Rage Inside the Machine
There are theme bands, there are theme albums, then there are theme albums by theme bands. The Soft Pink Truth is the alter ego of Matmos programmer Drew Daniel, who formed it to answer Matthew Herbert’s challenge to try to make a proper house album. After a debut full of originals and a sophomore release of electronic covers of hardcore and punk, Daniel’s gone back and deeper into the tribute well on Why Do the Heathen Rage?. It uses a clutch of 1980s and 1990s sounds to pay homage to others from the then-nascent genre of black metal.
Daniel, who is gay, has made earnest public efforts to acknowledge and reconcile his fandom of this dark genre, one where a significant number of performers suffer the stink of murder convictions, rape allegations and reactionary extremism. And there are moments on Why Do the Heathen Rage? where he uses the conceits of house music—a style often stereotyped for gay clubs and listeners—to tweak black metal’s reputation or recontextualize its energies. Samples of classic club cuts from Marshall Jefferson and Adonis are just the start of perversions of the An track “Let There Be Ebola Frost” and Darkthrone’s “Beholding the Throne of Might,” respectively. The Soft Pink Truth’s version of Sarcofago’s “Ready to Fuck” finds Jenn Wasner (Wye Oak, Dungeonesse) in steamy diva mode atop quirky 808-style programming. There’s certainly some deep thought on Daniel’s part in addition to the high concept.
Yet critics elsewhere seem to suggest the whole album embraces house music exclusively. That simply isn’t the case, and it’s a big failing of the LP. In between pseudo-soulful moments, a good portion of the techno on here is cracked and creepy in the vein of Coil and Psychic TV. Jungle’s descending synth hits and speedy drum breaks power a new take on Hellhammer’s “Maniac,” and the tinny percussion of early synth-pop redirects Venom’s “Black Metal.” And everywhere, from Antony’s creepy recitation of the Radical Faery poem “Invocation for Strength” forward, we hear distorted and gutteral vocals—not necessarily equaling or mocking black metal, but closer in this electronic context to Atari Teenage Riot or Skinny Puppy. The loops and production on Why Do the Heathen Rage? skew towards the sinister, but when Daniel’s already in the process of tackling sinister source material how much is he realistically adding?