Release Date: Jun 17, 2014
Record label: Thrill Jockey
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Club/Dance, Black Metal
Black metal is gay. There, someone finally said it. However, send your letters of thanks to Matmos co-conspirator Drew Daniel, care of Why Do The Heathen Rage?, his third long player under the guise of The Soft Pink Truth. Perverting nine bona fide black metal hymns through a carnal lens of feminine electronica and androgynous house, and kicking off the whole debauched affair with a spoken-word rendition of an insurgent Radical Faery poem by gay activist Arthur Evans, he exposes the latent homosexual tendencies underlying not just the often laughable overcompensations of a testosterone-fueled musical genre, but of homophobia in its widest manifestations.
In 2004, Drew Daniel (one half of Matmos) released his second Soft Pink Truth LP, Do You Want New Wave or Do You Want the Soft Pink Truth?, a collection of classic punk and hardcore tracks transformed into gooey techno anthems. A decade later, Daniel returns with Why Do the Heathen Rage?, another covers album that takes on the more impermeable genre of black metal. A metalhead from childhood, Daniel pays tribute to the genre on Why Do the Heathen Rage?, which finds Daniel retaining the genre's extreme delivery while giving each arrangement a powdery makeover.Covers of Venom, Mayhem and Hellhammer tracks find Daniel screeching over 2-step, drill and bass and 8-bit, but he's is at his best when he speaks politically through musical choices.
Most music fans often have to wrestle with the fact that some of the artists they adore have the worst morals. This crosses all genre boundaries, but the place where that dichotomy can be most deeply felt is with metal. The heaviest and darkest strains of the music can often carry with it some pretty awful ideals. Just ask any slightly liberal fan of Burzum how they feel about the ambient metal project’s mastermind Varg Vikernes’ homophobic, anti-Semitic stance and watch them cringe as they try to justify why it’s okay to still like his music.
In a telling interview with Pitchfork, Drew Daniel, mastermind behind The Soft Pink Truth, describes the appeal of his new record: “‘Who is the audience for this? Who in the world wants to hear this?’ Nobody, basically. Black metal people aren’t going to like it because it’s faggoty disco, but actual dance music people aren’t going to like it because it’s weird people screaming about Satan.”If your interest is piqued, then you’re probably its target audience - if, in fact, this record has one. But I suppose that’s the case for any pet project of an artist.
Drew Daniel must have armadillo-thick skin—or, a closet crowded with functional chainmail. On Why Do the Heathen Rage?, his third album of propulsive electronica under the occasional name the Soft Pink Truth, the Matmos member taunts perhaps the most reactive, boundary-buttressing subgenre of them all: black metal, a historic domain of hate crimes, real blood, ideological belligerence and institutionalized aggression. Daniel—a gay electronic producer who moved from San Francisco to Baltimore in 2007—recruited a cast of indie rock pals and heavy metallurgists to cover 10 black metal songs, with relative standards from Mayhem, Darkthrone, and Sarcofago accompanying a sample of more obscure sides.
In the world of heavy music, black metal is the reprobate genre, dogged by its controversial history and a general philosophy that ranges from frightening to laughable. Though it's been the foundation for some of metal's most inventive music, its classic era in Norway was fraught with church burnings, murders and racism, and its reprehensible track record is too often glossed over by apologists or those otherwise eager to separate the music from its sources. On Why Do The Heathen Rage, Drew Daniel, an English literature professor and one half of Matmos, plays devil's advocate, setting out to reconcile his love for black metal with his left-leaning politics, and more personally, his sexuality.
In 2011, New York City label Thrill Jockey released Aesthethica, an album of “Transcendental Black Metal” by the Brooklyn band Liturgy. Amidst the blastbeats and shrill screams by frontman Hunter Hunt-Hendrix, Aesthethica has moments of oddity that made it a controversial release at its time. Metal is a key undercurrent of the album, but it didn’t stop the group from throwing minimalist experimentation (“Generation”), video game synths (“Helix Skull”), an religious chants (“Glass Earth”) into the mix.
With its shrieked anti-Christian songs, homophobia, misogyny, corpse paint and the occasional church-burning, black metal is pop's darkest genre. However, Drew Daniel (from Baltimore electronic duo Matmos) has exploited the genre's vast potential for sending up. Recruiting vocalists from Anthony Hegarty to members of Wye Oak, he has reinvented the genre's classics into camp dance music, a "queer travesty" of "electronic profanations".
In much the same way that the Soft Pink Truth was conceived on a dare, the concept for the project's third album came about while Drew Daniel was working on Matmos' The Marriage of True Minds. That album's cover of the Buzzcocks' "E.S.P.," which featured doom metal vocals courtesy of Bloody Panda's Gerry Mak, motivated Daniel to examine his love-hate relationship with black metal. A fan of the style's intricate, punishing sonics but not so much its homophobic history, Why Do the Heathen Rage? is Daniel's attempt to resolve loving black metal's aesthetics and hating its politics by giving some of the style's definitive moments house and techno transformations.
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.
In a 2011 essay on queer sound for The Wire, Drew Daniel describes the reaction he once had to ‘French Kiss’ by Lil’ Louis on entering a gay bar. Rather than the sense of community the song was meant to engender, he writes, its effect was the opposite, an “oppressive experience”. He goes on to advance that “reassuringly gay” music, with the anthem at its peak, is a construct that reinforces the “dead end… the bagging and tagging of identities on behalf of a celebration of difference”.
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.