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Sordid reviews - 15/04/02.

Apoptygma Berzerk - Until the end of the world (WEA) Buy from MNS
Apop's latest assault on the dance scene is their strongest yet, the track spread across seven mixes on 2 CDs is a monster of dancey electropop, complete with a sample from the Big Brother theme for good measure. CD1 is the dance version of the single, kicking off with the original, but the first Martin Eyerer mix turns it into a 9-minute, full-on trance piece, all eyes closed and hands in the air. The Schiller remix opens with an almost ambient sound, slowly picking up, but holding back and building expectation. The beats kick in properly only after 3½ minutes and the tempo rises and falls, but never actually takes off, ending anticlimactically without fulfilling expectations. Martin Eyerer's club mix is the kind of thing that would pass unnoticed at around 2 or 3 in the morning at any dance club - perfectly dancey and inoffensive, but nothing special.

Buy from MNS CD2 is the more electropop side of APB, again kicking off with the original version of the song. But it follows that with an almost industrial grind from the Ladytron 'de-shape', with the vocals run through a synthpop grinder, emerging all robotic sounding. Interesting, but not great. APB's own 'Dark Club Mix' is neither particularly darker nor clubbier than the original, in fact it is quite a bit less interesting - holding back on any decent dance elements with a "futurepop" by numbers sound. Last, and definitely least, is 'Untitled 5', a track that wasn't good enough to name, let alone put on the new album. So there ya go, 2 CDs of fairly inoffensive, but ultimately unsatisfactory Apop sounds that might have been enough to cross over, except there's no vinyl version over here, so dance DJs aren't likely to pick up on them at all.

Inertia - No Defect (Cryonica) Buy from MNS
Inertia's 'No Defect' is a driving and intense piece of "futurepop", harsh industrial vocals and musical elements, matched with a dancefloor savvy that puts them among the scene's leaders. The 'Pixs Dub Mix' by the Galan Pixs beefs up the beats and boosts the dance edge of the music, creating a real Dark Club mix that puts APB to shame. Project X take 'Void' from Inertia's last album and turn it into a lumbering industrial beast that misses the dancefloor friendly feel of the original. Reza pulls things back with his own club mix of the title track, giving it a lighter touch and more accessible feel than the original. That, however, is nothing compared to Ed Luxmoore's full on techno bastard, 'the Mutagenic Mix'. This would lift the roof off any club late at night - powerful, intense and absolutely brilliant. This single more than confirms Ineria's position among the scene's leaders.

Assemblage 23 - disappoint (Accession) Buy from MNS
True to its name, this does disappoint. 'House of fire' would have made a better single, preferably on lovely 12" vinyl with mixes from the likes of Timo Maas or DJ Tiesto. Alas, we've got the more standard Accession single that tries to make up for lack of quality with quantity. First off, 'Disappoint' has an anthemic feel, but the lyrics (Tom's reaction to his father's suicide) are far too clear to comfortably sing along to. Secondly, while A23's own initial remix is a tasty slice of "futurepop", most of the other six mixes, from the likes of Funker Vogt, In the Nursery and l'Âme Immortelle are cack-handed steps backward into electro or industrial, largely leaving the vocal line intact. The light at the end of the tunnel is provided by Ed Vargo of THD's light and bouncy piece of dancefloor pop music that couldn't be more different to the turgid mess that preceeds it. This was a mixed opportunity.

Glis - advanced promo (ADSR)
Glis are newbies trying hard to get into the "futurepop" act, but their Flesh Field lite sound has quite a few rough edges that need smoothing out before they have a shot at the big time. The dancier 'It's empty in her eyes', with a nice vibe, is hindered by a flat and amateurish vocal sound from both male and female vocalists. This has the unproduced sound of a demo. 'The Storm (version)' is an even more amateurish sounding electro piece. 'Nightvision' is a lot better, a tastier dance vibe, with a better sounding vocal and better production in evidence. 'my cruelty', though, is a step back into the amateurish sound. Glis have potential, but they need a lot more work.

