Sordid reviews - 06/09/02.
VNV Nation - Beloved.1 (Dependent)
VNV's second single from "futureperfect" is another perfect example of what Ronan titled futurepop - a strong EBM basis overlaid with uplifting trance and topped with Ronan's emotive lyrics. First up is a short version of the album track, which is followed by hiver & hammer's 'UK dub trip mix' (on of the three mixes they contributed to the 12") - a very tasty trance version, with the vocals pushed right down into the mix that's just begging to cross over into the dance scene. Then there's the classic EBM sound of 'fearless', the same version as on the album, with its massive build to hard-hitting dancefloor heaven. Last, but very much not least, Ernst Horn of Deine Lakaien takes a leaf out of Fischerspooner's book with a stripped down mix of 'Beloved' - basic beats, simple synths displaying Ronan's vocals starkly - which gradually speeds and builds before going completely nuts with a storming beat and an early 90s piano house-influenced sound. This is an absolutely fabulous example of how well futurepop and nu-electro can be mixed.
Genitorturers - Flesh is the law (G-Force)
The world needs bands like Genitorturers like it needs extreme sports and powerful drugs - to remind us how much fun pure danger can be. Gen & Co. are everything Marilyn Manson just hinted at and their twisted tales of violence have always been too much for the oh-so-vocal guardians of morality. Manson's cartoon Satanism provided a safe target to condemn, Genitorturers, fronted by the stunning blonde, knife-wielding, BDSM queen Gen, presumably fall into the "let's ignore them and hope they go away" category. This EP spans the gap between their debut and their more mainstream second album, 'Sin City'. 'Lecher Bitch' kicks it off with an uncompromising snarl from Gen backed with a sharp electronic metal backing, while 'Public Enemy #1' is slower and more melodic, with more restrained vocals, but still packing one heck of a punch. The title track is a moodier electro-industrial piece, borrowing from the likes of NIN, with a teasing hiss that explodes into a yell at the chorus - "let the pussy worship begin". The live version of 'House of shame' retains the full-force onslaught of guitars and snarling vocals from the version on their debut. Then there's the deliciously in-your-face 'Guns are good', an upbeat track with a vague hint of Babes in Toyland that extols the virtues of firearms and killing the people that you hate, absolutely dripping with irony. Hidden away on track 69 is something completely different - a dark and dangerous piece packed with break-beats and screeching electronic noises, with Gen hissing and spitting over the top. Delicious. Take a walk on the really wild side!
toini - electronic biscuits (mital-U)
The Swiss make great chocolate, famous clocks and very strange dance music. This EP is a taster for the forthcoming toini album and features three mixes each of two of the tracks, 'biscuits' and 'heart on bleed' all by Marco Repetto. The joy of these is that, so far away from the sharply segregated dance scenes in London, Ibiza or Amsterdam, Mr Repetto does not feel constrained to one style or another. As a result, this selection is one of the most varied and unpredictable you're likely to hear. Everything's in the mix here, as raffaela felder's floaty vocals top ambient soundscapes with doses of house, electro tracks with an uplifting trance flavour and, particularly on the 'turn-into-maniac mix' of 'heart-on-bleed', a serious amount of Psychic TV's hyperdelic acid house sound. This is essential listening for anyone who appreciates intelligent and unconstrained chill out dance music. The only problem with it is that its so varied, it gives no idea what the up-coming album will sound like, I suppose we'll have to wait and see.
beborn beton - Tales from Another World (the best of) (WTII Records)
beborn beton is a band who's time has finally come. Soldiering through the 90s, as the EBM scene went all dark and harsh, they stuck to the original idea of melodic hard-hitting dance music propagated by the likes of the Weathermen and Nitzer Ebb in the 80s. Now, with the emergence of the futurepop scene, they fit in and deserve recognition as an undoubted influence. The range of remixers they've attracted for CD2 is testament to that, but I'm getting ahead of myself. Kicking off with the fabulous 'Another World', it's hard to believe that this slice of pure electronic dance with strong vocals is five years old. Stefan's powerful melodic and emotive vocals beat many of the newcomers and their lyrical ability, humorous without being silly, is a million miles away from the negativity of much of the EBM scene. 'The colour of love' follows it, a track that in no way sounds six years old, with elements of trance and techno on top of the synthpop sound so far ahead its time, it's crazy. Without belabouring the point too much, CD1 collects sixteen tasty slices of futurepop from before there was futurepop, though varied and solidly based in EBM rather than the full-on trance sound of other like bands. Three of the tracks, 'Poison', 'Peach' and 'The edge of wisdom', have admittedly been rerecorded and updated for this compilation.
