So fucked. So very, very fucked. You know how some music just sounds narcotic? I’ve never done heroin, but to me, that’s what Drug Honkey‘s fourth album, Ghost in the Fire (Diabolical Conquest) sounds like. The far-back echoes, droning cruelty, oppressive nod and pure abrasion speak directly to a tragic, endless addiction. And not in the way that Alice in Chains‘ Dirt was about heroin. I’m talking a direct sonic correlation. The fact that the second half of the album opens with “Dead Days (Heroin III)” seems to confirm that it’s not a coincidence either.
To be perfectly honest, I’ve been lagging on reviewing Ghost in the Fire — which features contributions from the likes of Nachtmystium‘s Blake Judd (who’s since become a full-time guitarist in the Chicago-based outfit) and a cover of the track “Twitcher” by Napalm Death offshoot Scorn — because the damn thing is so hard to listen to. Fourth cut “This Time I Won’t Hesitate” barely even has a pace to speak of; it just kind of collapses out of the speakers in a lurching ooze that makes SunnO))) sound accessible in comparison, topped with indecipherable growls drenched in effects and echoes to make them even more obscure. At 10 tracks/51 minutes, its extremity is unrelenting, and for a lot of people — I think for me as well — it’s just going to be too much.
I like a challenge though, and Ghost in the Fire provides nothing if it doesn’t provide that. Opener “Order of the Solar Temple” is among the most active pieces, with a forward-moving progression that the ensuing title-track takes down to Khanate levels of tortured recital. By the time they get down to the middle of the record, with “In Black Robe” and the aforementioned “Dead Days (Heroin III),” Drug Honkey‘s miseries feel inescapable, and it’s not exactly like there’s any letup on side B. Whether it’s the foreboding stillness that marks the beginning to the noisy build of “Five Years Up” or the half-speed Godflesh plod that follows with the fittingly deranged “Out of My Mind,” Ghost in the Fire offers no break from its excruciating decline.
And on that level of utter relentlessness, one has to stand back and appreciate Drug Honkey‘s work throughout these songs. It’s not like this sound happened by mistake, like they were a pop band whose album got warped in the manufacturing. Ghost in the Fire was produced by drummer Adam “BH Honkey” Smith and vocalist Paul “Honkey Head” Gillis — the band is rounded out by guitarist Gabe “Hobbs” Grosso and bassist Ian “Brown Honkey” Brown — and its commitment to extremity runs through every facet and nearly every second of every song — so much so that by the time “Twitcher” comes around as the penultimate cut before closer “Saturate/Annihilate,” it’s one of the “friendlier” moments on the album. How can you not respect that?
The kicker is they’re working on a level of viciousness that next to nobody is going to be able to keep up with. But you don’t make this kind of misanthropic noise if you haven’t considered such things and long ago said fuck it and fuck everything, so kudos to Drug Honkey. There are a lot of acts in a lot of genres who claim to be carrying a standard for precisely this kind of malevolence. I’ve yet to hear one who embodies it so genuinely.