Cut.rate.box - dataseed (Accession) Buy from MNS
"new religion" was the sound of a band not quite convinced about the crossover stuff that was becoming the "futurepop" scene, "dataseed" is largely the sound of a band that's decided it's not for them. Cut.rate.box play EBM and are proud of it. This is harsher and more strictly bleepy than its predecessor. Alas, this lack of flexibility does give it a retro feel, it has a lot in common with Front 242 of ten years ago, with bits and pieces of the likes of Frontline Assembly or even Skinny Puppy in evidence. It's all well done and is a prime example of good EBM, but that was then and this is… well this is the absolutely cracking assemblage23 mix of 'zionsank' that lifts the track into dancefloor heaven, showing clearly that Tom Shear is one of the top remixers around and much better than all those who tried remixing his stuff. Finally is a rather flat and boring remix of 'restless' by torrent vaccine, who had the unenviable task of following A23 anyway. All in all, c.r.b are really good at what they do, but, for me, this is not the kind of thing to get me excited these days.

Blind Before Dawn - distant EP (danceflaw)
OK, the inlay card on this reveals that BBD knew what was wrong with this themselves. Why? Because after recording it, they went and got themselves a vocalist. While there are some reasonably well put together elektro and "futurepop" pieces on this, with some nice melodic touches, the vocals are awful! David Lovatt can't sing, at all. His failure to hit the right notes on tracks like 'Nothing scared' is cringeworthy. It's a pity, because the vocal free 'Drown (non vox)' is a cracking piece of industrial dance. Why they released these versions without re-doing them with the new vocalist is beyond me.

Ultramax - Resurrection
Max Formitchev's fusion of techno and classical could easily have turned out to be a naff monstrosity in the William Orbit vein. Thankfully, this isn't, Max mates fairly straightforward neoclassical music - nice, easy on the ears stuff with a techno savvy and a sound that ranges from ambient to industrial. The result is a very tasty collection of tracks to put on and sit back and enjoy - read a book or something. This won't take over the dancefloor or sell millions, but it is very enjoyable. Max Formitchev's fusion of techno and classical could easily have turned out to be a naff monstrosity in the William Orbit vein. Thankfully, this isn't, Max mates fairly straightforward neoclassical music - nice, easy on the ears stuff with a techno savvy and a sound that ranges from ambient to industrial. The result is a very tasty collection of tracks to put on and sit back and enjoy - read a book or something. This won't take over the dancefloor or sell millions, but it is very enjoyable.

Spahn Ranch - Closure (Cryonica) Buy from MNS
Just a short mention for this, as I've reviewed it before (here), but this UK version features three extra tracks not on the Cleopatra original. 'Swim' is a funky slice of electronica, with the kind of strong vocal you'd expect from Athan. 'Magellan' is an instrumental reworking of the dancey opener 'Reason'. Finally, 'Version excursion' is a bit of dark industrial noiseniking, with not all that much to it. All in all, reasonable additions they may be, but don't bother paying any extra for them. Offered the choice, though, pick this over the Cleopatra version.

In the Nursery - Engel (ITN Corporation) Buy from MNS
This opens really well with 'new religion', a strange mix of militaristic atmospherics and rhythmic intensity that makes it quite dancey . Scar Tissue in their heyday is a band that springs to mind as the vibe slides neatly into the more classical feel of 'beutereiter'. Alas, the sliding continues into the more run of the mill neoclassical atmospherics of 'angelorum', complete with the de rigueur angelic vocals of Dolores marguerite c. And on it goes, following the well-worn track in the wake of the likes of Penitent, Arcana and Ataraxia and, of course, their own back catalogue. And then, just when it seemed it would never lift up again, the beats kick in on the penultimate track, 'brandland', and interest is revived. Unfortunately, this is lost again as the album drops into the floaty nothingness of 'the circling sky'. When ITN are good, they're very, very good, but unfortunately they seem content to be mediocre too much of the time.

