Nothing is ever as it seems
It begins with a shriek. A piercing yelp of frustration punctuates the air, declaring its own presence as defiance. Quickly, this defiant cry devolves into a whimper, and is finally subsumed by a roar of guitar, by violence, by lies.
Naming an album Gas Lit in 2021 makes a statement. The term “gaslighting” has become shorthand for the lies the government tells us. Of course, the word is often used through mistranslation or assumed meaning. Gaslighting doesn’t refer to a simple lie, but a far deeper and more torturous form of psychological abuse. It originates from a 1938 British play titled Gas Light, in which a man locks his wife away and psychologically isolates, manipulates and bullies her into believing she has gone hysterical, when in reality he is the villain. This hyper malevolent exploitation of another person’s psyche is more than just lying. It’s cruel, reprehensible and the perfect conceit for a great drone/doom metal record.
By and large, the outside world perceives metal as a curiosity. A pack of smelly, roving weirdos who like to run into one another at overcrowded shows. This reductive understanding of the style fails to do justice to even the most pedestrian executions of the genre. The even more unfortunate reality is that this perception forces people to ignore records like Gas Lit. At the same time, these reductive analyses aren’t entirely off base. Metal bands regularly produce trash lyrics—even some of the best representatives of the style fall into the trap of inane lyrics that mean essentially nothing. Sometimes that’s part of the appeal, but it often serves as a deadbolt that locks out fans looking for deeper meaning and critical engagement.
Through a near-total omission of lyrics and provocative album/song titles, Divide and Dissolve breaks away from metal tradition and invites a more critical eye. With track titles like “Prove It,” “Denial,” “It’s Really Complicated” and “We Are Really Worried About You,” it’s clear what the album aims to accomplish. Those that gaze deeply will not be disappointed.
The key to this record’s success lies in its force. By bypassing lyrics, Gas Lit trafficks exclusively in the mental and emotional state of someone as they are gaslit. On “It’s Really Complicated,” the horror is represented as a whirling, unsteady drumbeat. Instruments shudder to life and jerk to a halt with reckless abandon, the guitars threaten to swallow themselves in their own feedback. The mind is eating itself as it tries to reconcile what it knows is truth with what it perceives as the beliefs of a trusted individual. “Prove It” on the other hand, portrays a more externalized menace. Feedback-laden riffs spit virulently at the listener, chiding them to prove that their truth is indeed reality. As the song goes on, the structure begins to wear thin, and the drums are wholly consumed by a roaring mass of static amplifier sludge. It’s a post-truth song for a post-truth world.
Listening to this album, it’s easy to overlook the text itself and simply enjoy the sound. Gas Lit works phenomenally without context. Boasting ferocious guitars, Boris-level feedback and urgent, propulsive drums, it’s a joyous listening experience for those who love the more experimental edges of metal. But none of that should come as a surprise considering that it’s produced by Ruban Nielson of Unknown Mortal Orchestra.
It should also come as no surprise that Divide and Dissolve have mastered wordless political statements. The band members Takiaya Reed (Black & Tsalagi [Cherokee]) and Sylvie Nehill (Māori), boldly pronounce their race(s) on their band home page and firmly declare that their aim is “to secure Black futures, liberation, and freedom; demand Indigenous Sovereignty; uplift people of color’s experiences; and destroy white supremacy.” By largely avoiding vocals on Gas Lit, their silence becomes a statement in and of itself, remarking profoundly upon both the silence of the majority in the face of violence, and the silencing of minority voices at the hands of violence. The layers to this album reveal themselves with repeated listens, with time and careful observation. Luckily, Divide and Dissolve have made it easy, even addictive, to listen to the record and peel back the layers. But in pulling away the layers, new horrors always appear. Don’t fear them, run to them, destroy them.