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Arcana - ...The Last Embrace (Cold Meat Industries) Buy from MNS
Arcana are not a band to do things by half - the sound has to be BIG! Masters of the orchestral Gothic sound, the title track kicks things off with a massive Germanic sound that sets the scene for a powerhouse album of classically-influenced Gothic melodrama. Peter Petterson's booming bass vocals combined with the ethereal lightness of Ida Bengtsson's singing provide a mix of light and shade that goes a few steps beyond Lacrimosa. This evokes images of Gothic cathedrals and castles, with a full compliment of mysterious monks, malevolent kings and hidden hoards of treasure. There's not much more to say about this album, you have to hear it to understand the raw power of the truly Gothic sounds on offer. This is so darkly medieval that it would have the Mediæval Bæbes running home to their mommy!

Ataraxia - Lost Atlantis (cruel moon) Buy from MNS
Ataraxia are so far over to the edge of atmospheric/ethereal music that they almost fall over. While most of the music in this genre mixes classical and folk music with more modern styles, Ataraxia mainly leave out the modern stuff. Granted, keyboards, drum-machines and electric guitars do feature to a certain degree, but these merely form a backdrop to the magnificent classical vocals of Francessca Nicoli and the classical guitar of Vittorio Vandelli. It is very ironic that left of centre classical music like this ends up in an alternative genre rather than the edge of classical itself. That, in itself, speaks volumes about the open-mindedness of ethereal fans when compared to the stuffier classical enthusiasts.
Despite the fact that most of the words are indecipherable and even when they can be made out, are in Italian, Greek or Latin, the theme of the album is relatively easy to make out from the titles, 'Lost Atlantis', 'Mu-Land' and 'The land of sand of gold of ruin' - the myths of disappeared lands and islands provided the inspiration for this collection of musics. This is a delicate and uplifting album, replete with echoes of a mythical past that continues the growth and expansion of ethereal classical music.

Covenant - united states of mind (Subspace) Buy from MNS
Covenant are one of the main bands responsible for the rejuvenation and return of EBM in recent years. Taking as much from modern dance music as they do from their EBM predecessors, Covenant produce music that is, at the same time, edgy, dancey, powerful and melodic. The first track, 'like tears in rain', mixes harsh electro beats with progressive trance sounds, topped with the strongly melodic, yet also slightly droning vocals of Eskil Simonson, creating a futuristic electro dance track that manages to sound alive and human at the same time. 'no man's land' is both an EBM take on rave, and a rave take on EBM, mixing dance savvy and electro intensity, but again it is the human warmth of the vocals that provide the band's individual character and lifts the sound out from the faceless. 'afterhours' is funkier, a slower rhythm-based, vocal-driven track with an appealing S&M lyric. 'helicopter' is straightforward electronics, clean sharp beats, strange effects and slightly robotic vocals, owing much to Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream.
The single, 'tour de force' mixes so many different elements, it's hard to pick them apart again. There's some trance, backed with industrial beats and an anthemic electro vocal, but that's only part of the seamless mix. And on they go, over 6 more tracks, plundering nearly 30 years of electronic music, from Kraftwerk to 99's 'sound of Ibiza' and mixing them masterfully and managing, in the midst of it all, to keep from being overwhelmed. Covenant provide a face and an identity in a division of music that is, all too often, faceless and homogenous. Another hit from Sweden's finest since… well that depends on your point of view!

Exceed Six Doses - O.Y.F.E.A.L.
E6D seem to believe in taking their time. The first track, 'Things you never do', builds very slowly over 7½ minutes from an emotive vocal-centred electro track that brings to mind new romantic bands as much as anything else, into a powerhouse Goth track, full of lush keyboards and big vocals. 'Crash 2000' has a groovier electro-dance sound and a stronger Gothic feel to the vocals. 'Fallen Angel' descends to a dark, brooding electro-Goth sound with a heavier bass sound and a snarling edge to the vocals. 'Forever Haunted' lifts the sound back up, kicking in with a strong EBM line where the vocals become part of the sound, rather than the centre of attention. 'Gates of Hell (medley)' is a short, very slow and dark closing piece.
Of the two extra tracks, the slow instrumental mix of acoustic and electronic musics, 'Silent Keys', does very little. On the other hand, the remix of 'Fallen Angel is a revelation. The original track is stripped away and rebuilt around a couple of movie samples with a completely different dark electro sound. E6D show that they are dab hands at quite a few different styles of music and they combine them very well.

