*TW: THIS ARTICLE TALKS ABOUT TOPICS RELATED TO GROOMING, RAPE, MURDER AND CANNIBALISM. READER DISCRETION ADVISED*
Drenched in Americana Southern gothic aesthetics, Hayden Silas Andhedönia - who performs under the stage name Ethel Cain - uses her debut LP “Preacher’s Daughter” to tell the story of Ethel Cain, who ran away from home and met a gruesome, cannibalistic end.
“Preacher’s Daughter” is the debut concept album of Cain that captures a lifetime of trauma, small-town cultural experiences and religious battles. On the album cover, Cain sits under a picture of Jesus Christ while wearing a crisp, vintage white dress in a wood-paneled home. Depictions of tattered American flags hung up on bedroom walls and lonesome shots of cabins and churches in grainy film in the visualizers for the other songs on the album further depict the gothic Americana imagery that the album showcases with purpose.
Some of the most prominent themes this album explores are generational family trauma and Christianity. The first track of the album, “Family Tree (Intro)” and its continuation “Family Tree” beautifully combine both of these themes while setting the foundation for the narrative. The album begins by comparing Cain and Christ comparatively. The first verse of this song tells that Jesus is made up of Mary’s blood, but not of his father's, so he cannot escape the circumstances his mother has handed him by giving birth to him. The chorus then takes Cain’s character and tells how she cannot run as she cannot control the people of her community and the family she has been born with.
The lines from the intro “He’ll laugh and say,/“You know I raised you better than this’/Then leave me hanging so they all can laugh at me” can be used as a foreshadowing that what led to Cain’s demise was as much of her environment’s fault as it was her own decisions.
The album explores grandiose sounds within its run time that fits into the plot of the story of the album. The song “American Teenager” has a sound that is reminiscent of Taylor Swift’s Fearless era, and is one of the brighter songs on the album. With its references to the loss of losing community members who serve in the armed forces and the importance of Friday night high school football games, this track sets the first scene of the story.
As the track plays on, “American Teenage” explores the loss of Cain’s father, Rev. Joseph Cain, and how to continue his legacy she tries to lead her church’s congregation in his place while also going through her tribulations.
Cain’s tribulations are then highlighted in the track “A House In Nebraska”, where she talks about her ex-lover, Willoughby Tucker, who has left town. She reminisces on the good times that they had together and wants him to come back home. To relive memories they had together she goes to the abandoned house they once imagined was their own and far away from their hometown. This song encapsulates her longing for Tucker to come home, but no matter what she can do nothing to bring him back home.
The story continues with Cain meeting her new lover, Logan Phelps, in the song “Western Nights”. Her new love is not kind, and violent at times, but Cain finds herself desperately loyal to him and loves him even with his faults. Despite his rough nature, Logan shows genuine care toward Cain in his way and is willing to stick up for her. Cain finds herself frightened of Phelps as the situations he gets himself in are less than safe, but is still willing to stick with him no matter what.
Much like the intro, the song “Family Tree” is the end of Logan Phelps in this story. Phelps dies during a police shootout after a bank robbery. After this event, Cain is on the run from the police and in continuation of the intro of this album as this song continues the explanation of hellish experiences and traumas that are prominent in Cain’s music. This version of the song is Cain taking control of her situation and essentially undoing her tie to her family tree.
To close out act one of this concept album, Cain uses the song “Hard Times” to reflect on her biggest family traumas. “Hard Times” is Cain’s reflection on the sexual abuse that was inflicted on her by her father as a child. This song addresses her feelings regarding her father and is a deep dive into the complication of their relationship and how she was forced to grow up fast because of the abuse, and how she lost her father figure because her father is more of a predator than her caregiver. This song also explores trauma bonding and how even though her father has abused her she still respects him for the man that he is outside of his abuse.
The album uses “Thoroughfare” to open the second act of the album. Cain has just run away from home and has met another person named Isaiah. They drive from Texas to California and grow an affection for each other over their adventure. The story of Cain and Isaiah continues and takes a darker turn in “Gibson Girl”.
Isaiah and Cain have arrived in California and after arriving Isaiah has begun pimping Cain out at strip clubs. Isaiah constantly fed Cain drugs and she began to lose her sense of reality. “Baby, if it feels good/Then it can’t be bad” is used in the chorus of the song and reflects the grooming and gaslighting that Cain is now enduring at the hands of Isaiah. She can eventually revel in what she is doing as she is doing something that is seen as immoral and rebellious against the values that have been instilled in her by her father and hometown.
As Cain’s drug-induced spiral continues she beings to hallucinate and confront the darkness. “Ptolemaea” is named after the circle of hell in which traitors reside, Ptolemy. Since Cain left her family and her faith she is met with wrath that is only matched in hell. This song also ties in with the name of Isaiah as he is the name of the biblical prophet who relieves people of their sins, and in this story, Cain is the sacrifice for someone’s sins at Isaiah’s will. This song is the first glimpse into the mission of the Daughters of Cain, a cult that will ultimately lead to Cain’s death at the end of the album.
“August Underground” is the only instrumental track that acts as a rest stop in the album and story. The title of this track is an infamous snuff film with the same name. At this point in the story, Cain is wasting away in the attic of an abandoned shack in the woods. Isaiah has revealed his true nature and Cain has accepted her fate. “Televangelism” is the resolution to Cain’s fate as this song is a piano instrumental to portray her ascension into heaven.
Cain makes peace with her death and reflects on her life. “Sun Bleached Files” addresses Cain’s grievances in life and wishes as she wants to go back home to safety. “God loves you, but/not enough to save you” is one of the most well-known lyrics of Cain and adds to the meaning of the song as she knows no one is going to save her from this fate, but she still prayed within her last moments. This is the end of her suffering cycle and her conclusion with deciding to forgive the ones who have harmed her, including herself.
“Strangers” acts as the ending of this concept album. After being murdered and cannibalized by Isaiah this is Cain’s way of saying her last goodbyes to her mother. Cain uses the lyrics “How funny, I never/considered myself tough” is used in a joking way as she never considered herself resilient, but also never knew her flesh was hard to chew and swallow. Cain will never be able to see her mother again, and this makes her angry so she turns in Isaiah’s stomach since she doesn’t have a grave to turn in.