Due to the nature of how we listen to music in 2010, there are few surprises left. Before an act releases a proper album (a medium whose time may very well be up), they are dissected and analyzed like a frog on a 9th grade biology table. And just as sure as that frog has sat on its last lily pad, musicians are rarely afforded the chance to make a second impression.
On their debut LP King Night, Salem doesn’t seem to care about that. Or about anything else.
If you’ve heard them by now, you know what to expect. Chopped-and-screwed drum machines, epic synthesizer melodies, spooky moans and drugged-out raps. Salem’s distinct brand of drag is what sets them apart from countless witch house acts, more eager to insert triangles and crosses into their names than to make interesting music. But if you’ve heard Yes I Smoke Crack or their symbiotic remixes of Gucci Mane and came away unimpressed or turned off, King Night won’t change your mind.
Throughout the album, Salem gets deeper, darker, and more intense than ever before. For music that revels in drone, it is addictive in its dynamism. The title track opens the album, with bits and pieces of “I Love You” and “O Holy Night” fused to minimalistic trap beats and the echos and feedback of a mournful melody. “Asia,” the second single (I use that term lightly) off the album continues the death march with a drum corps’ intensity. The faux-snuff clip picks up where “Skullcrush” left off.
The heavily processed vocals of Jack Donoghue could pass for Gucci on songs like “Sick,” “Trapdoor,” and “Tair.” John Holland and Heather Marlatt stick to singing (again, loosely), exchanging groans and whispers on “Release the Boar” and “Frost.” On the latter, Marlatt’s vocals waft over footwork-inspired beats and waves of synths that hold – wait – is that a sense of “hope” amid all this darkness?
Arguably the group’s strongest song, “Redlights” is back yet again; the shifty, stuttering anthem is revamped for The Big Time and sounds great. “Traxx” plods along with an industrial sample that can’t help but evoke the “Law & Order” sound, but with off-kilter percussion that again references footwork. By the time the last jangly guitar chord drones on closer “Killer,” the listener is left with a sense of foreboding dread that they can’t quite put their finger on.
Salem knows what they are and what they do best: gothic trap music with a hint of mystery (even if unfortunate interviews and even more unfortunate live performances have lifted the curtain a bit). King Night succeeds by being a pitch-perfect set of upsetting mood music. Even if that’s what you expected.
FOUR OUT OF FIVE STARS.