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October 4, 2010 | by  | in Music |
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Salem: King Knight (Iamsound Records)

Our Lord the Internet’s current genre du jour, ‘witch house’, finally gets its blast into the ‘Best New Music’ section of your torrents list with the debut full-length from the genre’s progenitors, Salem. Omitting the obvious fact that this genre really is just ‘80s industrial / goth jacked up with hip hop beats and bass to the extreme, there are actually quite a few good points across the album. Opener ‘King Night’ samples a choir performing ‘O Holy Night’ across its tinny MPC beat, while the bass synths blow everything out of control. It’s a legitimate slowbanger, if only for the floor-shuddering intensity of its bass drops.

This propensity to annihilation by bass proves to be Salem’s most potent weapon across the album. Their beats stutter and shake, but regularly (and always satisfactorily) allow for booming drops. Just see the updated versions of older tracks ‘Frost’ and ‘Redlights’. These two also bring Heather Marlatt’s vocals to the fore, which is definitely one of the wiser decisions they made. When Jack Donoghue takes over the vocal duties, the results are just embarrassing. Downshifting his vocals to the point where it’s hard to take it as anything but a joke (or a sitcom ransom call), ‘Trapdoor’ and ‘Sick’ flirt with pop melody while leaning back on hip hop a little too far, which really serves only to highlight the lack of tricks up their sleeve. Their strengths are laid bare in the first two tracks (arena-level bass and downbeat synth sludge), and any variation on this across the album jumps straight onto the fail train.

Witch house itself, really, is pretty much a joke of a genre. A new label for old tricks pioneered over 20 years ago. Whether Salem are in on this joke or not is debatable (although their pathetic showing at the Fader Fort this year points to ‘no, they’re not’). Some points on this album feel deliberately awful, others just plain painful, yet many tracks prove themselves to be dense, well-constructed slices of crushing dance music. It’s a frustrating listen, to say the least. I think this can readily be viewed as Sleigh Bells’ ugly twin. Both are amping louder than loud dance music and hip-hop’s skittery beats, just to completely different ends. Sleigh Bells go for dancefloor epilepsy, Salem take the murky, druggy road. Whichever you prefer, you may as well lap it up while it’s hot—I can’t see Salem’s stock having much longevity.



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