I saw Ragana several months ago. The music festival was Oblivion Access. The season was summer. The city was Austin, Texas. The venue was Mohawk at their sun-baked outdoor stage against air so humid your senses simply go berserk. It was The Flenser themed evening featuring: Have a Nice Life, Mamaleek, Chat Pile, and Planning For Burial. Ragana was the first band to perform, and I got to Mohawk early because they had been on my radar for a while. Their devastating guitar and gnarled vocals clash against drumming so despairingly bleak. The guitar/vocal and drum duties were switched between the two members. I was blown away to say the least by their raw passion.
To quote their website ‘Ragana has existed since autumn 2011 when Maria and Coley met in Olympia, WA.’ Since then, they’ve released three albums and a split with Thou. Splits with Thou and/or Full Of Hell are essential rites of passage for an emerging band. Ragana with Thou also happens to be one of the finest splits I’ve heard in some time.
Okay, let’s get something out of the way. Desolation’s Flower is not an enjoyable or fun album. This is not what you put on before you go to a raging party. This is all of those lonely nights spent wondering if you could ever even hope to get back to a fraction of the happiness you once felt. After searching for way too long, you realize the more you grasp, the further it gets.
A lone guitar with quiet but deep drums create the skeleton to album opener Desolation’s Flower. Depth comes in writhing with a guitar passage you’ll become increasingly familiar with as the album goes on. The breathless vocals come from a deep pain that drenches the mood. The lyrics ‘unending holy bloom that cannot be denied. We hold eternity, they cannot make us die’, while certainly adding some clarity, they’re almost unnecessary as the tone alone provides enough anguish from how desperately they’re sung.
After that introduction, Woe seems to move at a much swifter pace. At least by comparison. The guitar chords almost take on something that sounds like keys. The lyrics paint a scene with the singer comparing herself to nature, the vocals are delivered less desperate than before, they sound exhausted as if these emotional passages have been visited many times before. The drumming determines the pace forcing the guitar and vocals to move forward.
Slowing to funeral doom in both speed and tone, Ruins had me wrecked the first time I heard it. Movements are so sparse and monumental that it’s hard to not hear Bell Witch, AHAB or Mournful Congregation at every corner turned. Of course, Ragana put their own spin on things, but their influences are shown a bit more here than previously.
Distortion disappears and reappears like the waves of emotion that wash over us as our heart breaks apart…
DTA is almost folksy. At least compared to what we’ve been hearing until now. Reflective lyrics and self-deprecating thoughts race. One of the most interesting things that happens besides ‘death to America’ being crooned are these weird field recordings in the background. We hear fireworks, riots, news broadcasts and so many other things that American citizens have grown completely numb towards against Ragana’s signature guitars and vocals, which may have started fragile, but quickly turn harsh and abrasive.
The guitar loses quite a bit of distortion as Winter’s Light Pt. 2 begins. This collapses into one of the more unstable tracks on the album. The screaming doesn’t waver an inch, but those guitars really make all equilibrium fade away. A heartbreaking story of a lost love is told giving some insight. Distortion disappears and reappears like the waves of emotion that wash over us as our heart breaks apart. We’ve all been there.
The poppiest track on the album, Pain, is next. Well, it’s poppy after everything we’ve been through. Sung, not screamed, vocals, guitars, and drums are almost no-wave inspired. The chord progression is dynamic, and I wonder if Ragana just wanted to prove they could make a near traditional sounding track. None of this is an insult as it’s the track I’ve played the most.
Themes of nature make a return on album closer In The Light Of The Burning World. Heavier elements come into play here but there’s a different emotion that’s impossible to ignore and something that hasn’t been present on any other track. A sense of freedom. I think it’s inspiring to hear this after what’s proceeded. Running water runs through the rest of the song cleansing our souls.
Back to what I said at the beginning of this review about this not being a fun album. Not every day is going to be a good one. Not every decision or feeling is going to be pleasant or enjoyable. Ragana’s Desolation’s Flower is a trek through a rough patch of one’s life. At times it’s angry, or mournful, but it’s not a patch you should deny. This is the scrapped knee you needed to teach you a lesson.
Scribed by: Richard Murray