Margaret Chardiet, the singer behind the noise project Pharmakon, wrote her second album Bestial Burden when she was just recovering from an emergency surgery that left her bedridden for three weeks. “It took a while for my brain to catch up to the reality of what my body was doing,” she told Pitchfork. “It created this separation between the two that resulted in me feeling almost as though the body had this separate will from my own — just this vessel I was stuck inside of.”
Chardiet emphasizes this separation on Bestial Burden when she pairs instrumental repetitiveness with her wild vocals. The droning, monotonous reverb on tracks like “Body Betrays Itself” or “Autoimmune” always outweighs her cries, no matter how loudly she shouts. On “Intent or Instinct,” Chardiet screams shrilly against her cage of industrial percussion, but she is drowned out by the mechanical moans of the backing track, leaving us unable to decipher her shrieks.
Two tracks examine the theme of bodily disturbance on a literal level. “Vacuum,” the album opener, is a one-and-a-half-minute track of heavy breathing, which multiplies into a layered, pulsating melody. “Primitive Struggle” is two minutes of choking, gasping and possibly vomiting, which makes Pharmakon’s point: Your body can become uncontrollably volatile without warning.
But the album’s title track is when Chardiet’s physical and mental duality is overtly addressed. It’s the musical equivalent of when a two-faced film villain reveals how easy it is to seamlessly play good and evil. “And I look up at my reflection/ it sees itself only in the shadows,” Chardiet sings, her voice bordering on Disney Princess-level sweetness, before howling, “IT CAN NOT RECOGNIZE ITS DARKNESS.” In its more monstrous moments, Bestial Burden is hardly just a recognition of a fragmented self’s darkness — it’s a confrontation.