by Ask Vestergaard
There is something wrong with this music. It is haunted. Undead.
courtesy of Spotify
In 2018, Elizabeth Bernholz – known by her stage name Gazelle Twin – released her third album, Pastoral. While touring for the album, Bernholz often performed in a costume that made her look like a court jester wearing an Adidas tracksuit the same way a cultist wears flayed skin – and honestly, her music sounds about the same as she looked. Industrial techno and pagan wails are sutured to worn-out Tory catchphrases and then reanimated, simultaneously beautiful and painful to listen to. Folk horror’s exploration of dark and xenophobic terrors hidden beneath English soil is something that is more commonly associated with film than music (think The Wicker Man and The Witchfinder General), but there can be no doubt: Pastoral was folk horror for a post-Brexit age.
But Deep England is different. Different, and yet, the same. It feels possessed by Pastoral – like the two albums have had the musical equivalent of an illicit organ transplant. In 2019, Bernholz worked with the all-woman drone choir NYX to create a live performance project called Deep England that later evolved into an album of the same name released in March of 2021. Several songs in the album are adapted directly from Pastoral, but the results feel less like covers or collaboration and more like necromancy. The songs feel older, more rotten – and so much more haunting. Discordant synths have been almost entirely replaced by church bells and mournful flutes. And suddenly, the nostalgic bigotry and romantically bucolic racism that Pastoral lampoons reveal themselves to be so much more ancient than Brexit.
Deep England is named after what academic Patrick Wright once called ‘deep-frozen English nationalism’. That nationalism is a horror that creeps beneath the soil and seagull faeces of its great country – but at least it makes for some wonderfully witchy music to listen to on Halloween.