Fatal Blast Whip - "Seduction" (Blacklight)
'Seduction' is a strangely reserved track. The music is dancey electro, the vocals are dark and snarling, the samples are powerful, but, all through the track, it seems as though it's going to explode into a barrage of intolerable noise. But, it never does, and it's all the better for it, as the restraint gives the track an intensity that an all-out barrage wouldn't. Battery's Soft Core Remix actually looses some of that intensity by beefing up the beats, but the added ethereal elements work nicely as a contrast. The Picot Clovj Club Remix is virtually a different song, the vocals are almost unrecognisably distorted and the music is replaced with a sparser trance vibe. The Revamped Edit Remix by Joshua Bourke buries the original in a noisy electro-dance sound, while Scar Tissue retain only small hints of the original in their ambient remix. This is how remixes should be done, they are only worthwhile if they change the track completely and add variety, rather than just length, to the release.
The next two tracks are disappointing, 'Slave Device' is a typically noisy, growling industrial track, of the kind that's become so boring, and 'Forbidden' is a messy mix of ambient trance and indus, that doesn't work at all. 'Re-Creation', though, makes up for that with a powerful electro-indus dance vibe, while the bizarre soundscapes of 'Dr. Death' are pretty cool. This is not a bad introduction to FBW, but the obvious fillers should have been left out altogether.
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Girls Under Glass - "Nightmares" (Van Richter)
OK, you're a German band, strike one, you've been playing Goth-tinged EBM for over ten years without getting much attention, strike two. So what are you going to do before striking out? "Nightmares" seems like an almost perfect game plan. It's on an US-based label, which gives them distribution Stateside; it's an anthology of their career, which gives them instant seniority in any new scene. But, smartest of all is the way the CD is laid out. Unlike most anthologies, this is mainly chronological in reverse, starting with some new tracks and reaching back in time to '88's 'Ten Million Dollars'.
The first two tracks are unashamedly commercial and radio-play seeking, and there's nothing wrong with that. First is an interesting twist on the Goth trend of making music that sounds like a horror movie soundtrack, it is a horror movie soundtrack - the theme from "Halloween" done EBM style, guaranteeing it instant cultural recognition. The second song is a cover of Simple Minds' 'New Gold Dream', but don't let that put you off. This version owes a lot more to the hard-edged dance version by Utah Saints a few years ago than to anything recorded by the Simple ones. It's an EBM version with a major rave influence and is perfect dancefloor fodder.
After the first two tracks have grabbed the attention of journalists and DJs, they quickly make a point of proving their credibility, with a true blue EBM cover of DAF's 'Der Mussolini' complete with rasping German vocals, tight beats and looped riffs. This collection's major selling point, on paper at least, is the two remixes by Die Krupps and US scene darlings, KMFDM. The Die Krupps mix of 'Die Zeit' is a great slice of Germanic indus. with pounding beats, chugging guitars, rasping vocals buried deep in the mix and a classic looped sample of some Eastern-sounding instrument. The KMFDM remix of 'Ten Million Dollars', on the other hand, is a competent remix of a very early, rather amateurish track. The song is their oldest, dating back to '88 and the remix is that old as well, and it is obviously included simply to have KMFDM's name on the press release.
The rest of the material is from their back-catalogue and shows a talent for experimentation and skilful execution. 'We Don't Care' mixes a very PWEI-esque vibe with guitar-heavy EBM, while 'I will follow you' is much slower and melodic, verging on Darkwave. 'When I Think About You' is very brooding and very Gothic, with a nice melodic chorus featuring strong female vocals. Their version of Tubeway Army's 'Down in the Park' is heavily Sisters influenced, sounding very like 'I Was Wrong'. Girls Under Glass mix styles together well enough not to sound derivative, even though their influences are fairly obvious. They also change their style often enough to avoid becoming boring. This is a well-planned assault on the US market and also a great introduction to one of the less well-known EBM bands.
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inhaler - "chang" (seriously groovy)
inhaler have clocked up a fairly impressive 19 tracks on this CD, so expect a punk rock style run-through sounds and styles at break-neck speed. However, following inhaler is easier said than done, 'cos this is a marathon of parody, lunacy and pure psychosis. It all kicks off with samples of karate chops and a gong from some unidentified martial arts flick, before bursting into the blatantly Butthole Surfers-esque 'second chance'. Then we get the groove-based techno of 'Super-heated', the Helmet-go-big-beat '340 kg of Rock' and the hilariously ironic 'metal inferno' with lyrics straight from Manowar - "I am the king of rock, dark lord supreme" - completely mismatched with a sound that's like Kraftwerk remixed by RevCo.
