As with previous albums, Knight of Swords’ late 2017 offering Indelible is a DIY bedroom goth delight, soaked in The Cure as per usual (notes in particular of Pornography and Disintegration throughout) but also as per usual a growth and departure from previous albums as more influences blend in to help advance her sound. “Chalk Cliffs” ends with an Angelo Badalamenti twist that bleeds nicely into the opening soundscape of the second track, “The Perfect Scum”, while “Collapse II” reminds of both the titular track of Pornography and industrial/noise rock, many of the tracks (but “Dancing” most prominently) have echoes of both Talking Heads and A Certain Ratio, and similarly there is a thread of composition throughout almost like a Classical or Romantic song cycle. Nevertheless, the traditional goth aesthetic remains most prominent and is only accentuated and enhanced by these notes, and the ambitious experimentation more than pays off.
Indelible‘s overall mood, as with anyone drawing as heavily on traditional goth rock as Knight of Swords does, is melancholy and despairing with deviations into tension and anxiety. How those are accomplished are at times following traditional blueprints and at others very uniquely her own. There are even moments where the mood seems to erupt into a dark bacchanal the album doesn’t have the energy for, like a glimpse of the Unseelie Fae dancing at the edge of exhaustion before collapsing entirely. The vocals deserve special attention, as they are what cements the feeling of the tracks which have them. If the sound is melancholy and despairing, in part it is these vocals that project that in a raw and awkward form more similar to the true nature of depression than a beautiful voice ringing out despairing lyrics ever could. However the vocals retreat down and minimize themselves as well, effacing down into an anxious mutter that almost feels afraid to be heard. Both aspects are tempered by a resigned exhaustion, but when the energy’s fluctuations between despair and fear don’t let that tempering constrain them they burst forth and paint a brush stroke that marks the track perfectly. The push and pull between the need to wail out pain and despair and the fear of having the wail heard echo across the entire album, and playing across the drum machine bedroom production it has the very authentic feel of a goth at home, isolating in their room, the universal experience of being a goth rather than the glossier production and trained vocals of some of the big names in gothic music. Yet despite this, Knight of Swords’ production has come a long way from her first albums Accolade (2015) and Mystery Babylon (2016), and the last few albums have felt like a turning point towards a greater degree of complexity and skill than ever before and an integration, as I mentioned, of ever more diverse influences without losing that classic goth sound and the deeply personal and universal “everygoth” aspects that come with the style of production and vocals.
The struggle with cisheteropatriarchal standards for both body and mind in media, advertising and the overall culture of global capitalism are difficult to endure for a revolutionary communist trans woman, and we hear that pain expounded upon with a fantastic goth poesy. The fact that Knight of Swords is the project of a committed communist also echoes through in the disgust at the death and rot out of which our current world is constructed. So much of depression and anxiety today has its roots in the sicknesses of capitalism on both local and global levels. The impacts capitalism has on people living within it, the ways which it tries to break people in just the right way to have holes within to desperately want to fill with useless things the marketplace then provides and thereby produces people broken in “wrong” ways, all of these personal impacts (and more) as well as the impacts on the macro view of entire populations occupy her thinking. The album’s wailing despair and anxious mumbles emerge from and position themselves against not only personal circumstances but the state of the world under capitalism.
The delicate touch of the titular track which closes this album is heart-wrenching, and etches the feelings of impermanence, disconnection and alienation which can feel so disorienting and chaotic into something that traps that chaos in a kind of stagnant prison, a perfect final track to ensure we feel the mark of this more experimental foray by Knight of Swords branded on us indelibly.