The destruction of white supremacy is a visceral, bodily experience, one that Divide and Dissolve pursue with a wall of amps. For the past four years the Melbourne-based duo of Takiaya Reed and Sylvie Nehill, both from indigenous backgrounds, have sought to shake audiences to the core, effectively conveying an immense history of violence and endurance, which on their third full length, Gas Lit, is heavier and sharper than ever.
The duo’s previous releases Basic and Abomination felt improvisational, recorded quickly and intuitively, per their experimental live performances. Gas Lit is more stylistically consistent throughout, focused and refined into a cinematic experience. The album has a cyclical, repeating structure; the beginning and end of each song blurs together. Each ambient saxophone section recalls the others, and even within each section the looping style creates a sense of recurrence, making me feel like I’m swimming in circles against a riptide. Linear time loses meaning as the music bleeds and swirls. With no beginning or end, this music feels eternal.
Opening track “Oblique” sets the structure and tone for the album: eerie cinematic saxophone, continually deepening with more layers, eventually erupting into a straight-ahead doom metal riff, which slows to a sludgy crawl and then fades back to creepy ambiance. What follows are variations on these themes. The distortion becomes thick and hazy adding complex texture to an otherwise quite simple chord progression, as on “Prove It.” The riffs come in faster and more chaotic on “Far From Ideal,” making the inevitable deceleration all the heavier. At one point the riff never quite emerges from the sludge, instead a muffled grinding and gurgling series of distortions heave underneath the ambiance. But the cycle continues.
The only words on the album, save the song titles, come in the poem buried somewhere within (at first I thought it was square in the middle, but again, this album escapes time). The tension of the album, the contrast between pensive ambiance and determined riffage, becomes much more clearly defined: “Our spirit is not weaker; it is waiting on us to decide what it is that we will honor while we’re alive.” The vivacious furiosity is enunciated, almost labelled: “This is our time. What is certain is life.”
On album stand-out “Denial,” the eerie saxophone is back, faster and more urgent like a horror film score. Cut at first by deeper, slower loops just shortly before a crushing riff abruptly cascades down. This time the distortion is not subtle but aggressive, somewhere between the biggest swarm of bees imaginable and a howling jet engine. Again it slows to a crawling tempo, with anxiety inducing menace. Again it fades back to tense ambiance. The accompanying music video is filmed on the sacred Taupo-Nui-A-Tia moana, an active caldera lake in so-called New Zealand. Slow zoom shots of bubbling mud, wafting steam, a roaring waterfall, bring me back to experimental visual documentaries like Koyaanisqatsi and Baraka that depend entirely on the visceral experience of seeing the world. Similarly, Divide and Dissolve have no lyrics or voiceover, they say to us: just look and feel that. Let it haunt you and move you.