast and slow aspects of each track, while the bass will crack concrete; a truly menacing growl. The production pumps it all up nicely making the record sound all the more behemoth.
There's a bit of hardcore sprinkled in there too, not only in the vocal style which is a pissed off yell that would fit very well among any choice of crusty hardcore act. It;s aggressive and harsh, not deep but just clear enough to hear the lyrics with a little bit of certainty. His style suits the tone of this record perfectly, and contrasts with the down-tuned rumble found throughout the songs. The only time the vocals move from this style is in the final track "Storm" (where he's far more clean) which is also the only semi-melodic area on this dark and angry trek — at least in the beginning, in the end the relentless hammering sludge riffs takeover and close the record in a very satisfying manner.
The pacing also shows off this hardcore influence. It's occasionally leans on the fast end of things, breaking at just the right moments to wallow in a dark set of doomy riffs before running headlong again. This is shown off well in tracks like the aforementioned "Storm" or "Dead Ends" (the shortest track) which starts slow and quickly morphs into something that wouldn't be out of place on a blackened hardcore record, but with far more doom draped over it.
Regardless of the pace all tracks maintain a crushing and slow gait with spikes of discordance such as "Not Made for Existence", which features some powerful guitar work compelling headbanging as if it were a spell set upon you. It's desperate tangled whines are beautiful, and the desperate build of sludge grooves in the middle before the pick slides are so tasty.
The opener "Flesh & Ghosts", akin to a battering of sledge hammers on your chest from beginning to end, is something monumental. Starting slow and progressing further into that twisted hardcore flair, it envelops you in a crusted, ugly cloak by the middle of the track. Dipping and bending as the low end carves deep fissures in the earth, the swaying crawl that some of the later riffs present to you is overpowering. This record has far too many excellent riffs to speak of and still swallows you with a huge atmosphere.
It's rare when you'll hit a clean spot, but when you do like in "Damnation" or near the end of the bass-heavy "Sundowner" it's so brief, still loud and furious. This track is another thunderous onslaught that contains piles of addictive sections. Or midway through "Empty Home" where the twang of the cleans builds a devastating groove which is followed up on by the heavy bass plucks, soon to plunge into a set of titanic distorted riffs. A rusted and mangled beauty is created. The title track has one of these short cleans, a track which starts with a rumble and then an immediate dose of angularity before tumbling into massive slams; and suddenly a quicker clean section before returning to the rough rolling riffs.
I don't think there's a weak spot on this record. It's addicting, wicked and different from the usual styles in the doom and sludge arena while retaining a smothering atmosphere all it's own. Clandestine Abuse is 55 minutes long but due to the fantastic writing ability showcased here it's never boring, never taxing, always enjoyable and will keep your attention. They switch things up just enough but the style is retained in its purest form.
Get this record guys. Support Northless because whatever they come up with next will surely be impressive. I saw them at the Gilead Media fest and their set really opened my eyes. I have much regret for not spinning this more but I'll be making up for it without a doubt.
Clandestine Abuse is also up for streaming on Glead Media's bandcamp page and can be purchased in reddish-orange vinyl form at the webshop as well. I highly recommend shoving more money at Gilead Media.