Album Review: Spirit of the Beehive – ENTERTAINMENT, DEATH

[Saddle Creek; 2021]

The portrayal of hell in Dante’s Inferno is probably the most enduring depiction of that concept – a prison pit divided into concentric rings to which sinners are assigned according to the severity of their crimes. Yet the fact that he populated the space with his enemies and made himself the main character who hangs out with the epic poet Virgil should indicate that Dante’s concept was borne out of more petty, personal concerns than the Inferno’s legacy would suggest. To someone lacking Dante’s context and convictions, the denizens of hell would simply be people trapped in eternal cycles of suffering all because of one man’s whim. If that’s all hell is, we might as well be living there now.

Indeed, millions of people have died from a terrible disease due to the collective negligence of a few world leaders, and a pathological desire to “keep the economy open.” Retirement is becoming more and more unattainable for young working people. Unrestrained industry is choking the planet to death. As if in acknowledgement of these circumstances, the nostalgia industry has kicked into high gear, rebooting and revamping beloved properties of millennial childhood as a balm to soothe the pains of modern-day existence.

Not even nostalgia, however, can provide escape for Spirit of the Beehive, whose invocations of 90s indie rock hit the ears the way old VHS video looks: blurry and highly saturated, showing clear signs of decay, a reminder that some nostalgia can’t just be remade. Rivka Ravede’s cover art for Spirit’s new LP ENTERTAINMENT, DEATH depicts the “Dante’s Inferno” ride at the now-defunct Miracle Strip in Panama City Beach, Florida. The back cover shows the abandoned ride as it stood for years after the park closed. For those who spent their wild, youthful days in the glittering world of that place, “Dante’s Inferno” (the ride) is un-recapturable, consigned to the fallible vestiges of memory. Spirit of the Beehive’s nostalgia doesn’t just remind us of our cherished past, it reminds us of how distant that past truly is.

On ENTERTAINMENT, DEATH, the trio of Ravede, Zack Schwartz, and Corey Wichlin channel these anxieties into their own Inferno, where the circles of hell are not physical spaces, but the cycles of tedium and self-destruction that consume our daily lives. Which isn’t to say ENTERTAINMENT, DEATH is a dreary listen. On the contrary, the band’s shape-shifting compositions create a forward momentum well suited to a journey through different levels of Hell on Earth.

The icy and ferocious halves of “There’s Nothing You Can’t Do” feed into one another in Ouroborean fashion, and it’s almost Biblical how the jagged guitar climax of “Give Up Your Life” evaporates into a harp glissando before drawing our ears down to the low end as the barbituric bass of “Rapid & Complete Recovery” bubbles to the surface. The album climaxes with a headlong plunge into the ninth circle on the nearly seven-minute operetta “I Suck The Devil’s Cock”. Part “A Day in the Life” and part “Frankie Teardrop”, its four movements – neatly corresponding to the four “rounds” of Dante’s ninth circle – power-clash with Godley-and-Creme-ish bravado, alternating between dissonant, spiraling guitar figures over pummelling post-punk beats and downtempo trip-hop balladry, before finishing on an orchestral coda, where the protagonist finds himself as “another middle class, dumb American,” who “don’t appreciate constructive criticism,” and is insistent that they’re a “special soul.” Yet another denizen of the living Inferno.

Where Spirit of the Beehive’s 2018 breakout Hypnic Jerks sought to evoke the threshold between wakefulness and sleep, ENTERTAINMENT, DEATH is similarly liminal, appearing to exist somewhere between optimism and nihilism – the life and death of hope. In the middle, Spirit of the Beehive seem to find a kind of resigned acceptance. “Smile for the last act,” Ravede advises on album closer “Death”; “Once was a comedy, is now the universe.” In Dante’s Divine Comedy, the Inferno was merely the first leg of his spiritual journey. If the circles of hell are our world now, it’s only natural that purgatory awaits. It’s a pyrrhic kind of hope, but it’s hope nonetheless.