Talented genre defying project Everson Poe returns with another groundbreaking album that may be her most stunning and personal to date.
Everson Poe is a solo project from Chicago, IL by Mae Shults, who has been releasing music as Everson Poe for over 10 years. As a queer & genderqueer individual, they incorporate themes of gender identity and mental health into nearly all her songs, filtered through lenses inspired by various forms of pop culture, or simply her own imaginative storytelling. Every album that Mae releases is vastly different to the last, working in completely different genres, such as metal, or punk or electronica depending on the release and its theme. We’ve reviewed a number of her albums over the years, such as her full length’s Grief (read here) Ritual (read here), her split with The Sun Came Up Upon the Left, Ancestral Memory (read here) and A Plague Upon Four Houses Split (read here).
As always, the album places a high importance on narrative storytelling, allowing Mae to delve deep into personal themes through the lens of literature, fantasy, horror, mythology and pop culture. Servant tells the tale of Medusa as a trans woman that acts as an allegory for Mae’s history in abusive and manipulative relationships, which almost led to her death on multiple occasions.
While the previous albums dealt with themes of Mae’s personal hardships and struggles with mental health, Servant feels rawer, more exposed, and more personal than ever before. Not only are generally relatable themes from the human experience being put on display, but so too are deeply personal experiences, many of which must be personally painful and traumatic to revisit. This rawness of emotion carries across into the music itself and makes the album that much more impactful.
What I love so much about Mae’s releases though is that she is able to take such real, human experiences and express them in an impactful way, but through the lens of a narrative or concept that she loves. There are many musicians that can discuss their personal struggles, but it takes a true artist to do so through the use completely separate themes and concepts. The idea of portraying Medusa as a trans woman is something I would never have even though of and yet it works so perfectly. The level of misunderstanding, stigmatisation and ongoing physical danger faced by many of those in the trans community has been put on full display here.
Musically the album is fairly different to previous offerings, stripping back many of the harsher guttural vocals and more aggressive elements and shifting to a more subdued depressive direction. To help achieve this the album takes on an almost post-metal aspect and works in stunningly emotive textures and tones. I can say with relative certainty that this is most sonically beautiful album that Mae has released to date. I need to be clear though that the incorporation of softer, more atmosphere focused moments does not mean that there is no heaviness or aggression. You’ll still find plenty of that here, but it expressed very differently to previous albums.
A key difference that will be immediately apparent for returning fans of the project is the fact that Mae is not responsible for the majority of the vocals on the album. Depending on how you look at it this is either a good or bad thing, I see it as both personally. I say that it’s a bad thing simply because of how much I love Mae’s harsh vocals, but I can always go back to previous albums if I want more of those. No, this is overall a good thing in the context of this album as it allows the guest vocalists involved to give each track a truly unique feeling and sound. The guests that Mae has chosen are all extremely talented too and bring some amazing diversity to the mix.
The album opens with deception, a stunningly depressive track with some real heaviness and reverb to it. The song features a unison of Leann’s angelic borderline operatic vocals and Mae’s pained shrieks. There are moments of musical heaviness where reverb and fuzz are turned up in the mix, but these give way to stripped back minimalistic moments with a haunting quality. The choice for Mae’s raw shrieked vocals to run just a second or two behind Leann’s repeating the same lyrics in parts was genius. It creates a truly haunting effect and adds a whole new level of emotional intensity. For me this and the closing track are the contenders for my favourites on the album. Of course, as with any Everson Poe album the lyrics are just as impressively written as the music, with lines like:
Why do I see blessings where the others see a curse?
Tangled from undressing as the dancing gods rehearse
Slumber, Oceanus, at the world’s edge, hard by night
Monstrous apparitions in the garden of delights
Why do I see demons where divinity has been?
Sanctity unraveled by the ceremony’s din
Slumber does escape me til the dawning of the day
Moonlight does awaken me and beckons me away
coercion is a slow burn, it takes its time to gradually build momentum and volume. It discusses the process of slowly having one’s self confidence undermined by an abusive partner and their abusive nature slowly increasing in intensity over time. For me this was the least impactful track from a musical perspective, although its themes hit home on a personal level.
submission is a somewhat discordant and dizzying track that shifts from moments of subtle beauty to assaulting dissonance. There’s a fantastic duality at play throughout between softness and harshness, order and chaos. There’s a great balance struck between the clean angelic vocals that make up most of the track and the harsh, pained vocals that Mae provides. The song switches from themes of sorrow and loss to physical pain, suffering and anguish. This story is told both by the music itself and the lyrics that it delivers, impactful lyrics such as:
No space more sacred than one’s only body
No wound more deadly than the loss of self
No violation worse than to be taken
No blame should fall upon my weary head
I never asked for divinity
I only wished to exist
The coveting of beauty
So fragile in this state
A rupture on olympus
Such jealousy and hate
The closing track on the album revulsion is best described as an epic, not only because it runs for almost 18 minutes but because the track is simply epic. The vocals on the track are what really make it for me. I absolutely love the spoken-shouted style that Abe uses throughout the track, it delivers so much power and gives the lyrics a truly dramatic flair. This style is one of the reasons I love Scottish act Ashenspire so much and why I always come back to Behemoth’s Inner Sanctum. Instrumentally the track is stunning and covers a huge range of varied emotions ranging from grief and despair through to righteous anger. Lyrically the song is a work of poetic art that shines a clear light on the suffering that Mae has endured both within herself and at the hands of past lovers, with lyrics such as:
A labyrinthine passage
Within my chest
A blood red thread
That leads to hell
An ache so deep
I cannot rest
The waves within
Begin to swell
At sorrow’s breast
She nourished me
Disgust too great
To love me true
I am revulsion
In human form
I am the gorgon
For whom none shall mourn
And sorrow’s tide
Will fill the caves
I drown in fear
Of loving you
I want to be ethereal
A mysterious nebula
Expanding like a web
Of iridescent madness
Overall, I think that this is yet another stunning addition to Everson Poe’s ever-expanding catalogue. I would say that this ranks among some of my favourite work from the project so far, just behind Rituals and Grief. If you enjoy metal with both a stunning beauty and a raw depressive edge to it, then don’t miss Servant.
Listen to and order the album: