Sordid reviews - 5/02/03.
Neuroticfish - les Chansons Neurotiques (Dancing Ferret)
Last time out, with "noinstruments", Neuroticfish were clearly competent purveyors of what was the emerging futurepop style. With this release, they've improved considerably, but not enough to catch up with the best, so all they've managed to do is retain their position as b-list futurepoppers. Their strongly EBM-based sound, mixed with modern dance elements and topped with wordy droning vocals puts them in the same vein as VNV Nation and Assemblage 23, but not in the same league. Their biggest problem is that their sound is far too measured and controlled to be truly exciting. This is clearly shown on the first song, 'Reinvent the pain' - Sascha yells "GO" in classic rave style, but rather than the track going absolutely fucking mental like it should, it just speeds up a bit, some more beats are added and... well, nothing really. It sounds very much like Sascha spent far too much time working on this in the studio and he mixed the life out of it. As a result, while it is a more consistent album than VNV's "futureperfect", it's missing the flashes of genius as well as the disappointments. It's not a bad album by any means, it's quite enjoyable, but it's unsatisfying. With any luck, the amount of touring Neuroticfish have done recently will help them add more oomph! to their next album.
Covenant - Northern Light (KA²)
Covenant's major label debut was, without doubt, one of the most eagerly awaited albums of the latter part of 2002. The last of the "big three" to release a new album, following VNV's "futureperfect" and Apop's "Harmonizer", many were expecting an album that would truly define the way forward for futurepop. Even a casual listen to "Northern Lights" shows that not to be the case at all. It's almost as if "united states of mind" had never happened and Covenant have released an alternate follow-up to "Europa". As one who was expecting a dancefloor busting, genre-challenging mix of dance music and EBM, my initial reaction was one of disappointment - it's too slow, it's too retro, it's too... not futurepop! More considered judgement is due to one of the most important bands of recent years, it's not fair to slam a band for not doing what was expected of them. In fact, unpredictability and an unwillingness to get stuck in a particular style was what created the futurepop scene in the fist place and Covenant are leaders, not followers. This album deserves to be judged completely on its own terms. "Northern Light" is primarily an old school EBM album and, judged in those terms, it's one of the freshest and professional examples of the sound in years. Tracks like 'Call the ships to port', with thumping beats, droning vocals and a dancefloor sensibility that's restrained from all-out dance music are shining examples of what the dance scene itself is starting to realise, there's an intensity and uniqueness to EBM that's not matched by any other form of electronic music. The emotive power of a track like 'Bullet' is something rarely heard outside of the scene, while the truly massive sound of 'Invisible & silent', complete with a full string section and what sounds like background vocals from a children's choir, has a commercial appeal without sounding cheesy. It's not all EBM either, 'Prometheus' goes for a more Kraftwerk-influenced electro sound, while the trancey sound of 'We stand along' and the rumbling house influence on 'Rising sun' show they haven't given up on the futurepop thing completely. But it is, without doubt, the beefy electroclash sound of 'We want revolution' that's most impressive - it wipes the floor with most other examples of the genre. They've just got to release it on single. After the dancefloor frenzy of 'united states...', this is a more sedate and chilled out album, but it's well within the band's ability to impress with whatever they decide to record.
Paralysed Age - Into the Ice (Dancing Ferret)
The cover art to this CD gives a good indication of what Paralysed Age sound like - it's in the style of a Heavy Metal magazine cover, with a busty female wearing an impractical mix of furry warrior garb and fetish clothing. Yes, PA are a Gothic Metal band, big metallic guitars, loads of drums, strongly accented male vocals backed with melodic female vocals and awash with atmospheric synths. This is more music in the Lacuna Coil/Sentenced vein, hard rocking stuff with a large dose of atmospherics. It's not groundbreaking, but it's a good example of the style and, if that's your thing, then you'll probably like this.
[satellite dub] - [sessions #1]
[satellite dub] work in the same cut and paste electronic mode as the likes of Fifth Column Fetish and Ireland's D:V:ant. Beats, music samples and voice samples thrown together and then mixed into some kind of shape. What makes this lot stand apart is a strong funk element to their music, so there's the usual militaristic sound, but it's topped with an unusual vibe that makes it more groovy than intense. The guitar sample on 'jesusfreak part 1' is pure genius and takes what could have sounded like a straight-forward Ministry-esque track, complete with the requisite voice sample from a Christian preacher, into something far more interesting and enjoyable. 'no questions' goes a different direction, with some reasonably good vocals on top of a strongly Orb/Aphex Twin influenced base. 'juxtapose' goes the Psychic TV route with a voice sample from Tim Leary, though they go for a more aggressive break-beat sound over the acid house sound PTV pioneered. 'already forgotten your face' goes back to the Aphex Twin influence for a spacey IDM sound, topped with some almost Pink Floyd-esque psychedelic vocals. 'cubed shark buddha' picks the pace right up again, with a dark and oppressive dance track that wouldn't sound out of place on a Prodigy album. It wraps up with a dark and funky instrumental and that's it. This really is a group to watch out for; their sound is rooted in the underground, but has much to appeal to different parts of the dance scene as well.
Secret Agent Gel - P as in Peter, F as in Frank (Opiate Records)
This is just under 40 minutes of electronic experimentation designed to be listened to straight through as a whole. It's described as "sound and noise by Secret Agent Gel" and lives up to its name. It's not music in the traditional sense, it's one of these experimental albums that can often be the most boring and pointless noodling imaginable. Thankfully, though, Secret Agent Gel have a greater sense of melody than others in the style and this, while it's never truly exciting, is an enjoyable and interesting mix of sounds. There are clear comparisons to the likes of Tangerine Dream, Brian Eno, the current purveyors of IDM and even Throbbing Gristle, at times, to be made, but originality isn't exactly the issue here. It doesn't sound new, but at least it's listenable, in fact, it's quite enjoyable in its own strange soundtracky way.
State of the Union - Black City Nights (WTII)
This really shouldn't work - thumping EBM beats, dancefloor friendly production, droning vocals and some of the cheesiest 80s synth-lines imaginable. But it does, and works rather well on a number of the tracks here. As the trance sound preferred by most futurepop bands has been overused to the level that it's now regarded as pure cheese, the unashamedly cheesy synths here are a mild cheddar when compared to the stinking gorgonzola of the likes of Scooter. What does jar a little is the political element of the lyrics of 'Enemy of the state', which are fairly serious and don't really fit the sound accompanying them. But, then again, Bronski Beat's 'Smalltown boy' is very political, so... Anyway, after the dancey groove and cheesy synths of 'Black city lights', 'Romancing the stone' is a fairly bog standard futurepop ballad - ballads are rarely a good idea and this one's not good enough to counter that assumption despite the cute '80s film reference in the title. 'Citizen' goes for a more straightforward futurepop sound and it's less interesting that the earlier stuff, Johann's vocals are too flat and it's not unique in any way. Alas, it gets worse with 'Vicious sentiment' - the vocals are fairly awful and the music unimpressive to say the least. 'Firewall' is infinitely better, a decent slice of dancey futurepop with a nice piano sound, a cracking beat and much more professional vocal performance by Johann. 'Mankind', however, is a reasonably good '80s synthpop dominated futurepop except for the truly awful vocals; really, this is ridiculous. It looks like the band produced the album themselves, which has turned out to be a really bad idea as the quality control isn't what it should be. After another acceptable futurepop number, the band finally gets back to the sound of the first two tracks that was so appealing on the instrumental 'World Chaos' and the closer 'Walk in my shoes'. Basically, aside from the afore-mentioned producer, State of the Union need to have a bit more confidence in their own sound and not get lost in trying to copy other bands. They're best when they sound different to the rest and fairly unimpressive when they follow the crowd.
The Fair Sex - TFS (Endless)
With the decline and fall of the so-called "aggro-industrial" scene, the time was right for the former TFS members, who had been concentrating on their other project Testify, to get the old band up and running again and return to the EBM sound. And thus we have this, the first European release by the Fair Sex in seven years. While there is a nice strong element of classic EBM on show here, they seem to have brought with them some elements of the Testify sound. The first two tracks have a strong metallic feel to them, but 'Cold heat enclosed in stone', in particular, changes from a nice slice of dark beat-driven EBM to less enjoyable growling vocals and metal guitars. The track that follows it, 'The far side (retrofuture)' is a far better track, a tasty piece of old school EBM with a driving beat, slightly robotic vocals and some classic bleepy sounds - one of the album's highlights. 'Sun Mistress', which follows, is another change of style, more in the dark EBM style of Das Ich and the likes. 'Failed desaster', thankfully, brings it back to the classic EBM style, it's a slow moody track, but has a nice electronic beat and some regular vocals that are a nice break from too much growling. 'Torrents shift in the haze' is a change for the good, with a interesting mix of Skinny Puppy-esque growly EBM and a very Cranes-esque guest vocal from seven-year-old Allegra - the contrast is compellingly stark and brings Attrition to mind. 'The Palace of the bad (futureretro)' has got an absolutely kicking beat going with a harsh, but not too growly vocal on top, and a sample I'm sure I recognise from Front 242, it's a nice example of dark EBM that's not too extreme as they declare "We are back". 'Laughter of mirth' slows it down again, with a darkwave style track with a good beat and a nice, vaguely Bowie-ish, vocal. 'Lost Trace (extended misplaced)' has a strong electro influence, with elements of Kraftwerk alongside some kicking EBM beats, and is the kind of track that's sparking interest again these days, a few well-chosen remixes of this track could do wonders for the band. 'The Now and here' is a reasonable rocky EBM track, but the growly vocals are irritating by this stage, while 'Blue eternities (Allegra's version)' is a bit of pointless atmospherics. It wraps up with a Das Ich remix of 'Lost tracks', which is a big atmospheric bastard of a mix, with elements of darkwave and, emmm, Rage Against the Machine (?), but not quite what the track needed. I'd prefer to hear some more classic EBM types go to work on it. In all, it's a very patchy album, not quite the triumphant return that might have been expected. There's some great tracks on this, but it shifts styles far too often to get a real sense of the band. Hopefully the touring will help them get their style down properly and the next album will be more cohesive.
D.U.S.T - Lords of Madness (Wasp Factory)
Anyone who has experienced D.U.S.T. live will probably wonder if they've put on the right CD when the extremely low-key and quiet 'Introduction to madness (innocence)' starts up. It's a million miles away from the MikEy's frantic and abusive live performances that it's hard to believe it's the same guy. But that's what makes this 6-track CD so intriguing, it shows quite a few sides to the band. D.U.S.T. like to rock, they cite Motley Crue as one of their main influences, but they also have a melodic sensibility and an electronic edge that makes them appealing and very current. Whether they're rocking out with tracks like 'Lords of the madness' or 'The Burning', or in a more reflective mode as on 'State of disgrace', D.U.S.T. are quite different from pretty much anything else out there. 'Child', in particular, is a dance track with a rocky edge and a quality vocal performance, slightly reminiscent of Jesus Jones, that is likely to appeal to a wide range of people and clearly displays the diversity of their sound. 'My favourite sin', though, is a bit of a let down; it's got a little too much of that post-NIN mid-'90s feel about it. It wraps up with two remixes, Chaosphere take the title track from their debut, "From the Sublime to the Obscene" and stuff massive breakbeats up its ass, while Exitboy do their usual deconstruction job on 'Child', adding sleazy voice samples, loads of distortion and some fucked-up beats. All in all, it's a great swansong for D.U.S.T. as they were, as the band are currently reinventing themselves as DUST:RETOX.
Secret Agent Gel - P as in Peter, F as in Frank (Opiate Records)
This is just under 40 minutes of electronic experimentation designed to be listened to straight through as a whole. It's described as "sound and noise by Secret Agent Gel" and lives up to its name. It's not music in the traditional sense; it's one of these experimental albums that can often be the most boring and pointless noodling imaginable. Thankfully, though, Secret Agent Gel have a greater sense of melody than others in the style and this, while it's never truly exciting, is an enjoyable and interesting mix of sounds. There are clear comparisons to the likes of Tangerine Dream, Brian Eno, the current purveyors of IDM and even Throbbing Gristle, at times, to be made, but originality isn't exactly the issue here. It doesn't sound new, but at least it's listenable, in fact, it's quite enjoyable in its own strange soundtracky way.
Synthetic - ADSR (Unpopular Culture)
The Synthetic trio are fairly shameless in the way they mix styles that most wouldn't think of putting together and are very appealing just for that. Into the mix goes bits of Gothic rock in the vocals and guitars, loads of synthpop into the keyboards and more than a little dash of dance music in the beats and programming. It's skating close to the edge of pure cheese, but it's fun, damn it. It opens strongly with the upbeat 'Survival instinct' and doesn't really let up all the way through, even the slower 'Prayer' has a strong beat; this is music for Goths to dance badly to. The full-on '80s sound of 'Suicide' is one of the tracks that really stands out, very bleepy with a driving beat/guitar combo. Timothy's vocals are generally far too Gothic-influenced to be of appeal to anyone outside the scene, they often fall into the category of whiney that only Goths seem to like, but he does show that he can sing in a more standard synthpop style on tracks like 'Resolution' and 'Messiah'. But, hey, all three members are part of the scene and it's obvious that they're not aiming for chart success; rather preferring to play to the people they know. And that's fair enough.
The Weathermen - The Last Communiqué (download free from theweathermen.net)
With interest in the classic EBM scene at its highest in years, it's incredible that only two years ago, one of the seminal late '80s bands couldn't get their best of compilation released. As a result, The Weathermen decided last year to give it away free on their website in the form of mp3s. And it's well worth it, Jean-Marc Lederman's faux Californian surfers band of electronic noiseniks (who took their name from the infamous '60s radicals) may never have been as big as the likes of Front 242 or Nitzer Ebb, but this is still classic stuff. Jean-Marc was originally the keyboard player with Gene Love Jezebel and created the Weathermen in '85. Afterwards, he went on to work with F242 themselves and, most recently, played with All About Eve's Julianne Regan in Jules et Jim. The "Last Communiqué" compilation contains 14 classic slices of humourous and playful electronic dance music, from the full-on EBM assault of 'Berlin' based around samples from JFK's famous speech to the slower 'Punishment Park'. While much of what they were on about remains inscrutable, the most obvious message is in the track 'Don't drink and drive', which is about, well, not drinking and driving. It's bizarre to think that, as late as the '80s, this was still a controversial issue and not something against which society is united like today. The Weathermen were clearly on the more mainstream edge of EBM and unafraid to include elements of electro and even disco on their songs, predating the futurepop scene by many years with songs like 'Timebomb Benny', 'Such a beautiful city' and the proto-eurotechno of 'Bang!' and 'Around the world' (ya gotta wonder if the KLF ever listened to The Weathermen). 'California or bust' even has a jazzy vibe going on, with a "cool" spoken word vocal. Also included are two new remixes of their most famous song 'Poison' (featured on the "This is Electronic Body Music" compilation in '88), both as sleazy as the original, the 2001 mix a dancier take on the song, the 2002 version a thumping slice of EBM closer to the original, both featuring additions to the voice samples (stalker Susanna Stammer now has a daughter as evil as herself). There's no excuse not to check The Weathermen out if you haven't before, the albums' free! Its' rare to get a bargain that good and, hopefully, the EBM revival will get around to noticing The Weathermen some time soon.
The Faces of Sarah - Misery Turns EP (Spiky Black Cat)
Candia from Inkubus Sukkubus joins one of the big names of the UK Gothic Rock scene for this single. Nick and Candia share the vocal duties on the title track, an unashamedly rocky track that you could imagine Jim Steinman putting together. 'the waiting game' is more a straight-forward Gothic Rock track, with a driving beat, loads of guitars, drums, piano and a strong emotive vocal performance on top. 'solitude' brings in an electronic element, but it's mainly another Gothic Rock powerhouse, unsurprising really, since that's what they do. Also included are a couple of remixes of the title track, the first giving it a driving electro-Goth sound, while the second adds what's virtually a disco beat to the track, creating a bizarre contrast between the singing and the music that doesn't really work. TFoS are definitely one of the better acts on the scene and, while it's all a little overblown for my tastes, they're very good at what they do.
Various - Der Seelen Tiefengrund 3 (Angelwings/Zoomshot)
Volume three of the "Gothic" compilation (I know they're now at number 5, but this is the one I have to review), the line-up for this collection, sub-titled "Music for Candlelight & Redwine" seems a little varied for its own good, bands like Assemblage 23, Covenant, Megadump and Hocico I'd generally class as music for strobe-lights and vodka and whatever high caffeine content mixer you prefer. That said, it does kick off with the truly spooky 'Alice (der Spiegeltanz)' by Stillste Stund, a mad horror movie carnival piece with a thumping electronic backing, which is followed by the Lacrimosa-esque 'Jahr und Tag' by Umbra et Imago. Even Cenobita sound darker and more Gothic, a vast improvement on the usual growlfest. By the time the Assemblage 23 track comes around, it's obvious that this is a well-chosen compilation, with the darker and more emotive (who said morose) side of numerous bands displayed rather than big acts being added for their popularity. This is definitely the case with A23's 'Tried', one of Tom's most emotive and lush tracks, but it pales into comparison with the majestic 'Light' from Diorama, it's powerful, truly emotional and fabulously sung. L'âme Immortelle is another band that show a different side to themselves with the compelling piano-rich ethereal track, 'The Night is my shelter', ditto Megadump, with a strongly emotive techno-tinged synthpop track, 'Cold winter'. In the case of Covenant, the track included is a slow EBM song, 'Wall of sound', from '98 rather than any of their more futurepoppy stuff.
