HENRIK PALM – Poverty Metal (2020)REVIEW

Something is gnawing at Henrik Palm, well, for quite some time now and whatever daimon it is that hangs on his shoulder this last decade or so now begins to add to his shadow. The beast on back that’d make itself unavoidable, well-nourished and unable to hide, is some manner of swine-eyed elephantism of the psyche fed by successes and failures, (probably) good drugs and bad trips, and some natural nihilismo in the face of widespread anomie. Building up this inspirational hump and clipping off chunks for various other projects served him well in the past, no doubt: You might not know Palm from his punk-energetic NWOBHM influenced Sonic Ritual project (alongside Maggot Heart‘s Linnéa Olsson) but I’ve some notion that you’ve at least heard of In Solitude, whose classic second and third albums certainly flipped the script for many of us. From metalpunk to trad-metallic post-punk, the inevitable slide into the likely disappointing world of Ghost‘s unnamed (and perhaps underpaid) songwriting legion was certainly not a given but it was surely an masked ascent for the artist. Naturally, a face-first eponymous project in Palm‘s name reflects his life experiences to some degree as we’d discovered circa 2017 via the diligently spaced ‘Many Days‘ but, the conversation on this second album would inevitably include the entire beast on his back — Not just the most fitting bits but a broad range of stylistic touches that’d pull from ex-crusted post-punk, heavy/doom metal majesty, and the edges of beloved late 60’s ‘Bull of the Woods‘-era Erickson and hey, maybe a touch of ‘Marquee Moon’. Intelligent folks are multi-faceted, nuanced, and able to communicate their worldview in poignant fashion and in this sense Palm‘s second album ‘Poverty Metal‘ is yet the most vivid window to the intellect of the songwriter to date whilst also baring naked the affect of more recent, and notably impassioned breakthroughs in authorship.

That is to say that ‘Many Days’ was a collection of prime moments that were varied for the sake of being built up over the course of several years, songs that’d dated back to the agreeable end of In Solitude and perhaps a healthy dose of bits stored away during his year spent in Ghost, contributing from “Cirice” through ‘Meliora’ (2015) and its follow-up EP. When first approaching this album it’d been entirely shocking to be greeted by the psychedelic heavy-pop metal lunges of “Bully”, a song that reminded me I was actually a bit of a fan of the more driving moments on ‘Opus Eponymous’ and ‘Infestissumam’. I don’t believe the reference was unintentional or, at the very least this impressive construct of a song proves unforgettable, a passionate and vengeful thing that feels grandiose far beyond the psychedelic and loosening heart of ‘Many Days’. The variety is here yet again if we look ahead, but before we get there it is well worth stating up front that Palm wasn’t much of a vocalist on that first album; ‘Poverty Metal’ finds his efforts less subtle via some strong attention to harmony (see: “Sugar”) and more present vocalization in general, a certain menacingly clever and oft vulnerable affect.

For my own taste “Sugar” should’ve kicked off Side B, though it does reveal itself with some broadly appealing movement it decompresses the first half of the album long before any real tension is built. There is a twinge of the darksided art-punk of Palm‘s tweaked Södra Sverige presence (via ‘Död musik’ specifically) on “Concrete Antichrist” but obviously in a more post-punk notion throughout. Those hoping for something as bumbling and dark as Pig Eyes should probably hang back and look for hooks rather than chunking noise contortion just yet. Point being that ‘Poverty Metal’ is thankfully not an intentional summation of Palm‘s other lives and current projects, his hand is obviously there but not at all intending to pull the bread from those other mouths. Uh, but the martial stomp and lucid-dreaming of “Given Demon” is going to get me to mention Ghost, again. So, do with that what you will but I personally enjoy the ascending guitar runs of this piece as well as its smart placement on the running order. At this point it’d make sense to attribute certain songwriting sensibility to Palm rather than a former project but the established sound of his former band does gently haunt the most compelling and effective pieces on this album.

Where does any enthusiasm come from on my part? When the first ‘Fröm the Fjörds‘-fuzzed riff buzzes out of “Destroyer” beneath its sludged bassline I’d been that much more on board. For that reason Side B would tend to be the bigger deal in my mind ’til the holistic viewpoint in reflection evened things out. At eight songs and ~38 minutes there is yet some room to wander on the back half (a la ‘Many Days’) largely via “Last Christmas” but the major impact of the album is yet spent by the end of the krauty bop of bass-forward groovin’ “Nihilist”, perhaps my personal favorite of the catchier numbers on the record. If the world forces itself upon the artist and the artist’s reaction is this sort of easy-stomping yet impassioned decade-less rock music then the prism has yet succeeded in coloring his world, and Palm does earn some quick fealty for this reflection of a tortured and burning world. It certainly isn’t music tailored towards self-conscious sub-genre children, domineering armchair rock n’ metal twats who’re allergic to blendered rock ideals, or post-punk purists but at the same time ‘Poverty Metal’ could be the perfect antidote to each mindset, at least if one can give themselves over to the neatly arranged songcraft within. Palm’s manifesto scribbling Nick Blinko mind pouring out Roky Erickson soul makes for one of the most catchy heavy rock records of the year and no doubt ‘Poverty Metal’ deserves a high recommendation for its engaging, divergent-yet-digestible spirit.

High recommendation.

Rating: 8 out of 10.
TITLE:Poverty Metal
LABEL(S):Svart Records
RELEASE DATE:October 16th, 2020
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp [All Formats]
Heavy Rock

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