I suppose we wanted to make an ominous, tension-filled, harrowing record more in the drone/harsh noise realm
DIMINISHING, the new project from David Brenner (Gridfailure) and Lane Oliver (Yatsu) have recently released their first album The Unnameable and it is a devastatingly bleak but powerful record packed full some of the harshest noise you will hear this year, or any other year for that matter, and a perfect listening experience for fans of Godflesh and Merzbow. Gavin Brown caught up with both David and Lane to get the lowdown on both DIMINISHING and The Unnameable.
E&D: You have recently released your debut album The Unnamable. Have you been pleased with the reaction to it so far?
David: Absolutely. Press, sales, media coverage, and everything has been very minimal to be honest, but we’re well aware that’s how things roll when you’re starting a new project. Any reactions at all from listeners or media, positive or negative, I view as beneficial. Even if somebody despises your art, a negative reaction means they’ve taken some time to experience your work.
Lane: What Dave said. I appreciate anyone who takes the time to listen to this.
E&D: As this is your debut album, did you feel any pressure in making sure the ethos of DIMINISHING was present from the start?
David: I think the project just came together naturally. The sound is basically just what happens when Lane and I work together; we didn’t strive to achieve a sound beyond what we both already create. The name of the band came way later; we had the album completely recorded, mixed, and ready to be mastered before we even decided on a band name. So we chose a moniker that we felt adequately embodied the sound, while trying to avoid cliches and overused terms. I created the videos and the cover art as well; the videos are dark, gritty, and attempt to convey the dismal nature of the record, and the cover I created from photos at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery – although we went for a more H8000 metalcore look with the colors and whatnot versus a cliche black and white graveyard shot. We felt zero pressure making this, except for agreeing on a band name that wasn’t already taken.
E&D: How did DIMINISHING start as a band in the first place and what did you want to achieve with your sound?
David: Lane has been a regular contributor to my project, Gridfailure, almost since its inception in 2016. He’s provided guitars and other elements to multiple records I’ve released over the years since. Lane also launched a solo project called Feel Happiness in 2019 and we released a split together the same year. Shortly after we released that split we started to create what was going to be a collaborative album – this album. Lane’s grindcore band Yatsu formed during that time and he disbanded Feel Happiness, so we weren’t sure what to do with this record. We just came to the conclusion that we should form a new band and with that we started shifting the sound and direction a bit, eventually resulting in The Unnamable.
E&D: What are the songs on the record about and what does the title of the album refer to?
David: Thematically, the record touches upon existential crisis, anxiety in the face of the unknown, and personal failings.
Lane: The songs deal with a lot of happy topics, existential crises being the main one. The bulk of the lyrics shift back-and-forth between overt pessimism/nihilism and desperate searches for meaning. There are lines that speak on the futility of existence that are then contradicted by lines that express a longing for an afterlife. There are songs that deal with the anxiety that comes with not knowing what comes next, if anything, after we die. There are songs that deal with the frantic race to do something meaningful with your life before time runs out. More personal topics such as self-sabotage and burnout creep up in the lyrics as well, but ultimately tie back into the overarching themes of existential turmoil. It’s a lot of fun. The Unnamable is taken from Samuel Beckett’s novel of the same name. Although I lifted some lines from the text for the title track, the record itself isn’t based on the novel. I use the term “unnamable” to give a name to the unknowable state of existence, or non-existence, after we die. The book is good though, you should read it.
E&D: What have been the biggest influences on the sound of The Unnamable?
David: We didn’t set out to create anything specifically in a tone or style based on any specific artists. I suppose we wanted to make an ominous, tension-filled, harrowing record more in the drone/harsh noise realm, but we didn’t really base it on any direct influences. Within our press/promo/label copy, we’ve been citing “for fans of” references of Khanate, Merzbow, Gnaw Their Tongues, Nurse With Wound, Godflesh, and The Downward Spiral-era Nine Inch Nails, the NIN references mostly coming from Lane’s clean/spoken vocal parts.
Lane: I don’t think any particular artists were in the forefront of our minds when creating this record. Obviously any music you consume will have an effect on the material you write, one way or another.
E&D: Did the sound of your other musical projects seep into the music of DIMINISHING at all?
David: I would say that my main project Gridfailure surely shows its ugliness in this project. Most of my earlier bands were all fast or upbeat: Militia Men (streetpunk/hardcore punk), Dead By Dawn (death metal/hardcore), Heidnik (grindcore/hardcore/metal). There was a decade or so where I didn’t play in any bands, then I formed Gridfailure during my time playing with Theologian (post-industrial/dark ambient) and parted ways with that act just after the release of the first Gridfailure album in 2016, so a lot of that ambient/experimental vibe is what fuels Gridfailure and has seeped into DIMINISHING.
