Chaos Engine - "Obstinate" (Wasp Factory)
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This is a completed version of the demo that got a rave review here a while back. Very little has changed since then. It explodes with the awesome '888', the electro-punk number that would kick seven shades of shit out of the Prodigy. 'Tao' is more EBM based, with a snarling, semi-Goth vocal. The one flaw in the album emerges here - the mix. As previously stated, not much has changed since the demo, and that includes the mix, the vocals on 'Tao' don't sit properly with the music. Try switching on surround-sound on your stereo and they separate completely.
The growling industrial-dance of 'Non-conformer' is a lot better, but the problem does crop up now and again. Self-production is fine if you're Youth, bit it can hinder a relatively inexperienced band in the studio. However, it doesn't change the fact that these are great tracks. Chaos Engine throw everything into the mix, from 80s electro to punk, dance and industrial to metal. Other stand out tracks are the spacey soundscape 'Ascension', the short piledriver 'Phobia', the atmospheric 'Angel of Ruin', that descends into a pit of noise, the psycho-dance of 'Protein', the anthemic 'Employee of the Year' and the rather odd lovesong for a witch, 'Lilith'.
This is followed by a very strange idea, alternating the obligatory hidden track with a very drunken spoken thanks list every few seconds. The track is best kept secret until you hear it, but it kicks ass. The drunken rambling? Well, let's just say that the claws are out (does the phrase "Spanky Wank Machine" mean anything to anyone?) At the end of the day, this could have been put together better, but the slight flaws give it character and appeal, and it's all very cool indeed.
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Elasmo - demo
Elasmo is a Swedish band who haven't yet officially released anything, but going by these three songs, it won't be long. Imagine the Cardigans' Nina Persson singing with Curve and you're somewhere close to what they sound like. They thankfully avoid the obvious route of following the Garbage/Republica route of electro-lite and instead go for full-on intense beats, guitars and mucho distortion. The vocals are melodic and sexy, ranging from the softness of the Cardigans to the snarl of Curve, with hints of All About Eve floatiness at times. And the sound is crystal clear! No muggy amateurish production in evidence here. This is a band to watch, 'cos the world's gotta notice when they release something.
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The Machine in the Garden - "One Winter's Night" (Middle Pillar)
This is a step forward from their last release, "Underworld". While that showed what Roger and Summer could do across the various tracks, ranging from ethereal to hardcore industrial, this tries to pull all the styles together. And it succeeds really well. In general, they have focussed on ethereal and used that as a base to work from. The opener, 'Falling, Too' is a complex, uplifting track, with beautiful vocals on top of a classically-influenced soundscape. 'These Illusions' is darker, more edgy in a style that moves towards darkwave. Then, 'Control' bursts out of the speaker with an intense barrage of industrial, in stark contrast with the softer, melodic vocals on top.
'Lost In Side' is more Gothic - slow, intense and moody, before they mix the classical Latin choral singing of 'Misere Mei' with a big bass drumbeat. The classical influence carries into the piano-based 'Fear No More' with lyrics based on some of Shakespeare's work. 'Ex Oblivione' flirts with tackiness - theelectro sound could easily be the soundtrack to a tacky slasher flick and the words are inspired by H.P. Lovecraft story, but the richness of the vocals prevents it from actually sounding tacky. 'The Sleep of Angels' is the first song to feature Roger's vocals as lead, and the harmonic effect of his drone with Summer's up-lifting singing works perfectly with the powerful militaristic percussion. The next three tracks are fairly straightforward classically-influenced atmospheric music with mellow ethereal vocals, before the Gothic 'Midnight' throws a discordant curve into the proceedings.
Finally, the Machine in the Garden go deliciously pretentious, creating a neo-classical composition of Aeschylus' 'Io's Departure' that climaxes in a thunderous explosion of rhythm. tMitG are, without doubt, one of the most important bands in the atmospheric scene, because they refuse to stay there. Instead they load their music with innumerable stylistic reference points and influences. This more focussed release will only serve to cement their position as one of Goth's most experimental and challenging bands.
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Ministry - "Dark Side of the Spoon" (Warner)
Ah, Minstry, the band who started it all. Not industrial, of course, but the explosion of indus into the mainstream and onto MTV. A dubious honour, and instead the press release calls them the "undisputed godfathers of industrial music", which is obvious bullshit. If they actually cared, Genesis P. Orridge, Jaz Coleman and many other would probably line up to dispute it. But, there is no doubt that "Psalm 69" brought industrial to an unprecedented level of attention, and without 'NWO' there are a lot of people who might never have discovered the music. But then came "Filth Pig", the album that killed the hype and destroyed their popularity with its morose mess of noise.
Many expected this to be a return to form, but they have been very much disappointed. It doesn't start off too badly, the short, sharp, shock of 'Superman's Soul' is 'Deity' on crack with a vocal so distorted it sounds like its underwater. It's fast, powerful and intense. But, the sound speeds downhill fast from there on. Ministry have obviously run out of ideas and have settled instead for raping the bones of their back-catalogue for ideas they had before. There are shades of a bad Lead Into Gold evident in 'Whip and Chain', 'Kaif' and 'Vex & Siolence', while 'Bad Blood' sounds like a rejected b-side from the "Psalm 69" era.
