Pharmakon - Abandon
This is not music for the faint of heart. This is music for laying awake at 5am, unable to sleep and feeling that you're at your lowest ebb. This is music that can induce anxiety, fear, panic, sometimes even sheer terror. This is Margaret Chardiet's proper introduction to the world of Pharmakon, and it's an intense, frightening and surprisingly moving experience. Abandon is all-encompassing, but it doesn't merely ask you politely to give yourself to it; it drags you down into its world whether you want it to or not. Five tracks, 27 minutes; an album that you do indeed have to abandon yourself to in order to understand it fully. As an introduction to Chardiet's brand of what has been described as 'death industrial' or 'power electronics', it works very well indeed; just don't expect the entry points to be pointed out for you. You have to look for them. Wilfully experimental in nature, the album is a punishing listening experience that has some surprising moments of calm hidden amongst the chaos.
Remember the sound of a 56k dial-up internet connection? That's what starts it all, as 'Milkweed' opens with the sounds of shattering glass and a distorted, almost unintelligible monologue, soon joined by harsh and unnerving percussive sounds that come and go almost at will. The noises swell and expand, until, just past the three-minute mark, doomy chords and a thudding bass drum enter, transitioning into 'It Hangs Heavy' before the whole thing is shattered by a terrifying scream. That's Chardiet, and she seems intent on shredding her vocal cords just a little more with each syllable. It's difficult to make out what she's roaring about, but her voice is another part of the maelstrom the track conjures up. Believe me when I say it doesn't get any easier from there; 'Ache's' Morse code-like opening stabs of noise sound like a particularly anguished distress call, and if it sounds distressing to her, you can be damn sure it'll be distressing to the listener as well. She's spoken of her "deep-seated need/drive/urge/possession to reach other people and make them feel something [specifically] in uncomfortable/confrontational ways." The interplay between Chardiet's shrieking and the counterpoint of ghostly, moaning backing vocals is nothing if not uncomfortable and confrontational. Then, suddenly, everything falls away, and for the last three minutes we are left with nothing but gradually decaying noise and a choir of ghosts. It's the idea of being 'left with nothing' that drove Chardiet to make the record during a particularly turbulent few months in her life - "[It's] about loss. Losing everything. Relinquishing control. Complete psychic abandon. Blind leaps of faith into the fire, walking out unscathed. Crawling out of the pit."
As 'Pitted' literally clunks into life with the slamming of doors and more atmospheric wailing, you get the sense that creating music like this must have been intensely cathartic for Chardiet at the time; there's no question that it comes from a dark place - she herself leaped into the fire and walked out, though whether she managed to accomplish it unscathed is another matter entirely. The harshness of the music on offer, which reaches its peak during the debilitating last 45 seconds or so of its penultimate track, is inescapable. There are powerful forces at work here, and she's channelled her raw emotions into an album which will provoke reactions from each person that decides to plunge into its dark depths. Her treated vocals on closer 'Crawling on Bruised Knees' are, much like the rest of the record, shrouded in mystery, with the sounds of buzzing helicopters seeming to surround the track more completely as it lurches toward a dead stop, but the one thing that is clear about Abandon is that it's not a record with you can easily ignore. It's about as welcoming as a firing squad, and every bit as methodical. However, music as deeply unsettling as this doesn't come along too often - it's a challenging record whose rewards you really have to earn, but give it time and it will eventually start to open up, and maybe even in ways you were never expecting.