The premise is promising right from the start: Drew Daniel, one half of electronic mischief-makers Matmos and the sole force behind the Soft Pink Truth, takes on black metal with a project that’s equal parts loving tribute and mindful rebuke. As its fans know, black metal is dark, scuzzy, mysterious and more macabre than just about any music ever made. It can also be regressive, homophobic, misogynistic and hateful across the board.
Daniel addresses all of that and more on Why Do the Heathen Rage?, in pointed and impressively playful ways. After an opening invocation of a poem from a book titled Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture, “Black Metal” unspools as a bouncy and intense electronic take on a song by Venom, with a beat that bashes like a ’90s warehouse rave. “Sadomatic Rites” gets lighter and bouncier, with a brisk club beat skipping beneath growled vocals of words originally by the Finnish black-metal band Beherit (“…fornicate on Christian altars, living in eternal lust, sodomites and blasphemers…”). “Ready to Fuck” turns a song about a “penetrator hammer” into a spangly disco track with sly, wry orgasmic moans by Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner. The whole album plays these sorts of smart and crafty games with source material that Daniel clearly likes and understands but holds out as in deep need of critique. He makes that critique fun and musically flexible too, which makes it the lessons all the more lasting.