Label: Grey Matter Productions
In an ideal world, an album like Labour wouldn’t need to exist. The new album from Clawing is unflinching in its depiction of drug-induced misery, that has such a sense for small details that it’s clear that this album is drawing deeply from personal experience. As you’d expect for any project involving Matt Finney, it’s a dark, harrowing journey, with practically no light; just an almost suffocating level of claustrophobia, dread, and the certain knowledge that there will be no happy endings. And yet. Labour is also a very rewarding listen; sure, it’ll ruin your day, but when the music is this good, it feels churlish to complain about that.
Though it’s not been long since the release of Spectral Estate earlier in the year, Clawing have wasted no time in putting together their follow-up. Built upon a foundation of dark ambient soundscapes, with industrial, drone, and noise flourishes. It opens in almost sparse style, with elements being gradually added, building the song up slowly. Notably, Matt Finney’s spoken word contributions are relatively few throughout Labour; instead, the music does a lot of the work in terms of progressing the narrative. It happens in such subtle ways that it’s hard to notice it happening, until several minutes have gone by and you realise just how much the record has grown, and the mood it conjures has changed. Sure, it may never be comfortable, and it is an album that is all about suffering and misery; but there are plenty of different shades of black that it explores during its half hour duration.
The other aspect that’s worth noting about Matt’s spoken word contributions being so relatively few, is that it means that when they do come to the fore, they have a greater impact than they otherwise might. The music paints a picture, but can only ever hint at the details of the narative; so to hear Matt drag those details out into the light, there for all to see with no disguising their horror, is quite something. It’s especially harrowing, knowing that he is talking from lived experiences; that the descent into a drug-fuelled hell is drawn from experiences of his immediate family and surrounding area. It’s almost voyeuristic at points – and yet, that is the point. There is no hiding from the ravages that meth inflicts not just on users, but those close to them.
This, combined with the inherently unsettling nature of dark ambient, makes Labour an incredibly uncomfortable, and almost depressing experience. Yet that’s not intended as a slight – instead, it’s testament to the sheer quality of Clawing’s music, and of the way they build such a belivable world and story on Labour. And it should be noted that at no point does the record feel like an endurance test; it’s never musically overwhelming, long enough to provide a solid experience yet not too long that it feels overly oppressive. To describe it as “accessible” feels wrong; and yet, it’s not too far off the mark either (at least, as far as noise-meets-dark ambient can be).
Labour is an album that, in truth, you’re not going to enjoy; but nor are you meant to. It is meant to be a challenge, an album that will test you both sonically and emotionally. The rewards for doing so shouldn’t be understated, though; there is a sense of satisfaction, and almost catharsis, to be gained by facing this darkness and emerging on the other side. An album that you might not listen to often, then; but when you do, you’ll be somehow stronger for it.