Ilsa Credit: Maire O'Sullivan

Even if you buy into the idea that musicians should stay out of politics, how do you overlook the politics baked into everything around you? Take the COVID-19 pandemic: What’s more destructive, the virus or the leaders who don’t even try to get it under control? Preyer, the new album from D.C. six-piece Ilsa, was born in lockdown, and they use it to take the piss out of the corruption, inhumanity, and lust for power that helped drive society to this particular brink. With a caustic blend of death metal, doom, sludge, and crust punk, Ilsa reframe the story of Sean Sellers, the only person the U.S. has put to death for crimes committed under age 17 since reinstating the death penalty in 1976, as an indictment of what they see as a toxic Christian nationalist state; at his trial in 1986, he claimed he’d been an active satanist and possessed by a demon when he shot and killed his mother and stepfather (though by then he’d converted to Christianity in jail). Ilsa set the scene with opener “Epigraph,” which accompanies slowly building doom metal with testimony from Sellers about the night in 1985 when he murdered a convenience store clerk. Sellers appealed for clemency, citing his conversion and a diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder, but he was executed in 1999. Sellers’s crimes were unquestionably heinous, but it’s essential to question a system that justifies applying the death penalty to a teenager who may have had a severe mental health disorder. We have to look at those who benefit from such a system and why—elected officials, for example, who campaign on religious principles, only to vote against funding for public health and social services and accept donations from for-profit prisons. (As vocalist Orian sings on the anti-Christofascist groover “Shibboleth”: “Faith’s distortion is noxious / Contrary to liberty.”) In that sense, Ilsa speak heavy truths to power just as successfully as they lay down colossally heavy riffs.   v