Various - Darken my Fire (a Gothic tribute to the Doors) (Cleopatra)
OK, I'm going to resist the temptation to launch into a condemnation of tribute albums in general. However, in the world of tribute albums, there is one kind that's worse than the all the rest - serious tributes. When the bands turn up with the intention of doing proper, reverential interpretations of the tracks, rather than having some fun and taking the piss, forget it.
As for the individual tracks, there's the usual mix of mediocrity, pure crap and, every now and again, a rare flash of quality. The Mission (UK) kick things off with what would be a tasty electro version of 'Love me two times', if you didn't have to listen to Wayne Hussey try to sing. Eating Crow's 'LA Woman', as remixed by Kevin Haskins (if you don't know who he is, stop reading now and buy a Steps album), is a lot better - Gothic trip hop with a hint of RevCo. The Newlydeads basically massacre 'Hello, I love you' with a screechy industrial dance sound. Alien Sex Fiend's 'Five to one' sounds like, well, Alien Sex Fiend. It should go without saying, but just in case, 'Light my fire', as done by The Electric Hellfire Club, is a bag of shite. Spahn Ranch's version of 'Strange days' isn't bad, Athan's fairly accurate impression of Jimbo makes it sound rather like a beat-heavy remix of the original.
Ex-Voto's 'Riders on the storm' sounds amateurish, badly produced and, ridiculously, less dark and Gothic than the original. Of all the bands on this, Mephisto Walz's dark psychedelic sound is best suited to doing The Doors and their off-kilter wall-of-distortion version of 'Peace frog' doesn't disappoint. Eerie Von's 'The spy' sounds vaguely like, well, Alien Sex Fiend! Rhea's Obsession do their own thing with 'End of the night' and produce a nicely slow and sensual track, unlike Controlled Bleeding, whose attempt to copy the original version of 'When the music's over' ends up sounding like bad cabaret. Finally, Nosferatu and Rosetta Stone take the Gothic part of the title too literally and produce truly awful plodding Goffic versions of 'People are strange' and 'The end'. Their amazing ability to replace the dark brooding intensity of the originals with mediocre clichès just goes to show why the two bands never got out of the scene's second division. All in all, another misjudged tribute compilation from Cleopatra, where the dross far outweighs the quality.
Noxious Emotion - Elements (ADSR)
NE follows up the eclectic and unfashionable "Symbols" with this far more focussed and intense effort. As a result, it loses some of the appeal that lay in the fractured nature of its predecessor. The album kicks off with the de rigeur sci-fi film sample, which leads nicely into 'Nobelium', a tasty rhythm-based industrial track with a mix of hoarse vocals and melodic electro-style singing. 'x' is far too clichèd, heavy shit beats and synths with growling vocals spouting excessively worded psychobabble about the end of the world. Puleez! 'Iodine' is a complete contrast, a light and breezy electro track that shifts into a darker, vaguely Gothic style at times. The two instrumental breaks, the short 'Oxygen-I' and the longer 'Oxygen-II' are strange little electro pieces with synth melodies that could easily have been pinched from OMD. The rest of the album chops and changes from indus to electro, from growling to melodic vocals, but it all sounds a bit samey after a few tracks and gets a bit tedious. This is missing the one element that made "Symbols" so good - the unpredictable variety. Pity.
Midnight Syndicate - Realm of Shadows (Entity)
Now this is more like it! After an excess of dark ambient, it's a joy to hear something that rejects minimalism in favour of overblown, pretentious and truly wonderful atmospherics. This is 21 tracks of pseudo-classical wonderfulness - all pianos and synth washes and bass strings and driving rhythms and floaty vocals and and and… This is up there with Fields of the Nephilim's wonderful "Elizium" and just about anything by Karsten Hamre. It's the soundtrack for a film that could really only have been made quite a few years ago, in black and white, probably based on something by Edgar Allen Poe. I love it!
White Rabbit Cult - …and the gods made wars
WRC are not your average, everyday music-makers and "…and the gods made wars" is not your average everyday album. It is, in fact, an often uncomfortable mix of politics, Eastern religion and heavy shit industrial sounds. Kicking off with 'Invocation AC99', in which an indecipherable religious invocation is drowned in a slow building wall of distorted noise, the CD dives head-first into controversy with the blatantly anti-NATO 'Collateral damage'. This is based on speech samples from the Kosovo conflict, backed up with a driving industrial soundtrack.
Then there's the very confusing 'Apocalypse across the sky', which mixes choral singing, industrial noise, vocal samples talking about the apocalypse and a chorus that goes - "Serbian blood, Serbian bones, you can kill the body, but you can't kill the soul." See if you can figure out what the hell they're on about! This is followed by a grungy indus track called 'heart like a hammer' with indecipherable lyrics and enough weird noises that it wouldn't seem out of place on a Butthole Surfers album. Then there's the TRULY strange 'AnandaShiva', a chugging indus track with a vaguely whiney vocal declaring "AnandaShiva is my name" in a kind of echo of the Stones classic 'Sympathy for the devil' with a Hindu twist. Then there's a barely audible mix of a crashing rhythm, whirrs and whispers that drags on for over 4 minutes, until 'Maya' wraps things up in a noisy indie-rock, vaguely Pixies-ish way. Then it's back to 'AnandaShiva' for more. White Rabbit Cult presents a confused and confusing mix of styles and ideas and, while they could do with streamlining a little, at least they're never boring.
