March 2, 2018

Clawing - Spectral Estate

By Craig Hayes. Fair warning, Spectral Estate, the full-length debut from dark noise trio Clawing, is a hard listen. Psychologically, Spectral Estate is akin to a walking nightmare, where bad dreams are mangled and then magnified
By Craig Hayes.

Artwork by Stephen Wilson.

Fair warning, Spectral Estate, the full-length debut from dark noise trio Clawing, is a hard listen. Psychologically, Spectral Estate is akin to a walking nightmare, where bad dreams are mangled and then magnified to become truly tormenting visions. Spectral Estate tells a haunting story, backed by tenebrous sonics, but what the soul-scouring album speaks of most is just how painful and debilitating the burdensome memories that plague us all can be.

Spectral Estate is a catastrophic horrorshow. It’s a story of abuse, emotional devastation, and a malevolent ghost; and it’s terrifying in parts. But none of that is surprising given the creative history of Clawing’s band members. The Montgomery, Alabama-based band features spoken word poet Matt Finney, and Finney's been unearthing demons and battling monsters of the id in a number of collaborative endeavours over the years. (Most notably with Ukrainian multi-instrumentalist Oleg Shpudeiko, who’s shaped stunning atmospheric drones around Finney's world-weary words via their much-acclaimed Heinali and Finney project.)

Also in Clawing is musician Austin Gaines. Last year, Gaines’ industrial/noise band Calques released the Civilizing album, which was unquestionably one of 2017’s most sadistic blasts of mind-wrecking anti-music. Civilizing fused raw punk, rawer black metal and disfiguring audio mayhem, and I'd wholeheartedly recommend the album if you’re a fan of ultra-abrasive underground music.

The third member of Clawing is artist, writer, and audio improviser Jeff McLeod. I'd never heard a note of McLeod's instinctual music before encountering Clawing. But the latest release on his Bandcamp page, The Universe, The Devil, The Hermit, is a lengthy synthesiser sojourn inspired by Aleister Crowley's Thoth Tarot. Clearly, McLeod's interest in channelling darkness fits right in with Finney and Gaines' grim creative objectives.

Essentially, the three members of Clawing explore unnerving emotional undercurrents via macabre music-making. What’s unspoken but nonetheless evoked on Spectral Estate is just as important as what’s stated outright. And the album works brilliantly (and deeply unsettlingly) on both subliminal and conscious levels.

Tracks like "Mythology" and "Gourds" see Finney telling the bones of a wretched tale. And those songs find Gaines and McLeod blending ambient and strident noise through minimalist/maximalist processes to support Finney’s narrative tone. But Gaines and McLeod also build a far larger backdrop of sound throughout Spectral Estate. One that not only distorts sounds but also twists perceptions.

In fact, a giant, nerve-shredding canvas shrouds the entirety of Spectral Estate. The album deals with topics many of us are too afraid to confront, and Spectral Estate subsequently grows ever more discomfiting and distressing. Songs like "Coma", "A Clearing" and "Plastic Glowing Stars" are overflowing with stomach-churning dread. And where Finney's voice is absent for long periods on Spectral Estate, the unsettling music still tells a vivid tale while conjuring shocking scenes.

Everything you need to know about Spectral Estate is right is there in its stunning cover art, courtesy of Stephen Wilson (aka Unknown Relic). Wilson’s incredible sketch of a haunted house wrapped in the tendrils of trauma and torture –– fertilised, no doubt, by agony and grief –– perfectly encapsulates Spectral Estate’s tenor. Finney's harrowing story constructs the foundation and framework here. But it’s the music that enriches the fear, both real and imagined, encouraging those tendrils of horror to burst into bloom.

Like all of Finney's work so far, Spectral Estate ultimately deals in the gruesome reality of humanity. Fictional or not, his words often tell the ugliest truths. You don't need to believe in malevolent phantoms or supernatural beings to appreciate Clawing’s work either. Because they also remind us that we are a sickening enough species all on our own. We hate and we harm. We hurt and destroy. We are everything that Spectral Estate tells us, and more.

Spectral Estate is cathartic. But it isn’t an album for everyone. Clawing deliver waves of pitch-black, sinister noise –– as well more subtle soundscapes –– but the world they inhabit will just be too dark and too traumatic for some. Spectral Estate is a rite of passage. But therein lies its purpose. Because no genuine exorcism is ever painless. Least of all when we're casting out the deepest agonies that have been inflicted upon us.

1 comment:
  1. Great music, great article! Why I love metalbandcamp. Music reminds me of Shinjuku Thief, dark gothic ambient noise. Reminds me in all the glorious ways.