The Black Dog feat. Ofra Haza - "Babylon"(Warner)
The Black Dog are, for the benefit of the uninitiated, one of the top trance/ambient bands, but with this track, they branch out quite a bit (and warrant inclusion in Sordid) with one-time Sisters of Mercy collaborator, Ofra Haza. No better way to add some Gothic cool and Eastern chic in one fell swoop. From the point of view of a Goth (and what other point of view is there?), this fits into the atmospheric/Dead Can Dance vein, mixing trancey techno and ancient Eastern vocals and instrumentation. The conceptual vibe is neopagan revisionism - rewriting the history of Babylon to counteract the exclusively negative Biblical portrayal.
This is a double 12" vinyl copy with 8 different mixes of the one track, featuring such names as Peter Lazonby, Scanner, Terminalhead and Jamac (names that presumably mean little or nothing to your average non-techno head, yours truly included). The mixes range from the very techno 'Tower of Babel' mix to the jungle-influenced dub of the 'Hanging Garden' version. 'The Blue Mix' is Black Dog's own, very trancey, with lots of Ofra's beautiful vocals, while the 'Aluminum Glue' version has less vocals and (on vinyl) a very annoying break-beat that makes you doubt your needle.
The '808 Degrees' mix is a freaked-out mix of styles, combining jungle, ambient and the kind of sounds found on very early electro. The last two mixes are both very dancey, only using samples of the original Eastern element, losing the original power in a morass of techno cliches. However, it is the 'My Pastie Weighs a Ton' mix by 'the Scourge of the Earth' (AKA the KLF's Jimmy Cauty) that really makes the project worthwhile. Matching the Babylon inspired concept with Ministry-esque sound effects of the modern, war-torn region (Iraq), he creates a suitable chaotic and powerful industrial-dance call for peace in the caustic manner typical of the KLF. The collection does have a few shining moments, but one can't help but feel that the Black Dog are constrained by their genre. A few less dance mixes and some more varied styles would have improved it a lot. Having said that, it is a step in an attractive direction.
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Depeche Mode - "The Singles 86-98"(Mute)
What can you say about Depeche Mode? Too popular to be Goth, too cool to be pop and far too influential to be ignored. 21 tracks that show how brilliant the band have been, but also flash danger signs for the future. Who can argue with tracks like 'Never Let me Down Again', 'Personal Jesus', 'Policy of Truth' or 'I Feel You'? They may have made the charts, but they are still some of the greatest slices of dark, brooding electro ever recorded.
Comparing bands to Depeche Mode has long been an insult (see reviews of NIN or Ministry's first albums), but, for fuck's sake, there's hardly a Goth or Indus band who's come out since the early 80s that hasn't been influenced by these purveyors of gloomy, passionate and severely screwed up music. Tracks like 'Personal Jesus' and 'Condemnation' have the religious references that every Goth band of any relevance trots out at every available opportunity.
This double CD has every single from 'Stripped' onwards, and also includes a live version of the pre-'86 'Everything Counts'. Unfortunately, the singles from the very disappointing "Ultra" are here too, all four of them, that show a band who were running out of steam, and wracked with problems that were destroying, rather than influencing their music. The new track, 'Only When I Lose Myself', has been reviewed already, but the question "where to now?" is very valid. What can a clean-cut, dope-free Depeche Mode produce that will compare with what's gone before? Just take a listen to what the Cure have done recently to see the danger. However, despite the tracks from "Ultra", this is a collection that sets the standard of how this should be done.
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Dreams of Sanity - "Masquerade"(Hall of Sermon)
Pomp-goth is about the only thing you could call this. This makes "Visions" by the Sisters seem minimal. It takes its inspiration from both the novel "The Phantom of the Opera" and the subsequent musical. Awash with keyboards, power-chords, pounding drums and the heavenly vocals of Sandra Schleret, Dreams of Sanity have created a collection that would scare seven shades of shit out of Andrew Lloyd Weber.
And it's all so gloriously extravagant and overblown, it takes the pomposity of Goth to a whole new level, one that Jim Steinman never dreamt existed. The one flaw in it all is the length. Pomposity is one thing, but the songs are so long that they verge on self-indulgence. That fact can be forgiven due to the magnificent version of the title track of the musical, performed with Tilo Wolff of Lacrimosa. His dark, hell-spawned vocals contrasting perfectly with Sandra's, providing a light and shade version of the song that is unequalled by any previous version. Magnificent.
