Soft Pink Truth — Why Do the Heathen Rage? (Thrill Jockey)

Drew Daniel and his partner Martin Schmidt (AKA the duo of Matmos) have spent their musical lives making anecdotes, “what if?” ideas and Looney Tunes sound design into serious artistic expressions. You can imagine the look on friends’ faces when they said “we’re going to make an album from surgery sounds” (A Chance to Cut Is a Chance to Cure), or “we’re going to telepathically transfer what we think an album should be; the subjects will report out what enters their mind, and we write accordingly” (The Marriage of True Minds). The joke is on everyone who thought Daniel and Schmidt would be remembered as shtick instead of this generation’s engineers of musique concrète. They’re probably an equal mixture of both.

Following up his 2004 hardcore-punk-translated-by-copy-and-paste-microhouse record Do You Want New Wave or Do You Want the Soft Pink Truth?, Daniel’s solo project, Soft Pink Truth, offers a new slice of (his) life: “electronic” (i.e. gabber, IDM, pan-techno) interpretations of the blackest Satanic metal anthems (it isn’t subtitled Electronic Profanations of Black Metal Classics for nothing). Being a fanatic on both sides of the fence, Daniel’s results are passionate, strange, spooky and pretty clever.

When choosing which songs to cover, Daniel purposely avoided those based in riff, an interesting approach to a style whose power relies on a one-two punch of face-melting guitars and screams. Instead he looked for “catchiness”, which provides the key to the success of Why Do the Heathen Rage?. Regardless of the murderous, morbid subject matter and its integration with hyperactive rhythms, mangled synths and driving bass, you find yourself singing (or chanting) the hooks like they’re “Single Ladies.” In Daniel’s own words,“I love these lyrics, and I’ve made them very clearly intelligible as a way of celebrating and extending their poetic reach.”

Take the single, Venom’s “Black Metal” (featuring Bryan Collins on vocals), for example. The slur of the original is delivered staccato with sound effects echoing on cue with “we chime the bell, chaos and hell” and the chorus (“black / meh tull / black meh tull / black metal black metal black / meh tull / lay down your soul to the gods Rock and Roll”) exposed against a tiny drum machine and metallic punctuations on Daniel’s manipulated shouts. Hellhammer’s “Maniac”is treated with an oscillation between a head-nodding dark ambience and Squarepusher jungle. Though coupled with Daniel’s Ogre voice (as in Skinny Puppy) and psalms of “midnight, Satan claims my soul / feels right, mayhem is my goal / torture, I don’t kill in vain / mortals, they will die in pain,” all somehow feels more like a late-night, Miami booty callin’ from a top-down convertible. Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner assumes a cooing falsetto against disco-house on Sarcophago’s “Ready to Fuck”, whispering about her “penetrator hammer” that will turn “your dreams into reality” while you “feel torrential orgasms.” “Satanic Black Devotion” (Sargeist) starts with old-timey guitar following along with something only slightly off from Lead Belly bluesy gloom (“Hear the chant of my tormented soul / in black devotion I have prayed”). The ensemble augments in gothic C minor, and the intense growls build until stunted by an “I’ve Got the Power” sample. Wah wah.

Even without liner notes of extra-musical ideas and politics Daniel wears on his sleeve, you can’t ignore how much the album bleeds out a blatant connection and similarities of two closeted groups – both generally at odds with one another. Death Metal kids can’t really be themselves, are misunderstood, their parents ask “are you trying to make yourself look ugly?” and “why can’t you make friends?” and “you used to play basketball, why don’t you go outside and get some fresh air?” The mothers of gay teenagers speak the same sentiments about their “troubled”, sports-avoiding child, a youth no one can reach for some reason. Dreams of revenge and/or acceptance —  just being “out” — push all these kids to live inside their heads, and music is the one true, nonjudgmental shining star to pull them out of a mental muck. “United my legions we stand / freak hard and wild for us,” while offered by Venom, could easily find home on Divine’s Jungle Jezebel. (Pardon my wide net of stereotypes in that paragraph, but it was the reality of LGBT and dudes in the parking lot I hung out with as a young person.)

But don’t count on this record being the harbinger of unity. Quoth the disparate Internet reactions to Daniel’s aesthetic from people (purposely) dressed like Daniel’s alter-ego (white and black death make-up), denouncing the album as sacrilege: “I’m surprized (sic) how degraded one can get when trying to be funny… To be a moron is not the same as being funny,” “Gay wigger does three min.  punchline.” Matmos apologists also offer their take: “Good fucking god this is hilarious. Matmos giving metal purists anal hemorrhages.”

Sugar and spice and everything twisted, Daniel continues to write music for people who like to think about why they like something and can appreciate creative, sincere homage.

Dave Madden

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