South Africa Week: Day 2: Mad God – Grotesque and Inexorable

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Artist: Mad God

Album: Grotesque and Inexorable

Label: Unsigned/Independent

Released: 1/30/2019

Country: South Africa

Written by: Aaron Michael Kobes

One could make the assertion after listening to Mad God’s Grotesque and Inexorable, that it is South Africa’s answer to England’s titans of Doom, Electric Wizard, and in some respects it would be a completely valid assertion. However, to dismiss or invalidate Mad God as a conclusion to such, would be a grave mistake. While the band does have the familiar Doom underpinnings of any great Electric Wizard record, Mad God are titans within their own right, and have developed a unique brand of Doom all their own. Heavily inspired by Lovecraftian lore and its subsequent bleakness, Mad God’s take on Doom is a bad acid trip in the wrong town in the best possible way. Grotesque and Inexorable was the bands first outing in their psychedelia infused Doom worship of the Outer Gods, and found them penetrating the darkness further and more experimentally than their previous release, Tales of a Sightless City. What followed was Mad God’s telling of the darkness, that is all at once a mixture of historical truth and fiction found in literature, a blurring of the lines of inspiration and supposed justification for incited violence that makes the listener feel the seemingly utterly cruel indifference to life that Lovecraft’s creations originally inspired.

Haunting the Graves of the Unhallowed starts the album off with an abysmally bleak Doom groove straight from the Uncanny Valley. Hitting in the first second is a washed-out watery effect that could best be described as cosmic sludge, subverting the groove that follows it to a ripple effect while, all while trying to place just what about this familiar groove is so different, and why it feels so damned ominous. It’s a great introduction for what lies ahead in the following tracks that expand further on the known by injecting elements of the hitherto unknown. After the initial heaviness there is a slow and inexorable march into the first verses of the record that is dripping in gloom and drudgery, reflecting the dreary scene it describes as if the guitar and bass chuggings and dirtied sizzlings of cymbals were responsible for the churning of hallowed dirt rendering the, “Open tombs (that) lay all around”. As truly nasty as the opening riffs are to Grotesque and Inexorable, the culprits of the open graves are in fact not the musicians, but something far more sinister and seemingly Lovecraftian, “In the deep, dead of night/ Figures twist, distorting in the light”. Making use of the space created by the tempo-the lyrics, as written and sung by Tim Harbour, are cast out in tale-telling fashion that are coated in malevolence, and warped by various effects and echoes, that makes the track take on an almost hollow feeling, as if there is something still yet lurking beyond. Interspersed throughout the track are voice overs that are obfusticated to the point of being difficult to make out, and instrumental sections that serve as ritual head lolling, bringing you into the graveyard so that you are of one that, “The preacher comes to bless the herd”. In the final two minutes of the track, Mad God starts to lean into more experimental and Psychedelia, as there is a guitar solo that rises from and returns to an element of Noise, edging back to a sedate pace creating an even larger depth of space within the track.

The DeZazle Horror begins with an almost cheery riff that would be right at home in an early aught’s Doom or Stoner ode to Satan or celebrating a black mass. Mad God abandons this tract about a minute in and takes on a more carnal sound while Harbour sonorously sings the dismal opener, “Four bodies, axe wounds to the neck/and head”. The opposition created between the truly incredible vocal talent being displayed in these moments with what is being sung creates a tension all its own hardly in need of backing instrumentals to lend it any more gravity. However, such is not the way of Mad God, and in order to create a more complete picture of abject horror the music drones a simplistic groove for the first half of the song before leading into a heavy breakdown, and circling back to formula with a final, truly horrific element added in. The inclusion of an emergency services call made by Henri Van Breda, the boy who butchered his family in the De Zalze Winelands Golf Estate and whom the song is about, is a bold choice and one that makes for a chilling conclusion, especially when it is echoed out over droning instrumentals. While it may seem heartless and downright exploitative to utilize such a resource that has a very real viable connection to human misery and suffering, I would remind people that may be offended at such audacious artistic risks, that there is a greater purpose to be served as a result. While this does lend thematically to a specific choice, calloused indifference, it also has a functionality in catharsis; simply put, these events shocked the peoples of South Africa, a nation that Mad God calls home, and a track like The DeZalze Horror is a very real and effective way at processing such a complex situation, and is little different than writing a book or script about the incident while serving the same purpose.

In another dose of reality skewed by psychedelia and driven by the insanity of one certifiably deranged man, I Created God, is a telling of the Sharon Tate murder purpotrated by the Manson Family. The track ostensibly takes the perspective of Charles Manson, the man at the head of the infamous Manson Family, and who is subsequently imprisoned for life (rightly so) as a result of his role in the influencing of his followers, despite his not having physically committed the atrocities. The lyrics, “Never did I raise or dirty my hand/ All I did was ask a question/All I did was make them question/the meaning of their futile existence” underline the narcissistic control that Manson both accepts and rejects simultaneously, in that there is a disconnect from the responsibility of the atrocities committed by saying he didn’t do anything physically, yet still retains the ownership of how he had exerted his influence and control over people to the point of action. The interesting concept of creating god then comes forth and can be seen as a double entendre of sorts, as Manson clearly fancied himself a god in some respect or another as he, to take a line from the song, “…stood tall among the bastards”, and the band’s name Mad God, a potential reference to Azathoth, also known as The Blind Idiot God or Mad God in some writings. Expanding upon the Azathoth concept further is the idea that, in Lovecraft’s writing, the Mad God was said to be in a deep sleep at the center of the universe with a myriad of Outer Gods playing music and dancing for him in order to keep his slumberous state, believing/fearing that his dreaming while asleep was what fabricated existence, and for him to wake would be to end everything. The idea in earnest then, is that existence is fabricated and subjective, so that when we look at Manson, a blind idiot god in his own right, we can begin to see that fabrication take hold and manifest into a reality as he strove to actualize his ultimate goal of starting a race war, the “…fake war” alluded to within the song. The use of Manson as subject matter is deviantly inspired, as it creates a subversive experience in how it pulls the listener into a fabricated existence within the rest of the album by way of a real and tangible event.

