Violently Calculated, Terrifyingly Enjoyable
The earth is blackened and tinged with putrid rot. Factory lines clink along in the background, their great chains scraping against blood-rusted steel. This land is hot and violent, the sweaty faces of its inhabitants tell stories of loss and betrayal, of panic and pain, and there is beauty in their nakedness. There is a sense of being, of place, a purpose pushes out from the frenzied final days of the earth. This is the land of Contact, the latest in Pharmakon’s violent library of atrocities, an album that sees her at her most beautiful, though it is hidden beneath thick layers of muck.
Pharmakon has never pulled punches. Her music is unrelenting and violent, often verging on apocalyptic with her records often sounding like the screams of a torture victim within a Mad Max dungeon. This total lack of restraint has greatly endeared Margaret Chardiet to the noise community as a whole, a place where ambition and violence are cherished and praised, two things of which Pharmakon contains an abundance. On her previous albums she has tackled larger concepts such as body image and health issues and each time she has focused inward, something that can be immediately gleaned from her album covers which feature her body in various states of distress. On Contact, Chardiet begins to focus more outward on the violent confrontations from human to human, something which is again expressed through her artwork, which features Chardiet’s sweaty face being gripped at by innumerable clammy hands, their fingers like worms on a dead body as they wriggle their way into her mouth and atop her eyes and nose.
It is fitting then that this album sees Chardiet at her most panicked; her screams on both “Nakedness of Need” and “No Natural Order” push far beyond the stages of anger or even pain and rise to a frenzied pitch. The most memorably haunting moment on the album occurs during her screams on “Nakedness of Need,” when she pushes into a shriek of panic that is then warbled back and forth creating a sickeningly unnatural sound that will turn the heads and stomachs of any listener. Yet for the majority of this album, Chardiet is silent, the tracks largely consisting of huge drums and punishing synth whirrs, a far cry from her previous endeavor Beastial Burden, which often verged on unlistenable — in the best of ways — because of its inescapable and unrelenting intensity. The choices on Contact seem more deliberate than any of Chardiet’s previous work, and this is often to her benefit.
The area where the tone-down is most easily noticeable is in the sonic palate. This is no Wolf Eyes album, a band which clearly is one of Pharmakon’s most direct influences; and because of this it often operates at more of a gust than the hurricane one would find in Wolf Eyes’ music or even her earlier records. The sonic choices are pitchy and violent but are frequently left to simmer and gestate rather than assail the listener with their intensity. This approach may initially seem strange within the genre of noise but well-listened individuals will immediately appreciate the care that went into the selection of her guitars, synths and concrete sounds. The album vaguely harkens back to Prurient’s Frozen Niagara Falls, particularly on “Somatic,” which features the most intense burst of static on the album, its deliberate and calculated use leading to the biggest moment of sonic catharsis this year.
This album is still not accessible, though, if one were tasked with the endeavor of dragging someone kicking and screaming into the realm of noise this may not be all that oppressive of a choice. With the slightly reserved nature of the sonic palate and the undebatable mastery of atmosphere on Contact, a newcomer may find themselves more intrigued than repulsed. This album is a shining culmination of Pharmakon’s work to date and has a strong chance of being among the best noise releases this year, an impressive feat considering this month alone has seen albums from both Wolf Eyes and Blanck Mass. Pharmakon is continuing to make a name for herself alongside the greats of not only the niche genre she occupies, but alongside the best artists today. With records like Contact, it would be a crime to deny her that accolade.