Gnod – Infinity Machines


Formed in 2006, GNOD have emerged as an unencumbered, constantly revolving cast purveying longform delirium that veers into transcendent heights as much as it does utter meltdowns. With ‘Infinity Machines’ their trademark evasion of consistent structural foundations continues but whereas previous ventures like 2013’s ‘Chaudelande’ compilation showed a band versed in the hurtling, fiery purr of Neu!-like road journeys, this latest excursion treads heavily and drifts headily, into different kinds of outer territory. 

From the off the impact of this divergent lease of sound is startling. ‘Control Systems’ begins with huge jarring echoes seemingly wrenched out of a vacuum and proceeds with gargantuan tremors, as the signals of space detritus seem to glance off each other and communicate in garbled phrases. Voices mill around until an impasse is reached. Glass shatters and a slightly timid Northern Irish accent begins to ruminate intimately and frankly on the nature of modern privacy, whilst the plaintive twinkle of sporadically chiming Rhodes piano adds a disarmingly moving undertow to it all. A bed of frazzled drone forms the basis as expressive lilts and powerful sputters of sax begin to resound as if emanating from some mountainous pulpit, half resembling the blistering catharsis of free jazz and half redolent of the sweeping mysticism of spiritual jazz. From there a heavy-set carriage of percussion leadenly strikes up and it moves into a more sinister downturn of agonized, tense wails. Though these sequences are disparate they’re connected adeptly by space-travel rushes and inner-machine whirs. It makes for one of the finest hauls the collective have recorded to date, majestic and full of ambitious variation. 

Towards the end of this opening, that same softly spoken voice questions the superseding ritualism of religion over faith but then questions its own conviction in this viewpoint. This voice and the sounds which surround it indicate a band very much locked in their own thoughts and activities but one also intent on questioning the effects of external forces. With a fitting visual representation in the form of Rorschach Ink Blot Test artwork and sounds which seem to directly uphold (at one point the voice intones that ‘daydreaming is a kind of private space’) – and implicitly appeal to – deep cerebral activity, GNOD have made a record about the brain for the brain, emphasising its defiant infiniteness in offhand but pertinent, fragmented reflections and ensuring contained transfixion in sprawling voyages of sound. 

‘Collateral Damage’ addresses this theme more explicitly, with a Mancunian voice asserting that ‘no one can take away what you think’ as more doses of heavy-duty drone swim around the ether. Eventually sax squealing flares up once again, skeletal bass-bin pulses begin to rumble and things begin to feel like the lingering bare bone pound of a pre-dawn rave continuing into somewhere unchartered. An ejaculatory Albert Ayler-like climax concludes before we’re quickly led into the gristle and bloodlust of ‘Desire’. A punishing hardcore feel, industrial textures and megaphone orations make for an angst which simultaneously feels exercised and still pent-up. Although this is about as visceral as anything, it maintains that idea of mental immersion by rigorously hammering home the same pattern, whilst simultaneously proposing surrender to physical release; an agitator with a platform and what sounds like a small arsenal of DIY tool ware. 

‘The Importance of Downtime’ then shifts into a more bewitching state, with a greater sense of distance established between the elements. A valley of streaming cyber-transmissions and subtle, prolonged throbs conjure a place uninhabited but extensive. The persistence of its repetition avoids tedium through a constant negotiation of all the variables and an understated (re)working of all their accompanying textures and effects, culminating in a swarming intensity. It’s like the ominous soundtrack to the preparations of a prize-fighter meditatively psyching themselves up into an utterly other state of wilful concentration. 

Similarly engaged in a lethal sense of focus, and as bitingly pinpoint in its title as the shrewdest of track names, ‘White Privileged Wank’ balloons into an even more significant stature. But instead of remaining intensely fixed in the same tense trail, immediately there’s velocity. A huge, escalating lift off effect opens proceedings and alien, gelatinous textures are introduced, as if encrusted on the ever accelerating pistons powering this opening sense of momentum. Midway through, the track essentially falls apart into something approaching dub techno, yet if this is to be classed as such, it’s a rare strain, one which feels blasted apart by noise; its headlong steer and systematic beat torn into a languorous degradation, all acidic spit and burnt-out forge. At this point with a significant remaining duration to go, its surprising how hell-for-leather they go, with machine-abuse capable of reducing the uninitiated to a very sorry puddle. 

Coming out the other end, ‘Spinal Fluid’, in its spoken introduction represents a consolidation of sorts, the moment when the ideas and themes surrounding the brain and the attempt to take it to another state are voiced and finalised. ‘Escape is definite/…steep yourself in it/deviate’ are the words spoken, like a representative calling card for GNOD’s assured truancy of limits. Here it might be worth asserting that while the sound of ‘Infinity Machines’ and the expressions laced within it propose escapism, it’s not the tawdry, blue-sky fodder you might associate with harem pants and lily livered utopianism. It’s at once direct and confrontational but also completely off-piste and fathomless. After the significance of such a welcome, hi-hats altered with a liberal amount of effects then jostle and vibrate, as if held within an echo chamber rife with leakage. As with ‘The Importance of Downtime’, the track stays situated on a constant verge, on an ever breaching crest, but never quite boils over. All the more effective for its restraint at breaking point. 

That’s left to ‘Breaking The Hex’, which is suitably named, as it maliciously spills around, ran off road by fried-jazz screams and bludgeoning, tumbling guitars and percussion, almost as if sonically depicting demonic expulsion. The last call, from which the album takes its name, departs from the previous explorations, but only briefly. Recordings of schoolchildren at play function as a short-lived point of rest but eventually portentous ambience begins to intercede and dominate. Then a sombre, climactic march, melancholy and dramatic, sets into motion, accompanied by the same affecting sax-blurts as displayed at the outset, though this time, they feel more keenly like a lament, accompanied as they are by dreary melodica, drudging drums, and mournful keys. A gradual diminishing of energy as if the fire displayed before has slowly died and these are the final embers. 

In case it wasn’t obvious, it’s fair to say this album puts the mind through the ringer. But that seems to be the central aim. To open up an alternative space through charging it up, challenging it, taking it to another plane entirely, the brain as ‘machine’, taken to infinity. The fact that the collective do so without incurring accusations of heavy handedness and esoteric bollocks is a feat in itself. Instead of elusion, they seem to use issues of concern – erosion of public/private, status quo politics – as fuel, igniting something incendiary in sound as a kind of primal antidote. They’re evidently undeterred by restrictive systems – in music or otherwise – and the results of that determinedly radical approach have proven astounding.

Tim Wilson