The Sold Kingdom Offers Up A Soul As Dark Entertainment On Amethyst Deceiver

“I know I’m not quite in the pocket genre-wise,” L. Alexandra Manuel wrote to me when sending over Amethyst Deceiver, the latest album from her piano-heavy project Sold Kingdom. Despite this warning, I gave the otherwise unpromoted release from late 2022 a try, if just because I love supporting my Virginian musicians. I thus discovered that Manuel was wrong in that most delightful way: this is absolutely my bag and it needs to be yours too.

I drink my booze out of that same cup…

Manuel’s own lyrics sum up why Amethyst Deceiver succeeds musically in a variety of genres: “I used to think the rules should be upheld / Whether or not I played by them myself” (“Glamorous”). Manuel knows the regulations for piano singer/songwriter music, even playing by them sometimes, but usually poisons traditional pop, folk, and cabaret with dark twists. Subtle noise, troubling synths, soul-tingling harmonies, and diminished notes turn simple melancholy into depthless despair and joy into a nightmare. What remains is the soundtrack to every horror-movie carnival stripped down to its most distilled elements.

However, this side-show doesn’t showcase macabre monsters. Manuel instead leads us through a much more frightening tour: her insecurities, struggles, and the people who subjugate under pretenses of allyship. Anyone who has struggled with neurodivergence—walking the line between self-preservation and mastering social intricacies—will see themselves in “Affliction #2” and “Practicing Sabina,” as Manuel dissects herself with equal parts criticism and compassion. I locked on immediately to “Boys Club Masquerade,” which eviscerates those who show support “only until it cramps you.” This sentiment bookends well with the devastating last track, “The Very Same Poison;” Manuel draws a throughline from how someone who suffered the same oppression could shift into an oppressor themself. In all cases, the lyrics are blunt, cutting, and perhaps sometimes too on the nose.

Also, any song that quotes Murray Head is a-okay in my book.

If I have one complaint, it’s that most tracks on Amethyst Deceiver aren’t long enough. Manuel ignores traditional pop structure for better or for worse, ending songs once she’s said all she needs. While lyrically complete, this does mean I’m switching to a new tune right as I’ve started swaying to the previous one. I’m enjoying the experience so much that I don’t want it to end, but dealing with harsh truths, including endings, definitely runs through the whole record. Perhaps Manuel is making sure I learn the lesson.

Standout Track – “Yearning for Yearning”: A two-part examination of the inability to ever feel at home with anyone, the song oozes unease. First, a disquieting acapella disconcerts with beautiful, eerie harmonie as Manuel recounts the various outside forces which leave her knowing she “will always be a stranger.” Yet the second half, focusing on how her own behavior distances her, bristles in the opposite fashion. The vocals are now more direct, as clear with us as she is being with herself, while the piano provides a wonderful discord like something out of early Das Ich. There’s a playfulness to this ghostly soundtrack—a strange creature playing with its helpless food. In this case, Manuel is both devourer and meal; we cannot dare look away as we watch.

Ego Likeness: When the Wolves Return

Band: Ego Likeness

Album: When the Wolves Return

Label: Metropolis Records

Members: Donna Lynch- Vocals/Words/Piano/Synths::
Steven Archer- Guitar/Vocals/Synths/Drums/Programming::
Mike K. Johnson- Drums::
Mindcage Rick- Drums::

So once again I am stepping outside the box and trying something different by reviewing an album that came out in July 2015. I have been keeping these reviews generally to new albums but while waiting for their newest release I will take some time to discuss the glory of Baltimore’s greatest dark couple. . I actually love discovering a band in reverse, finding the new album first then working my way back through the catalog and watch in reverse as they evolve. Makes me feel like Merlin. For me the album When the Wolves Return really highlighted what was possible when you bring a true partnership into your music. Often when I hear modern darkwave electronica I tend to pull apart all of the different elements and feel them at different times. It’s almost impossible to do with Ego Likeness. Donna Lynch and Steven Archer are in such total lockstep in their music. It really has no seams or edges. Every song is a twisting snake of smoke. Or in this case a wolf pack circling you in a clearing. Mike Johnson who I am convinced may be the only drummer left in goth music because it seems he is playing in about 73 bands and touring with them all. (Potential cloning experiment) is so sought after for a reason. Simply he is consistently outstanding in his style and ability to place subtle touches along with electronic elements. For as electronic as this music is with flavors of Switchblade Symphony, Rasputina, Dead Can Dance or Skinny Puppy both the music and Donna’s dynamic vocals have such an organic flavor. This is a rock band with a bleeding heart in it’s mouth, that just happens to be played over a grinding jerky machine cacophony. This album in particular holds such rawness, I don’t know exactly what was happening in their lives at this juncture but you can really feel a lot of it was splayed open and held up raw to the listener.

Donna has a vocal style that to me is all about dynamics. Her lows are growls and chants. Her highs are lovely and revealing. She is a true bard, you can hear the contents of her lyrics are just as important to her as the way she sings them. “I am blessed, I am cursed, never sacred, never worse” Steven is a painter both on the canvas and on the keyboard. A bard needs a stage and this album has such fierce driving drumbeats and rising falling cascades of synth sound. Needles of bright guitar burn and twist but never overshadow. Those pounding drumbeats are the beating heart of every song and the story is told in every tempo and range. I know I am getting a little gushy on this one, even for me. I have really been digging deep on this album lately in preparation for going to see their show this weekend but also because it is a turbulent moment in time for me and this album is a tempest of processing emotion.

Standout Tracks:

Leave a Light on Thomas – The album opens with this sky splitter. It’s a tiny echo whisper from Donna. While Steven smashes together giant symbols of sound. Tiny dancing melody notes. I also love the effect of Donna’s electric sounding echo voice. I’m not sure who Thomas is but I love this pleading call for him to have faith in this dark moment. This song is pure emotion and waves.

Darkness – I love this track on it’s own. It has another medium tempo but with an almost fantasy feel of hero’s traveling a a bleak and dangerous land. The music edges forward and uses large brass sounding warmth. Then the electric Guitars crash a call to battle “I’ll call them in to cast you out” Another band I have reviewed and love 11 Grams do a remix of this song which is one of my favorite polar opposite remixes. Truly a ying and yang when heard back to back yet it is still one voice.

When the Wolves Return – Holy shit what a heart wrenching ballad. “There is nothing to forgive, it’s the price you pay to live” This one really can make me a little misty. Swelling, giant, synth pads of loss and regret. Then at 3:30 the drums start marching to a sound of triumph! The music builds to a fevered crescendo. I hate to be such a nerd but hearing this song reminds me of the first time I read the Return of the King and you realize the boats are full of ghost soldiers repaying a debt. Sorry Spoiler alert. It’s pure majesty and triumph.

This album is a must own. This band is a must see live and I am giddy with anticipation for the chance this weekend. If you don’t know this record you need to grab hold of it by both ears and cling to it tightly.