Album Reviews

The Soft Pink Truth – Why Do The Heathen Rage?

(Thrill Jockey) UK release date: 16 June 2014

The Soft Pink Truth - Why Do The Heathen Rage Ordinarily Drew Daniel can be found creating new and interesting forms of electronic music as one half of the quite extraordinary Matmos. His solo side project The Soft Pink Truth is perhaps not quite as strange, favouring more the recognisable forms of old-school house and dance, but thematically Daniel still aims high (or low, depending on your viewpoint) with his own records. Back in 2004 Daniel re-imagined a selection of new-wave, punk and hardcore records for Do You Want New Wave Or Do You Want Death. Anyone anticipating po-faced recreations would have been surprised as the likes of Out Of Step and Do They Owe Us A Living? suddenly became glitchy and danceable.

In a similar vein, Why Do The Heathen Rage? seeks to appropriate black metal songs and re-imagine them – the album is subtitled Electronic Profanations Of Black Metal Classics. The chord sequences might well be recognisable, but this is not an album that sensibly seeks not to emulate but to dismember and transform. With the baggage that surrounds the form, there’s a lot for Daniel to play with. Whilst it is unfair to tar an entire genre with a single brush, black metal has in the past been driven by unsavoury characters, dodgy right-wing politics and homophobia. At the heart of those traits is Burzum’s Varg Vikernes a man who has managed, almost singlehandedly, to give black metal an unmoveable sheen of ignorance.

On the inlay to the album, Daniel is pictured wearing a Burzum shirt that has been doctored to read “Fuck Varg’s Politics” and he’s covered a Burzum song for this project, but only made it available online so that Vikernes couldn’t profit. The cover art meanwhile depicts a series of corpse painted black metallers involved in a massive homosexual orgy of dismemberment, and necrophilia. It’d be shocking if it weren’t so hilarious. The opening spoken word track, Invocation Of Strength, centres on a Radical Faery poem used by gay activist Arthur Evans in his classic Witchcraft And The Gay Counterculture is read by Daniel and Antony Hegarty of Antony And The Johnsons. On the surface then, Why Do The Heathen Rage? seems to be an outright attack on black metal, transposing the “authentic” and giving it an “inauthentic twist”, applying a queer slant to the lyrics and artwork, and soundly calling out one of the scene’s most recognisable figures. Yet Drew Daniel is a long term fan of black metal and clearly adores the music if not the politics. In adapting these songs he might be considered to be performing an act of sacrilege, but he could quite rightly argue that sacrilege is one of the fundamental aspects of black metal’s ethos.

On paper it’s an album defined primarily by Drew’s love and hate of the divisive music that forms the basis of the album, but somehow this work is actually a lot of fun. Venom’s Black Metal (the song from which the entire genre emerged) is retooled as an industrial floor filler that is possible to Vogue to (as the recent video attests), whilst Hellhammer’s Maniac somehow drifts towards Michael Sambello territory. It’s the tracks that feature Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner that are the making of this project though; her wonderful vocals on Ready To Fuck make it a viable house classic whilst Let There Be Ebola Frost finds the album coming up in majestic style. Elsewhere, at the heart of the album is perhaps the finest moment, a version of Sargeist’s Satanic Black Devotion. With the screamed vocals coming from Terence Hannum and a nicely performed acoustic guitar intro it’s the perfect coming together of electronic mayhem and black metal chaos. When Daniel drops in a steal of The Power by Snap! it’s a wonderfully executed sucker punch, both hilarious and utterly apposite.

There are a couple of moments where black metal’s Hammer Horror aspects are explored too. Beherit’s Sadomatic Rites just about retains its primal terrifying edge even in stripped back two-step form but also borders on the sublimely ridiculous. Mayhem’s Buried By Time And Dust gets the 808 treatment and does its best to stay mysterious and threatening only to be scuppered by MC Schmidt (Daniel’s Matmos partner) camping it up brilliantly before exploding into a spluttering fit, presumably bought about by attempting a black metal vocal growl.

There’s no doubting that this is a strange album, but it is a runaway success. It’s catchy, perfectly executed, and succeeds in both honouring the better aspects of a much maligned scene whilst also sticking two fingers up at the horrific ideologies that still populate it.

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The Soft Pink Truth – Why Do The Heathen Rage?