With As Spoken Knoll have created a hellish soundscape that furiously and feverishly explores the extent to which they can take dark and claustrophobic extreme metal.

Release date: January 26, 2024 | Independent | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Bandcamp

For many people with Tennessee’s Knoll on their radar, As Spoken has probably been a highly anticipated album. There have been few bands as young as this to emerge recently and put out such avant-garde grind metal albums. Sure we have well established acts continue to cause a ruckus but I struggle to think of a group, like Knoll, who are so intent at turning my brain all mushy with such noisy, feverish vigor.

With that said, I don’t think I could have predicted such a leap in, not just overall quality of the extreme music on display, but the vision and aesthetic of the band between albums. I wouldn’t call it a re-envisioning of the band; it’s more that Knoll has, as the members have grown together, incorporated and learned how they want to further develop their own identity. But before we get into that, there is a whole album worth of excellent music to discuss, especially as the identity wouldn’t be worth a grain of salt if the music offered nothing.

As Spoken builds upon the crucial foundations Knoll lay down in Metempiric and Interstice but with some considerable changes. Yes, the band is still unequivocally heavy. Yes, it’s still absolutely vile grind mixed with death metal. And, yes, there are still sickening doom-y noise elements. However, we don’t have the same hardcore influenced breakdowns that were more apparent in their previous two albums.

While there is still a Full of Hell comparison to be made here for the avant-garde grind moments, Knoll have moved more towards Portal, Dragged into Sunlight, and even Gnaw Their Tongues in regards to the blackened dissonant elements that are infused into As Spoken.

Simply put, Knoll have managed to take some of the more disgusting, obscurely noisy elements of their sound and amass them into a relentless barrage of twisted blackened grind and dissonant, avant-garde death metal. This is 40 minutes of unabashedly extreme music that is meant to repulse and excite, ultimately leaving you shaken, and likely covered in a bit of sick.

There’s rarely a moment of reprieve on As Spoken. You have ten seconds as the mighty beast awakens, dead eyes opening, before it lets out a ferocious roar from its gaping maw. It’s immediately evident from the album opener, and title track, “As Spoken”, that Knoll has transformed. A burst of technicality and we are straight into tremolo picked, dissonant death metal riffs and blast beats, with odd chugs thrown into the mix that add that touch of groove.

This album feels less like it was put together by a band of humans working together to create music. This is more like the output of an uncanny entity set on demolishing all in its wake. “Offering” really showcases the group’s ability to slow down, even if just for a second, yet still be absolutely vile. It also, almost seamlessly, connects with “Wept Fountain”, a rambunctious and feverish song that confines you in walls of swirling drum fills and rough, atonal riffs that ultimately leave you struggling for air amidst the dark, dense and disorientating noise. Dense is probably the key word here, and one I could repeat forever when describing this album. The way each track is as unrelenting as the next and almost seamlessly blending into one another, there is very little time to catch a breath for reflection.

“Revile of Light” is one of these songs in particular where short, sharp riffs and hellish, punchy drums are played off against angular, dissonant guitar riffs and sledgehammer blasts from behind the drum kit. Of course, when you think it’s all becoming a constant barrage of sound, this is when Knoll introduces trumpets, courtesy of guitarist Ryan Cook, and noise elements that add to the occultish hellscape that seems to fill every nook and cranny of this album in one form or another.

“Mereward” is the doom setting in on mankind as a colossal mass descends on them. Chunky and extremely downtempo for the band, this a bleak slab of doom-y death metal that is rhythmically solid with a bizarre, bend-y riff that remains consistent throughout the track, all topped off with the phlegm ridden snarl of vocalist James Eubanks.

“Guardian Bind” and “Unto Viewing” are a bit more of a return to a swarming attack on the senses. Two back to back dissonant grind tracks that see-saw between outright furious pummeling and chaotic putrid spew. It’s only fair on the listener that after this outburst of speed, “Portrait” comes in as another dissonant doom track before nose diving into avant-garde metal territory.

Even with the final tracks on the album, Knoll try to out shine themselves. “Utterance” sits firmly as a foray into uncomfortable feedback laden noise with Eubanks spewing lyrics over eerie electronic tones. This is all before the insanity of “Fettered Oath” and “Shall It Be” devolve into some of the most feverish and angular music on the album.

And then it ends. Just like that.

The silence after “Shall It Be” is possibly the most uncomfortable experience I’ve had after listening to an album. Every moment of As Spoken is filled with intensity and noise. It’s like I unwittingly stepped on an ants nest only to be severely bitten by insects that cause hellish hallucinations and immense physical pain to the point I’m uncontrollably sweating and babbling in tongues. Then just as I reach the point where I can take no more, it stops, and I can finally stop crying.

While the album as a whole stands as a turbulent experience, the persona that the band has begun to cultivate with the last couple of albums, and I think is more apparent with As Spoken, is both interesting and unsettling. Let’s take an excerpt from the description from Knoll’s Bandcamp page for this album:

‘Akin to the unveiling of relics carved from an oaken slab, lesser so to that which artisan may conjure from nothing, Knoll seeks the most subtractive of efforts in its offerings. The method is unpinnable, yet is as such: something must be wrought from something else. Its materials predate their misuse; its result contradicts their lessening. A distillation of ingredients leaving but the brittle corpses of what was once unwarped by a wicked sieve – a wholly negative artifact as its response. And yet, they are familiar, as if these bringings have not been made, but rather freed. It is, then, the utmost purpose as sculptors, to be the conduits of an inhuman goal. That of an infinite testament, unmarred by the collection of dust, & outwardly dedicated to this prospect of impermeable meaning. It is not to say that the arbiter of such works is to be maligned, & especially not to put forth fronts in order to appear so, but that its output must be willed to suffer within these confines, lest it is worthless.’

Half of me wants to applaud Knoll for putting so much time and thought into their art form, and another wants to call it over the top and pretentious. Of course, another half (that’s how halves work right?) wants to go back to University and get an English Lit degree so I can understand it. The archaic and superfluous writing is reminiscent of H.P Lovecraft, whose occult and gothic themes already have an influence on the style of music and the lyrics. To see it replicated in the description is an interesting way of adding to the overall theme of the group and it’s something I’ve noticed they carry over in other aspects of their online ‘personality’.

A quick look at Knoll’s band website you’ll see a continuation of this baroque language (maybe it’s contagious). Songs aren’t songs, they are ‘compositions’. You don’t listen to Knoll, you ‘hark’ them. My favourite, by far, is Tiktok being referred to as ‘Clock’. I think there needs to be a bit of suspension of belief to really appreciate the thought that has gone into the theme. It’s a bit silly, but it’s also something that made me enjoy the group all the more because there is genuine thought and reason put into their presentation.

While I think it’s way too early to discuss the best albums of the year, I don’t know if any grind band will put out such a raucous, feral and abrasive album over the next 11 months. Excellent output from a band that even at such a young age, are putting out such quality savage, extreme music that has a well thought out aesthetic to accompany it.

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