Category: Industrial / Noise
Album: Bestial Burden
Blurb: Offering up a nightmarish soundtrack to the mind’s struggle against a deteriorating body, Pharmakon’s second full-length album is an unpleasant but rewarding experience.
Emerging from the deepest recesses of the New York underground, Pharmakon – the industrial project of Margaret Chardiet – has since its formation in 2007 been on a steady rise to become a much talked about entity. Written during a period of recovery from an emergency surgery, her second full-length album Bestial Burden hearkens back to the more primal forms of industrial. Alongside similar artists like Author & Punisher or Dead Man’s Hill in what is being coined as death-industrial (sometimes referred to as an offshoot of power electronics, both terms this writer find as ultimately useless as any other subgenre), Pharmakon evokes a cryptic and decrepit atmosphere that serves as a soundtrack to Chardiet’s inner musings; a sort of audio translation of her turmoil as her mind and body struggle to reconcile their differences. As a result, Bestial Burden is an uncomfortable and perhaps even horrifying listen.
After the sound of labored breathing creates a pensive rhythm underscored by a steadily rising throb of electronic buzzing in “Vacuum,” “Intent or Instinct” enters slowly as a guttural drone gives way to a booming drumbeat that builds in intensity amid shrieking loops of noisy feedback creating an almost melodic refrain. The track becomes even more unhinged as a dissonant drone underscores Chardiet’s pained howls, her words lost in the fury of extreme echo and electronic noise. Eventually, the track strips away to the base beat and immediately steps into “Body Betrays Itself,” a seething metallic loop continuing as Chardiet’s screams become more incongruent. Evoking an atmosphere not dissimilar to a broken down factory, the sound of “Body Betrays Itself” is true to its title with the sense of decaying functions and deteriorating consciousness as the loop gradually becomes more atonal. Not unlike “Vacuum,” the hacks and coughs of “Primitive Struggle” give voice to the mind’s effort to overcome the failing body, resulting in perhaps the most uncomfortable two minutes on the album, with “Autoimmune” taking on an almost punk-like quality as Chardiet shouts in time with the rhythm of pounding percussion and shrill electronic humming. The bonus track “Bang Bang” is arguably the most musical as Chardiet’s voice takes on the smoky quality of a heartbroken cabaret singer in the Weimar Republic, the backdrop of a manipulated organ loop slowing down and speeding up like a damaged record player, bringing to mind the early experiments of Boyd Rice, while the title track presents an onslaught of caustic ambience as Chardiet’s whimsical, almost childlike statements rise in volume and rage, culminating in repetitions of nervous laughter as she cries, “I don’t belong here!”
Listening to Bestial Burden is not a pleasant experience, but it is most certainly an engaging and provocative one. Not unlike the artistic confrontations of Throbbing Gristle, with classics like “Subhuman” of “What a Day” springing most readily to mind for comparison, Pharmakon challenges the listener’s fortitude with the nightmarish sound of the body’s inner workings breaking down and the frustration at one’s inability to do anything about it. While this sort of blackened tonal construction is almost certainly intended for a limited audience, Pharmakon does well to appease that audience with no small level of artistic expression that makes her work rise above the aimless noise of many in the same field.
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Sacred Bones Records
Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)