It’s rare the staff at Scream Blast Repeat are lost for words but this record is unlike anything we’ve ever heard. You’ll know by reading our reviews that we’re no stranger to experimental, avant garde or dark music, yet New York’s Gridfailure takes us to a different realm with Sixth Mass-Extinction Skulduggery II.
How to describe the creative sounds of chief artist, David Brenner, is like asking an evangelical Christian to summarise the Book of Revelations. It makes sense, but it’s so out of kilter with what came before it and has no precedent. Before we get to the music, we should at least talk about what is comprehensible. This album is the soundtrack to a time in the future when modern industrial civilisation collapses and democracy implodes under the weight of its competing hypocrisies. It could be one hundred years from now, it could be a thousand. But we do know that history is cyclical and does not move towards an end point of progress. The institutions we built over centuries might wither and be replaced by new edifices that enslave us once more. Subsistence living and scavenging could return, the knowledge we amassed and passed down over the last millennium might disappear, and humans could revert to the base instincts that make us indistinguishable from animals. In case this happens, David Brenner has created the parallel music for this decline and fall.
It’s debatable whether we can describe this as music in the conventional sense of the word with hand-played instruments, melodies and recognisable structures that vary in pitch, dynamic and tempo. We get simple acoustic guitar notes and eerie background noises on opener, ‘Stoking the Embers’, and standout track, ‘Wish to Disinvent’, has orthodox live drums and a brooding synth bass amidst the drone of harrowing sound effects that resemble steel foundries going into meltdown. But how does one react to ‘Invocate Collapse’, which sounds like you’re trapped inside the television with the girl from Poltergeist? Again, the whole composition is a kaleidoscope of turbulence and stormy weather, a soundscape that appears on most songs like an alien spaceship trying to land on the West Pennine Moors of Lancashire, England. Do not listen to this record if you are schizophrenic or of a nervous disposition. Imagine Michael Gira of Swans composing the end of the world with only percussion and a sampler. Unsettling sirens and unintelligible screams permeate throughout as if the person in the next room is recording a snuff film with muffled cries of the victims seeping through the walls. Powernoise is probably the nearest genre identification. A hybrid of Tangerine Dream and Ulver at their most experimental and listening to a Trent Reznor film score might serve as another reference point.
But perhaps the best comparison is Cormac McCarthy’s classic post-apocalypse novel, The Road. Every ambience, every sound effect, every jolt has you on edge. ‘As Resources are Depleted’ is what the last few moments of a helicopter crash must feel like as the wind is sucked out of your chest; ‘Rapid Intensification’ is like an audio depiction of the stampede in the showers at Auschwitz. It really is that dark and unnerving and coated in the type of misanthropy that makes you ashamed to be a human being.
Skulduggery II is not a dystopian album; it’s a prophecy. This is a work of art that transcends music and dares to peer into the abyss. For that alone, we should be grateful. When we say avoid this record, we do so for your own health and not because it is lacking in artistic merit. This is as dark as it gets and takes Antonin Artaud’s Manifesto for the Theatre of Cruelty to a new level. Not for the fainthearted.
Release Date: 05/06/2020
Record Label: Nefarious Industries
Standout tracks: Invocate Collapse, Proven Finite, Wish to Disinvent
Suggested Further Listening: This has no comparable genres or artists. Read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road for an idea of how this album sounds.