By NATHAN BEMIS
I expected Salem’s album, “King Night,” to be just another techno album.
But after driving around Richmond with the disc jammed in my stereo for a couple of playthroughs, however, my opinion changed. “King Night” is something very different and very interesting.
First off, it should be noted that although Salem could be categorized as electronic music with hints of dubstep and hip hop thrown in for good measure, official articles written on the band refer to them as “witch house” music.
While over-specific categories often only function to annoy and confuse, the term “witch house” perfectly fits Salem’s style. It’s techno with a creepy new edge.
They don’t practice the in-your-face scare tactics of acts like Marilyn Manson, or the suspense of an Alfred Hitchcock score, but their sound is atmospheric, and creates a lingering chill, like like the sensation of being watched.
The vocals present in the songs are ghostly, distorted, and many times completely indecipherable. They give the impression of hearing a recording of something not quite human.
On a few tracks, like “Asia,” this becomes downright disturbing. As its title implies, the track “Release Da Boar” features snuffling noises that sound like they would come from a large, tusked mammal placed just out of sight. It’s almost enough to make a person feel hunted.
Of course, on the flip side of the inhuman voice equation, the vocals are sometimes engineered to sound angelic. Heather Marlatt’s voice is absolutely beautiful and on “Redlights,” “Frost,” and “Traxx,” her dreamy vocals become a safe haven from the monstrous tones lurking throughout the other tracks.
Samples of opera music are used tastefully on many songs, sounding liker a choir of spirits performing at their leisure. The title track, “King Night,” employs this especially well, switching freely between masterful use of synthesizers and snippets of “Ave Maria.”
There is a weak point to this otherwise masterfully-crafted album, though. A few tracks are marred by the presence of a terrible rapper. The otherwise ethereal-sounding tracks are shattered by his flow. The subtle terror present throughout the rest of the album is ruined by his clumsy delivery and overtly-creepy lyrics about stalking girls and breaking into houses.
He makes the album unpleasant to listen to in a single sitting, and for Salem’s kind of music to be most effective, there has to be an unbroken period of listening from start to finish.
For the most part, “King Night” is an extraordinary album, and as Salem’s debut, it shows an amazing deal of promise. The group has a unique sound, an amazingly talented singer, and an innovative spirit.
However, that spirit needs to be wary of incorporating hip hop into the mix, if for no other reason than because hip hop isn’t usually scary or atmospheric–– the two moods that the group seems to strive for in their music.
If they can learn from this experience and create an album that maintains their signature subtlety and ghoulish beauty throughout, they may have a cult classic on their hands.
3.5 stars out of 5