And on it goes, as if Alien Jourgensen and Gibby Haynes kidnapped Helmet, forced them to record songs by some God-awful metal band and then remixed the shit out of them. 'Thunder Disco' completely reverses the idea of 'metal inferno' - it's a hardcore punk track! Exactly what 'Iommi (part 1)' and 'Iommi (part 2)' have to do with Tony Iommi (after whom they are presumably named), I have no idea, except that there may possibly be a Black Sabbath riff sampled in there somewhere.
'D.I.S.C.O' is like RevCo's version of 'Do Ya Think I'm Sexy', industrialised funk with a selection of blaxploitation samples. 'Under' is simply sadistic - the singing is so low that you have to turn up the volume and then your ears are blasted when the guitars kick in. This is a CD without rhyme, reason or even the slightest hint of sanity, and is all the better for it. For a taste of the truly bizarre, this is highly recommended.
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njatr - "ep"
njatr go for a mix of early '90s guitar-based indie and a darkwave atmospherics. Bands like Sonic Youth, Swervedriver and God Machine spring to mind as much as "Pornography"-era Cure. In that, they have quite a bit in common with dark noise bands like Fear of Dolls. The guitars crash and scream in a wall of distortion and feedback, the beats are slow and crisp and the vocals are detached and quiet most of the time. The German lyrics give njatr an unfamiliar edge, as the barely audible words are very hard to understand, even if you can sprechen Deutsch. The second track, 'idiom', explodes every now and again into a pained, vaguely Rozz Williams-esque burst of noise, which varies the sound nicely. 'maschine' explodes into a very Virgin Prunes style mix of noise and singing, but at over 7½ minutes, it is far too long.
The final, unlisted, track changes the sound quite a bit, bringing in synths and a more machine sounding rhythm section and brings the band into an electro/darkwave sound. The track, the most up-to-date sounding, is conversely the least interesting, as the more dated sound of the first three is a refreshing break from hoards of technology obsessed sound-alikes in the scene at the moment. All in all, this is a bit of an oddity, fairly removed from what's happening elsewhere, but for that reason is fairly unique. Where it's likely to fit in is another story.
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sundown - "glimmer" (Century Media)
When rock bands try to go techno, there are generally fairly laughable consequences. While it seems fairly easy for bands like the Clay People to switch off the machines and plug in the guitars, bands who try going the other way, like Radiator or Megadeth, never seem to get it right, using techno as a decoration rather than a part of the music. sundown are completely different and "glimmer" is an electronica/rock fusion of the like that's very rare indeed.
The beats are crisp, clean and intense, the synth effects add depth and shine, the guitars pound and the vocals run all over the place. One minute they're early Ozzy, heavily distorted, the next they're Corrosion of Conformity, then they're Rob Zombie, with a lot of variation in between This pulls in influences from metal, hardcore (punk, not techno) and industrial, and mixes them together without ever letting one overpower the other.
They kick off cleverly with 'Lifetime', a melodic, but heavy slice of electro. It's got a fairly commercial sound with hints of Depeche Mode, and could, if they're lucky, get them some airplay. Standout tracks include the Goth-tinged 'Prey', the industrial dance 'Star' and the enjoyably White Zombie-esque 'Stab'. sundown play dark, intense electro-rock with an ease that leaves the rest of the pack standing.
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Torn Skin - "Mislead" (Blacklight)
First off, I gotta say that 8 mixes of the same track may have seemed like a good idea at the time, more for your money and all that, but hearing the same thing over and over again for the better part of half an hour is almost enough to drive anyone over the edge. The track itself is pretty cool - intense, driving electro-Goth with a frantic sounding male and female double vocal.
The mixes kick off with label-mates Fatal Blast Whip giving it a drum n' bass treatment; Pivot Clovj bring out the electro sound; 16 Volt seem to be working with a different track until you realise they're stretching and distorting the vocals to create a weird mix of Gabba and ethereal; Culture Whore's "dub" version is anything but - full of super-fast beats and manipulated vocals; Colossal Spin do the opposite of Pivot Clovj and drag out the heavier parts of the song' Jan Carleklev's mix is proper dub, 'though it is very heavy; and finally, Fish Tank 9 give it a nice blippy electro sound.
They're all good mixes, though they don't change the song quite enough, and after a few, those vocals become fairly annoying. Then, thankfully, there are two different tracks, the full-on industrial of 'Addiction', that has a vaguely Alien Sex Fiend feel about it, and 'Shame', a slower, more brooding, sample-laden electro-Goth track. This is a promising start from a rather fine new band, but the phrase "less is more" should have been heeded.
