Witchery and Wealth: Wicca's "Suffer On"

Wicca Phase Springs Eternal released his new album Suffer On, a continuation of the emergent emo rap sub-genre, on February 15th. (Chase Manze)

Wicca Phase Springs Eternal released his new album Suffer On, a continuation of the emergent emo rap sub-genre, on February 15th. (Chase Manze)

“Cast spells, write checks,” Wicca Phase Springs Eternal confidently proclaims on “Rest,” the second and final promo single for his Run For Cover Records debut album, Suffer On. It’s a fitting declaration, too—one that straddles the worlds of witchery and extravagant wealth that define Wicca (real name Adam McIlwee), and the movement in which he plays an integral part.

He weaves tales of pain, blood, and loss into an atmosphere of acoustic guitars, distorted 808s and blaring, high-frequency hi-hats à la Tay Keith. This combination frames the experimental Wicca Phase Springs Eternal as a shepherd of the burgeoning emo-rap movement, a founding father of a genre still in its infancy.

A former member of Tigers Jaw, Wicca has been on the multifarious emo scene for over a decade. His former band has been heralded by critics as one of the seminal projects of the emo revival, with lyrics about dramatic breakups and indulgent self-sacrifice. Tigers Jaw lost three members—including McIlwee, amicably—after the release of Charmer in 2014.

Wicca wanted something darker. The closer on Charmer, written by McIlwee, is diffident and longing. Wicca’s mopey cry, “I feel your sympathy...I don't feel anything at all,” would be a prescient proclamation for his eventual solo debut album.

The opener, “Together,” begins with reverb-heavy, acoustic guitar leads, soft atmospheric synth sounds, and Wicca’s baritone vocals panning, lamenting, and pleading: “Thrashing of the bones / I can never sleep / I wish that I could pay someone to care for me.”

Mentions of loneliness and suicide are prevalent—unsurprisingly, since Wicca co-founded a collective of artists who thrive on deriving art from their depression. GothBoiClique, the emo-influenced rap group, gained notoriety largely because of the success of fellow member and frequent collaborator Lil Peep, who passed away in 2017.

Lil Peep was another artist who fused the emo-rock music of decades past with the current zeitgeist in trap music—and to great acclaim, as he charted on Billboard both during his lifetime and after. Peep and Wicca’s collaboration “Absolute In Doubt” remains the latter’s most-played song by far, with over 20 million streams.

Things begin to change in track three of Suffer On. A minute and a half into “I Need Help,” amidst McIlwee’s wails over an acoustic-guitar lead and live drums, trap drums phase into the mix. Suddenly, the song finds the paradigmatic emo-trap sound GBC has championed over the past three years.

Wicca has the ability to switch his sound on a dime. Tracks six and seven are polar opposites, sonically. “Crushed” is entirely acoustic, with a thick, jangling guitar lead and McIlwee’s layered wails of self-doubt and worthlessness: ”Stability... I don’t have it / I just struggle with my stresses.”

On the following cut, “I Wake Up in Pain,” the percussive instrumentation is disconcerting. Snares, glitches, and ultra-high-frequency 808s almost drown out McIlwee’s vocals. The song is closer to a headache than a headbanger, but Wicca, with the help of album co-producers Will Yip and Døves, takes the first step toward the latter by experimenting with the sounds of several genres. In doing so, he stands out from the expanse of algorithmic trap production that has come to define the late 2010s.

The experimentation doesn’t limit itself to emo and trap, though. “Put Me in Graves” features a synth that resembles a hellish church choir and an abrasive, two-step kick pattern that harkens back to the days of witch house (an electronic sub-genre with an aesthetic McIlwee has embraced in his ascent as Wicca Phase Springs Eternal).

Suffer On is filled to the brim with witchery—shadows, cats, altars, and the overwhelming darkness that precludes any jubilation whatsoever. The album’s production, too, feels like witchcraft. Wicca’s penchant for genre melding is, in a way, a form of alchemy.

For the most part, Wicca chooses his words on Suffer On with care. Some lyrics are elegant—fragments are esoteric, connections are tenuous, pacts are Faustian—but sometimes his depression consumes entire songs, and the lyrics are inarticulate, either sophomoric or too muddled in vague pain.

He finishes the album with three declarations of “suffer on” into the void on the closer. Wicca’s internal struggle feels perennial and unavoidable. His pleas echo and the synth evilly consumes his voice. But this time the sound is tranquil, not sinister. It sounds like stasis. The suffering might not be over, but for now it’s okay.

CultureHenry Schwartz