I shut my eyes and take one more step. The darkness consumes me, swallowing me whole, dragging me deep under the sheet of the unknown. I reach out in my mind, desperate for the familiar to take hold. Instead, I’m greeted by a cacophony of crushing, pulverising, mesmerising, industrial sludge. And it’s a wonderful feeling. I stop resisting and let it do as it pleases. Over the next thirty-three minutes and fifty-five seconds, my mind is trampled flat by thick bass, devastating drums, tortured vocals, a cocktail of monstrous proportions. Each slab of this massive, heavy behemoth makes me crave more. Before I know it, the journey is over. I’ve felt the despair that ran through its veins, I’ve sensed the pain in its anguished cries, and I’ve survived to reach the light at the end. But I no longer want that. I shut my eyes and slide seamlessly back into the abyss, this time aware of what awaits me.
This is not only me indulging a narrative vice I must feed every once in a while, but it’s also the metaphysical experience of listening to Gape, the latest album from Brooklyn-based sludge purveyor All You Know Is Hell, the solo project of Joseph Merlini. An album drenched in its own agony, it explores numerous facets of misery: self-loathing, depression, loss, anger. Dragging the listener through its gloom, Gape doesn’t just wear its heart on its sleeve; it’s fashioned it into a three-piece suit. An unwashed three-piece suit.
And yet, despite the bleakness presented, I find myself drawn to this like a vulture to a carcass. The lyrics convey the poetic qualities of Robert Smith, while the music punishes with the weight of Bell Witch, Black Sabbath and Nine Inch Nails, all engaged in a blood bath. Album opener Stomach sets the tone; a thumping, industrial, stalking piece, presenting a poem of self-hatred. The lyrics to which I present here:
“Everyone I love leaves in the end.
Everything I touch just turns to shit.
Everywhere I go no one’s around.
Every place I stay burns to the ground.
Every word I spoke made love to lies.
Every smile I give bares teeth and flies.
Every thought I have is raped by you.
Every dream I have, I drown in you.”
Have you ever seen lyrics with such hatred towards one’s self? Merlini chimes these words out in a nursery rhyme style, before unleashing with throat-scraping screeches. And from then on, the album follows suit, only increasing in its bludgeoning force.
The sound of the bass on Gape is flattening. It’s so bone-crushingly heavy; you can almost feel the weight of it striking your eardrums, like a hammer on the anvil. Second song Lvoe makes this instantly apparent, dragging its knuckles into a sludge drenched doom riff. The drums, sounding as though Merlini intends to break them, provide the slow-moving backbone the bass requires to crush its way through the track. The vocals yell out a tale of unrequited love, ever more showing Joseph’s distaste of himself.
Zoe is a personal highlight, a song that’s more inclined towards the avant-garde, art metal tendencies of Gape. It stomps with incredible force, before pulling back to melody-less thumps on the strings, followed by another dial-up with tortured screams and yells. For an album that never relents, this is the most furious it becomes. The intensity is unrivaled, slowing the pace to a punishing crawl and ending on nearly a minute of stabbing noise, lunging at the listener with its wrathful bass tone.
It’s as though every fibre of this nightmare tapestry has been woven with the intent of making an audible horror movie. From the slightly off-key synth at the end of Grool to the unnerving whispers of Blonde, Gape is a terrifying adventure. It’s that passion (albeit towards hatred) that makes this a truly intense listen. Merlini hurls out the words with such ferocity that you feel the need to clear your throat. And despite that, as soon as the album came to a close for the first time, I immediately went back to the beginning, desperately longing for the experience once again.
Gape is special. It’s pulverisingly heavy, brutally honest and passionately crafted. Certain to make some people feel uncomfortable and unnerved; its intent is obvious. And yet, delivered to the correct audience, this offbeat, angry bastard of a record could make huge waves. It always amazes me when going into an album blind like I did with this. I’d never heard of the project before my first listen, and now, I can say with all heart, this is amongst my list of favourite releases of the year.
Do yourself a favour; put some good headphones in, close the curtains, lay down and give Gape your full attention. You may want a bath afterwards, but trust me, it’s worth it.