Hexen Valley by GNODRelease date: April 1, 2022
Label: Rocket Recordings
For a long time, what many would regard as the ‘classic’ line-up of Salford psychedelic noise rock collective GNOD comprised two guitarists, two bassists, and two drummers, making for a gloriously thick, dense, heavy sound. So it will come as a surprise to many that for their 15th or so album in 16 years as a band, they have opted for a ‘back to basics’ line-up of Paddy Shine on guitar and vocals, Richard Chamberlain on guitar, Chris Haslam on bass, and Jesse Webb on drums.
Hexen Valley opens with lead single ‘Bad Apple’. The song rattles along tinnily far more than any of the songs on GNOD’s excellent last album, the overly heavy La Mort Du Sens (2021), did. Shine addresses his lyrics to the ‘bad apple’ of the title, and it’s difficult to tell who (or what) this is. Thankfully, the noise is cranked right back up to the band’s typical volume levels for ‘Spotlight’, the 15-minute epic that follows. The bass hammers along, much higher up in the mix than it would be for a lot of psych-noise bands, while Shine and Chamberlain’s guitars feed back and Webb pounds his drums menacingly.
The bass is kept much lower down in the mix on ‘Skies Are Red’ and the modish guitar sound recalls that on many of the songs on the band’s feted 2017 album, Just Say No to the Psycho Right-Wing Capitalist Fascist Industrial Death Machine. The addition of a piano to GNOD’s sound on ‘Antidepressants’ may sound strange to fans of the band who have been following their recent work, but it syncs in well with Haslam’s fuzzy bass until the tempo speeds up several gears at around the three-and-a-half-minute mark and the band launch into the sort of fast, heavy, feedback-drenched workout for which they’ve become known. Shine’s plaintive vocals do let the song down somewhat and slightly diminish its overall effect, but it’s still very listenable.
The lead guitar takes on a slightly acid rock-ish tone on ‘Still Runnin’’, whilst the rhythm guitar retains the modish sound deployed on ‘Skies Are Red’. The song is fast, punchy, and will undoubtedly sound great in a live setting. A cover version of Lou Reed’s ‘Waves of Fear’ makes for a slow but satisfying album closer, the bass and drums rolling along at a leisurely pace as Shine wails the title in a manner that recalls Nick Cave. Haslam makes great use of the fuzz pedal on his bass and the dual tracks of guitar feedback soar over the rest of the din.
In conclusion, GNOD’s experimentation with a more pared-down line-up on Hexen Valley is, broadly speaking, successful. Haslam and Webb prove themselves capable of doing all the heavy lifting required of a rhythm section, whilst Shine and Chamberlain’s guitars have a satisfyingly abrasive sound to them. Recreating these songs in a live environment may prove challenging, but it will be interesting to see how the band approach it. For listeners unfamiliar with the band, the lighter mix of instruments may well make it an accessible entry point to their oeuvre. Whilst the songs lack the immediacy of those on the excellent La Mort Du Sens, that is admittedly a very high bar to clear, and GNOD deliver the noise their fans have come to know and love with Hexen Valley.