Pagan walk us through their fierce debut album, Black Wash
The Italian-inspired four-piece are becoming one of the country's best post-hardcore bands, something they've set out to cement with their debut album.
Header photo by Andrew Basso.
Melbourne hard-rock four-piece Pagan are one of the front-runners of a new era of Australian hard-rock, bridging the gap between the classic few bands everyone seems to know and those a little more underground – commonly found in your small-capacity venues or on the lower billing of festivals like UNIFY. Their debut album Black Wash is one that sets out to push the post-hardcore band into a new level of acclaim and popularity, bringing together some eleven fierce, often genre-bending tracks for a quick-paced just-shy-of-40-minute duration that'll have you on your toes as it swerves between sub-genres and different shadings of tones and sounds, with frontwoman Nikki Brumen always leading the charge above the dense, guitar-fuelled instrumentals that pace underneath.
Black Wash arrived on Friday, and with a headline tour scheduled in for this August – full dates below – we got the crew to dive into the album's deeper meanings and creation. Dive into it all below while you try to keep up with Pagan's quick-paced drive on Black Wash:
1. Il Malocchio Si Apre
“The Evil Eye Opens”
The foreword to our book of spells, and your indoctrination into the family. “…Apre” sets the tone, and overall narrative of Black Wash. The song is simply about realizing that you are stuck inside of a situation or relationship that you don’t want to be in, and feeling as though there is no escape. It draws on the tragedy of the People’s Temple in the late 1970s as a metaphor for destructive love – being convinced you have found something to believe in, only to realize you were blinded by false hope. As such, the band recreates the feeling of having knots in your stomach as it builds and builds in tension around a single gloomy guitar melody until suddenly… there is nothing. Welcome to the Church of Black Wash.
2. Death Before Disco
Death Before Disco is a metaphor for re-birth. The lyrics touch on the concept of floating helplessly through the void of an emotionally manipulative relationship and being made to feel as though you were the problem and only in hindsight, finally finding solace when you see that this was not the case.
Musically, Death Before Disco is quite possibly the most quintessential Pagan song ever written. It is an antipasto platter of everything Pagan will go on to celebrate and cherish musically throughout Black Wash, hence being placed intentionally as the album’s first full song and being released subsequently as the first single. One can only ever find the rose when they're wading through the thorns, and Death Before Disco is about finally finding that rose.
A toxic love story; Silver tells the bleak truths of two people who grow to become each other’s greatest demons. It is a tale of trying to salvage some sort of happiness with the person who brings out the worst in you, even though you know you also bring out the worst in them. The tragedy plays out over a very “Pagan” take on a straight-up pop soundtrack, with a subtle tip of the hat to the classic guitar rock of the 1970s and much like its subject matter, fades out into nothingness after a series of peaks and troughs. Like turning up to a family gathering with no panettone, this is a risky move for the cult musically with not a single dance or blast beat to be heard but one that will no doubt bring the party to life for a long time to come.
4. Imitate Me
Imitate Me is a cryptic tale of rejecting and detaching yourself from ugly human bitterness, resentment and jealousy. A tonic to rid one’s self of the unwanted shadows in your life that seem to follow your every move. Imitate Me is quite possibly our Jeckyl and Hyde in the way it shifts brashly between dancefloor verses and choruses from the depths of hell, offering you a little bit of momentary breathing space when we choose to let you rest. It is a dramatically juxtaposed composition for those who march to beat of their very own drum but have felt alone in the face of adversity as a result.
5. Holy Water
Anneliese Michel was a young woman who underwent a Catholic exorcism before she died. Her parents and the priest were found guilty of negligent homicide as they thought she was possessed by a devil and chose to exercise her instead of giving her proper medical attention. Despite the True Crime nature of this case, this story is built on a Mediterranean Sea of metaphors that many can relate back to their own childhood memories and relationships with their parents.
One of the most soulful hymns on the album, Holy Water ties these concepts together with a tightrope and a very danceable backbeat courtesy of the rhythm section.