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Various - "Awake the Machines Vol. 2" (Out of Line)
This is a double-CD, 32-track compilation of what's going on in the extreme electro scene. There's far to much here to go into in any detail, but it features everything from droning Depeche Mode-influenced electro, like the opener 'Revolution' by Culture Kultür, to kick-ass drum n' bass industrial, like 'Hanzel und Gretel's 'Starf***er'.
These CDs are just bursting with quality. There's classic EBM stuff, like TNV's 'Televisual' and Rx' 'Reuptake'; quite a few kick ass electro-indus tracks, like Babyland's 'Youth Choker' and Cydonia's frantic 'Creed' (it may not have been supposed to sound like that, but it sounds great!). Terminal Choice treat us to a Trash mix of 'Fatherland', a guitar-heavy Germanic aggro-indus track, while a few bands lean towards the techno/dance side of things. For example, Serpents mix up some electro dance and a double vocal featuring a very Goff male and some female cabaret on 'Die Sonne '99', while I, Parasite's 'Skinline' adds a very nice piano line. If this were a rave album, Idiot Stare's 'Going Down' would probably be described as a "bangin' track with a hardcore industrial edge". Blutengel go for a more eclectic electro sound on 'Love' with a droning female vocal, while Matrix' 'Love is to Decay' is more robotic with more than a hint of Goth.
Special mention goes to Spahn Ranch, not only 'cos they gave me the CD when they played in Dublin recently, but also for having a male vocalist who can sing. The CKultür Mutation Mix of 'Remnants' is a mix of dub and EBM and works very nicely. Less impressive were bands like Dulce Liquido, Tumor, Hocico, KIFOTH, Mezire and Carbon K, but even their stuff isn't particularly bad, just fairly boring. Finally, II wrap it all up with 'II', a fairly groovy industrial dance track. This compilation shows very clearly the difference in focus between the US and Euro scenes, as over this side of the globe melody and groove take precedence over noise, and thank whatever deity you prefer for that. Highly recommended.
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Various - "Subnation Volume II - An American Darkwave" (Subnation)
Imagine a really old horror movie, a black and white silent film that's faded, so that the black is discoloured. It's the kind of film that gets inside your head, haunts your waking hours and turns your dreams into nightmares. It's an old film, so the terror is in the story and the atmosphere, not the fancy computer effects and gore. Then imagine the music that would go with it… That's what we have here, 15 tracks filled with atmosphere, gloom and sheer, brooding terror.
Pain Emission's 'Obfuscation' is the theme tune, a haunted, atmospheric instrumental piece. Regenerator set the scene with the powerful, brooding electro-Goth 'Lightbringer', quickly followed by the spooky Christian Death-esque 'Sorrow Without Regret' by Cruciform and the dark tribal atmospherics of Eleven Shadows' 'Jayapura'. Then the sound lightens a lot, the part of the film where the characters are introduced. The New York Room kick it off with the heavily Cochteau Twins-influenced 'Haunted'. Million Year Picnic's 'Lady Moon' is like a ray of sunshine through the gloom, a bright, almost cheery song about lost love (?!?). Lycia inject a note of uncertainty into the proceedings, a track that's neither light nor dark, but carries an edge of foreboding, added to by the way it stops and starts.
Babylonian Tiles' nasal version of Donovan's 'Season of the Witch' is brilliant, hippies on a dark psycho trip. 100 Sleeping Pills win the obligatory "Who can sound most like the Banshees on a Gothic compilation" award by pulling off a flawless Siouxsie imitation. They herald the beginning of the final build-up, as Silent Order throw an edgy, frantic Gothic twist into the pot, followed by the more intense combatant feel of Wreckage's electro-Goth 'Justine (Queen of Pain)' and Sunshine Blind's remixed 'Under the Neon', with its almost hysterical chorus. Stone 588 slow things right down with the ghostly 'Red Earth', before Trance to the Sun gradually build the intensity leading into the Unquiet Void's climactic 'Awakening', which slowly piles layers of tribal rhythms on top of each other culminating in an intense barrage of beats and then fading back out.
This is a well-crafted, nicely paced compilation of some of the US best, relatively obscure dark bands. The music is incredibly evocative and creates pictures in your head that are better than any real film would be. The only flaw is the ending, the pacing is a bit two slow on the last three tracks to be fully climactic, the, then again, this isn't actually a film soundtrack and the tracks are fine as they are.
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