CD2 is a collection of 13 remixes by an admirable selection of guests. There's not many in the biz who could attract Eskil Simonsson (Covenant), Stephan Groth (Apoptygma Berzerk) and Rodney Orpeus (Cassandra Complex) to rework their stuff. There's a nice variety of sounds here, some boosting the dance side creating some really nice dancefloor pieces, while others lift the EBM element, though not too many outstrip the quality of the originals. The ones that work best are the full-on electro mixes by DJ Ram ('Peach' and 'Too emotional') and the fabulous old skool mixes by Francis A Preve ('Another world' and 'Vorbei'). Eskil is obviously having a bit of fun with his 'Future Pop Remix' of 'Genauso wie ich', which is fairly straightforward old school EBM rather than futurepop, while Mr Groth does the exact opposite with a bangin' rave mix of 'Im inner einer frau'. Rodney's take on 'Another world' is an interesting one, sounding kind of like a dancey variant on EBM from the heyday of the scene, the kind of remix you very rarely see, unfortunately. The second disc a great bonus, making this one hell of a package from a band that deserves a lot of respect.
Schöne Maschine - Schöne Maschine
Michael Bann's former cohorts in Advent Sleep have decided to head off in their direction with a brand new sound. Well, it's brand new for them and nothing like the Goth stuff Advent Sleep put out oh so many years ago, but it's not really anything new. In fact, it's very much in the metallic aggro-industrial style that went out of fashion a few years ago. As a result, while it does stand out from the pack of bleepy stuff these days, I can't help but feel I've heard it all before from the likes of Nailbomb or Pitchshifter (pre-"www.pitchshifter.com"). They do add a bit more atmospheric synth sounds, but that actually sounds somewhat out of place a lot of the time rather than making it particularly Gothic. So, if you like your music sharp and intense, with lots of guitars, shouting and intense beats, this might be your thing, but it's nothing new.
mesh - who watches over me? (home)
mesh have a lot going for them, a nice melodic sound, quite a few years experience in the scene and, above all, a major label contract. However, I really can't get past the fact that they sound really like Depeche Mode. Granted, their stuff sounds better than DM's recent stuff, but it doesn't come close to the best stuff Messrs Gahan, Gore and Wilder produced in their heyday. It's good, commercial and enjoyable, synthpop with some more modern dance elements, but The Nine do this better.
Inertia - Advanced Revelation (Cryonica)
Slimmed down to a two-piece these days, Inertia are going from strength to strength. Their own label Cryonica is attracting more and more attention around the world and a lot of that has to do with their own live reputation and, now, this CD. It's rare that an eighteen track CD can hold attention from beginning to end, but this is one of those rare items, mixing vocal tracks with interesting and varied mainly instrumental pieces. They've come a long way since their last album; their sound here has been refined and polished. Reza's vocals are more melodic this time around, the missing harshness closing the gap between his singing and Alexys' backing so that they're complementary rather than contrasting. The opener 'Atom' is like a statement of intent, a bleepy soundscape which gives two fingers to those slamming the wave of bleepy music in the Goth scene. While there are many elements in common with futurepop, Inertia's sound is their own, with no strictly definable dance elements in the mix, they simply make intense electronic dance music. They haven't copied VNV's sound in any way; this is a natural and acceptable progression from their previous releases. Stand out tracks are the bangin' 'Void', the driving rhythm of 'No Defect', the bleeps and clunky beats of 'Porno Girl' and the sexy 'Fly' a cover of the Traci Lords track, where Alexys steps out from behind her drum-kit to caress the mike to a funky technofied backing. All in all, this is a highly professional release from the leaders of the UK scene and deserves to take them to the world stage.
Dark Muse - Sounds from Beyond the Silver Wheel (Fossil Dungeon)
As regular readers will know, I recently grew tired of a lot of the ethereal/atmospheric music that was coming out. I wondered at the time whether it was me or the music that was different, had I lost my appreciation of the style, or had it become formulaic and lacking in the inspiration that initially drew me to it? Well, just listening to this for a few minutes makes me think it's the latter. Phyll Smith, possibly known to some of you out there from her Eyescream Jewelry line, has put together an absolutely seductive sound. Obviously drawing influence from some of Angello Badalamenti's more ethereal soundscapes, this is the kind of sound that wraps itself around you like a warm mist. You know its good when the soft chanting vocals on 'Queen of the world of spirits' make you close your eyes. 'Certain angst' introduces a stronger beat and more complex vocals, showing she can sing very well, but retains the floaty feel of the opener. 'Calm' is the most Twin Peaksy track, complete with the jazzy feel of that soundtrack. 'Luna flow (the deep)' is a bit flatter, your basic whirring soundscape that I've heard so may times before, while the This Mortal Coil sound of 'Once amid a dream' is also a bit disappointing and the tinkling sound of 'Silver wheel flow', while picking up somewhat on the Twin Peaks sound of earlier, is a bit too like listening to wind chimes in a wind and not quite musical in itself. 'Disorder', thankfully, ends things on a high note, nice floaty vocals with a sparse backing, it's simple and really nice. All in all, there's more good than bland on this CD and it does show that maybe there is still some life in this style of music.
