Philadelphia based Poison Ruïn has been gaining a lot of steam in the underground over the past few years, as their take on deathrock, gothic rock, and post punk that’s run through a medieval filter offered something that was simultaneously unique and nostalgic. On their full-length debut Härvest this has been amplified, as the production values manage to sound downright ancient and washed out in a good way while the material offers strong hooks that pull from different styles from across the 80s. While there are always new punk and post punk acts trying to capture some of the genre’s formative years, Poison Ruïn has done so in a way that also incorporates some metal leanings that pushes them into a space of their own.
If you go back to their earlier EP’s and then compare it to Härvest, you’ll find a band that’s only seemed to get rawer and more mysterious in their musical approach. The vocals have not only gotten harsher, but the recordings have shifted towards mix and masters that obscure some of the details in a haze while still keeping the hooks. It’s not an approach that will appeal to everyone, but the first time I heard the title track I knew I was in for something special that felt like it was tailor made for my tastes. That piece begins with a somber yet beautiful synth intro that sounds like it’s ripped off the backing music of a public access cable show from the 80s, but then transitions into a sharper edged number that’s somewhere between anarcho punk and post punk. It’s catchy and raw at the same time, and that holds true for much of the album. Much of Härvest sounds like a cassette or VHS that’s been copied over so many times that it’s starting to degrade, as though you’re hearing something that’s been passed around to a hundred people beforehand, and while that type of deliberately rough production can go awry often (see a lot of black metal), it works here. Speaking of black metal, songs like “Frozen Blood” have methodical tempos and harsher riffs that wouldn’t sound out of place on a first or second wave black metal band. Poison Ruïn really nails diversity in their craft, as sometimes they pull a more Christian Death or Rudimentary Peni approach, while other times bring in a slew of punk and even dungeon synth influences. Some elements do seem ripe for further expansion, particularly the dreamier textures of closer “Slowly Through the Dark” which end a little too abruptly, but this is still the type of album I’ve listened to front to back numerous times and always found something to connect with.
As I mentioned earlier, with each release the vocals have only gotten harsher and more in your face. On their first two EP’s you had some gruffer, yelled pitches alongside some cleaner ones that had more of a new wave influence at certain points, but as Poison Ruïn has progressed this has shifted to an almost hellish snarl. Härvest takes this to its next logical point, as the first taste of vocals you get on opener “Pinnacle of Ecstasy” are sung/yelled words that are so low that it feels like brushing against barbed wire. This fits in well with some of the deathrock and metal influences present in the songwriting, as it gives an edge to each appearance. This approach could admittedly get repetitive and Poison Ruïn does address this by switching things up occasionally, with the title track in particular offering some lighter singing that feels a bit more post punk. Certain points gave off a bit of a Killing Joke vibe vocally, but chances are depending on where your tastes skew, you’ll be reminded of plenty of other classic artists as you make your way through.
Härvest is fantastic offering from a band that only seems to keep getting better with each release. Capturing hints of black metal, dungeon synth, and even some ambient in between the punk and deathrock makes for a genuinely unique sound, and underneath the haze and grime there are genuine hooks to back it up. What’s even more exciting is that Poison Ruïn still seems to have plenty of room left to expand on any of these areas, and it’ll be interesting to see what elements they accentuate in the future. For now, this album hasn’t left my stereo for days and I find myself tapping my foot and wanting to scream along to what may be one of the more exciting punk adjacent bands I’ve heard in recent memory. Härvest is available from Relapse Records.
-Review by Chris Dahlberg