3rd February 2017
As a band who really grabbed me by the throat with the release of their ‘Nowhere’ EP in 2015, the arrival of the latest offering from GHXST in my inbox was cause for excitement. And rightly so. To cut to the chase, Perish is a masterpiece.
The EP’s first track, ‘Southern Eye’, carries the refrain of ‘nowhere’ and as such, continues the theme of displacement, of outsiderdom, of not belonging which was core to the aforementioned EP. It’s a fair summary of what GHXST are about, musically, conceptually, and lyrically. Their songs deal with darker themes, and the cover art, which seems to evoke the spirit of Joy Division conveys an appropriate sense of bleakness, but also a certain, ineffable serenity and grace.
On the title track, a rushing guitar grind and reverberating samples are counterpointed by a haunting – and achingly beautiful – vocal that has hints of Alison Shaw of Cranes, only less squeaky, and Toni Halliday. The contrast is what defines the sound, and is ultimately what makes GHXST so special: it’s so rare for a band this heavy to convey so much emotional sensitivity. Theirs is not a sonic expression of nihilistic rage, but of something altogether more nuanced, possessing a heart-trembling beauty, rendered all the more distinct in their execution by the use of a drum machine. As such, they’re in an entirely different league from the few doomgaze contemporaries with female vocals one might name, like Esben and the Witch and Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard. And on this outing they expand their sound to incorporate elements of blues and country. How does that sit as a genre? But it’s not merely the fact they exist within their own niche: the tracks on Perish: the quality of the songs, and their spectacularly atmospheric execution is something special.
‘Stories We Tell’ achieves a heart-rending beauty while crushing your skull with punishing guitars and pounding, slow-tempo percussion: the guitars grate and grind, each power chord throbbing with a malevolent afterburn. ‘Summer Moon’ presents a surging pop dynamic, a dash of Jesus and May Chain against a Chapterhouse-y whirl of shoegaziness and ‘Waiting for the Night’ is a slow-surging dirge, riven with the crackling pops of Akai snare bursts which shouldn’t work but actually bring a bleak aggression to the droning. Closer ‘No Wild West’ introduces a droning desert blues element, the chugging guitars drifting over an expansive, barren wasteland as Shelley X drawls into a sea of reverb.
This is by no means inaccessible music: it’s music to lose yourself in. The songs themselves are comparatively short – none extend beyond the five-minute mark – but all bear all the hallmarks of true epics, with a sound which is beyond vast.