Published Aug 30, 2019On the fourth full-length from her Pharmakon project, Margaret Chardiet offers an allegory for grief and the self-destructive nature of humans, joining a confrontational streak of records grappling with the suffering of cerebral and material being.
The harsh compositions on this haunted offering are separated into five sweltering tracks (three on side A and two on side B) to reflect the stages of grief, but it's proposed that listeners should consume it in extended side-long spells to get the authentic experience; both sides were recorded as continuous live takes by labelmate Ben Greenberg of Uniform.
Throbbing like a heart pumping lead, the album's first side carves a brutal path through denial, anger and depression, "Homeostasis" setting things in motion as Chardiet wails through heavily distorted bass, words flooded with reverb as if from the watery maw of some horrible beast saturating its prey before gnashing it to pieces. That trails into more direct brutality, as "Spit It Out" escalates to a white hot blast of disgust, while "Self Regulating System" resembles the machinations of some demonic locomotive, Chardiet barking over the rhythmic chugging like a conductor from hell. With "Deprivation," Chardiet opens side two with a scene of blurry darkness dotted with muffled detonations before a phaser blast cuts through the scene like a helicopter chopping up the atmosphere.
Chardiet's shredded vocals are mixed low enough throughout the album that they often sound like more of her hardware electronics — perhaps respective reflections of the cognitive distortions of the different stages of grief — but the pain and desperation she conveys still register on a basic animal level. They're more clarified on the album's devastating finale, but by then it might be too late, as Chardiet howls over apocalyptic explosions: "Initiation... Annihilation… Cheek... by jowl!" It's a chilling but provocative terminus, compelling you to question the utility of reckoning with your demons while assuring you the experience will be devastating.
Pharmakon's devouring is whole and ugly, but it carries a rewarding narrative about the importance of suffering — we're eating ourselves alive, but we're also becoming stronger for it, each act of self-cannibalization and each listen to this album more like a single coil in an upward spiral of transcendence than a snake eating its own tail. (Sacred Bones)