When I was 15, I suffered through two severe bouts of strep throat in the same summer. In fact, it was nearly in the same month. Both were miserable, horrible times where I was as sick as I’d ever been, but that second experience broke my psyche. I remember lying in panic, clutching at my throat, being unable to breathe or swallow, and my anxiety absolutely crashing down on me.
To compare my health matters that terrible summer with what Margaret Chardiet experienced between the release of her debut record “Abandon” and her new release “Bestial Burden” would be foolish and bullshit. She was assaulted internally by her body, suddenly and violently, and that led to her having major surgery that involved removal of an organ. Makes strep seem like an allergy attack. But that horrifying occurrence also pushed Chardiet forward with her project Pharmakon, and she said seeing photos of what was going on internally during her procedure made her more aware than ever of the network of systems inside our bodies keeping us alive and ticking and just how compromised we can be if that goes awry in any way. She knows better than anyone, as she sustained and ultimately survived the attack, and that fright and panic completely drape “Bestial” in psychological chaos.
What happened to Chardiet could happen to any of us. In fact, it will happen to all of us eventually when our shells decide they’ve had enough. She became attuned to the idea that our physical and mental selves aren’t always close partners, working in concert to keep us alive. Often times, when we’re in pain or ill, we lose that ability to get a grip and calm down and exercise any control. Because we have none. Body wins; mind loses. Those ideas got her writing this new record that is a real step ahead from her excellent, noise-driven debut. This record, if you let it, can act like your body betraying you. The concepts infect you, the terrifying shrieks, industrial panic, and fire-breathing emotions could and should make you feel not just uncomfortable but eternally grappling with a sense of unease. It’s one of the scariest records of the year, metal or not, because it’s borne of real things that happen to real people, and we are powerless to stop our bodies, or foreign invaders that compromise it, from killing us.
From the opening of “Vacuum,” you’re thrown right into this thing, as the track is built on Chardiet gasping, choking for breath, with her lungs absolutely freaking out as they thirst for air. It’s absolutely panic inducing, and it’s only the start of the record. “Intent or Instinct” runs 8:30, and it sinks into a penetrating noise swell, beats that snap and smack at you, and sonic whines that sound like guitars dying. Chardiet’s vocals are animalistic and in the midst of furious survival, as she howls over hypnotic rhythms and throws herself into a feral explosion that feels like she’s clawing at her chest, pounding at her heart, forcing everything back in place. “Body Betrays Itself” begins with sounds surrounding and then pulsating, with her yelling in desperation, before her voice deteriorates into fiery cries and screams. Chilling keyboards spill into the picture, making you feel like your body temperature has plummeted, and the final strains of horror hang in the air, refusing to loosen their grip.
“Primitive Struggle” is like the second half of “Vacuum.” It’s not an easy listen, and the track itself could sicken those with weakened stomachs, as Chardiet hacks, coughs, spits, and writhes in pain. Sounds mix in with this that make this thing feel like the moments before you lose consciousness against your will. “Autoimmune” has beats crashing down and static zaps that remind of Canadian terror unit WOLD. Piercing yells stab through the murk, going back and forth from commanding wails and retching growls. The music keeps on pounding and adding more pressure to your chest, with driving hammering that sound militaristic in tone with an underlying sense of dread. The 7:06 closing title cut is the portrait of someone who has had enough, with Chardiet repeating the mantra, “I don’t belong here!” in a way that goes from almost cheerful to frightened to resigned to exploding with rage. The way that line transforms as the song builds is astonishing and arresting, and the music echoes, murmurs and melts down along with her, letting an industrial charge stomp away as Chardiet clutches her body one last time and lets you have a final thrashing of horrible reality.
Much as I love Pharmakon and “Bestial Burden,” one time is often enough for me. I can feel my lungs grasping at oxygen, my heart palpitating, and my mind going way too deep into a dark corner as I imagine struggling with my mortality. Luckily for us all, Chardiet survived her ordeal and found a way to channel her pain, fear, anger, and vulnerability into her impeccable art. This is one of the most unique projects in all of heavy music, and a trip with Pharmakon is one you won’t soon shake or forget. It’s up to you if that’s for better or worse depending on your mental condition after you’ve faced this beast.
For more on the band, go here: http://www.sacredbonesrecords.com/collections/pharmakon
To buy the album, go here: http://www.sacredbonesrecords.com/collections/releases/products/sbr117-pharmakon-bestial-burden
For more on the label, go here: http://www.sacredbonesrecords.com/