The gurgling witch’s brew bubbling with the eyes of newts and the heads of little boys churns and boils with every incantation and the feverish swish of every stir. Fabled fairy tales of crooked toes and blackened hats, masking the crusted warts of a devilish grin poised to break into wicked cackle – this is the fear of the witch. Cast into stories of myth and magic and seized by the hysteria of flying brooms, the centuries fourteen to eighteen were known as “the burning times.” And during these ages those questioned for their heresy were burned, drowned, hanged and prosecuted as these minstrels of black faith. Taking the fear that escalated between these so-called conjurers of witchcraft and the fragile-minded villagers of Christian faith, Liars have detailed the many struggles between the two. And the dark endless pit of New York has become their vast cauldron.
With ingredients so foul – the mumbling, the creeping percussion, the brooding cymbal sweeps, and the manic distorted fuzz – They Were Wrong, So We Drowned is an unendingly dark, hypnotizing record that duly pummels their proto-punk influences into something discernibly unconventional, unmistakable and at times, awkwardly unlistenable. Yet as the muted chanting and heightened screams grate through the looped beat-crashing of “If Your a Wizard, Then Why Do You Wear Glasses?” it is clear that their noticeable creepiness is very much by design. And it is honestly frightening; “We Fenced Other Houses With The Bones Of Our Own” sways in tune with the eerie vocal summoning of what is presumed to be more sinister musical forces – the track crawls at muffled pace, but the inescapable scratching burrs “we’re going to get you.”
It would be easy to dismiss the folkloric paranoia of “They Don’t Want Your Corn They Want Your Kids” as the moment where they finally sound familiar. The skittering glitches and more acceptable tempo structure say so, but the echoing glass of the song’s bridge is deceivingly friendly to the ear. It is the song’s only harmonic reprise, and about as current as they veer towards. And if They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument On Topwas momentous in its tension and command, then “Steam Rose From a Lifeless Cloak” would do plenty to regenerate such imposing aggravation – it is nothing more than the continuous droning of percussion thuds while “There Is Always Room On the Broom” is brilliant in all its edgy, distorted harmonium.
Like dark clouds hovering, there is an impending thunder coming. Much of They Were Wrong, So We Drowned exhibits much of the same sentiment; something looms, something greater and more ominous. And there is certain height achieved in the frenzy of “Hold Hands And It Will Happen Anyway”, like the very shadows prophesized have begun their descent on an unsuspecting populace. In all its shrillness and spitting-on-tradition, there is an imperceptible quality that for all purposes, binds together the volatile temperament of the album. The end result is a grippingly ritualistic unbecoming, one as roaring as a burning Joan of Arc.