When I sat down to complete this review I thought to myself ‘don’t talk about Ghost too much, it’s too obvious, let the music speak for itself’. I didn’t know a lot about Henrik Palm before picking up this record, but the list of band’s he has been in goes far beyond Ghost, and notably includes In Solitude and Pig Eyes. It’s enough to tell me that Palm is hugely talented musician in his own right, but the more I span this record, and the more it burrowed into my brain, it became quite impossible to ignore the pope shaped elephant in the room, particularly as this elephant has two trunks: one personal and the other one musical.
Firstly, if Poverty Metal isn’t a massive dig at Tobias Forge’s alleged withholding of royalties and then forcing the ex-ghouls to pay his legal expenses, then I don’t know what is. There are plenty of other references throughout the record, especially on tracks such as Bully and Nihil, and it’s clear that this treatment has spurned Palm into creating this album. Secondly, the similarities in the sound of this record to Ghost‘s slightly off-kilter yet still excellent third album Meliora are uncanny. Conveniently, this is also the one Ghost album which Palm played on, so either Palm has taken huge influence from Forge’s song-writing or, and I suspect this is more likely the case, Palm‘s playing style was a massive part in defining the sound of that album.
The record opens with Bully, which is a far smarter and much more interesting retribution anthem than Ghost‘s song Rats, a rather clichéd take on the same theme. It starts off relatively sombre in tone, Palm smoothly singing ‘I see you for what you are’, but as the track continues he hurls out lines like ‘monetary scum’ and ‘raped in your own piss’. Clearly the anger is building within him as the track constructs itself, and musically you can feel that too, as the sonic layers constantly mesh together while the intensity oscillates in waves of thick energy.
Sugar opens with a guitar riff that sounds straight out of Jamie Hince’s play-book. I’ve always thought that The Kills could be even more interesting if they went in a heavier direction, and Palm is giving a pretty good idea of how that may sound on this track. It almost tricks you though with its mellow piano-led chorus, before thrusting in a heavy bridge that’s so full of filthy bass and dark guitar licks it’s positively ferocious. In the solos and melodic guitar work in the final leg there is a compelling sense of freedom and unrestrained wisdom that completely draws you in.
Suddenly there’s a big left turn, and Concrete Antichrist comes in with a cauldron of noisy jazz guitar lines, restless drumming and fuzzy psychedelic synthesisers. Although it seems to fly by quite quickly, it leaves a forceful impression. Ending with a soft piano riff the album then takes another big turn, this time into Given Demon, which sounds like Queens Of The Stone Age at their heaviest, desert rock stomping best. The vocal melody is particularly dexterous too, at once running all over the scale before settling sweetly into the hook as Palm is supported by some feminine backing vocals. The track breaks down into a plethora of haunting electronic arpeggios and delicate guitar work, some gentle glockenspiel twinkles away as Palm warbles the title of the track from just across the room. It’s a totally subversive, and totally brilliant, end to what had been the heaviest track on the record thus far.
a bold and audacious musical adventure that showcases Palm’s musical individuality quite brilliantly…
Palm then decides to ensure that the ‘metal’ part of the album title isn’t forgotten by dropping a Twisted Sister cover in the form of Destroyer. I’m not familiar with the original, for my sins my knowledge of ‘hair metal’ doesn’t extend much further than Mötley Crüe, but upon checking out the original I can say that Palm has done an excellent job of both evoking the Twisted Sister tune and giving it his own flavour. He’s shifted the track slightly from a striped back 80s metal stomp into a slow and moody piece of groovy doom, the gritty bass leading the way as the track moves through atmospheric ripples of psychedelic synths. Cutting guitar leads, scything keyboards and Palm‘s impassioned yet misty vocal delivery give the track an elevated sense of controlled abrasiveness; not quite falling into total free aggression, but still leaving some teeth marks behind.
Nihil and Nihilism, as their paired titling suggests, flow into each other as a couplet. Nihil is an acoustic number accentuated once again with the warm piano and glittering glockenspiel, whilst Palm croons out the simple words ‘you are nothing’. Nihilism is probably the catchiest tune on the record and goes even further into the post-punk influences which have dotted this record. It reminds me of bands like UK shoegazers The Horrors or Danish angular noise punks Iceage, with its notes of wild vibrating guitars and ethereal synths contrasted against the pulsating bass lines and merciless drumming. Palm‘s voice sounds at its finest here too, and the vocal melodies really accentuate just how catchy and memorable this tune is.
Nihilism flows with the sound of a rainy evening into the slow, evil trudge of Last Christmas. The fact that I’m still not 100% sure if this is an abstract instrumental cover after several listens, and even after seeking out Wham!’s festive classic to compare it, is a testament to Palm‘s vast imagination. Perhaps, given the lyrical content of the UK’s eight favourite Christmas song, this is actually another inconspicuous dig at Forge to finish the album. Forgetting any of these connections though, Palm‘s track is a haunting instrumental that through its echoing sheets of guitar takes on a complete life of its own. In its final leg Palm introduces his vibrato guitar sound again onto a grand acoustic backing, before quietly completing the album on the track’s utterly evil guitar melody.
Poverty Metal is a compelling listen, and for all the bonds to Ghost that Palm once had, this record is a testament to his skill as a musician. There’s a depth to his song-writing and an intelligence to his aggression which gives the record a distinctly unique edge. Palm has crafted his sonic style from a plethora of rock’n’roll, heavy metal, punk, post-punk, doom, shoegaze, and many sounds impossible to describe simply in genre terms. The resultant album is a bold and audacious musical adventure that showcases Palm‘s musical individuality quite brilliantly.
Scribed by: Will J