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The Soft Pink Truth Dismantle Black Metal on ‘Why Do the Heathen Rage’

Soft Pink Truth / Photo by M.C. Schmidt
SPIN Rating: 8 of 10
Release Date: June 17, 2014
Label: Thrill Jockey

Black metal’s dead because The Soft Pink Truth just killed it. Sure, we’ll still have motherless toughs serving up coal-black riffs and “trve kvlt” nonsense, but for all intents and purposes the shit is over, compliments of this side project of Drew Daniel (Matmos). Where does a subgenre go after this high-concept, heteronormative-bucking troll-job performed on black metal heroes like Darkthrone and Venom by way of churlish house music covers of some of their most notable songs?

On Why Do The Heathen Rage?, blast beats become drum ‘n’ bass breakdowns and techno skitters, the typical tortured vocals turn into diva-house style croons full of ooh’s and coo’s (Jen Wasner of Wye Oak on “Ready To Fuck” is especially thrilling), and the whole thing begins with “Invocation For Strength,” a joking-not-joking, camp-dramatic reading by Antony Hegarty and Daniel (screwed down to sound properly evil) excerpted from Arthur Evans’ 1978 text, Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture. And yet, it totally feels like a black metal record. The unpredictability (nervy nods to “Planet Rock” and “Trans-Europe Express” on “Buried by Time and Dust”) and the messily transcendent chaos that lies at the heart of this music (Death Grips meets Zebra Katz noise-rap on “Black Metal”) remain, while its ugly-awful values are mocked and shot full of holes.

Daniel playfully connects the hard-ass energy of house to the nihilistic anger of black metal, and finds common ground between the communal hooks of the former and the self-serious lyrics of the latter: Rhythm Controll’s “My House,” which features vocalist Chuck Roberts declaring “Let there be…,” kicks off “Let There Be Ebola Frost”; “The Power” by Snap! sneaks into “Satanic Black Devotion,” giving that 1990 hit a Nietzschean quality. The final track, “Grim and Frostbitten Gay Bar,” is an appropriately diarrhea-like audio collage of played out black metal signifiers (stop-start-screech guitars, pummeling percussion, wanky chaotic bass) exploding all over a looped snippet of the intro to Rihanna’s “We Found Love.”

Over the past decade or so, black metal has become part of the currency of cool, and its hateful beginnings (plenty of “master race” rhetoric; the murder of Magne Andreassen, a gay man by Emperor drummer Faust in 1992) simply ignored or conveniently rewritten (this reached its nadir in 2008 when an arty black metal doc Until The Light Takes Us characterized Varg “Burzum” Vikernes’ racist, provincial views as, simply, anti-globalization). Why Do The Heathen Rage? is a mischievous response to this nefarious strain. Daniel’s a studious acolyte who also isn’t afraid to LOL at these guys, implicate his own fandom (the liner notes feature a brief essay titled “Confessions of a Former Burzum T-Shirt Wearer”), and totally subvert the style’s tropes. The result is the rare heady corrective that’s as fun as it is thoughtful.