Sever and Break: Premiering the Awenden/Feminazgul Split
TriDroid is releasing a split between Olympia’s Awenden and Asheville’s Feminazgul. Has there ever been a more sensible sentence in the history of metal?
In May 26, 1824, over 100 women employed at a Pawtucket, RI, textile mill owned and operated by Samuel Slater, dubbed the “Father of the American Industrial Revolution” by noted genocidaire Andrew Jackson, organized to strike against a proposed increased in daily hours and a concomitant decrease in wages. Originally called a “turn-out,” this job action spread to 7 other mills and eventually included some 500 participants. On the last day of the strike, one of the mills was set ablaze and burned to the ground. By June 3rd, the strikers had won various concessions from Slater and his fellow mill owners. The names of the women who led these efforts are all but lost to history.
This is the context for Awenden’s “Sam Slater Lighting Candles,” a 17-minute epic that draws its power from the mighty Blackstone River—much like Slater did to fuel his textile miles—in order to extinguish in a righteous deluge the ever-burning oil lamps that lit the worker’s plight on the darkest of nights. Though helmed by Gudrick, Awenden has always collaborated with artists with different musical backgrounds, affording the project the opportunity to take on new sounds and explore new territory. “Sam Slater Lighting Candles” finds Awenden draping its Cascadian sound in a doom cloak. The track’s first half, with its bright bursts of speed and gorgeous central motif, introduces us to the “devil’s man” and his “strange kind of flame” that “burns us quite perversely, as it tears us from the Sun.” There are great depths of pain, situated in a history of labour abuse and exploitation, that suffuses “Sam Slater Light Candles.” Plaintive flutes and synths mingle with smooth-as-icicle riffs while clean vocals float over buried and haunted screams.
By the 9-minute mark the track fades into a short dark ambient interlude that hangs like a thick fog. A simple bass riff, like a thudding heartbeat in a wilderness of feedback, reintroduces the listener to a slower, more methodical version of the track’s main theme. As “Sam Slater” gathers strength and fury, we can all cry out as one, “How hollow ring your pleas, for us to take this trade, of cancer for a false communion.” Industrialized trade is a bad deal for the worker, whose only options are illness or false gods. And though the 1824 strikers created immediate and positive material change in their lives and others’, we are left, by song’s end, with the image of Sam Slater “lighting another fucking candle.” This image glows out as a reminder that industrialization, de-industrialization, globalization, financialization, and whatever might come next, have lit only a certain few hearths and only ever at the expense of so many more.
Feminazgul’s side of the split begins with bird calls, lamenting strings, and a piano dirge before we are invited to “call out her name” when we find ourselves lost. It feels so seamless, this incantation, when we think of the women who fought back against Slater and his ilk in 1824 only to end up nameless. Yet, “her name” is there to be called, to be invoked, to be remembered in its plurality or even ethereality. She can be found “in darkness,” “in the field,” “in starlight,” and “in fog.” She is there in her infinite multiplicity.
“Call Out Her Name When You Are Lost” is a culmination of the band’s bio. In their own words, Feminazgul is “a trans witch who lives in the woods recruited two women who had been outcast by men who feared their strength.” This is indeed witchcraft, not of the ’70s doom occult kind, but of the spiritual and supernatural kind, where music is a ritual and rite performed with an eye towards conjuring up new visions of alternate future. Feminazgul’s cauldron, to carry the image to its natural conclusion, bubbles over with a treasure trove of traditional and folkloric instruments. Oddly-timed black metal blisters forth, supported by the scrapes of bowed psalteries and kanteles, by the other-worldly warbles of a theremin, by the plucked strings of a hognose psaltery, and by the twinkling lightness of bells and chimes. Everything feels of an other-time, not of one past or one to come but of sometime else entirely. Bringing this other-time into being, the witches rise in their hallowed circle, beckoned into flight by blood, teeth, and talons.
“Windtime Wolftime” irrupts out this other-time and bestows upon it at least two names. At a mere three minutes, “Windtime Wolftime” is a vicious and relentless departure from the split’s two longer tracks, but it is a perfect conclusion. Feminazgul’s mythic, heraldic, medieval cum futuristic black metal battles valiantly against the chains and kings that must be broken and slain. Only then will the Earth reclaim itself, vining its ecological wonders through the detritus of power and property to provide a verdant, mystical space for sprites, nymphs, and naiads to lead us towards a more egalitarian, worldly, and peaceful time. Frogs will dance and rabbits will frolic as our we play the pipes of a new song that whistles and echoes through the hollow and ossified artifacts of state oppression.
As the final moments of “Windtime Wolftime” fade away, and I am left buoyed and supported by the pain, despair, hope, triumph, urgency, fury, and desire of both Awenden and Feminazgul, I think back to the immortal closing line of June Jordan’s “Poem for South African Women”: “we are the ones we have been waiting for”