If the name Henrik Palm isn’t immediately familiar to you, it’s probably because you either didn’t pay attention to Sweden’s In Solitude (big mistake: wonderful band, and Sister, their swansong, was one for the ages) or you missed Palm’s name when a gaggle of Nameless Ghouls attempted to take Tobias Forge to task for being the sort of Papa Smurf who refused to grant the other smurfs the sort of individuality that goes beyond being, well, Nameless Smurfs. Two understandable reasons for not recognizing the name Henrik Palm, but for the sake of developing a bit of a backstory before moving forward, here is a quick roadmap:
• Henrik Palm played guitar on two of In Solitude’s most celebrated records: The World. The Flesh. The Devil in 2011, and Sister in 2013.
• Henrik Palm played bass and rhythm / lead guitar on one of Ghost’s more favorable albums, 2015’s Meliora.
With album number two, Poverty Metal, Henrik Palm offers up a similarly motley assemblage of influences into his distinctive… sorta woozy, goth attack stance (Shaolin Gothra style), but this year’s venture feels even more doomy, glammy, garagey, psych and sans restraints. You can still hear footprints of In Solitude and perhaps even Ghost, but they percolate alongside an even wider variety of influences in 2020. If a four-squared image could be conjured to loosely represent what to expect in terms of possible influence and overall mood, please accept the following grim oblation:
A picture kicks the crap out of a thousand words, yet I soldier forward.
While it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to see people continue to draw some type of line to the rockier end of Voivod, the noisy rattle blaring from the garage of Poverty Metal feels more imbued with the post-punk stylings that The Boys Next Door / The Birthday Party delivered all them many years ago. The album opener, for example, with its forceful thump tromping alongside Palm’s repeated barks of “BULLY,” and the way “Concrete Antichrist” melds fried melody with a relentlessly steady stutter-step clatter. But the full picture ends up feeling more—and I hesitate to use this word because it might be too loose-fitting—“happy” compared to Many Days. Not happy like the B-52s spinning in a flower patch happy, but just a general sense of gladness about imparting a rowdy and raw twist to wickedness the way early Alice Cooper did fifty years ago. Anthemic rockers like “Sugar” and “Given Demon” that balance a sense of melancholy with plenty of crack-a-lack fire and sass tap a similar well as Love It to Death, and it suits Henrik Palm’s overall approach quite nicely.
“Given Demon” also showcases the album’s reverence for a style of synth-driven slasher film flamboyance that would result in a hot mess in less talented hands, but it ends up mixing perfectly when folded into Palm’s penchant for putting a trippy period on the end of a sentence. Plenty of doom there, too, which pops up time and again throughout the record—a classic Sabbath variety on the closing “Last Christmas,” but when worked into the rest of the eccentricity, it feels more akin to the wonderfully wobbly variety prevalent in the early Italian scene, particularly on “Destroyer.”
It’s feasible that all this talk of different angles and diverse influences paints a picture of a crazed heap of everything but the kitchen sink, but Palm has a unique talent for sewing bits from all sorts of materials into something that, above all else, remains unquestionably comfortable. Words such as “profoundly weird” have been attached to his solo work in the past, which is sort of understandable given the full scope traveled, but things never really feel as if they stray far enough outside the lines to consider Poverty Metal a deeply strange record. A bit eccentric? You bet your sweet ass. But Palm’s skill as a songwriter and knack for gloriously warm melodies pretty much overrides the whole shooting match. Listen to a song like “Nihilist” to demonstrate this truth and prove without a shadow of a doubt that the man has a damned savant’s aptitude for blurring the lines between metal and punk and rock and pop with glorious consequences.
A record like Poverty Metal obviously ain’t fit for everyone, particularly those who mostly favor the more extreme end of the spectrum. If you’re an adventurous sort, though, and if you’re someone whose record collection indicates a voracious appetite that consumes treasures from all possible avenues, then this work absolutely deserves your attention. Poverty Metal is catchy, sullen, fun, melodic, raucous, raw and gothy, and it’s wrapped in a patchwork of swaddling clothes and bundled into a perfectly snug basket that’s just begging to come in off the porch and into the warmth of your home. Let the right one in.