They say you can never judge a book by its cover, but in the case of the disturbing, Hermann Nitsch-inspired artwork for PHARMAKON‘s new album Bestial Burden, the cover does a pretty good job of letting you know what you’re in for. In the photo, Margaret Chardiet (the woman behind the PHARMAKON moniker) appears covered in animal organs. The juxtaposition of living flesh and lowly offal create a stark contrast through which the viewer is forced to acknowledge the visceral and fragile aspects of their own temporary meat-body. The music within explores these themes in clinical and deeply personal detail. Needless to say, it’s not for the squeamish.
The music on Bestial Burden was largely conceived and recorded from Chardiet’s sickbed, where she spent several weeks recovering from a sudden major surgery that left her short one internal organ and curtailed plans for her first European tour. “I felt a widening divide between my physical and mental self.” She said of the situation. “It was as though my body had betrayed me, acting as a separate entity from my consciousness. I thought of my corporeal body anthropomorphically, with a will or intent of its own, outside of my will’s control, and seeking to sabotage. I began to explore the idea of the conscious mind as a stranger inside an autonomous vessel, and the tension that exists between these two versions of the self.” That vulnerability and shock shine through on this record, creating an atmosphere altogether different from the aggressive and macho themes prevalent in a lot of modern industrial noise.
Like her previous album for Sacred Bones, 2013’s Abandon, Bestial Burden is a deeply dark and disturbing sonic journey. Both pair grating, gnashing industrial electronics with intense drones and even more intense vocals. From the opening “Vacuum”, which pairs the sound of Chardiet’s hyperventilating with some ominously mechanical background drone, to the feedback-drenched demoniacal laughter of the closing title track, the album retains a sense of helplessness and shock. It’s only in the final bonus track (a cover of Nancy Sinatra’s sublime “Bang Bang”) that anything resembling humor (or at least a bit of tongue in cheek fun) become evident. It makes for a nice ending, an intermediate state between the heightened sensory overload and panic of the preceding album and the everyday world to which the listener must eventually return, if only for a little while before inevitably giving this deeply arresting work another spin. It definitely requires it.
Bestial Burden is available now from Sacred Bones.