You might know GGGOLDDD in their former guise as GOLD, under which they released the melancholy 2019 album, Why Aren’t You Laughing? The cover artwork for that one depicts a woman forced into a fellatio position, and the latest record shows singer, Milena Eva, sporting a Medieval suit of armour. The Dutch sextet have an amended name, an unsettling album title, and a backstory about Milena Eva’s trauma of being raped at age nineteen. Clearly, this is not your average piece of electronic art rock, but it’s art of the highest calibre.
GGGOLDDD have always been hard to categorise. Their roots are in the more abstract spheres of post-rock, yet one consistent theme in their music is their sombre tone. A place on the end-of-year lists in the trendy alternative magazines looked like the limit to their potential, but This Shame Should Not Be Mine will open them up to new audiences. Indeed, the dark subject matter and brooding electronics of this record should pique the attention of Lingua Ignota’s cult and appeal to anybody who enjoys, uh, uneasy listening.
The first thing you’ll notice about the band’s reinvention is their near abandonment of guitars in favour of minimalist electronics and macabre bass loops. Opener, ‘I Wish I Was a Wild Thing with a Simple Heart’, relies on the power of hesitancy and apprehension to communicate its mood. Bubbling synths and sinister string samples give way to a simple two-layer vocal harmony as if the band’s aim is to turn Björk’s intricate electronica into an industrial grind. Those retro synth notes could be straight from an Italian horror film and will alarm the cosmopolitan crowd that like their art school bands to stick with obtuse guitars and ironic lyrics. But who cares about these people?
Björk and Portishead are clear influences on the composition of this album, yet that seems trivial when confronted with such a naked display of trauma and survivor guilt. ‘Strawberry Supper’ sees Milena Eva use her head voice to relive the terrible moment when her life changed for the worse: “Did you ever think about the receipts I kept?/ All the shit you left me with/ Boys will be boys, that’s what everybody says/ But it was you who put me on that ledge.” We haven’t heard anything as distressing since Tori Amos revisited her demons on her 1992 masterpiece, Little Earthquakes. Indeed, the finest female songwriter of the 1990s is a good reference point for the sludgy dynamics and pedal loop distortion in the background to this song. Like her 1998 classic, From the Choirgirl Hotel, this record picks at the scabs and salts the wounds when meadows and endless green vistas would be the easier option.
Though sparser and less important in the mix, the guitars are much heavier on this record than the predecessor. ‘Like Magic’ subsists on a slow tremolo pattern and deep bass incursions while Milena Eva explores her wonderful falsetto range. It’s a voice that threatens to leave deliberate errors in technique and seeks no comfort in double-tracking. That’s the point. This is raw and imperfect and willing to dwell on the sonics that most artists in the alternative genre would airbrush out of their sound. The tribal drums and heavy guitar downstrokes of ‘Spring’ capture the cerebral aim of their lyricist. “I felt empty and alone. And outside winter was turning into spring, like nothing had happened,” she says, recalling the days after the rape. It explains why this song wrestles with a beautiful glitter of melody but languishes in an uglier reality of noisy guitars and cackling bass notes.
The most poignant albums need iconic songs that force you to press pause while you try to process the emotional effect on your senses. This Shame Should Not Be Mine can count two of these extraordinary experiences. ‘Invisible’ is the best song of 2022 and might retain that accolade at the end of December. Listen to those emotive – but torturous – string bows and heavy drums as Milena Eva purrs the song title in a spine-tingling falsetto. A collaboration with Chelsea Wolfe or Emma Ruth Rundle awaits after this magnificent piece of sorrowful self-reflection. Her croon in ‘Notes on How to Trust’ is just as powerful. Here, the band lay down a harsher industrial beat and replay a heart-wrenching chorus. “Where do I go?/ Who do I follow?/ Who brings me joy?/ Who brings me sorrow?/ How do I make sure I don’t go through this again?” laments the charismatic frontwoman. Experiences like hers will never be alleviated with answers. Maybe time does not heal. The direct address to her rapist in penultimate track, ‘On You’, suggests it will not. Only a vocoder stands between you and her, and there’s no shame in bailing out at this point if the anguish becomes too much.
Before this album, GGGOLDDD (or GOLD, as they were known) were a promising band with a melancholy vibe and an unpretentious outlook. They appealed to the indie rock and dark alternative crowds, but now they find themselves thrust into the uneasy listening world. It’s a borderland where metal, avant-garde and IDM listeners parlay when looking for something outside their comfort zones. This Shame Should Not Be Mine is a stunning piece of art that should see the Dutch group gain recognition way beyond Europe.
Let’s hope the new-found attention does not destroy the woman who put her life on the line for this record.
Release Date: 01/04/2022
Record Label: Artoffact Records
Standout tracks: Strawberry Supper, Invisible, Notes on How to Trust
Suggested Further Listening: Tori Amos – From the Choirgirl Hotel (1998), Lingua Ignota – All Bitches Die (2017), Björk – Homogenic (1997)