The Ancient Greek word “φάρμακον” (or “pharmakón”) is ingrained with a dichotomous etymology and, by extension, philosophical implications. At its root, the word has a conflicted translation of representing any drug, appropriate to use for discussing either a remedy or a poison. Yet, when extended to its use in the culture of the day, it became a descriptor for a scapegoat—a social misfit beaten and cast out of the community in times of strife as part of a ritual sacrifice. Not only is this name a perfect encapsulation of NYC avant-garde music stalwart Margaret Chardiet’s work as Pharmakon, the way in which she’s applied the philosophy to her music has led to the most invigorating offerings in modern death industrial.
Chardiet’s exploration into these themes began with her debut Abandon and flourished on follow-up Bestial Burden, an album born out of her own scrape with death from a severe cyst and near organ failure. The sheer anguish of this experience is and remains the sonic embodiment of φάρμακον. As Chardiet’s anguished shrieks, hyperventilating and retching permeate landscapes of harsh, plodding industrial soundscapes, the listener gets a keen sense of her body’s grappling with death; the clash between cyst and medicine feeling like curative poison, as the mind feels trapped and tortured by the tempest of disease in the body.
On Contact, Chardiet explores the inverse of this formula, exploring sonic themes capturing the essence of the mind divorced from the body and transcending daily experience. Whereas her instrumentals on Abandon and Bestial Burden developed into internalized microcosms of suffering, the six tracks on Contact all have a certain vastness about them. The cavernous feedback, noise and pulsating synths all feel as though they’re lingering outside of a physical form that they once inhabited. Creating a more perturbing piece of art than Bestial Burden seemed insurmountable, but Chardiet surpasses expectations with a stomach churning, soul rattling set of anguished dirges.
All of Pharmakon’s albums are best heard in full, due to both their brevity and all-encompassing atmospheres. At just over a half hour, Contact continues this trend, though each individual track makes its own impact. From the start, “Nakedness of Need” sets an unsettling pace, what with it’s retro progressive synth vibe sounding as though its being echoed in the chilling emptiness of space. The track’s searing synth repetition mimics an emergency siren as Chardiet appears on the track to moan and plead before breaking into her signature, blood-curdling scream. Her vocal intonations sounds like a young, voracious Diamanda Galás, while tracks like “Transmission” and “Sleepwalking Form” show how much her music resembles Disasterpeace juxtaposing the most haunting horror movie samples with malfunctioning machinery.
Album closer “No Natural Order” is perhaps Chardiet’s best use of her voice as a weapon, with her piercing shriek causing genuine discomfort with its intense, unrelenting power. This physical experience behind all of Pharmakon’s music sets it apart from the mere act of listening. Time spent with one of her albums will trigger tangible discomfort, making for a unique and experientally rewarding musical journey, if not one that’s traditionally enjoyable. This will take some getting used to, for sure, and Contact certainly isn’t the easiest entry point into the Pharmakon discography. Though in all honesty, there isn’t one; this is challenging music for people who want to experience immolation while watching the world burn with them. Chardiet has covered an incredible amount of emotional ground with Pharmakon, and Contact‘s further exploration of the the project’s underlying philosophy proves that she’s unwavering in her masochistic musical endeavors.
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Contact is available 3/31 via Sacred Bones Records and can be purchased here.