Surachai ~ Come, Deathless

The first great industrial album of the year comes from L.A.’s Surachai, the artist’s seventh album overall and finest to date.  The artist pulls out all the stops for this one, beginning with the Wax Mage edition (already sold out), which we highlighted in our Winter Music Preview a few weeks back.  Then there’s the presence of guest stars Aaron Harris (ISIS) and Joey Karam (The Locust).  Throw in some very specific field recordings from the jungles of Thailand to the shores of California, and this becomes a special release indeed ~ before we’ve even played it!

The cover art is more approachable than on previous releases, which split the critics, some even declining to review on the basis of the images.  Their reaction is easy to understand, since without context, one might draw the wrong conclusions.  The first thing we’ll say to those bothered by these images (for example, the cover of Instinct and Memory) is don’t click on them!  Oh no, you did.  Well that says a lot about you, doesn’t it!  The second is to proceed directly to visual artist Emilie Elizabeth’s cheerful and remarkably benign statement on the photo sessions.  The new album arrives with two covers, the cassette version a bit more discernible than the vinyl.  Either way, one sees the combination of a Rorshach-style blot and a feminine face (which appears to have two sets of lips, but after all, body modification is a staple of industrial music).  Two elements combine: beauty and mystery.  The same is true of the music.

At the time of recording, Surachai had just lost a father and a long-time job, and had moved across the country.  Come, Deathless is described as “both a reflection of and refuge from chaos and struggle.”  The description is apt.  The album is constantly in motion, yet anchored by tempo.  The electronics are harsh, yet not unrelenting; tender moments appear at regular intervals.  Those who pigeonhole the genre may need to reassess their initial judgments.  In the proper hands, anger is an outlet that leads to catharsis.  Every time the drums start to wander from the timed beat, they are corralled and brought back to the fold, like stray feelings that threaten to undo one’s psyche unless controlled.  For Surachai to undergo three of life’s most stressful events in succession and still produce something this focused is astonishing.

And oh yes, we can dance.  In the middle of all this, with our black boots and metal wristbands (okay, me at least).  The bass of first single “Empress of the Starved Lung” is the invitation.  Raw energy, light and sound, musical immersion: this visceral path can spin one out of stress swifter than any therapy or medication.  For others, the percussion will be their call to arms, the beats and beeps of “Leaning Into Pain” topping out at 150 BPM.  And what a great title, perhaps a perfect way to summarize the appeal of industrial music as a whole.  As for the album title, our guess is that it refers to Koshchey the Deathless, companion of Baba Yaga, who often takes the shape of a storm.  To beckon Koshchey (which we don’t recommend) is to be either despondent or emboldened.  Our interpretation is that it’s a challenge: I’ve survived so much already, so bring on the whirlwind.  Blur your eyes a bit and look again at the cover: a woman appears to be gazing through a skull.  But she’s still alive and unbowed.  And don’t forget that second mouth.  Koshchey be warned.

By “An Abandoned Throne in the Hall of Extinction,” the timbres have deepened, drawing near to drone.  A sense of menace accompanies the abraded pulse.  The difference is that Surachai seems to embrace the menace rather than fear it.  When the beats return, they sound confident.  The artist has incorporated disruption and loss, acclimating to the dark.  While the end result is more adaptation than celebration, it’s still a gorgeous template for those in a downward spiral.  (Richard Allen)

 

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