Psyche really kick off CD2 (following a short atmospheric piece that acts as an introduction), with the slow bleepy 'Hypnotised', which has a raw, almost malevolent edge to it. After a nice selection of moody and atmospheric tracks, with lots of piano in evidence, the collection throws up another surprise. Hocico, who are usually on my list of bands that ruin compilations, are represented by 'Episodio', an atmospheric, and somewhat Eastern-influenced, instrumental piece that's really good; then again, it's usually the vocals that bother me. The first bum note on the compilation comes courtesy of Velvet Acid Christ, their 'Repulsive (Necropolis Mix)' is a daft mess of tacky horror movie sounds and silly voices. But it settles back down towards the end, wrapping up finally with the big electro-Gothic sound of Ice Ages' 'Lifeless Sentiments'. In all, this is a well planned and worked out compilation, with a sense of identity of its own lacking in most compilations that are little more than samplers of a variety of not necessarily related material. It really does succeed in creating a particular mood without resorting to clichés.
Dismantled - Dismantled (Dependent)
As the opening sounds of 'purity' hit your ears, it becomes clear that this is something slightly different. Dismantled don't quite fit into any one style, there's elements of Ministry and Skinny Puppy in the harsh beats, computer noises and distorted vocals, but there's something far more atmospheric and less intense about them. While the beats are particularly hard-hitting, there's an almost ambient edge to their sound, creating an odd contrast that's hard to work out. Even the slight dancey EBM elements don't quite work, the music just doesn't work as dancefloor fare. But, that's not to say it's bad, it's quite enjoyable to listen to, if not the kind of thing that demands total attention. I don't know exactly, it's kind of like sitting in a nightclub where the sound from the dancefloor is muffled and unclear, you know, where you find yourself absent-mindedly tapping your foot, but it's not enough to make you get up and dance. Maybe you could call it aggro-chill out, I dunno, but I just can't really get my head around it. It's fairly interesting and listenable all the same.
Descendents of Cain - Evolutions
This three-track CD is a subtitled "Prelude to Briah: of man and magician" and features three songs off their forthcoming album. 'The Ceremony' is a dark and atmospheric track that shows an obvious Fields of the Nephilim influence and is considerably better than most of the recent FotN release. 'The Bearer', on the other hand, has strong similarities to some of the Crüxshadows' material - strong vocal performance, a dark edge that's not overpowering and loads of synths (with a vague violin sound). It's a really powerful song, slow and emotive, with almost a hint of Irish balladeering to it. Finally, 'The Fallen Kingdom' takes up the pace a bit, with a more electronic sound, but the strength of the vocals remains. This selection points to great thing from Descendents of Cain, on the raw power of the vocals alone, though the music isn't lacking either.
Belisha - The fall of the evergreen (Filthy Sonnix)
The main track on this single is a major Goth club favourite, but really should be more than that. Belish take elements of the Goth sound, but they mix it expertly with a more standard indie rock sound. It's a great track, a great rocky sound with vocals thankfully restrained from the standard Goth whine, having more in common with the someone the Levellers or even Supergrass. Track two, 'Ball of string' has more of a Cult-influenced hard rock influence going on, with a great guitar sound and, this time, the vocals are, at times, reminiscent of the late Andrew Wood from the Seattle pre-Grunge band Mother Love Bone. '100% APR', finally, is a based around a wave of distortion and samples from legal compensation ads, with vocalist Dan shouting abuse before the track comes to resemble something closer to hardcore punk than Gothic Rock. The Goth scene really needs acts like Belisha who aren't afraid to do things completely differently, taking elements from numerous different styles of music with abandon and bringing them together in a ramshackle, but very appealing, manner.