It’s a cruel irony that, for music which is such a personal and unrestrained expression, so much Noise sounds interchangeable. By forcing the player to respond to orthodox patterns, traditional instruments make it much easier to develop a singular “voice” – by making and manipulating their own sounds out of nothing, Noise artists ironically often end up sounding the same as each other.
Irritum (self-released) was my first exposure to New York’s Gridfailure, and my first impression was how distinctive it sounds, and how easily it stands apart from similar releases. It could be described as a mash-up of Power Electronics, Dark Ambient and Death Industrial, and references can be drawn to other artists (the belligerence of Vomit Arsonist, Kolhoosi 13’s apocalyptic soundscapes), but there’s no sense of following an inspiration here, more that sole musician David Brenner stumbled onto this sound by himself.
Another striking quality of Irritum is how diverse it sounds, both in content and tonality. Live instrumentation and electronic sources are processed together into a range of sounds that frequently come from no identifiable source, while snatches of broken rhythm, serene ambience and even unhinged symphonics on ‘Electrocution Baptism’ create a sound far more interesting and immersive than the usual bzzt-bzzt-crunch. For all that the accompanying blurb describes as “purely savage” and possessing “vicious enormity”, there’s something surprisingly subtle and nuanced about Irritum that stays engaging where so much Harsh Noise can, frankly, become tiresome. This ability to embrace understatement works especially well with the vocals – up-front harsh vocals in electronic music always seems self-defeating to me, creating a human face for a sound which works best when it’s rejecting humanity, but by turning them down in the mix Gridfailure lets them become part of the maelstrom of sound rather than standing over it.
Reviewing electronic music for an unabashed Rock/Metal website, there’s always the sense that you might be struggling to describe nuances that your audience aren’t going to care about, while at the same time wanting to avoid the patronising cliché of “this is the non-Metal album that Metallers are allowed to like!”, but Irritum is an album with real crossover potential. A strong demonstration of how interesting, characterful and even accessible music that rejects traditional song-writing can be.