Pittsburgh's Genital Shame brings searing introspection to bedroom black metal | Pittsburgh City Paper

Pittsburgh music act Genital Shame brings searing introspection to bedroom black metal

click to enlarge Erin Dawson has long black hair and wears a pea coat in a woodland environment.
Photo: Jess Stephens
Erin Dawson of Genital Shame
The idea for Genital Shame emerged during a night run around Point State Park.

"The idea of starting a metal band called Genital Shame, which featured only one member who used a white, headless, seven-string guitar struck me," Erin Dawson, the musician behind the project, tells Pittsburgh City Paper. "I've since sold the guitar, but the rest stuck."

The project is one of many one-person black metal "bands" out there, but the beauty and sensitivity make Dawson's music unique. Many bedroom acts sound as lo-fi and rudimentary as that approach would suggest, yet Genital Shame's music is a layer-cake of introspective, keening noise and melody. Her previous two EPs, which have sold out on vinyl, were similarly rich with detail, but her first LP Chronic Illness Wish, due out later this month, is more intricate and balanced still.

Dawson and her labelmates, Stander, will play a show on Sun., Feb. 11 at The Government Center. This tour will be her first to feature merch and a stage backdrop. After playing Pittsburgh, Genital Shame will travel to Montreal, Chicago, Boston, New York, and Cincinnati.

"I'm starting to plan for a summer tour currently, including, hopefully, the West Coast," Dawson tells CP.

While black metal runs the gamut from fuzzed-out tributes to Satan to symphonic blizzards of sound, Dawson's approach is much more inward-looking. "One thing I try doing differently with [Genital Shame] is writing more autobiographically," she says. "Instead of recycling cosmological or philosophical themes, I veer more confessional, I think."

That's evident in the more ambient sections of tracks such as "Hermaphroditic Image" or in the traces of synth and spoken vocals that whisper from among harsher sections of tremolo-picked guitar and barreling drums. This is, after all, metal, and the record is still anchored by shrieked vocals and visceral lyrical themes.

On this album, "I'm exploring the desire for retribution, specifically the moment between stimulus and response," Dawson says. "I suppose it's not an idealistic record."

Idealistic or not, it's a fierce and self-possessed record that sees Dawson's "transwoman black metal" (or "TWBM," as she calls it, making fun of the scene's propensity for microgenres) reach new heights. Chronic Illness Wish is musically precise and artfully mixed, straddling the lower-fi and bombastic wings of black metal without compromising on songcraft.


Dawson originally hails from West Virginia and visited Pittsburgh frequently for shows during college. She moved here after a stint in Los Angeles.

"[Pittsburgh] has always felt like a next-door neighbor that I had a crush on," she says, though she notes that the city's diminished number of venues following COVID is limiting. "I think this issue alone makes the Pittsburgh music scene, extreme or not, feel smaller than it is."

When not working, recording, or touring, Dawson appreciates Pittsburgh's wealth of antiques shopping and stopping by Tina's in Bloomfield.

"Otherwise, exploring new neighborhoods while jogging and visiting Emilichka to buy and then kill plants has been a recent pastime for me," she quips.

Genital Shame, Stander, and Chains of Desire. 8 p.m. Sun., Feb. 11. The Government Center. 715 East St., North Side. $10. thegovernmentcenter.com

Chronic Illness Wish releases Fri., Feb. 23 digitally and on vinyl via the Garrote.

Cupid's Undie Run in Pittsburgh, 2024
18 images

Cupid's Undie Run in Pittsburgh, 2024

By Mars Johnson