Monday 20 October 2014

Review of 'Bestial Burden' by Pharmakon

Well, that's certainly put me off my steak and chips...

I don’t know what I was thinking when I decided to listen to this for the first time at 1 am.  I should have guessed from the rather gristly album artwork and prior exposure to Pharmakon that this wasn’t going to be half an hour of cute and fun bubblegum pop.

‘Terrifying’ doesn’t quite sum up this record. Bestial Burden is positively ‘fucked-up’.  Its thirty minutes in Auschwitz, thirty minutes of audial psychological trauma. Even psychopaths are likely to pull uneasily at their collars whilst listening to this. This is the sound of hell.

The Dr. Frankenstein behind this record is US industrial noise artist, Margaret Chardiet. She recorded this album after an emergency operation which resulted in the removal of one of her organs. This concept of bodily invasion fuels the sound of the music. The album itself is a bodily invasion, an ugly assault on all the senses. Of course, hearing is the only real sense being attacked here, but the mood is so intense you can almost see it, feel it, smell it and taste it too.

You can almost sense yourself struggling for oxygen on the first track as Chardiet breathes loudly and labouredly through the speakers at an uncomfortably close proximity. You can almost sense your heart slowing to match the creeping drums on ‘Body Betrays itself’. You can almost sense the bile in your throat during ‘Primitive Struggle’ in which Chardiet can be heard retching and vomiting.

This probably doesn’t sound very enjoyable, and indeed it isn’t. At times the building, suspenseful instrumentation and Chardiet’s tortured vocals (especially her screams which sound like she’s screeching out in agony) are so scary, so uncomfortable, so realistic that I was reaching for the pause button.

Also, what kind of a musician records themselves throwing up and expects me to enjoy it?

I think, overall, it's albums like this that make me question why it is some of us are willing to sit through discomfort and pure horror in the name of art, as indeed I sat through this whole thing. It disgusted me, but impressed me at the same time. Is it simply the adrenaline rush of being scared, the addiction to cheap thrills, that got me through this record? Was it the the deliberate attempt to sonically repel me in every possible way that beguiled me, that made me take this on as a challenge? Was it a morbid curiosity that hooked me, the same thing that leads people to slow down when passing a bad car crash? Was it an admiration for one person’s talent to scare the bejesus out of me through sound alone? Was it the disbelief that someone could sound so tortured and mental on tape and yet in interviews seem so sane? Are we all this sick, depressed and pained deep inside, and Chardiet is the only person willing to let it all out? Are negative emotions something we can switch on and off if we really put our minds to it? 

I think the very fact that this album has provoked such deep thoughts proves that this record is more than just cheap thrills.