Review of Pinkish Black’s
New “Razed to the Ground” LP + Interview
by Oliver Sheppard
Pinkish Black’s sophomore LP, Razed to the Ground, is set for release on September 17. The Fort Worth band’s first and self-titled LP (which was reviewed for CVLT Nation last year, here) was on Denton’s Handmade Birds label; the new album sees them on the larger and more metal-centric Century Media imprint.
Pinkish Black’s sound, however, has thankfully not changed: Razed to the Ground is an opus of doomy, sludgy, crushingly dark music that incorporates elements of doom metal, Projekt Records-style ethereal wave, gothic rock, and other dark music elements. And also as with the first LP, one once again is reminded of 80s Cop-era Swans, early Godflesh (and especially the proto-Godflesh band, Fall of Because), and even stuff like Killing Joke’s “S036” or Mass’s much-overlooked “Cabbage” release from the 80s. It’s a unique, churning sound that doesn’t fit neatly into any pre-defined categories. There is even a kind of creeping “space drone” twist to the sound this time around that serves as an intriguing development in the band’s evolution. The effect is often eerily psychedelic.
Vocalist Daron Beck’s vocals soar above Razed to the Gound‘s doomy soundscape, melodic but also coldly detached, recalling at turns the classically disaffected postpunk style of singers like Ian Curtis and even, occasionally, Nick Cave. Jon Teague’s excellent, gut-busting drum work is busiest on the first track but settles into a deliberately stomping, and at times tribal, pace throughout the majority of the seven-song record. Although Jon’s drumming is extraordinary, it’s Daron’s vocals that I think really give the duo their unique sound; his range is impressive and he chooses to sing in a “melodic” way that would seem just as at home in a wall-of-guitars style shoegaze band as it does couched in Pinkish Black’s swirling, black sonic vortex.
I spoke with the band recently and mentioned that my favorite track on the LP was “Rise” (which is unfortunately not available for preview!); the song recalls to me the chord patterns used by Bauhaus on “The Passion of Lovers.” Daron mentioned that that was his favorite track by Bauhaus, but I’m sure the influence was unintended or subconscious. In any event, there is a streak of shadowy, Projekt Records-style goth that runs through the length of Razed to the Ground, but lest one think the album is a drowsy and dreamy affair, Jon’s drumming and the menacing and gritty synth work of Daron keep a sense of menace hanging about, imparting an air of suspense that is almost downright cinematic. Razed to the Ground is a foreboding and worthy successor to its predecessor, a much-recommended, standout LP that you’ll find hard to categorize but which is all the more notable and enjoyable because of this. Hopefully we’re still at the beginning of Pinkish Black’s career and they’ll continue to deliver more audio goodies like this.
Below, I asked them what their goal was with the LP’s sound, and other things about the new album.
Pinkish Black was interviewed by Oliver in August, 2013.
Oliver: Before we start, and for folks who may be reading about you for the first time, can you give some basic background info on the band — why you chose the name, how long you’ve been around, and what former and current lineups are?
Daron (vocals and synths): Jon and I met in the mid 90’s while he was playing in Yeti and I was in Pointy Shoe Factory. After those bands dissolved, we formed The Great Tyrant, with Tommy Atkins, also from Yeti, in 2004. The phrase “pinkish black” was something that had been brought up at a Great Tyrant practice. After Tommy’s death, the phrase took on a new meaning and became our band name.
Oliver: Your new LP is called “Razed to the Ground.” How did you come up with the title, what does it mean, and was there anything on the agenda, sound-wise, that you wanted to go for that was different than what you were attempting on your first LP?
Daron: “Razed to the Ground” is a fairly commonly used phrase meaning to level something completely. We’ve gone through a long process of building bands and destroying them only to inevitably start again, knowing it will most likely be destroyed, so the title seemed fitting. As far as the sound of this album, it’s really just a continuation on a sound that we’ve been working on since The Great Tyrant.
Oliver: Pinkish Black has an interesting sound that incorporates elements from a diverse set of genres. One of the first press releases I read about Pinkish Black mentioned “deathrock” here and there, but when I listened to you all I wasn’t exactly hearing a band that sounded like Specimen or something from the Batcave club in England in the 80s. (Your cover of Christian Death’s “Spiritual Cramp” is pretty great, regardless!) Stereogum called you all “space/noise metallers.” Anyway, your music at first reminded me more of a combination of elements from bands like the Swans, Godflesh (and especially the 80s pre-Godflesh band, Fall of Because), and even some Projekt Records “ethereal wave” bands like Lycia, with the soundscape-y atmospherics you all have going on. Are these all conscious influences on your sound? And what, indeed, are bands that you feel have had a direct and important impact on your music?
Jon (drums): We feel we are influenced by so many bands, and different types of music, that the listener will inevitably interpret it in their own way. To list all the bands that directly influence us would be impossible. But yes, Swans and Godflesh would be on that very long list — but we’re not trying to sound like anyone specifically.
Oliver: The gritty doominess of Pinkish Black — and the band’s pedigree with, for example, Yeti — seems like it could attract fans from the metal scene, but Daron’s vocals and the overall atmosphere of Pinkish Black’s music can be pretty gothic — “gothic” in the real, and not cheesy, sense of that term. Ideally, your fan base would overlap between the more traditional gothic and metal camps. But have you worried that rather than attracting fans from both sides, you’d in fact alienate both for not being “purist” to one side or another?
