REVIEW: East London's Saint Agnes release pulverizing mini-album "Vampire"
Self-described as a “comic book underworld of angels and villains, badlands and bad loves,” Vampire is the sophomore mini-album from East-London’s own Saint Agnes released under their own label, Death or Glory Gang Records. It is explosive and born from rage – something we’ve come to expect and deliver back. Frontwoman Kitty A. Austen is force daring to be reckoned with as she battles a host of beasts, mythical and not, alongside bloodthirsty synths, filthy guitars, and pulverising drums provided by Jon James Tufnell, Ben Chernitsky, and Andy Head.
The band themselves have only been rising since their formation, amassing over 6 million streams on Spotify alone, garnering a rapidly growing loyal fanbase, selling out Camden’s iconic venue, The Black Heart, in under fifteen minutes, and getting acclaim from none other than Nick Cave himself. These are all no small feats for a DIY band – their insane hard work and creativity paying off in buckets.
Being in lockdown didn’t stop Saint Agnes but saw them go full force into making music. There are a lot of cliches about diamonds being made under pressure, but the risk of going stir-crazy after not leaving the house for a few months meant that risks were taken, and new sounds were found. It resulted in the creation of The Quarantine Diaries - a twisted collection of cover songs with accompanying vignette-videos filmed on an iPhone in their flat and Vampire.
“Having this structure of trying to do a cover a week with a video, it kept us sane,” recalls Jon James Tufnell of this period. “We were creating stuff with the tools that were available, and as a band that's always been our philosophy, we're never going to fake something. We won't write a song that needs an orchestra, as we don't have one! We use the tools that are there, we use the equipment that we've got, we find that inspiring.” Frontwoman Kitty A. Austen agrees: “Jon and I were locked up together with our computer, so it forced us to write new music with no outside input at all, no playing ideas with the band, no audience reactions to shape things. It’s definitely created a more succinct, more punchy sound. We get to the point quicker – but we’re just as disgusting and in your face.”
What was birthed from this (well, more tore out of the womb in a hail of blood and guts) is another notch in their visceral storytelling thrill rides. The album opens with “Repent,” a song that tells the story of a fallen angel hellbent on revenge and retribution. It feeds that person inside us all that wants to make the world pay for all the injustice we face with an almost dead-pan, yet terrifying, delivery of starting lyrics “Cross my heart / You die / Stick a needle in your eye / Revenge is justified.” The layering of unclean and clean vocals heard throughout create a war-like atmosphere, rousing anything and everything inside of you that’s ever felt angry – an atmosphere that never wavers throughout.
Next, we’re presented with the first Psalm of Vampire. These have been included on the physical copies of the album and are described as ‘a series of meticulously crafted musical interludes that weave around the album, expanding and enriching the themes as they play out.’ “Psalm I” features a disembodied voice preaching about the detrimental effects of social media: ‘When everybody on social media is promoting their day-to-day as more interesting than it actually is / It’s hard not to feel like you’re not living up to your full potential,’ which is explored in more depth with most-recent single and title track “Vampire.”
This is a glitchy, dark-pop anthem for those of us disenchanted with social media. Austen says of the track: “Vampire is a hate-letter to the addictive, exciting, poisonous trap of social media. We grasp for immortality through our digital avatars; we present our beautiful, godlike, sanguine virtual selves whilst our imperfect shells shrink and cringe in the shadows. Self-loathing on repeat. Vampire is alluring and bewitching pop music with a rotten soul. What better way to get the heretical Vampire in the front door than to dress her up in the right clothes? A sugar-coated pill. Welcome to the Live Forever club, but do you really want to live forever?”
The album is laced with Easter eggs, from movie quotes to the shrill scream of a woman in a classic, low-budget horror film, just waiting to be found – mostly nestled during the rest of the Psalms. They are quite possibly my favourite thing about Vampire, and well worth getting a physical copy of the album for. Their cover of Grinderman’s “No Pussy Blues” is what got them, rightly, their acclaim from Nick Cave. He described it as ‘chilling and superior,’ which is a succinct way to describe the entire album, let alone the song itself.
“I’m With You Everywhere You Go” is the only original, unreleased single on Vampire and it is a belter. It flits back and forth between clear, melodic vocals and the guttural, biting deliverance of lyrics you can’t help but crave. Though it is the clear vocals that are presented alone that stand out the most, especially when juxtaposed with the scuzzy, bile-coated soundscape. This is Saint Agnes as their best.
The album then closes off with a second cover, Nine Inch Nails’ “Wish”, which rivals “No Pussy Blues” and the final Psalm. “Psalm V” harkens back to their first album, Welcome to Silvertown, as it is tinged with the same dark underbelly of the Wild West. The repetition of lyrics “I can never die” that fluctuates between Austen and Tufnell is defiant. It’s a marker of survival, having made it out the other side of all these monsters battled throughout, and will be all too powerful live.