‘Solanaceae’ sees Penance Stare follow up 2018’s ‘Scrying’ with another slab of heavy, saturated desolation. Esmé Louise Newman’s avalanche of bleakness carries an extra charge this time around, thanks to a broadened sonic canvas that draws on the fuzz vortices of My Bloody Valentine’s ‘Loveless’ and black metal’s double kick drum thunder. The result is a bulldozering stomp that’s like a choir being catapulted into a supernova as their mothership shatters into gobbets of white-hot debris.
If ‘Scrying’ delved deep into the goth playbook to create exquisite tales of trauma and abjection, that same reliance on vintage tools suffused Newman’s compositions with a nostalgic air which, occasionally, lessened their impact. As a refinement rather than a wholesale shift, ‘Solanaceae’ swerves all that with grim brio, and the total Hulk smash of cuts like ‘Cradlewell (Lacrima)’ and ‘Amongst Creeping Cinquefoil’ are proof of just how brutally effective that evolution has been. Bludgeoning percussion batters anything its path to a feeble pulp. Repeating guitar and piano figures meander around walls of white noise like vile, leering tarantulas. Careworn vocals call hopelessly into the void. Ain’t no sunshine, buddy.
Newman has explained how the stylistic innovations of ‘Solanaceae’ are matched by a paring back of the conventional song forms she favoured on ‘Scrying’, making these new tracks rawer and more brutal. A more oblique lyrical approach uses nature to explore trademark themes of alienation and mental dysfunction. Thus the falling piano chords, militaristic churn and ghostly vocals of ‘Nux Vomica’ make for a heady, disorientating whirl, both abrasive and euphoric, evoking, surely, the effects of the titular plant – both remedy and poison – on the human body.
There’s no doubt that the overwhelming intensity of ‘Solanaceae’ demands surrender. But, just as immersion in the grim tumults of harsh noise or extreme metal can prompt an almost involuntary euphoria, ‘Solanaceae’ offers similarly therapeutic possibilities, those thick, corrosive washes of impossibly sustained guitar and bruising, maxed-out drum squalls scrubbing your lobes clean and leaving you ready for the next struggle. It’s nothing less than proper noise catharsis, alright?