That moniker aside, Phoenix-based vocalist, producer, and multimedia artist Sam An’s searing third album is certainly not a joke
Over the past decade or so, there’s been a trend for act names to be cheeky puns on existing musicians. Joanna Gruesome, Chet Faker, Bob Vylan, Ceilidh Minogue, Alice Blooper… there are so many out there that it’s hard to know which one of those we just made up. Phoenix-based vocalist, producer, and multimedia artist Sam An, AKA Lana Del Rabies, must have one of the funniest monikers on offer, but their searing third album is certainly not a joke. Strega Beata translates as “blessed witch”, and whilst there’s definitely magic in the music, you won’t leave this hour-long assault feeling consecrated or holy.
Prayer Of Consequence opens with an ominous swelling wave of eerily breathy tones and funereal synthesised cellos – it’s like The Shining’s slo-mo tsunami of blood rolling down the corridors of 4AD’s offices rather than The Overlook – before a chugging locomotive of the damned drum pattern takes over (the devil may be evil, but at least his trains run on time). This Hades Express beat comes back with redoubled energy on A Plague, a gristly slab of industrial menace which holds hints of Scott Walker’s late meat-punching vintage.
There are times when the claustrophobic intensity and indecipherable wails of tracks like Master or Mother come off like an anti-matter Cocteau Twins, but the real touchstone for this album is Lingua Ignota’s howled catharsis. Strega Beata may not quite scale the heights of Lingua Ignota’s Caligula, but its anguished ugly beauty is a very worthy companion piece. Grace The Teacher offers a comparatively lighter touch, however, balanced between sweetness and despair as Leyland Kirby-style piano and strings get lost in a misty vortex of pining ghosts.
There are occasions when the album’s dedication to bleakness can become predictable, when another track of droning churns, chilling screams and insidious whispers can leave you with Apocalypse Fatigue, as one of the track names puts it. Hallowed Is The Earth provides a welcome change of pace and a deep trip-hop vibe, with a seasick sonic lurch in place of a bassline, recalling some of Tricky’s most esoteric productions, but loses its way halfway through, settling on the crackles and murmurs we’ve already heard.
But even if the album doesn’t stray far from its discomfort zone, the sound is rarely less than powerful. Forgive closes the album with an unusually clear and simple vocal melody – it almost sounds like a doubly dolorous Dolores O’Riordan – and beneath the scuzzy synthesised burr there’s a solemn celebration in the repeated refrain. If the album is a horrific film of conflict and destruction, this is the hopeful tone of the end credits. Let’s hope for a sequel soon.