Putrid Harmony: A Review of Dragged Into Sunlight and Gnaw Their Tongues’ N. V.
In the late 1970s, screenwriter Ronald Shusett encountered a science fiction film called Dark Star created by John Carpenter, Ron Cobb, and screenwriter Dan O’Bannon. Impressed by the low budget extraterrestrial effects created by O’Bannon and the others, Shusett proposed a collaboration with O’Bannon, temporarily shelving the film that would eventually become Total Recall in favor of pursuing a darker, more primal vision of alien terror than that depicted in Dark Star. While collaborating on a script, O’Bannon traveled to Paris to assist Alejandro Jodorowsky on the ill-fated adaptation of Dune. While in Europe, O’Bannon came into contact with science fiction and fantasy artists Chris Foss, Jean Giraud, and H. R. Giger. Although impressed by the work of the first two artists, O’Bannon was both repulsed and entranced by the profane beauty conjured by Giger, particularly the painting Necronom IV, a monochromatic piece that would form the inspiration for the feral alien predator depicted in Ridley Scott’s masterpiece Alien. Like the biomechanical monster in Necronom IV, Negative Volume, the debut collaboration from Dragged Into Sunlight and Gnaw Their Tongues is a murderous, remorseless vixen born from a symbiotic and violent pairing.
Like Alien, N.V. is an exercise in taking an original work and subverting it, perverting it, and transforming it into something violent and hateful. The former sought to burst from the shackles of Dark Star like a young xenomorph emerging from the chest cavity of a victim. The latter is a modern retelling of Godflesh‘s Streetcleaner. It is an attempt to flesh out the debauched industrial excess and to weld it to a pounding, bleeding human heart full of malice and envy and lust.
Like Giger’s Xenomorph, N. V. is a creature of predator violence, one that slinks and skitters and sprints in the shadows and from the unseen places. Its gait alternates as that of a hunter, slowing to a tribal stalk like that on “Strangles with the Cord” courtesy of Mories’ industrial percussion, or galloping into a rampage of tooth and nail through the unhinged pounding of J.’s drums as heard on “Absolver”. Once you, the vulnerable prey, have been cornered, N. V. strikes with a dizzying array of deadly attacks. The dual vocal assault of Mories and T. lash out like the second maw spitting acid against your exposed flesh. A.’s riffs sear and tear like genetically engineered claws capable of sheering through plate steel on tracks like “Omniscienza”. Last, there’s a palpable, bludgeoning force created both by C.’s bass and Mories’ machine drone that whips against you like the beast’s tail in tracks like opener “Visceral Revulsion”.
Still, it is not the primal, instinctual savagery of the Xenomorph that we find terrifying. It is the nightmarish atmosphere it conjures and wields like a weapon. It is the inhuman, prehistoric hate with which it seeks a very simple goal: resurrection through bloodshed. It is the pitiless, soulless malevolence with which it carries out its task. This same baleful lust is mimicked in the ethos of N. V. It is an album intended to be cruel and ugly, to reflect the profane and repulsive, and it accomplishes this attack both through the inhuman shrieks and groans and the jarring dichotomy and clashing of machine elements against the reckless hate of human instruments. It conjures the hopeless imagery of suffering through the sound of blood and bone and sinew pitted against piston and servo and gear. It is a biomechanical monolith casting heretical invective at a scorched, smog-filled sky. The union between the two constituent parts is complete; to attempt to extract either the metal or industrial from this techno-organic nightmare would be tantamount to the engineers reversing the evolutionary process that honed the xenomorph into a living weapon. On N. V., Dragged Into Sunlight and Gnaw Their Tongues each form one half of the hateful double-helix, and the album’s stark revelations would be softened if either partner was removed.
Interesting, then, is that N. V., like Giger’s xenomorph, is a work of unlikely beauty. Its curves, like the seductive smoothness of the alien’s body, are rounded and appealing, leading you through periodic lulls into mechanical chaos or human defiance. Its atmosphere, though choking, is also alluring, brimming with the promise of arcane knowledge and the secrets of the unknown. It is deceptively disarming, feigning death or peace to render you even more exposed or vulnerable. The xenomorph accomplished this through its facehugger phase essentially raping an unwitting victim and planting a deadly seed within. N. V. also undermines you to plant an ideal, but, surprisingly, this ideal germinates in the most unexpected way. The primary mechanism that N. V. uses to accomplish this violation of your mental autonomy is through a series of samples, primarily including recorded messages from serial killer Richard Speck. Over the course of this album, Speck’s narration transitions from glorification of violence to plaintive admission of regret. It’s disarming in the least expected way possible, and it sets you up for the stunning album closer “Alchemy in the Subyear”.
Ultimately, the appeal of this album, like that of the alien creature created by Giger is not in the violence and violation it seems to depict, but in the way it forces you to glance inward. Alien was a terrifying film because it confronted moviegoers with a rape metaphor that victimized men and women equally with no hope of reprisal. N. V. is a terrifying album because it confronts listeners with their own darkest desires. “Alchemy in the Subyear”, through its pained vocal hooks in the grand finale, asks whether admission of guilt provides absolution, and the nightmarish industrial groaning juxtaposed against the human turmoil provides no answer in response. We are left with something that has penetrated our senses and exposed us to the sociopolitical forces tearing us apart every day. How we progress from here is up for each of us to decide.
If you listen to N. V. purely for the “metal”, you may be frustrated by the symbiotic nature of the union between Dragged Into Sunlight’s sludge and Gnaw Their Tongues’ industrial effects. If you listen to N. V. for its artistic intent, though, I think you’ll find something more. Like Alien, N. V. is the product of many disparate minds joining together to reflect on the human condition and to breathe new life into a previously created work; N. V. goes well beyond the vision cast by Streetcleaner. So convincing is that revelation that Justin Broadrick himself produced the album, along with Tom Dring of Corrupt Moral Altar, adding that final unearthly shimmer to a surprisingly relevant tale of man against machine.