Arise from Thorns - …before an audience of stars (Dark Symphonies)
This is a re-release of the second CD by the band now know as Brave. At first glance, this threatens to be another floaty atmospheric release, not a bad thing in itself, but there's a lot of it out there. However, the tempo of the acoustic guitar that kicks off the first track, 'Dreaming', is more of a galloping horse than a floating cloud and Michelle Loose's vocals have a lot more grit in them than your average Lisa Gerard wannabe. There the ubiquitous All About Eve comparison, which cannot be denied, but there's also shades of indie folkies 10,000 Maniacs and even, on tracks like 'I can't believe', Tori Amos. The acoustic folkiness is nicely spiced with little bits of jazz. All in all, this is an enjoyably mainsteam CD, with more structure and form than your average ethereal band.
Assemblage 23 - failure (Accession)
"Contempt" was good, but this is fucking brilliant. Welcome A23 to the a-list of techno-EBM bands. Tom Shear has managed to fuse EBM to techno in a way that is uniquely his own, topped with a vocal performance that is coarse, but melodic and emotive. Not for A23 the droning verbosity of VNV Nation. Even among the almost perfect selection here, a number of tracks do stand out. 'House of fire' is one of the best dance tracks to come out of the EBM scene - ever! Having witnessed it set a club alight; I have no hesitation making that statement. Completely in contrast is the harsh and emotional 'tried' - slower, with lush electro sounds and a beat that is sharp and insistent.
But it's the vocals and lyrics that make the track stand out, encapsulating the lyrical these of the album as a whole. The dedication on the CD reveals the personal tragedy that inspired the lyrics. Tom Shear runs the gamut of emotions, from anger to sadness, from frustration to guilt as he records his reactions to the tragedy. I'd recommend listening to the CD before reading the inlay, as the knowledge of what it's about turn it from a simply enjoyable collection of music into a deeply personal document of pain and it becomes harder to just enjoy it without thinking. However, the fact that this is one of the best releases yet in the techno/EBM vein remains undisputed.
Cruciform - the renaissance within (SubNation)
As the CD kicks off with 'Stirling', a war air in the traditional Scots style - all bagpipes and militaristic drumming - it seems as thought Cruciform are just another band of medievalists and interest wanes. The first note of 'my fellow creatures' reverses that completely as the perky electro beats kick in, wtf? With its bouncey beats, electrified medievalism and ridiculously deep vocals from Demian Darriance it's a revelation and completely mad, though quite cool at the same time. 'alone', featuring the vocals of Stephanie Geniza and lyrics by Edgar Allan Poe, is very Cranes sounding, though the electronics are much harsher.
'thorns' returns to the electrified medievalism of 'my fellow creatures', though there's no vocals this time, on the very dancefloor oriented cover of the :Wumpscut: track. The chunkey electro beats on 'Christian Day', a venomous assault on modern Christianity sets the stage for the rest of the album, less dancey, darker and more intense (even though the start of 'her serenade' is reminiscent of Donna Summer's 'I feel love'). This is less interesting as the bizarre clash of styles that made the earlier tracks original is lost in favour of a more focussed, but mundane, electro sound. And, as the CD progresses, the less than perfect vocal performances begin to grate. This is an intriguing release, uneven, but throwing up some interesting musical concepts at the same time.
The Machine in the Garden - out of the mists (Middle Pillar)
Hmmm, 'déja vu' would have been as good a title for this, or, at least, 'déja enteindu'. The band whose music I once described as "…music that spans the Gothic genre, but also moves beyond it" (as quoted in the band's own press cuttings) seem to have gotten stuck in a rut. "Underworld", the CD to which I was referring, ranged from industrial to ethereal and covered everything in between. The follow up, "One winter's night" focussed on the ethereal side, narrowing their range, but remained appealing. This, unfortunately, retreads much of the same ground, but sounds tired and worn out. This is tMitG by numbers and is missing the spark that previously made them appealing. It might just be projection, but even the band sounds bored, I know I was.
man(i)kin - sacrament (Cryonica)
man(i)kin's debut album was a slice of techno-Goth full of promise of a dark and enjoyable future. Alas, this, their first post-"sem(i)nal" release reflects the breaking of that promise. The techno part ain't bad, but the Goff side - sheesh! Run of the mill keyboards and a vocal performance that is incredibly bad. seth, the vocalist, has forsaken the droning monotone that made the debut enjoyable and attempts singing instead - resulting in an off-key, tuneless mess. Lacklustre remixes by j. montelius of Covenant and project-x's tony gottberg do little to improve matters, as both retain most of the vocals. The remixes of 'deity', 'skin' and 'faithless' from "sem(i)nal" by the Galan Pixs, Goteki and Wave are all nice dancey little numbers, but they don't change the fact that the new track is crap.
Phantom Vision - Nocturnal Frequencies (Nightbreed)
Oh dear, what is Nightbreed to do? The Goth revival is well and truly dead and, after the glut of material that came out at the end of the '90s, there's little appetite left for "new" clichéd Goff crap. Alas, with the formation of Cryonica and the departure of Inertia from heir roster, they've pretty much returned to their original state of being a label of clichéd Goff crap. The same fate that has befallen Cleopatra is likely to befall them - obscurity beckons. This CD, with its big black serifed fonts and Andrew Eldritch vocals is the problem. Who cares? Goth is dead (again).
Psyche - Sanctuary (Accession)
Now this is a surprise. After their very dated sounding compilation, "Misguided Angels", they seemed very much destined for the great electro dustbin in the sky. Then they release a new single showing they've thrown their arms wide open and embraced dance music completely. And it's paid off, both in terms of their sound and commercially, as this is a hit in their home turf of Germany. Built around a sample from the film "Logan's Run", 'Sanctuary' is a crackin' dance track, mixing trance, hard house and electro, topped off with the unmissable vocals of Darrin Huss. 'The Outsider 2001' isn't as good, harking back to their previous stuff with an '80s EBM sound.
'The Carousel Begins Mix' of 'Sanctuary' by Elektrohandel' is an odd one, it gives it a dubby ambient sound and uses large chunks of "Logan's Run" dialogue, but also retains most of the vocals. It's not bad, but it's a strange way to do dub. The same is true of the trancey 'Renewal in the 23rd Century Mix' by Akanoid vs. Clark Nova; they also keep the vocals. Maybe things are changing, but dance music remixes are usually fairly short on vocals, aren't they? Anyway, other than that quibble, this is a fine release and proves that Psyche may have a future after all. Note: this is the European version of the single; I'll review the US version next time.
Raising Mu - The Search
This is less of an album, per se, and more like a musical work-out. The six tracks on offer jump back and forth from the harder side of dance music to the dancier edge of electronics. There's no vocals, no "real" instruments, just a varied selection of beats and synthesised sounds all mixed up. As a result, it's hard to say very much more about it. It's the kind of thing that sounds good at a club late at night, not too repetitive, a nice vibe, but not too complex either.
The Soil Bleeds Black - Quintessence (World Serpent)
This is another slice of faux medieval music. I say faux because, unlike the Mediæval Bæbes who stick to one form of music, there's at least three different styles in the mix here - Irish and British folk music, with some plainsong thrown in for good measure. So there's lots of acoustic guitars and booming percussion and a whole load of different whistles (tin whistles and low whistles are not flutes, despite what the press release says). And, of course, there's the de rigueur droning male and floaty female vocals to finish it all off. It's not bad, but… It's all so serious. You can almost see the band earnestly playing their instruments in their medieval dress and all, they just don't sound like they're having fun. Musically, they're no Dead Can Dance, so they may as well chill out and play around a bit. It would certainly live things up a bit, which would make them a hell of a lot more interesting.
Spahn Ranch - Closure (Cleopatra)
Spahn Ranch bows out with a CD that is nothing if not diverse. Never a band to respect musical boundaries, everything's gone into the mix here, something that's obvious from the very start. 'Reasons' matches slightly cheesy dance music with killer beats, industrial noises and a powerhouse vocal performance in a way that hasn't really been done since the KLF. 'The River', a cover of the Polly Harvey tracks, couldn't be more different - a slow, dark and sedate showcase for Athan's amazing vocals. 'Destruction' takes a few steps into their past and explodes with an intense industrial onslaught.