ThouShaltNot - ThouShaltNot (ADSR)
TSN are a very hard band to do justice to with mere words, a problem that is compounded by the fact that this is a promo CD with no track list! They've thrown electro, EBM, techno, Goth and choral music into a large musical melting pot and produced an unpredictable mix of sounds and styles that bounces like a pinball between a variety of influences and manages to avoid sounding like anyone else. Track 2, for example, is like Depeche Mode with hard-hitting EBM break-beats and a stop-start rhythm. Track 3 changes from a dark, heavy electro-Goth sound into a powerhouse vocal melody and then again into a funky industrial hip-hop number. Track 5 is a funky, sample-laden, electro dance number with slices of classical music mixed in. Track 11 takes the same piece of classical music, rips it up and adds electro noises and a kickass industrial breakbeat. The same idea goes for all the other tracks, disparate elements combined in an unpredictable way that keeps the album fresh and exciting from beginning to end.

Various - Cleopatra 2000 (Cleopatra)
Cleopatra, the undeniable queen of the darkside labels, lays her wares for her assault on the beginning of the new millennium. Variety is the spice of life, they say, and the spices on offer her range from the delicious to those of a more questionable variety. Kicking off with Switchblade Symphony 'Wicked', a track that blatantly rips off the Bristol trip hop sound, but sounds pretty good, this Millennium sampler covers all the bases. Up second is The Electric Hellfire Club's version of INXS' 'The Devil Inside', from the "Empathy for the Devil" compilation. It's fairly pointless really, fairly close to the original, but with vocals that sound like a duet between No Doubt's Gwen Steffani and some bad metal growler. In another universe, in more ways than one, is the sublimely brilliant and truly weird, 'Mental Hopscotch' by Missing Persons (remixed by Kevin Haskins). It's quirky, it's kooky, it's wonderful.
Then there's a chance for one of the old-timers, Gary Numan contributes 'Dark', a track that owes a lot to Depeche Mode (though, of course, there's a major chicken and egg situation there) - it's dark, moody and intense, nothing innovative, but quite nice all the same. Spahn Ranch plough in with an oldie, the original mix of 'Remnants' - all pomp and electronics, funky and overblown. The KMFDM mix of 'Sin City' by Genitorturers throws out the Goth/Indus sounds of the original and replaces it with a twisted techno backing that suits the track down to the ground. The there's an updated version of The Mission (UK for those over the pond) "classic", 'Wasteland'. If you don't know whether or not you like The Mission by this stage, then forget it, but personally I'm not a fan.
Bella Morte's 'The rain within her hands' is electro-Goth by numbers and is a bit of a damp squib. On the other hand, JLAB ram dynamite up the arse of A Flock of Seagulls tacky 80s classic 'Telecommunications', giving it new life and serious dancefloor appeal. Former Danzig man, Eerie Von's 'An investment in hate' sounds like, well, Danzig, while Culture Kultur become the latest EBM band to throw techno into the mix with the Messa remix of 'Inside of me', though it doesn't put them anywhere near the heights of Covenant. Razed in Black employ a bit of techno as well, but they match it with some tasty aggro-industrial a la Ministry. The Laæther Strip mix of Information Society's 'Walking Away' is not hugely successful, the retro electro vocals clash with the attempts at techno. Finally, Pig wraps it all up with 'Rope (Keith LeBlanc Mix)', a down and dirty bit of sleazy industrial dance that's unlikely to change the world, but will probably get the dancefloor jumping. And so, over 14 tracks, Cleopatra mark out their territory for the next few months and prove themselves to be in a rather unassailable position.

All reviews by Girl the Goth, unless otherwise stated.

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