Lane: As I mentioned previously, this record was initially intended to be a collaborative record between Gridfailure and my now defunct Feel Happiness project. Before I disbanded Feel Happiness and we decided to make this project its own entity, I believe a good half of the material you hear on the record was completed, or close to complete. So even though we took steps to give The Unnamable its own identity, it still sounds like the combination of those projects at its core.
E&D: Did you always intend for the album to be so atmospheric?
David: I don’t know if we discussed it. I mean, we just kept making new songs, and they all sort of had a similar tone and theme. We were going for tension, aggression, and a dismal tone, but I don’t believe we really discussed making this song more atmospheric than this other one, and so on. We created the album with a wide range of instrumentation with multiple vocal styles. We both played guitars and different types of synthesizers. I played bass, keyboards, created beats with analog and digital drum machines, infused field recordings of storms and other natural tones, and more, so the atmospheric qualities just sort of emerged from our layering of elements and shifts in the creation of it all.
Lane: Yeah we didn’t strive to make the record atmospheric, that’s just how it came out. I think we both listen to a good deal of music that would fall under the term “atmospheric,” so we probably tapped into those “influences” subconsciously when putting these songs together. It’s just where our headspaces were at the time.
E&D: What are some of your favourite ever examples of atmospheric music?
David: Lane and I both listen to a very wide spectrum of music, and the term “atmospheric” casts a wide shadow. Some of the most played albums of the more ambient/atmospheric realm I frequent include records from Kemialliset Ystävät, Ô Paon, Syven, Earth, Melek-Tha, Ak-Chamel, Lurker Of Chalice, Lönndom, Journey to Ixtlan, Za Frûmi, Josef Akin, Leila Abdul-Rauf, I love cinematic/atmospheric horror scores and works from folks like Riz Ortolani, Fabio Frizzi, John Carpenter, Chris Bozzone, Goblin, Zombi, Dolore, Anima Morte, and more. Hildur Guðnadóttir’s Chernobyl score from a few years back is incredible. Faith No More may not exactly fit the question, but they’re one of my top three favorite bands and a lot of that is due to Roddy Bottum’s keyboards that add such singular, cinematic atmospheres to those albums.
Lane: If we’re talking stuff like ambient/dark ambient/drone, then I would say Lustmord, Tim Hecker, Ben Frost, Earth, and Sunn O)) to name a few.. I would throw in jazz acts like Bohren & der Club of Gore and The Necks as well. I’m not sure if Colin Stetson fits the mold here, but I love his work. Other than that I enjoy how atmospheric/ambient textures are utilized across genres.
E&D: Did you also want to combine the spoken word vocals with the more brutal vocals from the start?
David: The spoken parts on this are all Lane’s. I mostly deliver harsh vocals because I generally despise the actual sound of my voice on record otherwise.
Lane: The vocals and lyrics were the very last things we did for this record. I didn’t plan on doing spoken word, clean, or any vocals initially. Dave had to convince me repeatedly to “sing” on this record. So, blame him for your ear trauma. Jokes aside, I think how the songs were constructed influenced our vocal approaches. Some passages seem to call for cleaner vocals, while others need harsh vocals, or both. I think the variety of vocals used makes the record a bit more interesting. I also didn’t want to disturb the neighbors with all the yelling.
E&D: Can you tell us about the video you made for the ominous album track ‘An Emptiness’?
David: I create our videos; I make all the videos for my Gridfailure projects and I’ve made visual content for Today Is The Day, Mac Gollehon, Leila Abdul-Rauf, Les Chants Du Hasard, Chrome Waves, Deadbird, Snares Of Sixes, Spirit In The Room, Sarattma, Replicant, Thetan x Kool Keith, Benjamin Tod, and others. For ‘An Emptiness’, I filmed much of the footage here in Rockland County, New York and out in the mountains in central Pennsylvania, and Lane shot a bunch of footage in Texas and sent it to me. I just tried to embody the ominous, dismal tone of the song through the bleak lighting and dark film grit, aiming at an overall sense of depression, helplessness, and an engulfing sense of dread. It’s the opening song of the album so it had to be a disheartening video. I followed the same dreary approach with our second video, ‘The Culmination of Years of Self Abuse’, which coincidentally is the closing song of the album. Those are our only two videos as of now, although I’ll likely create another one or two for the record in the months ahead while we work on new material.
E&D: Did you always want to open the album with this track as it sets the tone for what follows on the album?
David: I think so. This album came together over a two or three year span, heavily during the Covid lockdowns, so all the details of how we pulled it together are somewhat hazy at this point. As you noted, it was an instant mood-setter; one of the “defining” songs for this album’s sound, before we even had a name for the band.
Lane: I think this song was the first one we 100% completed for this project. I’m not sure if we always wanted to open the album with this track, but when it came to sequencing the record it made the most sense.
E&D: What are some of the movies or music videos that have influenced DIMINISHING ?
David: As Lane and I live across the country from one another, our communication is all online, phone, video chat, and so on. And we didn’t put down a list of influences to agree upon and base our sound on. This sound just naturally came out this way. I only wrote a few lines of lyrics in a couple of the songs; Lane came up with 90% or more of the lyrics.
