by Matt J. Popham
“There isn’t anyone to help you. Only me. And I’m the Beast.”
It’s hard not to be reminded of William Golding’s savage masterpiece while listening to Le Butcherettes’ brilliant and harrowing “Cry is for the Flies.” The fact that Teresa Suarez (aka Teri Gender Bender), Le Butcherettes’ founder and frontwoman, once achieved a certain notoriety by performing on stage with a severed pig’s head only serves to make one wonder if the evocation is deliberate. The band’s 2011 debut, “Sin Sin Sin,” (a winking bilingual double-entendre) was riddled with literary references after all, name-checking such authors as Tolstoy, Rousseau, Fitzgerald, and Salinger. But while “Lord of the Flies” is never explicitly mentioned on “Cry is for the Flies,” and Suarez has since abandoned most of her gruesome stage theatrics, an urgent, primal menace, reminiscent of Golding’s novel, seethes through her latest collection of songs. Even if the association isn’t intentional, it’s apt.
Mercilessly intense, but undeniably compelling, “Cry is for the Flies” strips Le Butcherettes’ already minimalist punk aesthetic to its bare bones. What’s left is raw, hard, and often unsettling. Gone is the cheerfully serrated mischief of “Sin Sin Sin” with its catchy garage rock hooks and sharp, show-offy lyrics. “Cry is for the Flies” is a darker, subtler, less comfortable listen, but also a stronger, more assured, and more impressive one. From the ominous opener, “Moment of Guilt,” a tautly whispered spoken word prologue by Butcherettes admirer Henry Rollins, through to the throbbing, threatening closer, “Blackhead,” each track is an austere expression of barely contained, but masterfully controlled, madness. Omar Rodriguez Lopez’s bass stalks and growls like a wounded animal over Lia Braswell’s eruptive drumming, creating an unrelenting tension, perfectly punctuated by Suarez’s thundering power chords. Even the album’s more upbeat, keyboard-driven tracks, like “Boulder Love Over Layers of Rock,” or the stunning “Poet From Nowhere,” sound dangerously unhinged: the former like a commercial jingle having a psychotic episode, the latter like a carnival ride careening off the rails.
But ultimately, it’s Suarez’s voice that carries the album and gives it its distinctive, disturbing character. Trading the punk rock screams of her past efforts for more tuneful, but no less impassioned, emotional exorcisms, she commands each song with impressive dramatic range and power. Down and dirty one minute, launching into an off-kilter falsetto the next. A defiant and discordant snarl on the assaultive “Burn the Scab.” A haunting howl on “Your Weakness Gives Me Life.” Wearily dragging the deep end of her lower registers on the wrenching “My Child,” before thinning into reedy, brittle grief. Her vocal theatrics, at every turn, are both jarring and powerfully genuine, delivered with almost terrifying commitment. If Suarez is no longer performing in bloodied butcher’s aprons, or dancing with pig’s heads, it’s not because she’s gone soft or toned it down. It’s because she’s successfully absorbed and integrated such provocative artistic strategies into her singing and songwriting, her fierce intellect now equally matched by a near-demonic musical and emotional ferocity.
“I can’t get at you,” Rollins whispers, as the personification of Guilt.
“Why do you think that is?” the track’s protagonist queries.
“Because you’re a monster,” Guilt replies.
“It took you this long,” says our protagonist, “to figure it out?”
Suarez has figured out her inner monster and delivered it into the world with blood, sweat, and screams. A riveting, ravaging work of striking severity, stark simplicity, and searing sincerity, “Cry is for the Flies” should secure Suarez’s place in the rock pantheon alongside the likes of Patti Smith, Kathleen Hannah, and Sleater-Kinney – gifted music icons and feminist flag-bearers whose influence she wears proudly on her blood-spattered sleeve. Like so many great albums, it’s an original, uncompromising, even brutal work. In short, it’s a Beast. Give it a chance and it will get inside you and swallow you whole. It will become inescapable. And you’ll love every thrilling minute.