This Vale of Tears - Exceed (Black Rain) Buy from MNS
TVoT are a very strange bunch. Most of the time their stuff is so odd that they're either completely insane or just taking the piss. The title track, for example, could be described as something like an Eastern-influenced Goffik disco track. 'The Wind' is more down to earth, kind of 80s Gothic rock with a little too much of the big hair guitar god stuff going on and some really naff piano. Then there's 'No more', oh my god, 'No more'. It's slow, atmospheric and emotional to a degree that's so ridiculously overblown, it's hilarious. It's supposed to be a suicide letter, but I actually laughed out loud the first time I heard it. Then 'Flame' pops up, a passable slice of Gothic techno à la IntraVenus, if a little more Gothy, a sound that continues into 'Alone in the shower' (though the lyrics are complete nonsense). The excessively Gothy vocals do start to grate by 'Silence', which otherwise has a reasonably interesting Krautrocky sound. The vocals change and become more normal for 'If I die', but the track is fairly naff otherwise, while the vaguely Cure-ish 'My distance' that disintegrates into noise is just rubbish. 'Higher spirits (flat liner mix)' returns to the over-Gothic crossover attempt, with a dreadfully overblown chorus. 'Inside out' kicks off with what sounds like a truly naff synthesised birdcall sound and, em, gets worse. It all wraps up with a thankfully tasty dub mix of 'Exceed' that makes great use of the beats and Eastern sounds. All in all, it's a strange trip, but one that proves that, however nuts TVoT become, at least they're interesting - sanity just makes them sound naff.

Human Greed - Consolation (RE:)
The press release says that Human Greed have "fashioned a new genre definition for themselves - 'Melancholic Extremism From The Steep Black Hill Of Loss.'" OK, quite apart from the ridiculous pretentiousness of the phrase, this already has a far more mundane genre definition - dark ambient. And it's not even a particularly interesting example of the tired genre. This whirrs a lot and that's about it, other than bits and pieces of voice samples, it doesn't bleep or anything fancy, it doesn't even have any rhythmic elements like beats. It just passes by all but unnoticed in the ears for a seemingly endless period. If Aphex Twin had come up with stuff like this, he'd most likely have stuck it on a disk and forgotten all about it. He definitely wouldn't have released it.

VNV Nation - Futureperfect (Dependent)
To be fair to Ronan and Mark, the pressure on them to deliver this must have been huge. "Empire" catapulted them to the head of the emerging "futurepop" scene alongside Apop and Covenant and singles and the new version of "Advance & Follow" just whetted people's appetites. Releasing this in February, as they did, meant that they were first out of the stalls in 2002, ahead of Apop's "Harmonizer" and Covenant's forthcoming major label debut. Alas, "Futureperfect" is not perfect and could probably have done with a bit more time in studio. The first track, 'Epicentre', just doesn't seem to hang together properly, the music is a step further into techno than before, but the vocals don't quite fit and sound a bit flat. Then, for some bizarre reason, we're into an instrumental. 'Electronaut' is a nice piece of electronic dance music, but it's far more suited to a single and is really badly placed this early on the album. To make matters worse, it's followed by another bloody instrumental, 'Liegestad', which is a fairly boringly slow, vaguely neoclassical, piece. 'Holding on' doesn't pick the pace up much, but the emotive vocals turn it into a nice lighters-in-the-air "futurepop" ballad! 'Cargon' is a moodier Gary Numan-like electro piece, pretty good, but damned by the fact it's the third friggin' slow track in a row.
Thankfully, the already released, on single, 'Genesis' comes along and gives us what we expect from VNV, hard-hitting electronics with a large dose of dancefloor friendly techno, in other words, "futurepop". 'Structure' keeps up the standard, a storming industrial dance piece to ignite any dancefloor, with minimal vocals and some nice voice samples. 'Fearless' takes it up a notch or two, an absolutely banging dancefloor classic in which Ronan forsakes his normal droning vocals for a powerhouse performance. This is arguably the best track they've ever recorded. And then, for the first time, there's an appreciable slice of instrumentalism, an ambient piece that takes down the tempo with a spooky vibe that sounds like it's been lifted from a sci-fi film score. 'Beloved' is standard VNV, and I mean that in a good way, slow start, strong vocals, building into a trancey bastard of a track. 'Airstrips' is more bog-standard, a bit ambienty, a little too slow; it would have been a perfectly acceptable filler except there's already been enough of them. "Futureperfect" would have been a great, if a little short, album if it had started at 'Genesis', or even 'Cargon'; or if the tracks had been in a different order with a production standard on all tracks at the level of 'Fearless'. But, alas, they weren't and it's a pity because a band with as high a profile as VNV will be judged more on the flaws than on the successes, and there are more than a few of both.

All reviews by Girl the Bourgeois Individualist, unless otherwise stated.

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