The Catholic Church wants us to believe it’s there to purify us. Priests pour water on the heads of babies. Holy water sits by church entrances. But nobody would partake in these rituals if they weren’t made to feel impure in the first place. Which is why, many centuries ago, the church invented the idea of “original sin” — and then made up a woman to take the blame for it. “I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing,” God allegedly told Eve when she took steps to educate herself. “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”
If this shit makes you want to scream, I’ve got just the EP for you. Lepra is an organ-fueled black-metal trio from Portland whose five-track debut, Wretched Creatures, is a roiling cauldron of dark, intoxicating, gleefully blasphemous ingredients. Comprised of bassist/harsh vocalist Sarah, keyboardist/clean vocalist Kate, and drummer Zöey, the group builds massive, punishing walls of sound without the benefit of a six-string — a demonic twist if I’ve ever heard one.
The opening track, “Kiss of Death,” begins with a full minute of mechanical noises and the sound of a person coughing, an off-putting bit of sound design that makes the intro to Black Sabbath’s “Sweet Leaf” sound wimpy by comparison. Then the riff erupts, a seething minor-key journey anchored by cavernous, distorted bass that allows the icy, upper-register organ notes to tighten their grip on your aorta. Factor in the drummer’s ability to make this shit swing, and Lepra are decidedly not one of those black-metal bands whose sound is as inaccessible as its logo is unreadable. At times they sound like The Doors fronted by an angel of death instead of a drunken idiot.
Toward the end of “The Bog/Weeping Willow,” the din briefly fades, making way for a clip from some kind of Christian propaganda video: “The Bible condemns homosexuality. Through the centuries, churchmen have called it unnatural, unmanly, ungodly.” Lepra loops those three adjectives a few times before exploding back from the void, Sarah’s screams raining down like purifying hellfire to burn away the real sinners: all those who use holiness to spread intolerance.