E\Craft - Dos_Unit (EFA)
As the futurepop scene grows and grows, there is a number of bands that are progressing the EBM sound without going all the way back to synthpop for inspiration. Flesh Field are probably the most prominent of these bands, but with "Dos_Unit", E\Craft show they are a force to be reckoned with. So, like Flesh Field, you have the harsh EBM rhythms and vocals, elements of dance music giving it a dancefloor cred, though E\Craft don't have any female vocals to soften the sound at all. As a result, this is fairly harsh stuff when the vocals are going full on, like on the opener 'Fahrenheit', but that's not always the case. On other tracks, like the rave-influenced 'Embryonic' the vocals are pushed deeper into the mix and aren't quite as harsh, in fact you could almost call the sneering sound singing! And 'Puppet nation' has such a fabulous dance beat that you don't even notice the vocals until the chorus, which has a distorted robotic sound that you could almost sing along to. 'Scan Error', which has a more tradition harsh EBM sound, doesn't even have any vocals. The title track, on the other hand, is a very coldwave sounding number and the excessively harsh vocals do drag it down, showing how the wrong vocals can ruin a good track, but the full-on techno sound of 'Cybernetic intelligence' more than makes up for it. 'Final cutoff' is a very nice slice of old school F242-esque EBM, robotic vocals and all. It all wraps up with the slow electro build of 'Civilisation', which explodes into full-on dancefloor mania. This is a somewhat patchy release, but there's a lot of real hits on here that more than make up for the odd miss.
Chaos Engine - Escape Ferocity (Wasp Factory)
A UK band, doing EBM and industrial influenced, dancefloor friendly music, on their own label and now on their third album. It's hard not to compare them to compatriots Inertia, and where Inertia's "Advanced Revelation" is a triumph, the same cannot be said of this. It suffers from the same problem as their last release - the production just isn't up to the sound. Lee's vocals just haven't been mixed in properly - they seem to sit apart from the music. And, for a band doing fairly intense electronic stuff, the mugginess of the sound works against them. As a result, this runs through 23 tracks (yes, 23, way too many, some restraint please, less is very often more) where you can't help but feel that this should sound so much better. There's some tracks that should be great, Lee's singing is sharp and melodic, the beats are heavy and the guitar-drenched dancefloor rhythms are kicking, but the production just ruins it. A piece of advice lads, get someone in who can work the desk properly and remaster this, it really is worth it.
Red Flag - The bitter end (Plan B)
Like Mesh, Red Flag have been ploughing the synthpop furrow for years, but with a difference. Red Flag have their own sound, a slow, mournfully melodic sound that's not directly comparable to anyone else. 'The Bitter End' doesn't see these veterans heading off in a new direction - it's still slow, still mournful and still melodic, which is kind of the problem. If you like Red Flag's past releases, you're likely to enjoy this, but it is something of an acquired taste. I don't mind the odd slow track on an album, but an album full of them is a bit much to take, particularly when it's this long - the whole thing clocks in at just under an hour. Even the slightly more upbeat tracks, like 'The Pyramid Song', would be downbeat if compared to the more dancefloor-directed tracks of other acts. Granted, there is something of a dark, vaguely Gothic influence creeping in on that track and others like 'Toy Piano' that shows some growth in their sound, but overall, this is too downbeat, too depressing to take all at once. A track or two on a compilation would be fine, but a whole album is just too much.
