Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)
Listening to Pharmakon has never exactly been a passive act. Rather than recede into the background, Margaret Chardiet’s savage noise compositions seize you by the shoulders with a violent shake. That sense of urgency is especially apparent on Devour, her fourth album for Sacred Bones, and the first that fully reflects Pharmakon’s notoriously confrontational live show. (Uniform guitarist Ben Greenberg cut the album’s five corrosive pieces straight to tape in the studio, keeping a set list of sorts in mind for side A and B.)
Deepening the album’s darkness is the fact that it’s a concept record about self-cannibalism—the ways in which we ravage both ourselves and the world around us. Or as Chardiet puts it in a potent artist statement, “To be well adjusted in this system is to be oblivious and unfeeling. This is for the rest of us, who understand that chaos, madness, pain and even self-destruction are natural and inevitable responses to an unjust and disgusting world of our own making.”
Devour also documents the ways that empathy—a recurring theme in Pharmakon’s bleak, yet deeply human, catalog—gives way to grief. Each track on Devour mirrors a different stage of mourning: denial (the churning “Homeostasis”), anger (“Spit It Out,” with its throbbing bass and chainsaw-like feedback), bargaining (the turbine-engine chug of “Self-Regulating System”), depression (“Deprivation,” harrowing in its severity), and acceptance (the scabrous “Pristine Panic / Cheek By Jowl”). This mercurial approach makes for an engaging listen even when Chardiet’s mangled industrial melodies and steam-pressed beats are on full blast, sending high-pitched squeals and waves of static crashing in all directions. Both a cry for help and a call to arms, it’s like being stuck, frantic, on a sinking ship with no shore in sight.
But surrender is not the album’s message; if anything, it feels like an angry rebuke to the notion of “Keep Calm and Carry On.” That passivity, Devour suggests, is deadly. The end is nigh, and there’s so much noise yet to be made.