We live in a fantasy, but not one of our own choosing. It is a dark and frigid world, animated by power, thrills, and the undying spirit of those who have nothing but each other left in the struggle to get by. This is the world of Poison Ruin’s Harvest; the only way out is through. Evoking a rich tapestry of ice-caked forests, peasant revolts, and silent knights, Poison Ruin stab at the pulsing heart of what it means to live under the permanent midnight of contemporary life.Harvest gazes at the world with a sense of grave seriousness, its stare softened only by the alluring seduction of a dream world’s open-ended possibility. These songs move with a type of uncanny confidence, assembling an array of references to past styles and sensibilities that collapse in on one another, congealing into a truly unique sonic landscape. One gets the liberatory conviction of UK82 punk without the on-the-nose moralism, the rude impact of early hard rock without the frivolousness, the suffocating cynicism of Over the Edge-era Wipers without the softened edges. Certain riffs and theatrics provide a deeply seductive excitement, like the glint of tomorrow’s horizon passing along the edge of a metal stud, but this excitement is only a cipher for drawing the listener deeper into the thicket of Harvest’s malaise and eternal conviction. With Harvest, Poison Ruin have constructed a fantasy world of a better future. They do not flinch in the face of darkness or peddle in empty utopian gestures, but rather harness the energies of revenge and comradery to stoke the desire for a better world made material.
Harvest was recorded by vocalist/guitarist Mac Kennedy over the Fall of 2021 and Winter of 2022, largely in the confines of the band’s shared practice space. When it came time to record vocals for the record in late January, Kennedy retreated to the solitude of a snowy cabin on the West Virginia-Ohio border. “It felt important to mark the vocals with a certain time and place and state of mind,” Kennedy reflects, “recording at the cabin felt like a good way to imbue things with a certain cold, forest-surrounded flavor.” Both sides of the record are constructed as miniature, mirroring suites, baroquely haunted interludes and anthemic thrushes of distortion guiding the listener through an almost novel-esque web of peaks and valleys. Rather than simply tossing together the most energetically immediate collection of songs at their disposal, Poison Ruin have meticulously sculpted a total aesthetic experience, crafting a record that strictly adheres to a fully realized internal emotional logic. The band, which is rounded out by guitarist Nao Demand, drummer Allen Chapman, and bassist Will McAndrew, marches on with a sense of unshakable confidence – their performances project a deep sense of awareness and faith in the quality of the work itself. Harvest does not pander to the listener. Rather, it demands you to engage with it on its own terms.
Poison Ruin first emerged in April of 2020 with their eponymous EP, which was followed shortly by a second eponymous EP the following February, both self-released. While they share a certain affinity for rough-around-the-edges, lo-fidelity stones with their Philadelphian compatriots Devil Master and Sheer Mag, Poison Ruin wants things bleaker. The up-tempo guitar heroics of their first two EP’s (which were collectively released as a self-titled LP in February of 2021) have been dragged through the trenches, emerging as a heavy morass of breathless gloom. WithHarvest, Poison Ruin have perfectly aligned their sonic palette to their godless, medieval-inflected aesthetic symbolism, creating a record which strikes with an assured sense of blackened harmony.
“I’ve always found fantasy tropes to be incredibly evocative,” Kennedy notes, “that said, even though they are a set of symbols that seem to speak to most people of our generation, they are often either apolitical or co-opted for incredibly backwards politics.” With Harvest’s lyrics and imagery, Kennedy reworks fantasy imagery as a series of totems for the downtrodden, stripping it of its escapist tendencies and retooling it as a rich metaphor for the collective struggle over our shared reality: “Instead of knights in shining armor and dragons, it’s a peasant revolt,” Kennedy explains,
“I’m all for protest songs, but with this band I’ve found that sometimes your message can reach a greater audience if you imbue it with a certain interactive, almost magical realist element.” The title track invokes images of feudal peasants, tithes, and money-hungry lords, sounding the horn of labor with the rallying cry, “Isn’t this our harvest? Isn’t this our feast to share?” Tales of the undead rising to take revenge upon those who have unknowingly wronged them spin out like pleasantly cathartic folktales (“Resurrection II”), while other tracks address the profound beauty and spirit of those making ends meet in the forsaken ends of Poison Ruin’s hometown of Philadelphia (“Blighted Quarter”). These are not superficial or self-aggrandizing political statements. Rather, Poison Ruin stares into the abyss of modern living with a sober and empathetic outlook, portraying our cracked reality as a complex and difficult to parse miasma of competing desires. This empathy shines through perhaps most clearly on “Torture Chamber,” whose proclamation, “What is a truth for which you’ll die? And what are the words that would set you free?” rings out less as a holier-than-thou statement unyielding purity, and more so a genuine acknowledgement of the ways in which we so often, with good reason, fail to live up to our highest aspirations.
Harvest trades in a variety of musical lineages andstyles, shapeshifting with an almost uncanny sense of ease. Opening track “Pinnacle of Ecstasy” breaks the record’s icy surface with a dungeon baroque instrumental that calls to mind the more chilling iterations of This Mortal Coil, before launching into a bombast of twistedly anthemic moments that evoke Rikk Agnew and early Judas Priest in equal parts. The title track further expands upon this same interplay between softly transitory instrumentals and sonic barrages, juxtaposing sweeping piano passages against a drawling, sitting-on-the-edge-of-the-world vocal line. Frantic instrumentals race forward, shifting effortlessly from urgent funeral marches to subtly power pop inflected choruses, unfurling like a nested doll of increasingly bold highs. Certain tracks swoon drunkenly like Iron Maiden kissed sea-shanties (“Frozen Blood”), while others pit Flamenco-esque waves of feedback against speed-scorched pogo beats, invoking contorted visions of jesters dancing in a king’s court (“Bastard’s Dance”).
With Harvest, Poison Ruin have constructed a richly chilling fable out of modern living. Their tale is as lurid as it is seductive, as much a promising fantasy as it is a dreary portrait of reality itself.
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