REVIEW: Gnarwhal – “Crucial”

The narwhal is quite an interesting animal. While it’s not as big as other whales, it makes up for its size with its large spiral horn made of ivory. To someone not familiar with this animal, it could almost look like a mythical creature that is equal parts stunning and dangerous. Today’s record is Crucial, by the band named after this marine creature: Gnarwhal. A band that catalyses euphoric atmospheres into gritty, mathey post-hardcore. This creates a connection that perfectly fits the very organic and charismatic sounding band. At its core, Crucial can be described as lo-fi mixing meets shouting pop-punk style vocals and major scale riffs, with a mathcore drift to round things out. With only drums and guitar, you could call this duo the Black Keys of mathcore.

Take the song “Lazy River” for example; a song that spoke to me purely based on the title. It starts with a grinding yet groovy guitar riff that resolves into an explosion of music, leaving the listener in a state of happiness and agitation all at the same time. When the drums kick in, so do the vocals, and the guitar rips a riff that could only be described as pop-grindcore. Vocal wise, the singer moves somewhere between shouting and singing, like a person trying to sing something at a live concert while everyone around him is trying to do the same. In the middle section of the track we get a drawn out arpeggiated chord-based riff for the listener to channel focus in the upcoming maelstrom of droning distortion and sharp drumming. The sheer mix of the album is enough to make some ears ring, but it fits the overall tone of the album well. It’s almost like an old man that you instantly feel comfortable with even though he’s way too loud and smelly.

One of my favorite tracks on the album is “Light-Up City”. It’s a track that brings a neo-romanticist feel to the album. It starts off with a palm-muted riff that conveys such a feeling, but the twist is that the riff is so distorted and the production again so lo-fi, that it drones over the listener like ocean waves. The palm-muted intro riff moves into furious tremolo picking, which comes off as shoegaze with hardcore elements. Against the very noisy background, the vocals seem to be softer than before, and take on a melancholic feeling. It’s the track in which the narwhal is accepting its defeat. Of course this wouldn’t be Gnarwhal if the song didn’t go out with a closing breakdown that’s worthy of clenching fist and teeth alike.

A lot of weird grooves and a happy-but-no-care-all attitude make Crucial the a perfect album for summer. There is just certain coolness to the rough, untamed atmosphere that make this record as unique sounding as it is. Besides the lo-fi production, the lack of bass (that will surely turn some listeners off), and how short it feels, there aren’t many negative factors to record on the whole. The songwriting is very solid, and you won’t find any band that sounds too similar. It’s surprising, and also a bit inspiring just how well this group works with only two people in it. Personally speaking, it’s one of my favorite summer jams at the moment.


Score: 7/10

Notable Tracks: “Lazy River”

FFO: Grass Is Green, Two Inch Astronaut

You can follow Gnarwhal on Facebook, or buy their music on Bandcamp.

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