Lane: Just like musical influences mentioned earlier, I don’t think there were any films that influenced the way this record came out. But, who knows, maybe subconsciously a scene from a film I watched influenced the way I constructed a particular musical passage. Anything you consume influences you whether you realize it or not.
E&D: There is a feeling of constant dread with the music of DIMINISHING, was that always your intention with your music?
David: Yeah, from our initial song ideas when it was still being viewed as a Gridfailure/Feel Happiness collaboration, it had a dense, demoralizing, drone approach. We didn’t try to add any big breakdowns or crescendos; the songs just sort of suffocate the listener without some sort of dramatic buildups, and there are definitely no happy endings here.
E&D: What music fills you with a sense of dread in the best possible sense?
David: Darker classical music and of course horror/suspense film scores can surely provide incredibly dramatic and terrifying feelings. The most harrowing unease for me usually comes from very cinematic dark ambient music; Melek-Tha, Wolfskin, Gnaw Their Tongues. The early-mid era of Neurosis – Souls At Zero, Enemy Of The Sun, Through Silver In Blood – is some of the most traumatic and engulfing music one can endure. If you’re talking about sadness, dim singer/songwriter folk music can rip your guts out; stuff like Townes Van Zandt, John Jacob Niles… Conny Ochs’ Black Happy LP is one of the saddest albums ever created. The records from the Stalaggh/Gulaggh collective are undoubtedly some of the darkest pieces of audio ever captured.
Lane: Sunn O)))’s Black One and the Khanate records are some of the most dread-inducing stuff I’ve heard, as far as metal is concerned. Other than that, the more unhinged material from Diamanda Galás, Nurse With Wound, and Colin Stetson’s score for Hereditary terrify me.
E&D: Have you had any thoughts about any new music at all?
David: Yes, we’ve already got several records in the works, including a second album.
Lane: We’ve been working on new material since early 2021 and it is drastically different from what is on The Unnamable. One song is twenty-four-minutes long. Dream Theater be damned. I’m excited for it. Hopefully it doesn’t take another five years.
E&D: Have you had thoughts about DIMINISHING live shows at all and would you incorporate harrowing visuals for the shows?
David: With Lane in Texas and myself in New York, it’s going to be a difficult thing to pull off. We both have extremely busy work and personal/family schedules, so we’d have to cut out quite a bit of time to get together in the same place to work out a lot of logistics and equipment, practice, and possibly even add some additional members. Much of the material was devised in a more improvisational manner, so if we were to create some of this live, I believe it would be more in line with a semi-improv/drone style, versus recreating the songs exactly as they’re found on record.
Lane: Yeah, if we did play live it would be semi-improv, I think. Though I think we could write a loose piece to perform. But, who knows if it will happen. I’ll never say never. The thing I like about this project is that there are no expectations. Anything can happen. Like Dave said, we are both extremely busy individuals. Because of that, when we find time to work on DIMINISHING-related stuff, we don’t half-ass it. If one day we decide to play a show we would make it happen.
E&D: What have been some of the most harrowing and affecting live shows you have ever witnessed?
David: There are so so many… I am forty-five years old and have been going to see live music since I was twelve or thirteen, have been in bands starting at thirteen, and I work in underground/extreme music, so I’ve literally seen thousands of artists. I saw Neurosis at The Trocodero in Philadelphia before Through Silver In Blood came out and it changed me forever. Absolutely stunning, terrifying, engrossing… it changed how I viewed heavy music and really changed the course of my life as far as listening goes. Seeing hundreds of neo-Nazis storm a Napalm Death/Sheer Terror show in 1996 was one of those moments I thought I was literally going to be killed at a show. I have experienced so many beautiful and terrifying moments during live performances in my life… that could be an entirely separate interview.
Lane: Seeing Swans four times in the 2010s was transcendental and pummeling. Godspeed You! Black Emperor at Granada Theater in Dallas in 2012 was also a memorable show. I drove through hail for that one. The sheer violence of Dillinger Escape Plan shows are hard to forget. Not harrowing, but I’ve seen Cursive more than any other band. I love them and I want you all to know that I love them.
E&D: What else musically have you got planned for the rest of the year?
David: As I mentioned, I have another video or two for this record that will come out in the next few months; maybe one in the Fall and one early next year. We are working on new material, possibly a compilation track or two, and a weird EP to bridge albums, and then a second album for next year. My new Gridfailure album Sixth Mass-Extinction Skulduggery III – the third in a five-album concept series – is coming out this Fall on Nefarious Industries and Lane plays on several songs on that one as he has for the prior two albums of the series.
Lane: Dave touched upon the potential DIMINISHING plans. Other than that, my grindcore/hardcore band Yatsu will be releasing its debut full-length in a couple of months via some cool labels. Be on the lookout for that.