Worst of all, though, are the tracks that are included to make this the "fun album" they wanted. 'Eureka Pile', 'Step' and 'Nursing Home' all sound like RevCo, pre-"Beers, Steers and Queers", before they replaced noise and distortion with electro-trickery, pissing around and audible humour. All three tracks would fit snugly onto the virtually unlistenable "You Goddamned Son Of A Bitch" live album. And, I'm sorry, but just including weird samples, a banjo and a sax on Al Jourgensen's self-mocking 'Step' do not make it fun.
(Almost) finally is 10/10, a mix of fucked up, noisy industrial and a sax. Wow, like that's new. Ever heard of John Zorn or God (the band, not the deity)? Well, I have and this is a straight-forward rip-off. Then there's the "hidden" track 69, a pointless piece of whimsy, someone singing a little ditty off-key, presumable down a phone line. Hilarious. Pure and simply, this is awful, and if you like Ministry's older stuff, avoid like the plague. Maybe this is simply Ministry's "bad patch", and lots of people - David Bowie, Killing Joke, etc - have come out the other side. I wouldn't hold my breath though.
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Rico - "Sanctuary Medicines" (Chrysalis)
Rico is hard to figure out. The press release basically says that he's not trying to do anything new or be anything special, yet he's signed to a major. After reviewing two singles, one of which was enjoyably tacky die to its obvious unoriginality matched with enthusiasm, the second far less enjoyable as the enthusiasm disappeared, leaving only the unoriginality, I'm even more confused. The album, his debut, is a pick n' mix of styles, clichés and, at times, lively spirit and, at other times, a rather unconvincing attempt at sounding jaded.
As a whole, this could generously be described as industrial trip hop, mixing Tricky-esque droning with post-NIN techno-rock stylings. Rico is obviously trying to bare his tortured artist's soul, but rather than revealing the real darkness inside him, like Tricky or Trent, he sounds empty, more like early Bowie, but without the wit or the genius. He may be tortured, but he really fails to be interesting. As far as the music goes, he falls hopelessly between the cracks. There's none of the energy of industrial, the oppression of dark trip-hop and he comes nowhere near the moody intensity of Goth. Instead, we have all the flaws of each, but none of the attraction.
By the time 'Attack Me', the most enjoyable track on the CD, comes around, and it takes quite a while as it's the tenth track, the nicest thing you could say is that interest has waned. To tell the truth, though, I did fall asleep during it on one occasion. I've said it before, and I'll probably say it again, it's ridiculous that Rico got a big deal when there are numerous other, better bands screaming out for some big label investment. That said, the very fact that this has major support means it has a much better chance of success than his superiors. Oh well, that's the way it goes.
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Peter Ulrich - "Pathways & Dawns" (Projekt)
OK, before you listen to this CD, sit back, close your eyes and repeat, "This is not Dead Can Dance" over and over, until you can finally accept it. This is the first of the post-DCD releases, Lisa and Brendan's are on the way, and if you approach any of them expecting a reprise of DCD, forget it, you're going to be disappointed.
Peter Ulrich's percussion was the solid basis on which DCD's sound was based and, while it is present and correct here, Peter has also taken the chance to unveil his considerable melodic talents as well. Brendan Perry does guest, but not on vocals, and all of the songs were written by Peter himself. The music shows that Peter leans more towards Brendan's taste in music, with a heavy folk, rather than world music influence, though he focuses more on traditional English rather than the Irish music Brendan focussed on, eg. 'The Wind that Shakes the Barley' and 'I am Stretched on Your Grave'. As a result, the songs on display have as much in common with English folkies like Pentangle and Steeleye Span as DCD.
His voice takes some getting used to, his droning tones at first seem a bit flat and uneventful, but after repeated listens, the rich tapestry of the music, as a whole, reveals itself and the vocals form part of the sound, rather than sitting on top. The first three tracks are very traditional sounding, the anti-war lament, 'Tagaharu's Leaving', the gentle folk love song, 'Always Dancing' and the lively mediæval-sounding 'Life Among the Black Sheep'. 'Journey of Discovery' moves out a bit, using a more tribal-influenced rhythm with, what sound like, tubular bells and a tribal chant. 'Nocturne' throws a bit of Spanish guitar by Brendan on top of a drum-machine beat with a rather 60s-ish vocal by Peter, before the sound deepens with a powerful oboe sound, and then it comes back up again.
And it continues along the same lines; building on English folk music, but drawing in elements of other traditions while retaining a very strong character. Having cut his teeth on the eclectic sound of DCD, Peter Ulrich is definitely ready to bring his own musical vision to the world, and this is a very powerful and evocative first step on what should hopefully be a long, productive career.
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