It’s amazing what a towering accomplishment Bestial Burden is over its predecessor, 2013’s Abandon - not a bad album by any means, it certainly lacks Bestial Burden’s focus and heart, however. For Margaret Chardiet’s recent body of work, tragedy is utilized as a source of great strength. If you aren’t aware of the story by now, Chardiet was readying herself for an upcoming tour in Europe when she suddenly had a medical emergency that escalated to a major surgery, during which she had to have one of her organs removed. And there you have it: a condensed version of what inspired her to write her (forgive me for this one) Downward Spiral. Her magnum opus that almost never was. Her theater of grotesqueness, of nightmarish shrieks and industrial clinks and clanks, of hyperventilating and throat-hacking coughs. Everything about it and its subject matter is deeply disturbing and visceral, and all the better for it.
“After seeing internal photographs taken during the surgery, I became hyperaware of the complex network of systems just beneath the skin, any of which were liable to fail or falter at any time,”
Chardiet defines the album as being about the fragility and unpredictable nature of the human body, about how it can turn on its host within seconds and shut down, and that terrifying disconnect between body and mind. It’s surprisingly heady stuff, calling to mind our greatest fears about what we seemingly have little to no control over: ourselves. Our bodies are ticking time-bombs, vessels with unknowable expiration dates. That a person could fall ill and die of an infectious disease, massive embolism, or any number of medical problems not so out of the ordinary is something that truly puts our mortality into perspective, and is the theme that propels Margaret’s writing on Bestial Burden. Album opener “Vacuum” sets the stage perfectly for this with frantic, troubled breathing. It does little more than stack breath after breath on top of each other before slowly dwindling out, but it excels at immediately putting the listener at unease before the thunderous roar of war drums and sharp staccato instruments take hold on “Intent or Instinct,” an 8-minute song that feels considerably shorter. Such is the paradoxically hypnotizing quality the album appears to possess. The pacing is slow, and there’s little variation to the songs (barring the title track), and yet, somehow, it’s completely absorbing, wrapping the listener in its nightmarish headspace with ease.
“I felt a widening divide between my physical and mental self. It was as though my body had betrayed me, acting as a separate entity from my consciousness.”
Any of you familiar with Pharmakon prior to this release will recognize her trademark vocals. For those of you unfamiliar, however, they may take some getting used to - and you may feel compelled to give her a lozenge! Joking aside, her yells are very pained, very focused, and sharpened to a standard that far exceeds her work on Abandon. Modulated though they are, they’re soul-baring and seem to fit contextually, whereas on Abandon they were more sporadic and free-form. For this album, Chardiet shows great restraint when necessary, funny as that may seem. The title track and most enjoyable song on the album (possibly her best song yet) is telling of this. There’s surprising clarity to Chardiet’s voice as she seamlessly alternates between cleans and shouts. “I don’t belong here,” she says ponderously, curious-like, until her puzzlement turns to fear, riddled with delirious laughing here and there. It’s intoxicating, mesmerizing how her voice goes from one extreme to the other, all culminating in a flurry of disorienting laughter. It’s the moment where she truly pushes the envelope, separating her art from her contemporaries (of which there are few worthy of mention). This spellbinding quality to her music defies logic, given how abrasive and inaccessible most ‘noise’ artists sound, but she pulls it off very well.
“I began to explore the idea of the conscious mind as a stranger inside an autonomous vessel, and the tension that exists between these two versions of the self.”
Many concept albums fail to cohere, but Bestial Burden's concept is perfectly in-step with its music, showing us an artist in a genre notorious for stagnation doing the unthinkable: maturing. It’s difficult to put into words what a mammoth accomplishment Bestial Burden is. It’s likely to resonate with a niche audience as its themes and presentation will surely disturb many. A concept as terrifying as equating us to nothing more than meat and bones, bodies that inevitably - without warning - betray us is something very cold and miserable to ponder, but I promise you there’s quite a treat in store for those who approach with an open mind.