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Cicada The Burrower
Blight Witch Regalia Antonio Poscic , April 12th, 2023 08:18

The harsh blast of black metal is taken on a wild psychedelic ride on the latest from Wisconsinite and Blue Bedroom Records boss Cameron Davis

The Western world has decided to paint a target on the backs of one of its most vulnerable groups, hiding petty vindictiveness behind obnoxious euphemisms like “gender criticals”. It is thus not the least surprising to see queer and trans musicians turning to metal’s most extreme variants for respite. Not only are black metal et al. perfect conduits for the rage and desolation such artists may rightly feel while enduring constant attacks from some of the loudest voices in the mainstream media, but the sly subversion of musics with sometimes reactionary, orthodox histories can be especially gratifying. Most such projects understandably result in caustic, suffocating music – Feminazgûl, Vile Creature, and Body Void come to mind. But Cameron Davis’s latest release under the Cicada The Burrower moniker shows just how malleable and brilliant these forms can become.

Although the Madison, Wisconsin based musician and Blue Bedroom Records label head has been playing with a number of different projects (such as Dolor, Weightless, and Hallowed Hands), Cicada The Burrower has remained her main vessel for the past decade. Blight Witch Regalia, in particular, feels like both the culmination of her work so far and the beginning of another stage of the transformative journey she started with 2017’s The Great Nothing. If that album was a confrontation with demons through a simultaneously bleak and empowering mixture of atmospheric and raw black metal, then 2021’s Corpseflower signalled the prudent but triumphant breaking of the pupa and Davis’s coming out as a trans woman. She poured this moment of self-discovery into a unique and utterly captivating blend of dark synth psychedelia, jazz, and progressive black metal. While Corpseflower symbolised psychological transformation; Blight Witch Regalia marks the exploration of a new physical reality.

In an accompanying text, Davis writes about starting hormone therapy and the psychophysical changes she is experiencing as a result. The soft and uncertain but optimistic sensation she describes washes over each of the eight cuts here. On the eponymous opener ‘Blight Witch Regalia’, bubbles of brass-mimicking synths, shapeshifting growls, and a syncopating drum machine extrude a blissful, Tropicália-esque atmosphere. A razing black metal riff rises beneath it, passes through, and becomes entangled in it, draping the electronic textures like new flesh over its skeleton. It’s an alien and quite gorgeous sound, adjacent to a number of genres but not quite rooted in any of them.

This warm, embracing impression overflows across the next several tracks, while the music increasingly reflects the album cover’s look and feel, contrasting stereotypically feminine pink hues with mutating, thorny black hands. Instead of the familiar sharp and hissy sound of lo-fi black metal, the production here is diffuse and smooth. At times, it becomes an integral part of the music, as it wraps whistling electronics on the bedroom pop miniature ‘Herald Of Lions’ and creates an undertow of whooshing static, chimes, and angelic textures on ‘Fairy Lights’.

Meanwhile, ‘Make Still This Beating Heart’ and ‘Aries, You Ripped The Child Out Of Me’ lean closer to the gnarly side of black metal, but let stabs and pads pop up like shimmering stalagmites in a dark cave, cutting through the voluminous darkness with gorgeous melodies and intimate nostalgia. Ultimately, ‘Crescent Moon Smile’ brings all these strains back together, amplifying fragile piano licks reminiscent of Four Tet, synth arpeggios, and flickers of seductive electronica into a melodic black metal romp. It marks a gripping end to an equally fascinating record.