Review: Asda – The Abyss


For a nihilistic record the latest missive from Vessel (aka Seb Gainsborough) and Chester Giles still has a lot of life to it. As overtly inferred by the title, that ‘life’ doesn’t stem from a hard won positivity but a vicious defiance which seeks to exorcise the rage and resignation of ‘life in the city, consumerist culture and the drive to create’. Everything feels charged with frustration. Six tirades manifested through seething soundsystem ferocity, punctured noise assailment and spoken word monologues at once meditative and agonized. With a street view scope, the words of Giles rail against a ‘gone’ world whilst shedding a potent personal turmoil, revealing an inextricable link between the ‘empty sea of cement’ that the subject navigates and the no hope distemper infecting their inner world. It’s the discontented dubwise derision of ‘Inglan Is A Bitch’ turned inward, transformed into a Beckettian autopsy scored by Mika Vainio; Bristol bass music as a half-annihilated conduit for last resort insurrection. For even in the midst of perdition and death drive, vertiginously placed on the cusp of ‘the abyss’, there’s a combative edge to asda which enlivens what could otherwise be an unbearably desolate listen.

How this torment is charted is key to the vivid impact that ‘the abyss’ realizes. From the blood and guts of the artwork to the low rent Cronenbergian body horror of the ‘killer of men’ video to the bodily preoccupations of Giles, the corporeal is concertedly fixated upon and powerfully depicted. On ‘long grass’, a sparse apocalyptic interlude of barrel drum ritualism, pus oozes from ‘beneath an ingrowing toenail’. In the morose organ hymnal ‘smoke gospel’ hearts bleed and fluid is stagnant. While on ‘lungs full and heavy’ there’s an even more marked obsession with our internal parts. Holes lie between molars, there’s ‘soft, wet mucus’ and the eponymous lungs are too heavy to carry. This fixation makes for a lo-fi poetry of repulsion, as if voiced by an existential surgeon who’s seen far too much, far too often; the endless cycle of bodies failing. The overriding feeling is one of disgust and overburdened exasperation, sentiments which have culminated in a longing to ‘return to that silence’, an urge to surrender.

Fortunately, it’s not as high and mighty as all this might suggest. No standing on the mount proselytizing for the sake of tortured affectation, sounding off and diagnosing how disgusting and vulnerable we all are. Giles sounds like he’s actually entangled in these reflections. With that comes a willingness to relate, to identify all this as universal: ‘And this story takes place in your town/and this story takes place in my town/and this story takes place in hers and in his town’. The story in question is permeated by heartbreak, loneliness, and isolation but there’s a sense that this isn’t a case of passive acceptance but unruly catharsis. Even whilst expressing desperation the energy conveyed in Giles’ delivery and the ferment stirred up around him by Gainsborough points to an intent defined by sheer sedition, a stubborn sense of refusal.

For all of the pestilent body breakdown imagery of ‘lungs full and heavy’, its first few moments are filled with false starts, background chatter, laughter and mic check mistakes; a temporary slip of composure that allows respite from the solemnity, a brief fragment of relief from the bleakness. As the track begins to take on a stricter semblance of order noise screams and flails and bass drums that seem intent on causing cracks in walls gather up momentum, all between the emergent onrush of Giles’ words. In the gradual assumption of flow, Giles divulges a distaste for the impotence of ‘love verse’ contrasting the naïve superficiality of its ‘romance’ with a morning routine that sounds less like an everyday preparation than a convulsive riot of emotional unrest: ‘now I stand in the shower brushing my teeth/pale cold tile/while all the world is swimming…’ Despite the grim, ascendant mortification given to the words, it’s an impellent nine minutes. A panic attack at a basement soundclash, where all the dubplates are degraded, almost unplayable.

‘killer of men’ is just as hardwired, as if it’s been beamed in from a sequestered zone, bristling with all the repressed fury of imprisonment, the psychosis of solitary confinement, of unacknowledged aggravation: ‘oh I could be a killer of men/you’d see me on the silver screen’. Again there’s power in the energy conveyed, problematizing the notion that this is a case of giving in, of simply unloading an unremittingly dour worldview.

Although ‘universal themes’ – a protracted companion of sorts to ‘long grass’ – is similarly disposed to a dismal outlook (‘this is the collective heart aching in all of humanity’) there’s a concurrent seedy impulse given free rein in perverse pleas that recall Throbbing Gristle’s ‘Persuasion’ in their unsettling insistency (‘take your knickers off’) Yet even with such gloomy diagnoses and ominous sleaze there’s a slightly redemptive quality in an escapist urge for sensation and intimacy that paints this as more than a case of prurient hunger. There’s dark humour to it too: ‘this world is better when you have no clothes on’

With ‘the desire for light and stars and jubilant songs’, a downcast woodwind motif plays out to a final recognition, an epilogue where everyone has ‘lightly peeled off their skins’. It’s the sombre consolidation of all the pain and horror heaved up over the course of ‘the abyss’, in this instance completely void of hope. Yet however pervaded by defeat this coda is, as one conclusive moment in a broader whole it doesn’t render ‘the abyss’ a case of mere resignation. This is a bleak post-mortem, an oppressive dub noise collection of free verse and ruptured oscillation that in its unreserved tenacity lies equidistant between agitation and downcast poise, anxiety and ecstasy, nihilism and revelry.

Asda – The Abyss is out now, and you can get it HERE.

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