Nearly three years ago we premiered the debut two-track EP of the Swiss band Charlene Beretah, whose name is in part a tribute to Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket and the appelation that Private Gomer Pyle bestowed upon his M14 rifle, the one he ultimately used as the instrument of his own destruction. At that time a duo who performed their music using only guitar and drums, the band deployed elements of crust, sludge, black metal, and doom to create sensations of wrenching devastation. We summed it up this way: “Negative, ruinous music for negative, ruinous times, both songs push you toward the abyss, but Charlene Beretah are good at what they do; you may go willingly.
In the years since then the original two-some, Charlene Petit and Thierry Beretah, have been joined by a third marauder, Jean Goisse, and they have also completed work on a debut album named Ram — which does indeed hit like a massive battering ram. It’s supremely destructive. And it also does really nasty things to your mind, and to whatever sense of emotional balance and comfort you might enjoy. It makes an enormous first impression, something like the bomb crater left by a megaton warhead in the midst of dirty urban streets, and the smoldering rubble it makes of a listener’s mental and emotional health isn’t easily reassembled or easily forgotten.
Ram will be released on November 8th by Division Records, but we’re detonating the whole damned thing right now.
The track list of Ram is only five songs long, but these are mostly monumental blockbusters. With the exception of the relatively brief “Amazing Disgrace” (a brawling crust-punk pulse-pounder that shifts gears and riffs multiple times despite its brevity), the tracks are long ones, with two of them topping 11 minutes. Despite the significant length, no one will fall into the doldrums while they run their course.
There are softer moments sprinkled about the album, including the very first sounds of the opening track, “Call of Darkness“, which combines shimmering synths, zither-like pinging tones, and spoken words. But the catastrophic detonations that soon follow are emblematic of the traumatic events that you’ll likely remember the most from the album. The song’s yowling and slowly writhing riff are obscenely distorted and absolutely crushing, and they’re undergirded by colossal drum blows and titanic bass frequencies (the crackling fuzz of distortion pedals at work usually shrouds everything, as it does in this song). It takes a while for the vocals to arrive, and when they do the sound is the kind of raw, crazed shrieking that signifies a man holding nothing back. Those anguished and furious sounds scorch the brain like sulphuric-acid.
In this opening song, the magnitude of the decibels falls and rises, the pacing accelerates and diminishes, and that too is emblematic of the band’s songcraft. At peak power, the music is remorselessly and methodically demolishing. At lower gears, it’s crushing and oppressive, as if giant hands have placed an anvil on your chest and proceeded to pound on it with sledge hammers. Near the end of this opener, the battering drums and mauling fretwork become especially vicious — and especially nourishing for a hungry headbanger.
Charlene Beretah are adept at delivering brutish punishment and creating unnerving squalls of sound. They’ll drag you by the hair through tarry swamps of doom-soaked misery and slowly stomp you into jelly, as they do on “My Dreams“, but that second track is also home to a chugging riff that operates like aural heroin.
The two extra-long songs are both predictably ruinous, but in different ways, and both include some of those softer moments mentioned earlier. For more than a third of its length “Hurt” is a slow, titanic death march, with bass notes that are so craggy and deep that they cause the marrow in the bones to vibrate, paired with grimy chords of utter misery and soul-plundering despair, and backed by gun-shot snare cracks and bowel-puncturing bass-drum blows. After 4 1/2 minutes of this, strummed chords, a metronomic cymbal tick, and deep, gloomy spoken words create a feeling that straddles a line between wistfulness and hopelessness — but the mutilating power of the song builds again, and ultimately becomes a jackhammering onslaught laced with quivering hallucinatory leads. At the end, there’s an eruption of instrumental and vocal intensity that channels self-mutilating madness.
“Murder Game“, on the other hand, operates like a sonic drug that fogs the brain while also inducing body-wracking seizures. Python-thick, doomy, serpentine riffing and spectral wah-wah leads create a narcotic sensation, interwoven with bouts of heaving chords and skull-fracturing drum attacks. But of all the songs on the album, this one becomes the most remarkably vibrant — and that change begins with an interlude of acoustic strumming. The full band pick up the melody and carry it forward in a rambunctious, rollicking burst of energy. The drumming is especially electrifying here, and remains so, and the lead guitar introduces a new bit of distorted psychedelia into the music. The song becomes simultaneous more and more wild and more and more entrancing. It’s as if we’ve been transformed into drugged-out acolytes participating in a shamanistic ritual, induced to shake ourselves in the grip of an indescribable vision.
Thematically, these songs explore such topics as depression, murders, and possession (both demonic and chemical), treating these dark subjects with music of staggering power. Ram is not easy listening, but it’s intensely gripping, and perhaps paradoxically for such dark and devastating sounds, an absolute thrill to experience. It’s available for pre-order now from Division Records in CD and LP formats.