The last track, 'Lost Paradise '99' shows a slight shift in style, separated from the album's concept. It's harder, faster and more urgent, providing a break and a final up-lift from the foregoing tracks, which are all connected. All in all, a successful experiment, but not recommended as a permanent style.
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Ctrl - "Secure the Shadow"(Analog Aether)
Noxious Emotion - "Demo"(ADSR)
The decision to review these two together was based on two things. The first is that they are both, to a greater or lesser degree, play the same kind of music - Goth-tinged electro-industrial. The second reason is that they both make you very impatient for the new Nine Inch Nails album. It's not that they're really bad, it's just that the quality of the production is so low, you really want to listen to something crisp, clean and powerful. Electro and industrial are two forms of alternative music that stand apart from all others because they really need to be well produced. Bauhaus sound best on scratchy old vinyl, but Ministry are best on CD.
These two bands show a good deal of potential, but the low grade production strips the beats of any power, makes the mixes sound shallow and the vocals sit on top as if they have nothing to do with anything else. Noxious Emotion have the excuse that this is only a demo, but I have the feeling the finished product will not be much better. All 4 tracks are fairly similar - driving beats, lots of synths and gravely vocals. It's reminiscent of the Xorcist, just not as good.
Ctrl try a combination of very Goth vocals and a mix that is more electro than indus - all blips and beeps. Due to the mix, though, the styles don't mesh and create more of a jarring contrast. They sound a lot better when they go completely electro-goth on tracks like 'Desolation' - a dark and moody piece that sounds like a horror movie soundtrack. The last track, 'Test Department', is dreadful, all noise and yelling and not much of a tribute to the classic band I presume it's named after. All in all, the phrase 'could do better' springs to mind.
While I do understand that a lack of record company investment is a big handicap, these two bands are trying to break into a genre that is already swamped. It really takes something special to make people sit up and listen. Something special these two ain't.
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Dream into Dust - "No Man's Land"(Chtonic Streams)
Every now and again something comes along that makes all this worthwhile. It's not the stuff by bands you know you like, 'cos you'd probably buy them anyway. It's when you open an envelope and take out a CD by a band you've never heard, stick it on and it turns out to be something unlike anything else you've heard. This CD is one of those, and it's brilliant.
This is electro-goth, so of course it's got its comparisons; it's also very soundtracky, so Angelo Badalamenti and Ennio Morricone have to be mentioned too; but it is done in a way that's fresh and blissfully different. It's slow, dark and moody, but the most important thing is that it's also melodic. The opening track is powerful and driving, with an edginess that draws you in. That's followed by 'Age of Delirium', a quiet, beautifully sung piece of music that is a welcome release from the growling and shouting of far too many bands. 'Dissolution' is made up of a mix of sound fx, spoken word and vaguely classical sounding synths. Finally, 'Seasons in the Mist' mixes more classical-style, acoustic guitar, sound fx and the perfecly melodic vocals of Derek Rush. This is unique and very wonderful.
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After Darkness - "Murnau"(Shreck)
This is a CD that should not be played at parties. I mean it, the suicide rate would probably sky-rocket. This is slow, brooding and morose, if not plain grumpy. At the same time, it is the kind of CD you (if you're a typical twisted Goth) will play when you're depressed just so you can enjoy wallowing in your own unhappiness. After Darkness make Leonard Cohen sound elated. There's some bass, a little more bass and then lots of bass. The guitar is so distorted that it just barely provides a backing of white noise. And the vocals - Jesus! Orlok, the vocalist, sounds like he's smoked 100 cigarettes a day for a few hundred years! His Germanic accent booms out from a voice that's not in his boots, it's buried six-foot beneath him. The third track features a female voice, which should liven things up a bit, but doesn't. She ... sings … so … slowly … that … it … sounds … like … a … funeral!
There is a slight theme running through this CD. First there's the name, then the label (obviously their own), then tracks like 'The Funeral Procession', 'The Devil', 'The Cathedral', 'Lestat' and 'Karloff'. Oi, mate, your fangs are showing! The inlay card is covered with stills from old black and white films, including Maz Shreck as the vampire in F.W. Murnau 'Nosferatu'. There's the odd nod to Gothic heroes of the arguably human sort too, with a version of 'She Feel Away' by Cave (Nicholas, I presume, but at this speed and with this accent, it's hard to recognise). Then there's 'The Snow', which features (once you can make make it out through the accent) the line "fuck me and marry me young" from the Sisters' 'Driven Like the Snow'. This is so Goth, it's virtually a parody, but as I said, it's a great album to enjoy wallowing in you own misery to.
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