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Darkthrone - A Blaze in the Northern Sky Music Album Reviews

Each Sunday, Pitchfork takes an in-depth look at a significant album from the past, and any record not in our archives is eligible. Today, we revisit a tense, beautiful, lo-fi landmark from the second wave of black metal.
In the fall of 1971, a child is born in a remote village in Norway. He will one day rechristen himself Fenriz, after the Earth-swallowing wolf, Fenrir, who appears in Norse mythology and the Satanic Bible. But for now, he is Gylve Nagell, being raised by his grandmother, spending inordinate amounts of time alone. The pivotal moments of his childhood occur while listening to records, music introduced to him by an eccentric uncle named Stein. Pink Floyd catches his ear; a few songs by the Doors hold his attention; but it’s the English progressive rock band Uriah Heep that blows his mind. He’s entranced by the heavy organ sound, the cryptic lyrics, and the mysterious men with long hair who appear on the album’s cover. He cherishes the triple-fold LP like an heirloom from…

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Pharmakon - Devour Music Album Reviews

With one of her most harrowing and powerful albums to date, Margaret Chardiet zeroes in on the locus where global horrors register on the individual.

Throughout her work as Pharmakon, Margaret Chardiet stages existential conflicts—between the self and the body that houses it, between the individual and the unknowable other—by setting her own voice in opposition to brambly, industrial electronics. She cries out against nightmares of her own making as if in the grips of pain or panic. Her fourth full-length album, Devour, simulates a skirmish whose boundary lines are less clear. Instead of pitting the self against an external antagonist, she grapples with the horror of the self attacking the self.

Chardiet dedicates Devour to “all who were lost to their own demise, all who have been institutionalized; whether in prison, psychiatric facilities, or drug rehabilitation.” Institutionalized people are often scapegoated for individual problems with systemic causes; crime, self-harm, and addiction get painted as character defects, rather than symptoms of a dysfunctional world. With one of her most harrowing and powerful albums to date, Chardiet zeroes in on the seam between the sick person and the sick ecosystem, the locus where global horrors register on the individual.

Devour is the first Pharmakon album Chardiet has recorded live in studio. The A and B sides of the record each comprise a single, continuous session, which lends momentum and immediacy to the music. Though she doesn’t uproot her longtime palette of abrasive electronics, Chardiet deploys new strategies for her vocals, which wobble and fray against a blaring bass tone on opener “Homeostasis.” She howls against instrumentation that seemingly wants to smother her, singing deeply from her diaphragm as if straining to be heard. If some of her earlier work, 2014’s Bestial Burden especially, induced a sense of claustrophobia, then Devour does the opposite: It radiates in open space, as though Chardiet were screaming for help into empty darkness.

Between lurches of electronic noise, Chardiet squeals and rasps and growls, her voice lacerated by the barbed-wire sieve of effects. These songs center her prowess as an industrial vocalist, someone who can transmute the chronic trauma of survival under capitalism into an appropriately scathing outburst. But somewhere between the hypnotic throb of “Spit It Out” and the military clip of “Self-Regulating System”’s percussion, Chardiet’s chaos paradoxically prompts a deepening sense of calm. It’s as if, by giving voice to the mesh of self-loathing strangling so many of our brains, she can momentarily dislodge it.

One of the most enduring images of autocannibalism is the ouroboros, the snake who eats its own tail. It’s a symbol that creates itself in an attempt to destroy itself: The snake wants to eat its own body, to vanish inside its own digestive tract, but in doing so becomes something more than just a snake. Externalizing the desire to obliterate the self similarly reroutes a destructive impulse into an act of creation. With Devour, Pharmakon furthers industrial music’s decades-long history of seeking truth about the self in noise and negation, of boring holes in the propaganda that assures us everything about the system is working just fine.

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