December 4, 2014

A Pregnant Light - My Game Doesn't Have a Name

Written by Greg Majewski.

After three years of splits, singles and EPs, Damian Master finally released his first full-length album as A Pregnant Light on 11/11. For those not yet indoctrinated in the fertility cult, let me provide a brief rundown of what to expect on My Game Doesnt Have a Name: Master plays a raw yet disarmingly melodic blend of black metal and post-punk he calls “purple metal.” It’s an apt descriptor, considering the color’s feminine connotations and the sultry Golden Age starlets who graced the covers of his early output. Hell, dude even recorded a lovingly faithful cover of Madonna’s “Live to Tell” in 2012 with Bay Area metal mavens Sigrid Sheie (Hammers of Misfortune) and Kris Force (Amber Asylum) sharing lead vocals. So it goes without saying he ain’t afraid of a good hook.

The Madge influence is the dominant force behind Master’s pop sensibility, which is more present on My Game than anything in APL’s past. Master’s riffs are giant, impossibly catchy things, and My Game’s first half is a perfect introduction to the APL mystique. “Born to Ruin” and “Dream Addict” both lock into slide-driven halftime grooves, the latter balancing blast beats with backbeat and boasting leads more informed by Johnny Marr than Demonaz.

These early songs carry traces of Master’s 2013 EPs Domination Harmony and Stars Will Fall. Since those two beauties, he’s been working towards a clearer sound, pulling APL out of the basement haze that buried much of his earlier work. My Game is the first A Pregnant Light album recorded in a studio and the first to feature additional performers, as Master enlisted Jake Duhaime and Tim Lenger from his circle of bands in Grand Rapids, Mich. to play drums and bass, respectively.

Those two upgrades are readily apparent from the outset. While APL guitar tracks have possessed Kevin Shields levels of depth since the band’s inception, the mix itself requires less effort than previous releases to peel apart the layers Master has folded on top of each other. Opener “Unreachable Arc” gets right to it as Master builds a ringing hook that flows into effortless tremolo with guitar tracks in the left, center and right of the mix, each playing off the other and compliment and counterpoint. Master claims there are five or six guitar tracks on every song, but I lost count on a few. Previous efforts demanded good headphones to pull the subtle hooks from their tape hiss mausoleum. My Game demands good headphones and repeated listens to hear all the Easter Eggs Master left for us, all presented in stunning clarity.

It’s in My Game’s second half where Master’s earworms translate into clean singing, a recent addition to his vocal repertoire he balances with his established hardcore bellow. He practically croons during the bridges on “Fresh Flower Offering (Purple Night)” and “My Days and Nights In You,” the latter exploding into an anguished howl and a torrent of blasts, all after the poppiest, post-punkiest intro in APL’s catalogue.

My Game Doesn’t Have a Name was actually supposed to come out last year, but instead of celebrating the release of his first LP, Master found himself dead on the operating table during a lengthy surgery to correct a chronic spinal problem. After doctors revived him and completed the operation, Master put writing on hold and spent the next six months recuperating. His near-(or actual) death experience led him to adopt the creed “too tough to die,” an old Marine motto. It’s also the inspiration for the fatalist theme woven through the album’s lyrics, most notably on “Circle of Crying Women”:
Digging through the trash in my wake
You’ll find nothing
So stop looking
The secrets are here
In the songs I sang
It’s A Pregnant Light’s most fully realized statement to date, a microcosmic reflection of death from the perspective of the recently passed that stops on a dime during its hyperspeed tremolo for Master’s sing-songy refrain, “You know, you know, I had to go.” There’s the ear for a hook, Master’s uncanny ability to shape a simple melody into something cruelly catchy, his penchant for turning mortality into positivity. After all, “Who wouldn’t want a circle of crying women praying over their body?”

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