On her Sacred Bones debut, Pharmakon's Margaret Chardiet seemed hell-bent on alienating listeners from the structures they held near and dear with an album of anguished, mechanized violence. Taking her sound in an altogether more visceral direction, the noise architect returns with Bestial Burden, an album that explores the tumultuous betrayal felt at having one's own body turn against them. Written while recovering from a major surgery that kept her from embarking on her first European tour, the album brilliantly exposes listeners to the feelings of rage and fear Chardiet experienced while doing battle with an internal saboteur she was powerless to escape. Using a harsher and grimier sonic palette, Bestial Burden replaced the cruel, unflinching machinations of her previous album with a more hostile and confrontational vibe that prefers to get right in the listener's face than ominously stalk them from afar. In fact, the album is at its most gut-wrenching when it puts the humanity behind its creation on display. Tracks like "Vacuum," made up almost entirely of erratic, panic-inducing breathing, and "Primitive Struggle," a cringe-inducing soundscape with a person wheezing, vomiting, and coughing uncontrollably as they fight to breath, create a sense of helplessness. Listening to the struggle, the listener's instinct to help is held back by the cruel tyranny of time and distance, forcing them to somehow come to terms with the idea that they must simply stand by and listen to a fellow human fight to do something so basic and essential. Moments like this really highlight Chardiet's talent for putting listeners exactly where she wants them, making Bestial Burden Pharmakon's most viscerally unsettling and masterfully engaging work to date.
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AllMusic Review by Gregory Heaney