For an album that largely submerges the listener in suffocating anxiety, Systemic (released via Invada Records on June 30) offers moments of respite—or at least a partial release from the oppressive pressure. A primarily-instrumental duo, the Melbourne, Australia-based Divide and Dissolve employ,often torturously slow, pounding percussion, distorted guitars, bursts of saxophone, and walls of noise to convey the struggle of indigenous people imprisoned in a cycle of violence perpetrated by colonial systems.
Less a revolutionary Rage Against The Machine rallying cry, the music offers a mournful meditation on suffering endured and the human desire to live, express one’s culture and reach one’s own potential. The way saxophonist/ guitarist Takiaya Reed and drummer Sylvie Nehill represent this is with an often gruelling, dragging, droning march and a certain muffled tone that gives the impression of any sparkle of sunlight or cooling breeze being blocked out on a grey, cloud-enveloped landscape.
It’s a tone and approach that brings to mind the slow, punishing bombardment of Cop-era Swans or, more recently, Primitive Man. What distinguishes Systemic from those records are a sonic spectrum that’s more a coalescence of midrange frequencies (rather than low-end power) and the contrasting lighter passages the duo integrate into their musical palette.
Certainly there are times when the repetitive cymbal smashing that accompanies the trudging, percussive march becomes a grind, but in the context of the whole album, where these extended passages are offset by the sad beauty of melancholic saxophone melodies breaking through the dark skies, the repetition feels like an apt representation of the album’s themes.
Coming towards the end of the album, “Kingdom of Fear” provides the one explicit vocalization of the album’s message, via the guest performance of writer and artist Minori Sanchiz-Fung. “If I am denied the kindness needed to transform sorrow, if I am denied the simple gentleness of existing, then I will leave my gifts like lichen over the oak branches, trusting they’ll be safe until you find them.”
It’s a poignant, powerful message, not that I will defeat my enemy, but that I will leave a mark, a token of my existence. As with the contrast of the album’s less sonically punishing opening and closing tracks, this track’s electronic drone, pianos, and cleaner guitars add some nuance and room to breathe in amongst this heavy, smothering terrain.
Photo by Yatri Niehaus