Just last year Pharmakon was putting out Abandon, tearing our brains apart. Margaret Chardiet (the artist behind Pharmakon) was collecting aspects of industrial, noise and power electronics, filtering all that through her mind and producing one of the most intense listens of (at least) 2013. Now how can you top something like that? Inspiration usually comes from personal experience and Chardiet had a quite alarming encounter with reality, when she almost died. After what was a successful surgery she became aware of the complex network of systems of the human body, and of their operation. That much can be also seen in the cover of Bestial Burden with the human body practically turned inside out.
More specifically there are two instances in Bestial Burden where Chardiet shows her insight on how the body can break down. The intro of the album, “Vacuum,” sees breath samples coming in. Even in its original form, with just one single sample, it already feels quite disturbing. So when all the different samples start playing at the same time you start to get really uncomfortable and anxious on what will eventually happen. While at the same time, that background noise is not doing its best to sooth you. But that exactly is the point. Chardiet’s concept for Bestial Burden is about the separation of the mind from the body, the sense that we do not have any control over the operations of our organs, and that they can betray us at any time. “Primitive Struggle” illustrates that in an absolutely brilliant way, with just one sample of a person coughing over a heartbeat-like beat, making you feel nauseous and sick. Fucking brilliant!
The post-industrial attitude of Pharmakon is the perfect vessel for such a cold and stressful topic. The percussion in “Intent or Instinct” builds up a circular pattern for you to follow, making every moment even more powerful and distressing. The dreary aura of the song sees Chardiet harnessing the power of her post-industrial concepts to their full extent. All the tracks in Bestial Burden carry the same amount of foundational work in their basis. In “Body Betrays Itself” the drums are solidifying the base of the song, while the steady beat in “Autoimmune” feels like a marching anthem. And that is the main characteristic of Pharmakon that introduces such an ambiance in their songs, from the tense moments of songs such as “Intent or Instinct” to the more post-apocalyptic “Body Betrays Itself.”
Of course, noise is just equally important for Chardiet. And the use that she makes of it in Bestial Burden is phenomenal. The feedback that appears in “Intent or Instinct” on top of the noise background simply pins you to the wall. But most importantly, the noise is constantly evolving and never remaining static. A huge wall of sound constantly shifting and transforming is smeared all over this album. The background themes of “Body Betray Itself” make this record even more nightmare like, with the synths melting away as the track progresses ending with the most paranoid and excruciating way conceivable. And things just reach a whole other level in “Autoimmune,” with so many things going on at the same time, it feels like you are drowning in noise and there is no escape. Alternatively the first part of the title track sees Pharmakon taking a more subtle approach, managing to still retain the same level of distress. Still, when Chardiet decides her restraint reached its limits, she unleashes an all-devouring howling vortex of noise, reaching the peak of her extremity.
When you also throw Chardiet’s vocals in the mix then Pharmakon reach new heights. Her versatility and ease of changing character is simply mind-blowing. From the unearthly screams of “Intent or Instinct” to the even more intense moments of “Body Betrays Itself” her extreme vocals leave you speechless. While when see begins to sort of chant in “Body Betrays Itself” and then merge the clean vocals with her screams the result becomes terrifying. That is also the part where Sean Ragon, the engineer for Bestial Burden, really comes in. The recording engineer used a mixture of live recording and tracking in order to achieve the sound of this album and used certain unconventional tactics to get there. One of them being having people in the studio during the vocal performance while Chardiet was recording, in order for her to feed off their energy. To me that is simply an astonishing technique to use, and I guess that the part where it really shines is with her vocal performance in “Autoimmune.” The more energetic vibe of the track is really boosted by her vocal delivery and performance. And I cannot even begin to describe what she does in the title track. From the clean vocals with the echoes making things appear alien to the more schizophrenic moments near the end of the song, it is amazing to behold.
The extent to which Chardiet will travel in order to make Pharmakon’s sound so extreme is incredible in Bestial Burden. And apart from that her will to feed off such a dark aspect of her life, and dig into something so personal for her in order to achieve such an emotional depth for her music is just petrifying.
8.8 / 10
Back in 2014, Margaret Chardier came face to face with a life-threatening situation, which inspired her new record at the time, Bestial Burden. As was the case with her third ...
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