Tennessee-Based Grindcore Group Knoll Release “As Spoken”: Single Review

A lot of what persistently embeds the Tennessee grindcore band Knoll in my memories is the visual aesthetic associated with their music.

The cover art for their forthcoming album “As Spoken,” from which they’ve released the title track as a single, is a black and white image of a completely clouded mirror hanging on a nondescript wall. The image, whatever the precise route of creation, evokes age, though with plenty of light still emanating in some ghostly, indeterminate manner to appear essentially alive. You really feel like someone’s there — or maybe you’re there and don’t quite understand how you’ve arrived.

As for the actual music, “As Spoken” — the track this time, which is nearly five and a half minutes in length — establishes itself as accessible grindcore (if this style is something you’ve previously heard). The band’s clear mastery of technique services their ambitions beyond the technical sound of the music.

The guitars and bass sound like rusty chainsaws cutting through rotting wood, because while the band perform with characteristic speed and physical heft, they hold their actual tones back from overly sharp territory, meaning the tone of guitar music where you’re likely to hear a solo if you stick around. Here, you could even imagine Knoll’s instrumentals on “As Spoken” as the expressions of metallic beasts that have somehow come alive, now hulking within shadows. You can hear the organic, living touch in the music.

So, what are Knoll evoking?

But things are wrong — profoundly wrong (in the sense of what Knoll are going for). The wall of utterly pulverizing drums combined with the sheer, physical impact of the rest of the song and the relative consistency of it all hint at movement — the kind of punk and grindcore where you’re likely to end up in a tensely contorting crowd at any associated live performance. But Knoll veer elsewhere.

The rhythmic pieces of “As Spoken” feel like ominously present elements that (artfully) don’t quite fit. It’s like a house that when you look closer doesn’t even seem like it should be physically standing. Yet, it is. These violently compacted rhythms suggest a threatening monolith perhaps indifferent to our human presence. Combining the feel of the music with Knoll’s lyrical themes, which get existential, produces a fascinating avenue for considering something like the passage of time.

I recently saw an exhibition at a Matthew Marks Gallery location in New York City of the artist Wade Guyton, who prints large pieces on linen. (See an example here.) I think the ominous presence of a large “X” shape plastered across multiple of Guyton’s works mirrors what Knoll are getting at with their more physical approach. It’s just… there.

I’m looking forward to hearing the full album, which comes out in January. The point of this single review was to try keeping myself more compact, so there’s the end! Knoll’s “As Spoken” can be pre-ordered via the band’s website, linked here. Check out the title track’s horror-leaning video below: