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Aghast Manor – Penetrate

Penetrate (2013) is mining Andrea Haugen’s past. From the nineties into the new millennium, she was Aghast, Hagalaz’ Runedance, and Nebelhexë, only to wind up past her German birthplace in the 1940s, in wartime Paris as Aghast Manor. Questionable? Indeed, Aghast Manor’s sequel to the original Gaslights, Penetrate, has a loose concept that’s loaded down with Haugen’s career. She’s veered about neoclassical, neofolk, and industrial music and can pull off an album like Penetrate. As Aghast Manor, Haugen is sanguine in her fever dallying with sadomasochistic ditties that spar with stifled wails, flooding Penetrate with the singer’s past as she reaches for old France.

Andrea Haugen, 46, was to be included in the soundtrack for Twilight: New Moon (2009). Her contribution, “Skindeep,” didn’t make the cut. The song was deemed too explicit. The track’s theme of necrophilia is one manifestation of Haugen’s shape-shifting oeuvre of witchcraft and pagan culture stuck in a brutalist Europe. Haugen may have authored that Twilight bit on her Wikipedia page, which includes her exercise regimen. Her entry is a hodgepodge of, frankly, insignificant and choppy facts. The Twilight soundtrack is one of Haugen’s few moments enjoyed on the verge of fame.

In 2011, she returned to her sixteen-year-old claim to fame. Aghast was a resonant debut in the Cold Meat Industry discography, but Haugen and Tania Stene’s sole release, Hexerei im Zwielicht der Finsternis (1995), has since become a cult classic. (The black/death metal band Sinistrous Diabolus covered “Sacrifice” this year for the Cold Meat Revived compilation). Hexerei im Zwielicht der Finsternis, translated from German as Witchcraft in the Twilight of Darkness, was a purported found object of witch ritual. Aghast sang through the baleful haze of a mock orchestra. Haugen and Stene were a companion to black metal’s second wave evolving into the genre’s symphonic third. Take the somber escapades of the UK’s Emit or the French Les Legions Noires’s Vzaéurvbtre as kindred spirits. Haugen returned to Aghast in 2013 as Aghast Manor, but during those sixteen years, Haugen had parried from Stene with a pagan turn as Hagalaz’ Runedance.

Neofolk changed Haugen for the better. She learned to sing and became the Enya gone goth to the beat of a tribal drum,” as Womanrock.com’s Carrie Crespo reviewed her. Haugen’s background singing on and arranging of Cradle of Filth’s inaugural The Principle of Evil Made Flesh (1994), as well as marrying Emperor’s Samoth, kept her close to halcyon paganism that influenced black metal and often seems to be the catalyst for neofolk.  Haugen took this solitary course—musing on nature and Norse gods—into the millennium.  Hagalaz’ Runedance, as well as the grungier Nebelhexë (translated from German as “fog witch”) underscores Aghast Manor.

Andrea Haugen

Infinite Fog Productions claims that Penetrate has an “overall concept of 1940s Paris, fallen suicidal women, wicket asylum nurses, and Russian spies,” which drowns Aghast Manor in modern goth kitsch. The cover, with its curled centipede, is unnervingly emo. Thankfully, Penetrate, beyond spouted concepts, honestly isn’t half bad. Her ghostly inhalations from Hexerei im Zwielicht der Finsternis dwell beneath waltzing, half-spoken ballads in “Asylum ‘45.” “Today Is My Day” stands as an imaginative rendition of dour caberet jazz, and the title track breaks Infinite Fog’s gist.

That track, “Penetrate,” is an outlier—a true goth anthem about domination that precedes the album’s remembrance of World War II. Haugen is lithe and seductive with her sampled double bass and piano forming the melody. “Penetrate,” like most of the record, is a little too on the nose, which is characteristic of the martial snares that set the whole album’s hawkish course. Who better to help her than In Slaughter Natives’s Jouni Havukainen (another sign that Haugen’s gone back to her Cold Meat Industry days)? Havukainen has built a career with charnel house dirges and he’s translated this to Aghast Manor. He sends the songstress into a region somewhere between Aghast, Portishead, and Cocteau Twins.

Penetrate isn’t Haugen’s first go with Aghast Manor. Gaslights began with more bark than bite. Haugen has honed Aghast Manor to focus on Paris with the era’s lust and paranoia. Sonically, Penetrate is a collection of regressive pop harking back to the nineties and as well as a fictionalized music of the forties. What cinches Penetrate is Haugen’s simultaneous reaching back to Aghast and Cold Meat Industries, and even further still to her Parisian war pop.

Track List:

01) Penetrate
02) Worship Me
03) Asylum ’45
04) Fleur de Marie
05) Today Is My Day
06) Midnight Poison
07) Spy on the Wall
08) The Venice Murder
09) Asylum ’45 (End)
10) The Nun of St. Claire Abbey (Darktrance Mix)

Written by: Colin L.
Label: Infinite Fog Productions (Russia) / IF-33 / CD, Digital
Darkwave / Dark Pop