Catastrophe Ballet - Modern Primitives (Nightbreed)
Catastrophe Ballet have done it right! They've found a way to take the classic Goth sound - massive beats, crashing powerchords and loadsa-bass - add a bit of techno and not sound completely naff! The thing that ties it all together is the vocal performance of Eric Burton, who sounds uncannily like an Undertones-era Fergal Sharkey, except with a German accent. As a result, "Modern Primitives" is a very enjoyable collection of 11 melodic, but hard-hitting and kinda groovy techno-Goff tracks. And then there's the "other" track - a techno-punk version of 'Anarchy in the UK', made truly surreal by Mr Burton's accent. What on earth possessed them? Apart from that little bit of madness, which is quite entertaining in a strange kind of way, this is a great CD.
cut.rate.box - new religion (Accession)
cut.rate.box is an EBM band, Messrs Wygonik and Sand obviously have no interest in hanging on Covenant's coattails in the techno-EBM scene, so they generally stick to the more classic sound. As a result, the reference points are the familiar ones of Front 242, DAF, Depeche Mode, that kind of thing. Even when they do drag a bit of techno in, they tend to run it through the grinder first so it sounds more electro than techno. Like on their virtually unrecognisable version of Depeche Mode's 'behind the wheel', where it sounds at times like Kraftwerk playing KLF tunes.
The band is joined by some mates on this CD, so das ich's Stefan Ackermann rasps his way through 'heart break cinema'; information society's Kurt Harland drones through the aforementioned 'behind the wheel', s. netschio of beborn beton and a hates of diary of dreams share the "auf deutsch singen" duties on the slow melodic 'lichtspiel der gebrochenen herzen' and daniel myer of both haujobb and cleaner snarls and growls to the intense electro backing of 'nothing'. c.r.b do let a large chunk of techno through on the very dancefloor friendly 'traummaschine', but it's on the instrumental 'kosovo', with a beat so big it'd blow Fat Boy Slim's mind, that they show what they can do. The album's finished off by what could only be called a "bangin'" rave mix of 'behind the wheel' by f a preve. It's now getting to the stage where it's hard to decide whether to call straightforward EBM like most of this retro or simply dated. However, this kind of thing crops up less and less often these days, so it does serve as a nice break from the norm.
This Ascension - seVer (Tess)
This Ascension is not an easy band to categorise. Emerging from the atmospheric Goth side of things, their music transcends and, at times, completely ignores those styles and becomes its own thing. Thus, the first three tracks are vaguely new wave sounding, with lots of guitars and Dru's soft but powerful vocals carrying the songs, especially with the Latin lyrics of 'mysterium'. Then, suddenly, the band switches effortlessly to an ultra-Gothic style on 'serpent's serenade' with Dru rasping and spitting her way through.
The instrumental 'dorado' continues the Gothic vein with tribal drumming and a wall of guitar sound. 'fatal dawn' is more ethereal, with vocal harmonies soaring over a powerful instrumental backing. Dru's vocals are completely stripped bare on the choral style 'columba asperexit', where she shows off her amazing singing ability at first accapella and then with an increasing rhythmic backing, ending up in Dead Can Dance territory. A pointless interlude of virtual silence is followed by a headlong leap into DCD's sound, with the inclusion of a dulcimer and Dru singing in a mediaeval style. And on it goes, shifting styles and sounds effortlessly, with Dru's singing lifting it into the realm of the brilliant.
The Last Dance - Perfect (Mystine)
"Perfect" is Gothic music with a very light touch, verging, in fact, on pop music. While it retains the characteristics of Goth, it also avoids the oppressive feel of many others in the scene, preferring an upbeat, melodic and often catchy sound. Jeff Diehm's deep nasal tones, especially matched on the powerful 'Fairy Tale (the Storm)' by some bright female harmonies (sorry, don't have the credits, don't know who it was!), give this a musical sensibility that should appeal to more than just the fans of Gothic music.
The powerful 'the Haunting', with its emotive vocals and soaring guitars, the rockier electro sound of the title track, the funkier 'Regrets' with its more snarling vocals, or the powerhouse 'Lost' with screeching guitars and light synth melody and passionate singing - each track, and the others beside, has an accessibility and a listenability greater than that of most of their contemporaries. The bonus tracks include three fairly pointless remixes that sound fine, but don't really suit the style of the originals. However, that's just a small thing and this is otherwise highly recommended.
All reviews by Girl the Goth, unless otherwise stated.