In September, Grant Richardson released his third solo album as Gnawed, Pestilence Beholden. The record is not a grand statement. If anything, Pestilence Beholden is a straightforward death industrial album: all wretched atmospheres with very little frill. If you’re keen on the sound, Pestilence Beholden is a pleasant listen.
Richardson was to the point: Gnawed is his baby. Otherwise, he’s is a fabricator, an audio engineer, and does “sound design for films occasionally and live sound for work as well as for local shows within the D.I.Y. community. [He] operates [the] Hex Lathes and Maniacal Hatred labels.” As an audio engineer, his back catalog is a trove of hardcore punk and sludge metal. Richardson sports the look; at twenty-nine, he is a “proud” Minneapolis lifer dressed in a fitted baseball cap cradled in a hoodie, like a woolier Freddy Cricien of New York’s Madball.
You get the sense that Richardson is building his name by practicing his misery in sound rather than crafting high-concept albums like Theologian’s Pain of the Saints. He began Gnawed in 2009, developing a style of death industrial that verged on power electronics’ maniacal bark and a disparate stoned languor. It wasn’t until after his debut on the respectable Phage Tapes imprint, Terminal Epoch that he jumped to Malignant Records—the premier, stalwart curator of industrial noise in America. It was Feign and Cloaked in 2014 that brought him here—the second album, but first to turn heads. Pestilence Beholden’s return to Malignant Records shows that he is reaching his zenith.
Soon, you will know Grant Richardson by another name: Atrox Pestis. Richardson has broken his seven-year run as Gnawed for an earthen homage to Germany’s Loki Foundation. Atrox Pestis’ performance at MPLS Noise Fest 2016 sounds like a soiled Inade with its antediluvian ambiance. Gnawed is cavernous, too, but lives on the street.
Pestilence Beholden is audial ruin porn. Just look at the cover displaying a closeup of a factory wall. He began this aesthetic shift with Terminal Epoch. Pestilence Beholden’s cover is a misshapen grid of grey contours settling into a weeded bed where the bold font reading Gnawed beams from the saturation. As much as Pestilence Beholden’s cover appears kitsch, a backwards glance at Richardson’s grindcore and sludge metal production days proves the aesthetic is appropriate—even honest.
Richardson’s voice on Pestilence Beholden is smothered in effects roaring through “The Hand That Feeds” like Genocide Organ’s Wilhelm Herich on Under – Kontrakt. Pestilence Beholden bears the power electronics presence, which many have shirked for ritualistic ambiance. Good luck deciphering any meaning though, even on mostly spoken songs like “Wheat from Chaff.” Gnawed’s miasmic electronics draw their audience down with each retch.
Gnawed is hellbent on death industrial. You might call Pestilence Beholden a pastiche of old masters: Brighter Death Now, Proiekt Hat, etc. Richardson just left out all the neoclassical flourishes—those synthesized orchestras that plagued other artists. He also left out the clanging rhythm that newer artists like Trepaneringsritualen set in their drum machines. Pestilence Beholden plays at an abject lilt that mostly drones, though Richardson adds the characteristic oil-well stomp. The album, as mentioned, is nothing new, but it is a solid translation of a Scandinavian sub-genre into rust belt America. For many, Gnawed’s Pestilence Beholden is just right.
01) A Bitter Harvest
02) Serpent in the River of the Arms of God
03) The Hand that Feeds
04) Pestilence Beholden II
05) The River Runs Dry
06) Who Shall Reap?
07) Wheat from Chaff
08) Nil but Rot (Negation Is Purity)
09) Perdition (Deaths Disease)