Album Review: Salem – King Night

Salem: King Night (IAMSOUND Records)

It’s not uncommon for bands or artists to insist they belong to no specific genre, but let’s be honest, usually those complaining the most about being pigeonholed are the least original and deserve being associated with whatever they ripped off. But what happens when artists freely admit where they got all their influences, but there are so many bits and pieces that they truly are outside of any mass of grouped musicians? Don’t worry, people will try to make up a genre anyway, even if it’s a bit hard to tie everything together into a cohesive idea. Enter the Witch House/Ghost House/Drag scene, which encompasses a group of bands/artists that may or may not really have much in common. In fact, even the word “scene” might be a bit of a stretch.

Salem has been lumped into this genre (whatever the final name may be),  and they have also helped to popularize the discussion behind it. However, one can’t tell if they are a prime example of what should be present in this class of artists, since nobody can seem to put a finger on what it’s all about. There are some commonalities present in all the artists that have been associated with the movement, including slow tempos, heavy distortion, looping, spookiness, and the ever-present use of electronics as the basis for production, but there are a hell of a lot of differences between everyone as well.

While some producers involved in the genre are gearing more towards darker electro-pop or distorted ambient, Salem is pulling in musical connections from shoegaze, new age, juke, southern rap, industrial, metal, techno, and even dubstep. This concoction may sound a little strange, and this is for good reason; it is strange. It’s very strange. Yet it somehow works out extremely well. Actually, the mixture is so perfect, it makes Salem’s King Night easily one of the most important albums to be released in years.

King Night is a massive sounding album, using low frequency wobble, layered distortion, and textured vocals to create a deep, full output. From the opening track until the very end, the record remains saturated in dark overtones, no matter what direction the group decides to travel. By placing an operatic Christmas carol behind a barrage of beats and destroyed bass, the opening track, “King Night,” gives an immediate feeling that something is going to be different throughout the listen of the release. “Asia,” one of the best tracks on the album, introduces a gabber kick-drum into the mix, and uses the voice of band member Heather Marlatt to add melody to the fuzzed out composition. A combination similar to this is used on most of the recording, including highlights like “Frost” and “Traxx.” The juxtaposition between floating melodies and intense, washed-out drone create an amazing experience, so there really isn’t a lot of need to change the basic formula. Nonetheless, there are exceptions.

“Sick,” “Trapdoor,” and “Tair” differ the most because they are more closely associated with southern rap, rejecting the lighter, layered singing and concentrating on tuned-down vocal flows in the same cadence of someone like Gucci Mane. These tracks do seem a bit out of place in comparison with the ethereal feel presented on the majority of the release, but they are honestly pretty good in their own right, especially since they remain as demonic and subversive as everything else on King Night.

So another genre is coming into fruition, at least according to the music critics, and Salem may be at the helm. How much everyone involved has in common is up for debate, although most of the output from the artists associated has been pretty impressive. If things continue the way they have begun, the collective of bands under drag, witch house, or whatever you want to call it, will certainly continue to grow in cult status, and that may not be a bad thing, as long as albums match the caliber of King Night.

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