Butterfly Messiah - Priestess (Fossil Dungeon)
This is something different - Butterfly Messiah combine elements of EBM, Gothic and ethereal styles to greater and lesser degrees, producing a somewhat mixed bag of sounds. It sets its stall out with 'Land beneath the waves', a strong beat-driven piece that sounds very EBM until a minute or so in where the vocals go from a standard drone to floaty female vocals from Shannon Garsons matched with Robert Nightshades doing a spoken word thing. This leads into 'The Wicked', a somewhat stranger mix of ethereal sounds, EBM beats and droning male vocals that verge on metal at times. Things get dancier with 'Introspections', a tasty EBM piece threaded through with ethereal vocals, and this continues with the stronger dance feel on the somewhat synthpop 'Serpentine', with Shannon mixing the ethereal vocal style with a more Gothy vocal. 'Visitor', takes the pace way down to a virtual funereal beat featuring more folky, vaguely Kate Bush-esque vocals contrasting Robert's drone. Things get a bit messy with 'Ring the Bells' - its noisy, distorted grungy sound, has literally got bells on, but it doesn't really work. The dancier vibe returns with 'Eternal Undone', but the mix of droning and ethereal vocals isn't as interesting this time around, its got a bit of a flatter sound than earlier tracks. 'When autumn to winter resigns' is completely different, its a medieval vocal piece, nice, but nothing I haven't heard before. It wraps up fairly undramatically with 'Reverie', which is a nice simple vocal piece with sparse musical backing that picks up with an electro beat, but nothing compared to the bombast that opens. The band has some interesting ideas and some good sounds, but they suffer from a lack of faith in their direction, abandoning the experimentation for more traditional sounds a little too much. But it does show promise.
Winterland - Alone in a Fairground (Dusk)
There's a lot of reasons I shouldn't like this, it's cheesy, retro and more than a little bit naff, but I do like it. Winterland are stuck in the early 80s, their record collection probably contains every track from the recent "Alternative 80s" compilation, on vinyl no less. They make music for John Hughes ("Pretty in Pink", "the Breakfast Club") films, you could just imagine 'The Gift' playing in the background to a young Andrew McCarthy kissing Molly Ringwald or some other film lovely of nearly twenty years ago. It's not Goth, but it does have bits that sound a little Goth, the slightly Nephilim-esque guitars, the moody synths on 'Black Wheel' or the electronic beat and swirling faux-violin synth sounds of 'Hanging by a thread', which sounds really like Fiction Factory's '(Feels like) Heaven', or the Cult-esque guitars of 'Soulsearcher', but in general, it's that post-punk, kind of new wave, pop stuff that filled the charts in the UK from around '82 to '85. It's melodic, professionally done and great fun in the way it sparks off memories of music I remember from being really young. I like it and anyone who appreciates the good music of the 80s probably will too.
Albatross - Joy (CAPP)
This is obviously what living in rural Ireland does to you. Albatross does darkwave type stuff, but living in Leitrim Village has obviously messed his mind up a bit, because it's all a bit strange. It kicks of fairly normally with the short bleepy 'Start' and then into the droning vocals and sparse beats of 'Fuck Plato', but then the music stops and a violin screeches all over the place before settling down to a minor key sound and the beats and vocals return. Then 'Compromise' is straightforward folky piece, just guitar and a soft melodic vocal, while 'Wings of love' is a strange piano driven piece that could be from the '40s, with a whole load of strange animal noises and an upbeat vocal line. It gets a whole lot weirder with the mad fun-park sound of '40000 volts' with a spooky backing and dark moody vocals, while 'Alone' has a full-on snarling trad Goth sound. It twists and turns from here, dark moody darkwave stuff, weird folky numbers and strange noises, all mixed up and fairly crazy, like the absolutely nuts 'Millennium'. Sometimes it falls down a bit, on the rather flat 'Burn', or the droning Throbbing Gristle-esque 'Unaesthetic song', but that's understandable when you try as many different sounds as on here. This is diverse, adventurous and completely unpredictable and, while it doesn't always sound brilliant, Shay Leon should be commended for trying so many sounds.
Flaming Fire - Get old and die
One look at the cover of this will convince you that these people are not normal. A guy in a suit shouting surrounded by people who look like they're from a Greek chorus is weird enough, but then there's the music. How does industrial folk sound to ya? And I mean industrial in the Throbbing Gristle/early Psychic TV sense. But, while that goes some way to describe the opener and maybe the lunatic 'La La La', but it doesn't really cover the Captain Beefheart playing with the B52s sound of 'Disco of souls' or the space rock chaos of 'Pedophiliac'. And the guitar-strumming alt.rock track, 'Why do birds sound like motorbikes', deserves the Alice Donut award for best song title in a while as well as the Evan Dando award for nice but pointless acoustic sounds. The deceptively bright and breezy pop of 'In the summertime when everything is holy' hints at, maybe, the Dead Milkmen, but when they do a tribal version of Cameo's 'Word up' with backing vocals that sound like Blue Swede's 'Hooked On A Feeling' (the "hugga-chaka" track used in "Reservoir Dogs"), you just give up trying to describe or categorise this. It's mental, fun and absolutely essential if you're into good weird music.