Northern Transmissions' review of the new album by Pharmakon 'Bestial Burden'

Sacred Bones



Bestial Burden

Noise music. As a genre, it stretches boundaries, and attempts to make us break away from our standard, unthinking opinions and categories. The two words together form a paradox – music is supposed to be pleasing, noise is by definition unpleasant, bordering on the painful. So elements of shock and discomfort are to be expected, physical and mental confusion waiting to be embraced. Looking backwards, you could reference the artistic line that began with the Futurists and Dadaists of the early 20th century, through to Lou Reed, Throbbing Gristle, Einstürzende Neubauten, Japanese noise artists and a sizeable number of bands and artists who try to explore the nature of sound and its effect on us.

The cover of Bestial Burden is another type of shock. Apparently none of the organs are human, but only an expert might recognize that. Margaret Chardiet, the 23-year-old New Yorker who is Pharmakon, has spoken of the operation and illness that were a catalyst to the creation of the album, so the visual disturbance and fear are evidently designed to remind us of our tender, bloody, ugly interiors. There’s something peculiarly New York about the album, the distilled essence of incessant, constant noise. But to any city inhabitant, there will be a familiarity about the industrial bludgeoning, while the screams and shrieks might appear to be the undercurrent, what everyone wants to do, but can’t, or won’t. It’s a very physical album, demonstrating the limits of human endurance. If sound can be medicine, then this is sickness, or a vaccine containing the seed of the illness.

Vacuum begins with breathing, lots of intense, painful breathing. Panic attack inducing, before it settles into an increasing machine-like, thought-erasing noise.

Intent or Instinct is almost like a far away plane or giant Kafka bug, coming in to land. Then rhythm, drums, an almost sampled explosion. It’s interesting to think of what it sounds like. A creaking sheet metal door being opened and closed, while something howls just behind it. There’s more, but if noise can have an element of surprise, this does. A cross between horror, and frustration, and real life. Oddly fascinating to watch all the senses react to it.

Body Betrays Itself starts out as closer to what you might recognize, almost, as music, before screams fight with harsh sonic repetition. There are so many types of metallic sounds but this feels familiar after the last song. Is it intentional? The strange idea of recognizing a noise, greeting it.

Primitive Struggle is what it sounds like. The most basic of all fights.

Bestial Burden. Heavy yet with a piercing overhead high sound that you can’t escape, soon everything overlaps. Perhaps the closest at merging the psychologically disturbing with something music-like. The voice becomes as pushed to the limit and mechanical as the rest of the sounds. A tortured landscape.

It’s not an album for everyone, but surely that’s the point. But it manages to be disturbing and experimental at times, extracting the fear and suspicion and rage in the darkest corners of daily existence.

Alice Severin

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