One of the best ways to get my attention is to mention a band crossing genre boundaries in unexpected ways. Birdeatsbaby drew my eye, first, with their rather evocative name and, second, with that drop-dead gorgeous album art. But what really caught my interest was their history; the band started off in the punk cabaret scene and developed to include prog metal and symphonic influences. Now, I don’t know much about the punk cabaret scene as a whole, but I am intimately familiar with the work of its godmother, the feminist force of nature Amanda “Fucking” Palmer and her formation The Dresden Dolls, so to say I was rapidly hyping myself into a frenzy would be an understatement. Thankfully, the British group around frontwoman Mishkin Fitzgerald does not disappoint, creating an entity of unique disposition and sound.1
For those unfamiliar with the punk cabaret (also known as dark cabaret) genre, it is a combination of 70’s goth and punk music with the burlesque aesthetics of cabaret music. This description fits Birdeatsbaby as well, to an extent, but they have constructed a rather unique sound on top of this foundation, using a progressive metal songwriting scaffold and draping billowing layers of both metal and classical instrumentation across. Fitzgerald functions as the conductor in the orchestra, her slightly nasal drawl showing great diversity in delivery as she infuses the music with ample flair and drama. Her storytelling and emotive qualities stem from her punk cabaret roots, echoing other contemporary dark cabaret artists like Emilie Autumn. The result is a highly dynamic album that journeys through a spectrum of moods, from the despondent “How Do I” to the cynical “Box of Razorblades” and from the manic “Kill No One” to the romantic noir of “Lady Grey.”
The greatest strength of punk cabaret in my limited experience is in its narrative nature. Amanda Palmer, for instance, is not the greatest singer, but in my opinion, she is a monumental lyricist and is fantastic at conveying the appropriate emotion primarily through her voice. Birdeatsbaby has a similar quality, but they use their significant range of instrumentation to the fullest to achieve the same effect. Some of the quiet tracks lose all traces of metal, particularly in the latter half of the album. Others use the pomp of the guitar and bass in combination with the strings to project grandeur rather than aggression, notably on lead single “Painkiller.”2 Fitzgerald has a talent for identifying exactly how to combine all the tools at her disposal to maximize the emotional impact of the many moods and facets. It makes for an intense musical journey that can be quite dizzying at times but contains enough hooks and breathers to never drop us completely.
It’s not a perfect album by any means. 15 tracks across 67 minutes, The World Conspires tends to be much of a muchness, particularly with the many thick layers vying for attention. The back half drops the metal aspects more often, and slows down more than perhaps wise, as lethargy does seep in by the last few tracks, sans the jolt of punk energy of “Kill No One.” Some of the tracks from that latter half could have been axed to leave a stronger, more balanced album. But overall, The World Conspires is still a powerful album that makes the most of its unlikely marriage between punk cabaret and symphonic progressive metal. With Fitzgerald as its captain, Birdeatsbaby steers its ship through waters of melancholy, desperation, mania, and obsession, and the voyage is truly one of a kind.
Tracks to Check Out: “Lady Grey,” “Box of Razorblades,” and “Zerofortythree”