Salem are a three piece band from Chicago whose sound is borrowed from goth, industrial, shoegaze and rap – a combination which, for practical purposes, has been labeled “witch house”. While they have only released a number of limited edition EPs they have made enough of an impression to insure their debut LP King Night is a highly anticipated release.
The album opens with the overwhelmingly physical title track ‘King Night’. The song is as dark and brooding as the most oppressive dubstep around – Salem clearly have an appreciation for heavy bass and spooky melodies. Backed by a choir, that sounds like ‘Silent Night’ slowed down, there is an epic and narcotic atmosphere which permeates the rest of the album.
Some of the strangest tracks on King Night are the ones where they show off their rapping skills. While they are definitely not the first to combine goth with rap, something Trent Reznor has been flirting with for decades, the techniques used here are different. Their slo-mo style mixed with shoegaze sounds like Lil Wayne featuring in a David Lynch movie. The dragged rapping on ‘Sick’ recalls SpaceApe’s work with Kode9 as much as DJ Screws chopped and screwed hip-hop. Backed by angelic choir, this is eerie and hypnotic and the overall effect is a dystopian urban soundscape that recalls classic dark sci-fi movies. It’s no surprise then that during interviews Salem have discussed their desire to work with directors on soundtracks as their music has a strong visual element.
But for all the weird rapping the voice which makes the biggest impact on this album belongs to Heather Marlett. This is demonstrated best on ‘Redlights’, a song that rushes along, driven by her ethereal and intense vocals. Elsewhere on the album Marlett is a constant respite from some of the harsher sounds, providing a welcome balance between light and dark.
Like all Goth music percussion is highly important on King Night and plays a central role, from ‘Asia’s relentless heartbeat to ‘Hound’s playful toms and bongos. On ‘Frost’, the restless 808 snare is unable to settle into any position. Instead it rattles around the track, heightening the sense of displacement.
King Night ends on a delirious high. The final track Killer has a much brighter feel than the rest of the album but still holds on to the melancholia of the previous tracks.
As you would expect from a a shoegaze band there are synths spewing out gloomy chords, reverberated guitars feeding back forever, broken machines howling and mesmerising vocals telling you everything is going to be okay. But it’s Salem’s ability to combine these elements with Southern hip-hop and electronica in a cohesive way that makes King Night a success.