Wrath portrayed in the feminine
HIDE, the darkwave electronic duo from Chicago, released their debut LP Castration Anxiety on March 23rd on Dais Records. Composed of Heather Gabel, the vocalist and lyricist, and Seth Sher, the producer, HIDE emerged from the Chicago DIY scene in 2014. Though they have released singles like “Resurrection” and an EP, Black Flame, over the years, their debut will mark a great stepping stone for the duo as they move along in their careers.
The audaciously-named Castration Anxiety is just as bold in its content. The clattering drums and growling bass of “Fall Down” set the tone for Castration Anxiety, which is as gritty and angry as Gabel’s voice. The murderous tone joins with the imagery she creates of death, decay and pain to make it clear that Castration Anxiety will only delve into the uglier sides of humanity. Sher’s noisy production only heightens the intensity of “Fall Down,” creating a bed of nails and barbed wire for Gabel’s voice to glide across.
Imagery is a strong aspect of Castration Anxiety and Gabel’s work. On “Bound/Severed,” she sings over violent electronic beats that are looped over and over, growing more abrasive every time it gets repeated. What makes “Bound/Severed” distinct is the combination of Christ symbolism and the icons of vice and sin. On “Wear Your Skin,” an echoed beat and gritty electric guitar are accompanied by ambient hums and blares. The lyrics start off innocent and romantic but slowly reveal Gabel’s innermost fantasies of gore and violence. She blatantly deadpans, “I want to cut you open / I want to wear your skin / I want to feel what it feels like / I want to sin your sin.” Without restraining any twisted desire, Gabel expresses her need to be in full control of the people she talks about, and it is this unabashed reveal of the evil desires she has that make her writing so unique. She shows her psychosis and menace, all the while growing stronger and more formidable as the song evolves.
The standout track of Castration Anxiety is no doubt “Close Your Eyes.” The angry electric guitar riffs are singular and staccato. Whooshing noises whip around the listeners’ heads as the guitar riffs loop. The percussion is just as intense as the rest of the instrumental, creating a heartbeat for the chase that Gabel describes. She confidently searches for her prey, who she reveals is a rapist. With no remorse, she only wants to see her victim suffer, perhaps as they has made their own victims suffer as well. Though it is undoubtedly violent, it is difficult to feel sympathy for her victim after learning the context of her song. It is the fantasy that not all women have but that has manifested itself out of the society where people like her prey can escape punishment.
Though Gabel gives Castration Anxiety its boldness, the subtlety of Sher’s production cannot be ignored. He creates sonic landscapes for Gabel’s lyrics to manifest themselves in, making it the perfect hellscape for her equally sinful lyrics. His skills in sampling and in production are evident on “Wildfire,” where he creates a dismal and apocalyptic beat with angry guitar riffs and electronic noisiness. It pairs well with the mix of hatred and attraction she feels towards someone whose qualities are snakelike and destructive.
HIDE closes off the album with “All Fours,” which arguably contains Sher’s strongest beat. Its cacophonous twinkles, chainsaw-like screeches, and noisy buzzes would fit perfectly within a gruesome horror movie. Though they are all abrasively textured, they fit together like the pieces of a forbidden puzzle. Here, Gabel displays her only show of vulnerability, mentioning her wavering legs and crawling on the floor. However, her admittance of this is a sign of strength, not weakness, as it shows that she has finally reached the place she has been journeying to, no matter how much it has exhausted her. By finishing Castration Anxiety, listeners will understand why HIDE is so furiously violent in the first place.