The vaguely trip hop/darkwave 'The missing frame' takes the tempo down a few notches and the dub vibe of 'Born on a ray of sound' does little to speed things up, nor does the rather mundane electro sound of 'Phase'. 'The last laugh' blatantly copies the soundscapey noises of the Young Gods to reasonable effect, but the industrialised reggae dub of 'Fast forward' is much better. 'Mind over matter' is a straightforward heavy techno number - big, brash and dancey. Finally, there's the darkwave sounds of 'A Picture'. All in all, this is a very respectable last shout by Spahn Ranch, somewhat patchy, but experimental and enjoyable. Thus we bid farewell to the band and await the future separate stylings of Messrs. Green and Maroulis eagerly.
Various - Accession Records Volume One (Accession)
This CD marks the fifth anniversary of the label started by Diary of Dreams' Adrian Hates. Largely based in the EBM scene, it has recently come to prominence with the growth of the techno-EBM scene, with the success of Assemblage 23 and the fabulous Claire Voyant remix album, "Time Again", in particular. This is part label sampler, part genre compilation. The first 12 are drawn from Accession's roster while the five bonus tracks add something extra.
Of the sampler tracks, the rather run-of-the-mill pseudo-classical 'Luna Mystica' is an odd choice for opener, sounding like the theme music to some BBC drama series. The driving electro of 'Bladerunner 2001' by Diary of Dreams picks up the pace nicely and leads into the cracking 'Anthem (Stronghold)' by Assemblage 23. The only quibble with this choice is that it's a track from "Contempt" rather than the even better new album, "failure". This is followed by three different takes on EBM by Cut.Rate.Box, Diorama and Haujobb, each using elements of techno and dance nicely, but not quite taking the plunge all the way into the new scene.
Then there are two bands that have been catapulted to the forefront of the new wave. First off there's the Cleaner mix of Claire Voyant's 'Blinking Tears' from "Time Again" and the born again technophiles Psyche, showing a skill at dance music unhinted at by their previous output. Cleaner's 'Fun to be head (dub mix)' is an upbeat, funky electro-dance number on a different path to Daniel Myer's work with Haujobb. Gasr and Megadump add a harder edge to their dancefloor sounds, mixing in elements of industrial and some coarser vocals, but still keeping the beats pumping. Last up in this section is the disappointingly messy version of 'Introit' by Aesma Daeva. In fact, it sounds like the CD is fucking up a few times through the track.
Then things get really cool. Cut.Rate.Box kick off the bonus tracks with the upbeat electro-dance 'In Your Eyes' with Beborn Beton's Stefan on vocal duties relating a rather humorous tale of sexual frustration boiling over. That's followed by Assemblage 23's bangin' mix of The Azoic's 'Progression (Dirge)' - a dancefloor winner. Diary of Dreams return to more familiar territory with the chugging electro of 'Forestown' followed by an emotive slice of electro-pop from Diorama feat. Katrin. It's even got Spanish guitars, something you don't hear every day. It all wraps up on a floaty note with the pre-remixed 'Blinking tears_for Adrian' by Claire Voyant, a tasty piece of atmospherics. This kicks ass, tune into Accession before the majors start picking off the bands.
Womb - Spiteful Extractions
This starts off very well, the Gothic on PCP of 'She a boy' exploding out of the speakers in its whiney Goff meets crazy punk glory. But then it settles into a Goff sound so retro, it's almost unfamiliar. There's three tracks of honest to goodness, early 80s style, Gothic Rock. We're talking Christian Death (Rozz era), X-Mal Deutschland or Sex Gang Children here, real instruments and full-on whining vocals. Even when an electro influence creeps in, on 'I want to make you bleed', it's Dr Avalanche pre-"First and last and always" style drum beats. It's been an age since I've actually listened to something like this, it's a real flashback to my first "Gothic Rock" compilation tape when I was 17. But, while Womb aren't at all bad at what they do, this music belongs in the past. But, if you're the kinda Goff that still wears velvet and ruffles, drinks snakebite and moans about the rubber-clad ravers like me that call themselves Goths these days, this is for you!
All reviews by Girl the Bourgeois Individualist, unless otherwise stated.