Just a year after the maggot-crawling 'Abandon' was released on Sacred Bones, power electronics musician Pharmakon returns with her second record, 'Bestial Burden', written about the time Margaret Chardiet spent losing one of her organs to major surgery. The record reflects Chardiet's experience of seeing the human body in terms of surgical objects, and in feeling "a widening divide between [the] physical and mental self". Only four minutes longer than 'Abandon', the record continues her trend of making short, punishing works that utilise harsh noise, piercing screams and gruesome samples to confront the listener.
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Margaret Chardiet follows up her excellent 'Abandon' with 'Bestial Burden' On Sacred Bones. Anyone that heard the previous record will be fully aware that Pharmakon's sound is not for the faint hearted, but those that submit to it will be rewarded. 'Bestial Burden' recalls Chardiet's mental and physical separation while undergoing emergency surgery, that dissociative anesthetic state where one's physical presence on the planet is for a moment uncertain, somewhere between life and death. She lived to tell the tale through the power of sound and wrote this material while in recovery.
'Vacuum' opens with heavy, breathless panting which becomes looped and layered while an ascending synth throb threatens to reach an intense panic inducing explosion but retreats as the breaths slow and vanish. 'Intent Or Instinct' hits with martial drums, wailing guitar and shards of metallic noise scree into a funeral dirge, then the chilling F/X laden vocals shrieks begin. Sounding somewhat androgynous it's clear Chardiet's is channeling from a zone beyond the flesh. The resulting sound somewhere between Alan Dubin of Khanate and Runhild Gammelsæter.
‘Body Betrays Itself' is a similar brand of electronic doom to that peddled by The Haxan Cloak; monster throbbing bassline and gargantuan chunky drums. The spiralling detuned organ and intense vocal performance reaching further into unknown darkness.
The opening choking coughs of 'Primitive Struggle' sound like they're being emitted from someone who's slowly ceasing to exist and about to transcend their physical form, creating a chilling awareness of our own fragile existence. 'Autoimmune' is straight from the Throbbing Gristle school of 'Discipline' with a blasting industrial rhythm and pulsating high frequencies. The vocal delivery even recalling that of Genesis P. Orridge if he were imagining he was making black metal instead of pioneering industrial music.
The title track closes with fluttering synth pulses that recall a malfunctioning life support machine over a warped bassline. Here lyrics are momentarily decipherable pulling the listener closer in to this highly personal and intense piece of work.
9/10 Constantino Christou Customer review, 19th September 2014
Where do I start with Pharmakon? Well, I would categorize her as an artist I love but no one else I know does (in fact I once made the mistake of playing 'Milkweed/It Hangs Heavy' to one of my friends and they haven't looked at me the same way since). Regardless of your opinion on her, to feel this excited about a new(ish) artist is rare and should be commended. Anyway, for a while I thought 'Abandon' would be the only 'noise/power electrics' record I needed in my life (mainly because a vast majority of the acts in those respective genres are pretty much garbage to me) but on 'Bestial Burden' Margaret has upped the ante and delivered one of the best records of the year.
Firstly, 'Bestial Burden' feels a lot darker; I always felt 'Abandon' had a kind of earthy quality, mainly due to the muffled synths and gritty textures (not to mention the maggot-heavy imagery), whereas 'Bestial Burden' just feels cold. The combination of sharper production and clearer mixing of the vocals gives 'Bestial Burden' a more industrial and confrontational feel. Like with 'Abandon', the first listen is a bit of a struggle in the sense that you are so full of tension for the entire duration that you can't really take it in. Once I knew roughly when the most violent screams and crashes were (for volume adjustment purposes), I could really begin to see the immense evolution of her song craft.
Following the breathy intro track 'Vacuum', we are confronted by the rusty clang of 'Intent or Instinct', which is essentially 8 minutes of utter terror. On this particular track Margaret ditches her usual screams and instead delivers a sort of growl which is reminiscent of a pitbull in the final stages of rabies, just begging to be put out of its misery. This however is a breeze compared to 'Primitive Struggle', which I must say is without a doubt the most uncomfortable and grotesque tracks I have ever experienced, in the best possible way of course. I mean, if anyone could make coughing, spitting and gagging over power electronics awesome, it's Margaret.
You are then hit with the tribal stomp of 'Autoimmune', the most direct track we've heard from her yet; no intro, no real build up, it just goes. It is relentless and extremely dense, yet still has an added element of ~accessibility~ through the circular song structure. Not to mention the way in which she asserts the line "I'm a surgeon!" is completely badass. There are also moments on 'Bestial Burden' were Margaret makes the full transition from noise to dark ambient, such as the Armageddon-channeling 'Body Betrays Itself' and of course, the jarring title track. On the latter the instrumentation is heavy and bleak, but the vocals are ethereal and spacey with a few schizophrenic bellows of "I don't belong here/in the hands of nothing!" and menacing samples of laughter thrown in for good measure. Here we see her truly nail the record's aesthetic and encapsulate an acute sense of anguish and fear. Beguiling stuff.
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