Album Review: She/Beast – This Too Shall Pass EP

[PNKSLM; 2021]

Like many others, Katja Nielsen has used her lockdown time to be productive and creative. After a busy touring schedule with her main outfit Arre! Arre! was cancelled, Nielsen still had an itch to scratch. Thus a new solo act was born: She/Beast. Mining into more darker textures, controlling every part of the music (including production), and finding an outlet for more raw, personal emotions, Nielsen is able to temper her creative urges and explore new territory while she’s at it.

Nielsen began the She/Beast journey last December with her In the Depths of Misery EP, which was a modest but shaky effort, sounding like Nielsen was still coming to grips with the solo construction path and the avenues that are opened up and closed down by working on your own. “I just don’t know what to do with myself,” she sang on the opening track, and while she was backed by a fuzzy, forward-looking bass, she still sounded a little directionless and static. It wasn’t likely to win over many new fans, but in retrospect, it seems like a necessary starting point.

This is especially so when considering She/Beast’s new EP, This Too Shall Pass, which boasts a more confident stride and energy, as well as dynamic scope which makes Nielsen’s project sound more fully realised. And this is all the more impressive since Nielsen is still working with the same setup: drum machines still drive the songs, but, backed by more ferocious and potent bass, the rhythm section sounds like a fully-formed beast. This is still lo-fi punk rock, as it was on Depths of Misery, but at its best This Too Shall Pass sounds like it could have been recorded at an invigorating studio session.

Opening track “Bad Advice” sets the tone well. A stuttering drum machine struggles to keep up with a thick-as-molasses bass as the song emerges from a woozy bed of synths, like a creature emerging from a dank, dreary swamp. It’s like the Long Blondes’ “Century” but put into punk hyperdrive, less concerned with groove and more with creating a sense of tremendous weight, like the track is trying to drown you while it drags you along.

“Give Me Your Remedy” and “Oh, Darkness” carry this feel along, lurking in swampy synth tones that seem inspired by B-movie soundtracks as they drape the songs in a gloomy cloudiness. On final track “My Worst Enemy”, Nielsen casts a little more light into the mix during the instrumental breaks, stripping back the bass for a moment; the sparkling synths left in its absence is like a night sky clearing of clouds, allowing the stars and moonlight to suddenly shine clearly. “I am my own worst enemy,” Nielsen chants as the full mix comes back in, sadly cutting short a welcome venture into more weightless territory. It’s as much a self-referential nod as it is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

This Too Shall Pass might hook in a few new fans, but it’ll most definitely appeal to Arre! Arre! fans missing their favourite Malmö punk band. Not only does it have enough heavy punk bass to satisfy any need for such a hit, it also gives us that little more depth to one of the band’s main actors. Like on her previous EP, Nielsen explores a fairly recent diagnosis of bipolar disorder after over a decade of suffering from it. It’s there in the aforementioned titular sentiments of “My Worst Enemy”, but perhaps most clearly on “Stings Like A Bee”; “Life’s giving me honey / but it stings like a bee,” she incants over an industrial-toned clatter. Unfortunately, because the line is repeated into near-oblivion, any profundity the lyric has soon wears off, as well as just generally wearing thin. It’s an unfortunate but not overly damaging blip though, especially as it’s the shortest track here.

This Too Shall Pass still shines pretty well regardless. One notable point is that the two EPs were written and recorded together, and in another world and another time perhaps both releases would have been put together for a single album. Had that been the case then I fear the tracks here would have been dragged down by the weaker material on Depths of Misery. It’s all the better then that This Too Shall Pass can shine on its own and show us the fruitful efforts of Nielsen’s lockdown, while giving us a few extra shades to her character.