Your Nightmare is My Brand: The Art of Patriarchy
In an ocean of the expected, there is an angel of vengeance, a siren of light, and a ruddy-mouthed creature as an artist who goes by a few names…. Actually, Actually Huizenga, and now, Patriarchy. Actually has been one of the most compelling and mercifully uncompromising musical and short-film creators for several years now, floating away before anyone can ever truly peg her or her work. Living in a world where people want categories for their categories and content that is instant-ready for innumerable social media platforms, having an artist like Actually is a gift. Every piece in both her musical (ie. self-titled debut all the way to Predator Romantic) and video (ie. Soft Rock to Heavenly Sin), is all individually distinct with her unmistakable fingerprints and yet, all of them have also built the steps to her latest direction by forming the band-project Patriarchy.
Patriarchy fuses the darkest of metal and electronica to create a nightmarish pastiche and pinpoint iris of a world filled with observers and creators, victims and predators, all the while blurring the lines between the supernatural and the all-too-real hellscape of our own culture and humanity. This is the kind of poetry and sound born of love gone rot, but not in the simplistic way of romantic relationships starting, stopping, and gasping, but the bigger ideal love. That view of a real life existence operating in a well-mentioned bubble fed by bread and circuses, because the bigger picture can be as scary as it is overwhelming. Life is beautiful and sweet, but it is equally bloody and ugly, thus we are all not only living in the ultimate duality but in fact, we ARE the ultimate duality. Possessing a beating heart and a soul only means your touch is as capable of pleasure and comfort as it is harm and damage. Comforting? No, but this is why we need artists like Actually, to help cope and process the exquisite fucked-up-ness of it all.
Debuting with 2019’s Asking for It, Patriarchy slashed the kudzu and gates with a twin sharpened machete and a flamethrower fueled by eternal oil. Genre boundaries are mere terms used by less imaginative minds and listeners, so they certainly have no place here. Strict boxes are for scared minds. Here, she takes what she wants and needs to create her own gruesome scarred-heart and sanguine-tinged soundscape. Many misinformed parties never credit things like depth to metal OR electronic music, which is silly at best and willingly blind at worst. Actually in all of her incarnations was born with depth and with Patriarchy, she gets to be her most aggressive with it. Not with a fist or a yell, but as a sharp-fanged spectre who shapeshifts from hunter to hunted with such grace that it amps the unease factor.
The title track opens with a breathy exhale, segueing into druggy sounding synths. “Asking for It” is dopamine that is sludged with malcontent and mal-intent. This song is from the POV of a vampire forged in a parasitic society and world. Clean gothic beauty is an orchid that would shrivel and molt in the world of “Asking for it.” The necrophiliac breathiness of Actually’s vocals help paint such a dark and desolate landscape, especially with such lines like, “...a little baby fat. I can barely live with that...I’ve killed another child. I like my victims wild.” This is the worst kind of predator, cooing while simultaneously bemoaning, “You were asking for it…” “Asking for it” is a nightmarish peek into the wrought-rot brain of a being and, bigger picture time, a culture that feeds off the young and the exploited.
From the title track to the second track, “Burn the Witch” is a dreamy-coating with a raw and ugly core. The contrast of Actually’s beautiful and ethereal singing with the lyrics invoking both occult-esque and ultraviolent imagery is unforgettable. It initially seems cryptic but the motives of the narrator quickly become crystal clear, with the lines, “...You had those thighs/In those fuck-me-pumps/forcing me to torture you.” Sadly, it’s a tale as old as time, where sexual repression, especially when it is glued in by fundamentalist religion, twists one from a human to a monster. The dark deeds of those who believe that they are divinely right are always some of the worst ones committed.
The strangely danceable “Hell Was Full” is devilishly fun, with the words “choke” repeated and the sweet refrain of “You’re the apple in the pig's mouth.” It’s electro-goth-pop at its finest. Actually attacks like a siren who will eternally outwit any natural beasts of prey that approach. There are dips into history with “Maximus,” which sonically comes the closest to harkening back to Actually’s older material, which, given that her past work is also brilliant, is not a bad thing. The musical breakdown towards the end is especially great.
One of the absolute strongest songs is “He Took it Out.” It’s an aural hallucinogen, that instead of psychedelic visions or personal enlightenment, shoves you right into the sheared heart of pure violation. The repeated chorus of “...drug you/fuck you…” becomes a chant, showing the act of rape accurately as an ugly one. No acoustic histrionics or obviousness here. Patriarchy bypasses all of this and bares the mottled soul and worm-ridden brain of the violator. Its terror is filmy and so striking that it nearly loops around into beauty.
This theme continues with electronic-rock-splatterpunk tones of “Sweet Piece of Meat.” I said no/You heard yes/You eat steak while you watch me get dressed/Your first mistake was letting me into your nest. Sweet indeed as prey morphs into possible predator, referring to the red meat eater with no discernment for boundaries’ skin as only a “wall.” Given the mention of “...smiling with rows and rows and rows and rows of teeth…”, this is more than just a poetic metaphor. Which one is truly the titular sweet piece of meat?
“Grind Your Bones” might be one of the best metal songs to have come out in the past few years. (This and anything by Voodoo Kungfu. If you know, you know.) This song is so exquisitely aggressive and fearlessly tuned into the blistered and ugly, especially with, “...You’re my gag reflex…” Fear and compromise are both natural enemies to all creatives, which is why it is so refreshing to see an artist take a motherfucking blow torch to both!
The second to last track, “I Don’t Want to Die,” has what has to be one of my favorite song lyrics ever with, “I’m the blood that fills your throat/I’m the human & the goat.” I’m pretty sure even King Diamond himself would cherish such a lyrical combination of poetic sacrificial evil like this. Even better is how emotionally sweet and pure the choral refrain of the song’s title sounds. It feels like the battle cry of the mortally wounded and the morally scarred. The album ends with “Laid Down,” with its hammering sound of whispers and invocations. You can change the focus of pain/Pink carnations wrapped in chains/Bottom feeders sucking on limes/Worship the stench that a corpse leaves behind. It’s the big ugly, all ripped open and glistening in its offal-esque meaty glory.
“Asking For It” as an album shines like the glistening glass shell of a candy apple holding the runny-rot of sweetness gone sour. It’s a superb work and deftly integrates supernatural and horror imagery to paint an honest to the bone vision of the very much real evils of living in a culture that often, at best, turns a blind eye to sexual, mental, and emotional violations, and at worst, all but aids and abets them. It’s not going to be an instantly accessible work for many, but to quote an old friend, some of us were not put here to argue with mere mortals.
Whether it’s as a filmmaker, solo artist, or with Patriarchy, Actually/Ashley Huizenga is absolutely one of the most fascinating and important creatives to have emerged in the past few years. Her artistic thumbprint is truly her own and in a world where everything is stamped as a USDA grade commodity, we need her and her work now more than ever.