‘Witchcraft’ is a term historically defined by Western colonists and labelled on to any custom or culture which didn’t adhere to Christian dogma. Forced to dilute their potent African spirituality to please their British oppressors, the Chewa and Tumbuka people of Southern-Central Africa have co-opted elements of Protestantism in their centuries-old Gule Wamkulu, a ritual dance performed by initiated men of the Nyau brotherhood. Originally celebrating the integration of the communities young men into adulthood, the many masks and costumes that represent evil spirits, wild animals or immoral temptation are slowly losing their original purpose and played out for the entertainment of boring, white tourists.
“I think you mad cos you lost control, you want me to fall in line on the X’s and O’s” spits Backxwash on the condemning ‘Black Sheep’, a painful denunciation of family betrayal during their non-binary discovery. Sampling the Gule Wamkulu practice, Zambian born Ashanti Mutinta performs their own ritual of catharsis and grapples with one of the key recurring themes of their work: the demons that gnaw inside members of the trans community on their arduous road to embracing their identity. Now based in Montreal, Backxwash has been cutting a unique brand of horrorcore hip hop full of hypnotic beats and warped production that’s both aggressive yet introspective. Releasing their second album proper via the queer label Grimalkin Records, Mutinta channels church choir music and televangelical sermons from their youth to reach further into the heart of the haunted wood, and themselves.
God Has Nothing To Do With This Leave Him Out Of It (derived from a line in Spanish horror film Verónica) is a white hot flame of cavernous bombast and hellish evocations, sharing similarities with Ministry’s Psalm: 69 both with artwork and heretical aura, establishing the dark tone of the record. Ozzy Osbourne’s wail of doom from ‘Black Sabbath’ circles around echoing drums and whispering incantations illustrating Backxwash’s spiritual conflict, the deep desire to sin against those who’ve sinned you. Mall Date lends their vocals to the bowel-churning ‘Into The Void’, Nine Inch Nails’s ‘Reptile’ grinds and scrapes against a massive droning guitar attack capturing the songs visceral examination of paranoia and vulnerability when navigating a world where every street corner lurks prejudice with a knife. Backxwash breathes new life into a sample as ubiquitous to hip hop as Led Zeppelin’s ‘When the Levee Breaks’, John Bonham’s famous heavy percussion colliding with eerie keyboards scoring Mutinta’s moving letter to their younger bother, detailing their fears and anxieties in the starkly intimate ‘Adolescence’.
Backxwash’s expert production remain as fresh and creative as prior releases Black Sailor Moon and Deviancy. The brittle beats of ‘Spells’ are devilishly seductive, Devi McCallion‘s raspy guest vocals are stretched and elasticated, imbued with occult-like, midnight howls. Mutinta’s love for Missy Elliot’s chunky rhythmic sonics shine on the furious ‘Amen’, a spiky stab of venom at religious greed and corruption. Inviting fatherfake and Skunk Anansie’s Skin to produce the respective Heaven and Hell interludes provide welcome shifts in mood, the latter utilising ‘The Lady in the Radiator’ from Eraserhead to chilling effect, and Will Owen Bennett’s studio contributions end the album on a note of faded, gospel contemplation, a wounded but defiant hope both personally and for the fucked-up world we’re all in, summed-up beautifully with the exclamation “feel like you lost a son but you gained a daughter”.
Backxwash’s sophomore effort achieves an extraordinary double feat of instilling further density and ethereal intensity to their volatile sound yet still maintaining a punchy, punk urgency. God Has Nothing To Do With This Leave Him Out Of It is a fantastic and fascinating mesh of Gothic murk and industrial might which explores the themes of ‘forgiveness’ and facing ones torments with guttural yet poetic insight.