6. Blood Moon
Our culture and history has conditioned many men and women to cultivate very different emotional landscapes. Generally speaking, we live in a society where men have been conditioned to express their emotions to a far lesser extent than women, and unfortunately there are cases where this can result in them lash out in different ways because of them being able to relate on a deeper level. Blood Moon shines light on the menstrual cycle, and the way that this process that connects women with the earth, and effects emotions. One of the most destructive, brooding and intense moments on Black Wash by far as we reach the album’s mid-point, this song is as tiring for you to listen to listen to as it is for us to play.
7. Year of the Dog
Imagine that its 2:32am. You’re that calm kind of drunk that comes from an evening of sipping on Amaretto Sours and a beautiful stranger in the night tells you that they know a place that stays open all night. You stagger and sway, hand in hand with them through the city in the rain, until find yourself in front of a doorway in a back alley. You’re nervous, you’re excited and you’re in love. You can hear the muffled sound of a kick drum from inside as the DJ plays your favourite song even though you’ve never heard it before and like a vision of angels, your skin glows bright red as you gaze up at a neon sign that reads YEAR OF THE DOG.
This is Pagan’s biggest homage to the discotheque, and a song about not being able to see something great and special that’s right in front of you because of your own self-doubt. This is the dog scratching at your door, begging to be let in, but sometimes looking past your insecurity is enough to keep the door locked.
8. The Greatest Love Songs
Quite simply put, this song is a short, sharp anti-love song with lyrics inspired by the INXS’ album Kick and specifically the song Never Tear Us Apart. Our writing process is generally very meticulous and a lot of time is spent on fine-tuning a song but the intention here was to write a straight up, nasty rock and roll song with minimal frills, so we intentionally wrote The Greatest Love Songs quicker than anything else we have ever written. There’s not really much to say about this song because that’s the point. It's maybe the Fernet Branca of Black Wash; its not for everyone, but we really like it.
9. Wine and Lace
A song inspired by an article on the Lawson Family murders (Criminal podcast also covers this case beautifully in an episode called ‘The Portrait’). Wine and Lace is a song about placing your love and trust in someone who masks who they really are and what they really want. We chose to include this song on the record because it really marks a turning point for us, both stylistically and in terms of what we wanted to do with this band. Every time we play Wine and Lace we are transported back to when this song was originally released in 2016 and being on our first ever tour with our dear friends in Totally Unicorn which was one of the most fun periods of time and really made us realise that Pagan was something that we all really wanted to work at and put our energy into.
10. Fluorescent Snakes
A song about anxiety’s kiss, and feeling it to such extremes that it attacks your senses. The title of this song can be best understood if you imagine experiencing the photo-bleaching sensation that happens to your eyes after staring into the sun for too long and being blinded by fluorescent snakes of light once you look away. This was the second or third song Pagan ever wrote and was clearly well ahead of its time for us, given it fits in with the whole album so well.
It’s also 1 of 2 songs on Black Wash to feature the tambourine; the unholiest of all musical instruments.
11. Il Malocchio Si Chiude
“The Evil Eye Closes”
We each exorcised a lot of our individual devils on each of our respective instruments while recording “…Chuide” , and you can really hear that when you listen to it. Every note and beat is played so hard because we just wanted to make the ending to the record as monolithic and complete as we possibly could. This was around the eighth song Nikki tracked in the space of a day, and it was (and is) evident that the lyrics conjured up a lot of grief that she’d been suppressing. Each of us felt physically exhausted after completing this song, but also a euphoric sense of calm once it was done.
This song is made up almost entirely of variations of guitar riffs that appear in other songs throughout the album. It is the bigger sister to the album’s introduction track and an extension on “…Apre” both lyrically and musically and these two songs bookend the Black Wash very purposefully to remind you that when all is said and done, you can never ever truly escape the Church of Black Wash.
Tour Dates (click on the poster for tickets):
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