Daron: The fact that we have any fans at all amazes us. None of our previous bands had a “fan base”, so it’s still weird to us that anyone is paying attention. We’ve always written this music for ourselves, so we’ve never been concerned with alienating anybody.
Oliver: What’s it like to be in a band that has no guitars? The first time I heard you all (which was on a recording), I was certain guitars were being played; when someone told me there weren’t, I had to go back and re-listen to see how my ears had deceived me. Do you all feel like you have to “make up” for not having guitars in the band? Does it affect the way you program or use your keyboards/synths? You get a really low-end, abrasive sound from them.
Daron: Having no guitar wasn’t a choice. In order to keep moving forward after Tyrant, we put together a setup that would fill out the sound like we were used to, having been a three piece. I don’t necessarily think of what I’m doing as playing keyboards as much as I’m playing three or four separate parts; bass, rhythm guitar, violins, and synth leads. I don’t feel we have anything to make up for in sound. Playing in this format forces us to think and write differently.
Oliver: Actually — what does Pinkish Black’s equipment consist of? Live drums and keyboards, right? What kinds of keyboards and drums? Anything else worth mentioning, gear-wise?
Daron: Pretty much just drums, a couple of analog synths, a bass synth, a digital piano and reverb for my vocals which I control from the stage; something I wish more vocalists would do.
Oliver: You’ve played some really interesting shows. You’ve played with thrash and black metal bands, some of the more hispter-y electronica bands out there, punk bands, and you’re also playing with Valor’s Christian Death here in Dallas. You also recently played at The Church, an industrial dance music event night in Dallas. Did that show surprise fans, and how do you feel about playing such a broad variety of venues with such different target demographics? Has it caused any problems or any snarkiness with longtime fans from The Great Tyrant days? Is there any particular gameplan with whom you’re trying to reach by playing such a wide assortment of spaces?
Daron: We enjoyed playing the Church. The audience reaction was good there. We tend to have fairly decent reactions, most of the time. We feel like we kind of fit everywhere and nowhere at once. As long as the audience is open minded, it tends to be a good show for us. We appreciate being able to play with all types of bands. It keeps it interesting for us.
Oliver: I really like the track “Rise” on the new LP. To me, the main two-note riff is reminiscent of Bauhaus’ “Passion of Lovers,” but with much heavier, almost tribal, drumming backing it up. What are some of the stranger and more unexpected musical comparisons you’ve all heard about your music?
Daron: We’ve heard all kinds of references. We think it bothers people that they can’t nail it down. The fact that people refer to us as a metal band is strange in itself. Texturally, we can understand, but structurally and vocally, it’s something completely different from what most people think of as metal.
Oliver: I can only think of a few bands out there who you might say are attempting or coming close to what you’re doing. Some of Atriarch‘s stuff, and maybe some of Alaric‘s stuff. What bands nowadays do you enjoy listening to, or do you think are doing new and interesting things maybe along your lines, that you would recommend?
Jon: Alaric and Atriarch are good examples. We like Vulgar Fashion, Bludded Head, Unconscious Collective, Pallbearer, Curse (from Baltimore), Agalloch, Vaults Of Zin, Terminator 2, Nervous Curtains… Not that we sound anything like any of these bands, but we feel we share the same aesthetic.
Oliver: Okay – I have to ask: there is a recurring sound effect used on the LP — a laser beam-like sound. What’s going on there and why is it used so much? Maybe this is why Stereogum used the term “space/noise metallers”? Haha.
Daron: It’s nostalgia for a Star Synare synthesizer. It’s also a disco sound.
Oliver: Daron, your vocals have a very “cold”/”disaffected tone to them that’s more in the style of someone like Ian Curtis 80s coldwave music. Who, in fact, are your favorite vocalists and/or chief influences in this regard?
Daron: Once again, it would be a ridiculously long list. I like big voiced singers like Scott Walker, Nina Simone, and Tom Jones but it goes all over the place. I do like Ian Curtis and the like, but I try to reference less expected singers, like Liz Fraser of the Cocteau Twins, Yma Sumac, or Christian Vander from Magma, none of which sing in an actual language. It really just depends on the moment of the song. I don’t think people hear it the way we do.
Oliver: Favorite queston to ask bands: If you could take 5, and only 5, LPs with you when stranded on a deserted island for the rest of your life, what would they be? Assume that by some magical reason you all had a turntable, etc., despite no electricity and all that.
Jon: We’re gonna have to do 2 lists because we like different music.
“Udu Wudu”- Magma,
“Misic to Play in the Dark II”- Coil,
“A Love Supreme”- John Coltrane,
“Wind of Pain”- Bastard
“The Look Of Love”- Burt Bacharach
“First Take”- Roberta Flack
“Any Day Now”- Chuck Jackson
“Plastic Surgery Disasters”-Dead Kennedys
“Boy Child”- Scott Walker
Oliver: Thank you so much, guys! Look forward to seeing you live in a few weeks. Anything else people should know that we haven’t gotten to yet? Where to buy records, or anything like that?
Daron: You can usually find our records locally at Doc’s Records in Fort Worth. We leave for a month long U.S. tour with Kylesa on October 1st and will continue writing for our next album when we return.
Pinkish Black have a Facebook page here.