‘When hell was all around they found desolation’s flower
Unending holy bloom that cannot be denied
We hold eternity they cannot make us die…
Holy are the names‘
The lines above are the first and last words declared on the opening title track for Ragana‘s debut full-length under beloved record label The Flenser, Desolation’s Flower. The Olympia-Oakland based two-piece have not quivered in the least bit when addressing the current American political landscape within their ten-year run, and this record serves to be a thunderous reminder of its relevancy through both clamor for the hardships endured and celebration for those who paved the way towards a brighter future. Desolation’s Flower, then, paints a monochromic picture of queer resistance filtered through the reigns of doom, Cascadian black metal, and slowcore – with the resulting product being a towering demonstration of what it means to say no more.
Much of the defiance showcased throughout the record comes from its magnetic visceral production. Pensive arrangements seamlessly well and weave into relentless cries of war, whose screams and tectonic riffing sound like coming from the very depths of an empty stomach and from a coarse throat uttering last proclamations of no surrendering. Indeed, the tracks are that poignant – immediate upon hearing the reverberating intro guitar leads on the aforementioned title track, revealing a mesmerizing opening that digs deep into the murkiness of sludgy doom and the sharp iciness of black metal. “Ruins” doubles down further on the doom instrumentals with a lethargic pacing that highlights Ragana‘s effective use of space, further amplifying the climactic impact of the track’s outro as the line ‘I long for thee‘ is repeated for its entirety as if trying to seep through the cracks of the suffocating wall of sounds that envelops it.
Dynamics are the duo’s strength on Desolation’s Flower, enacting a crude sonic vision that showcases the emotional depths of rage, courage, and overall heart through varying textures and subtle instrumental push-and-pulls. “Woe” is the clearest example of this, painting strokes of both grim and blazing soundscapes beneath vocals that interchange from agonizing wails to hellish shrieks effortlessly – clamors that ache in desperation from tragedies after tragedies unfolding in our very eyes and the collective inertia that arises out of them. This is especially relevant on a track like “DTA”, as the lines ‘death to America’ are repeated with both ire and conviction as if to not succumb in total numbness towards the social inequities pervasive in our daily livings. This synchronicity between what is played and what is said precisely call attention to Ragana‘s fervent drive for composing tracks that seek for its listeners to immerse themselves in the details rather than approaching them passively.
“Winter’s Light Pt.2” is Ragana‘s take on a through-and-through atmospheric black metal cut – a bleak journey that traverses through the uncertain mind searching for some semblance of repose in the midst of brutal survival. Imageries of fawns lost in wintery wilderness are anchored in such a scenario while shrilling instrumentals serve as an imposing background brimming with anxiety. This is immediately subdued with the following track “Pain”. With swirling melodies in the vein of shoegaze and slowcore, Ragana present a tender ballad on solidarity, with the line ‘I am dying to know what it feels like‘ being one of the most impactful ones on the record – a reassuring honor for those who are healing and in the midst of overcoming pain. The closer, “In the Light of the Burning World”, follows suit in similar fashion, where spellbinding vocals lead a hymn about finding solace in the flickers of an awakening hope in, as the title aptly suggests, a burning world tainted with hurt and indifference.
Desolation’s Flower is one of the more unique offerings of this year – a blooming force of a record that strives for flaring advocacy in tandem with equally commanding music. Every track feels intentional in the way a call to arms does – ardent, impassioned, and ready to engage, leaving no room for doubts or indifferent passivity to those who chance upon them. It’s more than clear that Ragana are an excellent addition to an already stellar The Flenser roster, but make no mistake that the reaches the album will have are to be as expansive (and as a result from) the heart showcased throughout it.