With each of her releases under her Pharmakon banner, Brooklyn's Margaret Chardiet has reckoned with the burdens of physical existence, drinking in the horror of sentient existence through gritted teeth and barking back with hellish, blood-curdling shrieks and experimental, industrial electronics — all to gut-wrenching, visceral effect.
On 2013's Abandon, Chardiet grappled with the fleeting stability of the material world, while 2014's Bestial Burden diarized her experience with hospitalizing organ failure. Now, on the followup to the latter's bodily exorcism, Chardiet aims to leave the corporeal behind to focus on the spirit, and in the process, unearths some mind-bending, fundamental truths about the human experience.
Conceived as a series of episodes exploring the four stages of trance (preparation, onset, climax and resolution), Contact offers guided meditation to the darkest corners of the psyche, its six entries digging deep, claws out.
In the preparation stage, Chardiet sets the tone with the stuff of red band horror trailers. Opening track "Nakedness of Need" and its booming lockdown alarms count listeners into unnameable terror before Chardiet's grotesque vocalisations are set loose and mutant cicada chirps swarm to invade your earholes, brain-frying electronics firing on all cylinders. That all fades out in an instant when "Sentient" hits the ground running on nauseous speeding highway crescendos, ramping up tension quickly over the course of two minutes and 20 seconds.
Like its individual parts, Contact methodically builds Pharmakon's brutalizing energy into mushrooming dread that engulfs like a ruthless cloud of poison alien spores. A challenging, demanding listen, it's unsettling, durational work that pushes atmospherics to the extreme, letting paranoia build in chains rattling across concrete moments before raging despotic ("No Natural Order") or issuing woozy trips through hypnotic landscapes of feedback swells that coalesce in onslaughts of corrosive, ear carving noise ("Somatic"), its oppressively frenzied peaks heightened over prolonged, cumulative exposure. As a result, tracks like album single "Transmission" and its heavy, industrial tumble down a pulsing rabbit hole are even more effective when consumed as part of the whole.
Committing to the experience offered here is draining, by design. Like the Ancient Greek scapegoat Pharmakon takes its name from, over the course of the album, listeners have to increasingly forfeit an aspect of their subjectivity to an extremely hostile environment. But as listeners lose more of themselves, their fleshy armour useless in the face of absolute desolation, Contact rewards them with the knowledge of what wicked horrors they can endure. It's the bad head-trip we need to truly understand ourselves. (Sacred Bones)