First thing’s first: WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON WITH THIS ALBUM ART? A skull-perched man with horns shooting out of his head and bat wings jutting out of his back grips his junk, which is barely concealed by a He-Man loin cloth, creepily grins at a kneeling, bare-assed man who’s struggling with the shackles clenching his wrists. To the left of the junk-fondler stands a She-Ra wannabe holding an axe, and to the ball-grabber’s right is a caped figure in a metal Dracula mask. Two Jurassic Park-escapees soar in the blood-orange sky-mist, while a hetero-couple bangs missionary style at the feet of the axe-wielder. The illustration is by Ronaldo Wright.
The back cover features a close-up photo of Jesse Bercowetz and Matt Bua’s sculpture “Everyday Baphomet.” A Baphomet is some sort of Pagan deity first mentioned in a 12th-century Occitan poem that eventually snuck its way into 19th-century occult discourses and was further articulated in Aleister Crowley’s Magick, Liber Aba, Book IV. It initially appears to be random stacks of branches drenched in blood, nasty oil, and swamp muck, but once the eyes settle in, the demon mug gazing back is gnarly and terrifying. It’s so horrible, in fact, that choosing to be in the front-cover world with the nut-squeezer is arguably preferable to being in the back-cover world with the evil-eyed goo monster. Choosing is not a choice, though, as Peeesseye clearly want us to be in both worlds.
Pestilence & Joy, released by Peeesseyer Chris Forsyth’s Evolving Ear imprint in an edition of 300, is the band’s 19th record. The trio of Forsyth, Jamie Fennelly, and Fritz Welch has ceaselessly created confounding, difficult-to-pin-down sonic worlds, so the perplexing nature of the album art is consistent with the mission they’ve collectively pursued for the past nine years. This album is no exception, traversing the spaces between the two extremes of its title as quickly as it leaps from one musical domain to the next.
“You’re Not Evil” begins with a satanic chant for a black-woods shadow-night that meets up with a lingering Twin Peaks drone and traces of dancing electric guitar spirits. On “See, Let Us,” the trio plunges into a swirling dirge that moves from Eastern modes and spiritual ascension moods to raucous free-improvisation. The percussive clangs that open “HHH” sound like a herd of sheep being led somewhere, and when the angry, howling voice and heavy Earth 2 guitar drones enter, that somewhere is revealed to be a slaughterhouse. In the track’s final moments, joy makes its appearance in the form of an epic piano phrase, and pestilence is embodied by the ghoul who grunts and gnashes its fangs behind the keys.
Side B opener “…and a rottener man never drew breath” is the most engaging piece of the album, as the trio pushes aside the murk to produce a refreshing space for diverse sound exploration. Welch’s percussion pelts down like rain on a plurality of surfaces, resulting in equally as many sounds, while Forsyth pulls delicate, ghost-like notes from his guitar that vanish and arrive simultaneously. Combining fragments of funeral-folk, noise, improv, drone, doom, and ecstatic celebration, the album rumbles to a live audience clap-a-long conclusion that includes bizarre animal moans, harmonica and slide-guitar smokestack blues, and howling back-and-forth calls for “joy” and “pestilence.” When the arm of the turntable rests safely in its place, you’ll slip the vinyl slab back into its confusing case, scratching your head as you look into either the eyes of the Baphomet or the fingertips of the ball-juggler.