Review: P.H.F. – PUREST HELL
National Music Reviews
Danger Collective Records
P.H.F. = 100 gecs^Slayer
A palatably abrasive blend of digicore and thrash metal, PUREST HELL is the latest offering from P.H.F., the moniker of Auckland’s Joe Locke. This genre-bending recording project was formed back in 2012, a fact I did not expect given the relatively recent rise and consumption of (what’s broadly known as) “hyperpop” on major streaming platforms in the last few years. It seems that every day my Spotify algorithm throws me four more music artists with impossible-to-pronounce names (dltzk?) and the same fast-paced experimental drum beat. But P.H.F., I dare say, is different.
Locke doesn’t stick to any one unlikely blend of genres with this project; in fact, he’s quoted as saying he gets “bored” of genre confines easily. Since the shoegaze-peppered P.H.F. debut OK COOL (2012), Locke has helped innovate what it means to be a bedroom producer through the 10 P.H.F. albums he’s released since. With songs that certainly deserve the following other avant-garde projects like Arca and 100 gecs have been awarded, P.H.F. has been releasing the music of the future for over a decade now—regardless of whether the masses have been privy to it.
PUREST HELL takes both the heavy metal guitar explorations of P.H.F.’s last album, New Metal (2020), and the distorted electronics throughout the project’s discography to new heights. Inspired by and in honor of Locke’s late close friend and collaborator, Reuben Samuel Winter, PUREST HELL serves as a release of emotions like grief, rage and acceptance. “I put your sabbath shirt on / And play your favorite song /And even though youʼre gone / Iʼll still sing along till I fall,” Locke sings on “SABBATH SHIRT.” As on several other tracks, Locke can’t seem to commit to any genre throughout the song’s 2:21 runtime. The meshing of glitchy sound effects with harsh screamo—along with a feature from Fantasyluv—makes this the kind of song you’ll still be thinking about hours later.
Throughout the severe electronic arpeggios of “DOLL” and the extraterrestrial vocals featured on “SKINCARE,” PUREST HELL remains a cathartic listen due to its chaos and the devoid-of-thought headspace it fosters. “Sooner or later we must / All suffer the same,” Locke sings about inevitable death on “NOTHING AT ALL.” And on melody-driven tracks like “TREAT ME,” Locke expertly combines atmospheric dissonance with infectious, pop-driven backbones that will likely give the project a larger reach (though Rew’s upper-registered, anguished guest vocal on “NO1 TRIES” might drive those who favor a more accessible listen away. Ah, well—they can go).
In addition to Fantasyluv and Rew, P.H.F. has already collaborated with some nominal names in music’s new wave—including Clairo on “Queen,” a track featured on the more approachable album 9MM (2016). It’s still P.H.F.’s most-streamed song on Spotify, but Locke is really onto something with the harsh uniqueness of PUREST HELL. Are you getting abducted by aliens or are you just listening to “PLAGUE DOGS”? Are you watching American Horror Story or just listening to the interlude of “BAITER CELL”? Are you witnessing the complete destruction of a far-away planet as it is engulfed by flames, or are you just listening to “SEMI TRUCK?” Yes, these are bizarre hallucinations to have while listening to an album in broad daylight. Yes, this is an imaginative and muse-worthy record. –Mekenna Malan