SBR favourites, Gridfailure, are back with a new EP of inhumane ambient sounds and sinister possibilities, although this time Dave Brenner has teamed up with Pranjal Tiwari of S.C.R.A.M. to produce a split EP that promises to subject you to the horrors of a post-nuclear catastrophe.
The idea for the project came about when Brenner worked on the media relations for Pranjal’s doom metal band, Cardinal Wyrm, last year. “Pranjal and I knew each other in the late 1990s when we both lived in Philadelphia, and we reconnected a few years back as I was doing press for our mutual friend Leila Abdul-Rauf, who is part of Pranjal’s band Cardinal Wyrm and a regular Gridfailure collaborator,” explains Brenner.
It was an inevitable collaboration from Pranjal’s perspective. “I love Dave’s work with Gridfailure. It’s abrasive and terrifying but also fascinating, like a car crash you can’t look away from. I thought our projects would be a nice counterpoint to each other.”
The collaboration on structuring ideas for a split record was easier than they imagined. “Honestly, it was pretty seamless once we got going,” admits Pranjal. “Time was probably the biggest challenge since both Dave and I are busy doing unspeakable acts to survive in this dystopian world.”
As a split record rather than a musical collaboration, the process of interweaving two different narratives is not as difficult as it sounds. “Because we weren’t collaborating on the music itself, we didn’t opt to choose a shared narrative,” explains Brenner. “Pranjal’s tracks have a more cohesive conceptual theme than mine, but they both depict unspeakable horrors, be it mental/personal or existential to an entire population. Pranjal’s material breathes, while mine suffocates, and as the tracks bounce from his material to mine and back, I feel there is an ebb-and-flow to the record.”
It’s true that part of the appeal of Gridfailure and S.C.R.A.M. is their ability to convey many things to many people, albeit in a sinister and dystopian framework. The dark ambience speaks in the language of anxiety and unease. You might even experience a sense of paranoia if left alone with this record. Part of this is due to the innovative method of capturing abrasive noises to use in the music. “There are various field recordings of groaning and churning machinery in there, also a sample of me running through the woods,” says Pranjal. “I like to wander and explore the area I’m in with a mic and a recorder to see what weird, abandoned sites and spooky sounds I can find and record.”
The Gridfailure sound methodology is more conventional. “There are a few infused field recordings I captured from a thunderstorm, the cargo train that borders my property, a nearby stream, and so on,” confirms Brenner.
Perhaps the biggest contrast in the two musical styles is the more electronic approach from S.C.R.A.M. Tiwari wanted to retain subtle synth bass patterns in his music. “I’m a big fan of John Carpenter’s soundtracks, which definitely have those hooks and patterns going, so maybe it’s some of the maestro’s influence,” says Pranjal. “More broadly speaking, I like to have a thread that you can follow through the darkness and the chaos. It gives you a feeling of familiarity to hold on to as you take in the impossible surroundings you find yourself in. But that feeling of safety is an illusion because you have no idea where the thread is leading you and where it’s tied to at the other end…”
Scream Blast Repeat had the honour of listening to the split EP and asked their lead writer and editor, Jack von Bismarck, to give his thoughts on each song. Dave Brenner and Pranjal Tiwari provide their explanations of the thought process at work for each track.
This is the exclusive premiere of the Gridfailure and S.C.R.A.M. split EP…
1. S.C.R.A.M. – Hastily Improvised Exclusion Zone (01:14)
Jack von Bismarck: This one starts like the sound of somebody throwing human body parts into a cement mixer. The industrial brushing noises provide a strange percussive beat. On second listen, you feel like you’re standing under a railway bridge as a rusty freight train passes over your head. You squeeze your hands into fist shapes and bury them in your jacket pockets as the agitations of the hookers and their pimps around the corner grow louder.
Pranjal Tiwari: Your stumbling footsteps trudge through the woods, through the safety cordon, closer to the groaning sound of machinery, gasping from exhaustion, anticipation and fear. Somewhere in the distance you hear an emergency announcement. Whatever language that is, it’s too far from you to mean anything now.
2. Gridfailure – Systemwide Anomaly (03:19)
Jack von Bismarck: He has only three minutes to get them out of the room before the walls close in and they all perish. The sound of an execution in the room next door seeps through the steel exterior. It’s do or die, and they’re likely to die even if they get out of here. The music starts like a morbid version of ‘Black Celebration’ by Depeche Mode. But the distorted baby screams and crying wind replace the John Carpenter-esque keyboard hook. Is this what the pain would sound like if somebody took a blowtorch to your torso? The lo-fi percussion has a sinister menace to it, like the ritualistic timekeeping for an impending execution.
Dave Brenner: ‘Systemwide Anomaly’ depicts the rapid deceleration of humanity. The purge. This planet will consume us in the end, but it’s going to be a slow-motion apocalypse in the meantime. A duality can be drawn to personal failure and existential threats to oneself as well. The lyrics: “All circuits are flooded/ The backup derailed/ The entire system, overrun/ Every safeguard has failed/ With the grid in shambles, chaos runs amok/ Residents take matters into their own hands/ The system is fucked/ This systemwide anomaly, a complete catastrophe/ This is just what we needed/ An excuse to set this hatred free.”
3. S.C.R.A.M. – A Shroud Around the Core (02:40)
Jack von Bismarck: Funereal keyboard drones and fuzzy bass notes permeate through the song like early Cabaret Voltaire. This reminds me of the work of ex-Depeche Mode guru, Alan Wilder, and his Recoil side project. It also gives us the first conventional musical sound – sustained keyboard notes with the reverb of an organ. You feel the creeping distress as the lower frequencies throb on a static buzz and take motion in a four-note loop of primitive bass keys.
Pranjal Tiwari: Your first sight of the concrete shroud, meters thick and overgrown. You approach carefully. There is no one else here. How long ago did they build this thing to imprison the burning reactor core?
4. Gridfailure – Basophophia (03:38)
Jack von Bismarck: Rain lashes against your jacket as you hold it over your head and look on in despondency at the open road ahead. No bus will pass through here. Few motorists know this road exists. If you’re lucky, a passing car will stop. God knows what’s wrong with the engine. Is that the horn of a truck in the distance? Distorted words of perpetual agony swirl in the wind. Nature is in charge tonight.
Dave Brenner: Basophobia is the fear of falling down. This song is a panic attack in sonic form, where self-immolation is foreseen as the only path forward if the subject fails. The lyrics: “Short breaths, with every step/ Ground rushes up, can’t gauge my depth/ Can’t fall down, not like those other times/ Barely made it through those shattered paradigms/ If I fall again, this time I won’t stand/ Clenched fists for balance, trying to understand/ Why have I devolved? How did it end up this way?/ The only escape I foresee is to end my days.”
5. S.C.R.A.M. – Reactor Pressure Vessel (03:16)
Jack von Bismarck: A swishing synth bass imitates the sound of a throbbing engine. It’s low on diesel and ready to cut out at any moment. The tragic sound of wounded animals permeates your environment. A regular percussion keeps your heartbeat on edge. Is somebody at the other end of the radio? Could this be your salvation?
On second listen, the narrative changes. Now it’s the climax of the film where the virgin realises her fate and prays for death as the believers deliver her to the master for a blood sacrifice. The primitive tom drum accents remind me of the start to Faith No More’s ‘Malpractice’. You could imagine Mike Patton writing something like this for one of his solo projects.
Pranjal Tiwari: It’s getting hot in here. The gauges are spinning, the condensation-soaked tanks are bulging. A warning siren blares out. You hit play on what must be the garbled last recording of a dying engineer, the sounds like desperate screams from a slaughterhouse.
6. Gridfailure – Special Dead (03:04)
Jack von Bismarck: We might not know what hell looks like, but this is the sound of unforgiving torment. Violent electronic drills and vertiginous screams hide in the background. How do you get a guitar to make those violent sounds at the beginning? You could use this for a remake of The Entity. Don’t get too close to the flames – they bite.
Dave Brenner: Nobody “above” or in some fantastical religious plane of existence will save you. There are no gods, there is no afterlife, and there is certainly no impending salvation. The only Hell that exists is the one that humans create for one another. The lyrics: “Easy to break yet hard to fix/ No gods exist or will save you, no crucifix/ There are no special dead, we all rot the same/ You’re the only one here, so there’s no one else to blame.”
Fun fact: The title was inspired by an episode of The Wire, and the line within: “There ain’t no special dead; there’s just dead.”
7. S.C.R.A.M. – Oxidization of Zirconium with Steam (02:19)
Jack von Bismarck: The first real dance beat of the EP so far. A kick drum and staccato squelch bass tiptoe on tenterhooks as the trapped souls of your most diabolical vision of purgatory take over your morbid imagination. This one reminds me of the darker songs on The Crackdown (1983) by Cabaret Voltaire. You can imagine Mute Records releasing something like this in the late 1980s.
Pranjal Tiwari: The creepy crawling, tippy tapping, march of an unseen chain reaction. You couldn’t stop this if you wanted to. These things go bump in the night. Don’t forget to vent.
8. Gridfailure – Howling Everyday Existence (03:32)
Jack von Bismarck: A sinister tide gives way to guitar pedal loops and psychopathic snare hits. No rhythm emerges, just the menace of an artificial intelligence that knows it can subjugate humanity. You might call this experimental industrial music, like an instrumental version of the early Swans material. I wonder if the heat of the carpet bomb flames of Hamburg in 1944 felt like this for those that survived the British RAF attack.
Dave Brenner: Anybody who has felt like they’re at their wit’s end in a major struggle or just in the absurdity of everyday life can likely relate to this song. Don’t expect assurance that it’s all going to be okay from this track. The lyrics: “I wake up this way; It stays this way all day/ Gut instinct says It’s going to stay/ I will stay around for now; No clue exactly how I’ll make it all work/ I’ll fail somehow.”
9. S.C.R.A.M. – The Loneliness of Cesium 137 (03:15)
Jack von Bismarck: Brooding synth bass and chilling keyboard echoes merge with dissonant woodwind samples in search of a purpose. The purpose is to transcend this life and to find meaning in the void. It won’t be pleasant on the other side. Nothing will wait for you. This is the abyss.
Pranjal Tiwari: How long have you been in this prison? This shroud around the core that burns inside you? From alienation comes realisation. The scream of creation is the birth of suffering. A new isotope born.
*** You can purchase and stream the split Gridfailure and S.C.R.A.M. EP on Bandcamp from 13 August 2021. The EP is up for preorder here: https://gridfailure.bandcamp.com/