The musicianship doesn’t hurt the process of drawing one either, as there is a form of hypnotism being exacted from the first note, a low down and crusty form of idol worship that is formed of the Cosmic Sludge seeping into your earhole while rattling your ribcage with its low-toned vibrations. Adding to the hypnotism is heavily effected vocals, that sound as if they were processed through an aquarium rather than a condenser mic, that lends a surreal mysticism that dips us into the Uncanny Valley once again. The clearest vocal parts are when, interestingly enough, the chorus, “I created God”, is sung, the second intonation of which signals a tempo change to the upbeat and resurgence of a voice over track, this time with Manson’s deranged ramblings. The guitar work mimics Mansons well documented frentical energy and antithetical to any perceivable lucidity, additionally it seems antithetical in itself placed amidst such restrained pacing, no matter the increase of matched instrumental rapidity.

Departing from the real world, perceived as such or no; we descend, or rather, transcend into the fictitious and Lovecraftian territory of Nyarlathotep, one of the blighted children of Azathoth, better known to some as The Crawling Chaos. The vocal talents of Harbour take on a nasally intonation that sound more akin to taunting than singing, an apt representation of the outer god that walks amongst humankind sowing malcontent and well, chaos. The lyrics come amidst rolling jaunts of the guitar that issues forth in undulating waves, backed by a distorted grumbling of bass that feels like a fuzzed out simulacrum all taking place over the thudding drums that sound as if Pat Stephansen has ninety-pound weights attached to his extremities which lend extra it’s transitive weight to the pounding of the Tom’s and cymbals. Half way through the track we come to a near dead-stop and it’s subsequent Stoner-Sludgey build up with the introduction of various voice tracks that range from abject terror that is heard crystal clear, to whispered utterings that come through muddled and therefore take on a sinister undertone. There is not a breakdown per se, but rather a letting off of the minor tension caused by the brief pause that brings us back into the chorus and reverential singing, “The crawling chaos stretches across the land/ Behold my countenance, I am Cthulhu’s hand”. The ending then comes a bit abruptly after a few measures of experimentation with sustaining riffs that feel like it could have led into something a bit more promising then what we were given, but on the whole, a minor complaint.

No Prayers, No Fires starts similarly to The DeZalze Horror, in that it could be a Stoner praising or hailing of Satan, albeit with a bit more of a Blues-Psychedelic injection with its free guitar break always and hollow tin-can vocals that sound like they are coming from a beat up transistor radio. The lyrical content also takes elements of Haunting the Graves of the Unhallowed, in that it involves entering a graveyard and enlisting the aid of nebulous fear brought about by unknown and unrecognizable figures. Where No Prayers, No Fires differs however, is in the chances it takes, the first of which comes about by the brief, half second dead air, the first of which we receive in the entirety of the album, so that the resounding vibrations from all the previous heavy Doom-Stoner-Sludge we have had fills the void in an such a way that it causes an interna sonic misstep that make us feel the resurgence of the heaviness that much more deeply. The second chance No Prayers takes is in the later half of the track where we are given the cleanest tones on both the guitar and bass as a connection is made to the rest of the album by way of another voice over, as a pair of voices whisper. This is not long lasted as bassist Evert Snyman kicks up the nastiness with a persistent chugging bass line as the voices become more and more frenetic while the guitar chips in with equally jarring, stabbings. Eventually the instrumentals fall off with a brief sustain and we are left with a trembling voice offering a protective prayer.

Closing out the record is The Hunt, a restrained track that is steeped in desperation and solemnity. It begins by a guitar tuning up and holding a sustained note, while the drums plod out a lugubrious cadence. After a few measures the guitar joins in earnest alongside the bass, adding to the dreary scene, as the atmosphere conjured is one of a muddled affectation. Coming through crystal clear however, is the vocals of Tim Harbour, as he laments the dying of “The dream”, a potential link back to Azathoth, and a particular theory in how the Outer God is the reader who, by their act of reading (or listening in this case) creates the universe in which these damned denizens dwell via an induced imaginative state, i.e. dreaming. By not “dreaming” then, everything contained therein arguably cease to exist, heady stuff for a subject matter so often overly simplified or reduced to a mass of writhing tentacles.

The titular Hunt then, as I have come to interpret it, is an inversion back into the real world, where we had begun to sink from with the first half of the album in the horrid true tales of slaughter and mad depravity. Drawing closer to its finality, holds the most interesting part of the track, when we are given a striped down verse before the final repetition of the chorus, with a near solo vocal performance that sounds like an echo of James Maynard Kennean of Tool fame, and acts like the Doom inspired soliloquy of the final man in existence. The final moments of the record echo this sentiment as a guitar plays out in its melancholic utterings in complete isolation.

Be righteous by listening to and supporting Mad God on Bandcamp: https://narcolepticaprod.bandcamp.com/album/grotesque-and-inexorable

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