Killing Miranda - "Blessed Deviant"(Nightbreed)
Nightbreed Records is a label that has little or nothing to do with the current revival of interest in Gothic music. Apart from perhaps an increase their sales, Nightbreed have no connection with the post-Manson scene. In reality, the label has been plugging away for years as one of the only labels that would release music by new Gothic/Industrial (and everything in between) bands in the UK.
Killing Miranda are one such band, playing a mix of electro-pop, Goth and industrial, following the lead of UK bands like Killing Joke, the Mission and Spear of Destiny as if the US stuff had never happened. They do provide an interesting contrast to the Americans, but they don't really have what it takes to reclaim the position the UK had in the 80s. They show a very nice ability to use all varieties of electronic music, from electro-pop to industrial, with a subtlety more akin to Killing Joke and Depeche Mode than Nine Inch Nails. It makes a refreshing change not to be pummelled by an over-intense onslaught of noise and hear some melody.
Where they fall down, like so many others, is in the vocal department, which places them in the second-rate Goth department of the Mission and Spear of Destiny, rather than up there with Bauhaus or the Sisters. The vocals just don't have the power to make much of an impact. On the first two tracks, the closest comparison is Duran Duran, which doesn't exactly fit with the power-chords and heavy loops and beats. 'Pray', on the other hand, features an attempt at a gravely, robotic growl that ends up sounding forced and fake. Then, on 'Kelly Told Me' there's more of a Brit-rock sound, more suited to the glut of guitar bands than the black eyeliner brigade. There's little change for the rest of the CD, which is a pity. Killing Miranda does have potential, but not the necessary power. With luck, incessant touring and practice will toughen up Richard's vocals, but until then, they are doomed to playing the same dingy Goth clubs they are presumably very familiar with.
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Marilyn Manson - "Mechanical Animals"(Nothing)
Marilyn Manson is impossible to ignore. Love him or hate him, Goth or not, he is the person most responsible for the Gothic revival, no doubt about it. Black lipstick has never sold as much as it has since Manson recorded 'Sweet Dreams' and there is no way the Bauhaus reunion would have done as well but for innumerable curious Mansonites. To give my two cents worth on the debate, while "Antichrist Superstar" verged on Goth, and 'Apple of Sodom' (from "Lost Highway") jumped over the edge, that was mainly Trent Reznor's doing, This time, with the NIN influence removed, it's not Goth, it's not even close.
Manson's attempts at Bowie-esque magpie music make it impossible to pin him down in any specific category. The question is, though, is he any good? The first point in his favour is the crisp, clean production. Due to his popularity and the money now behind him, this is not one of the bog standard, muggy demo that's been recorded in someone's bedroom that haunt alternative music and it's like a holiday. However, Manson is not original, and while he doesn't try to be, he is only a wanna-be magpie. He just doesn't have Bowie's ability to put a fresh twist on his mixing of styles. At the same time, Bowie had the time to develop his abilities, away from the spotlight (does anyone judge him on 'the Laughing Gnome'?) while Manson exploded just after his debut album. He is growing up in public and all his mistakes are noted. It is an unfortunate effect of the music biz that artists are foisted on us without them getting the chance to actually get good.
At the same time, this is the third album, and it is a lot better than "Antichrist Superstar", having more in common with the eclectic spirit of "Portrait of an American Family". Eclectic is definitely the word for this, from the techno-glam of 'the Dope Show', to the groovy industrial of 'Rock is Dead.' 'The Speed of Pain' sound like Pink Floyd, for fuck's sake, but it's a great track, "Dark Side of the Moon" with some emotion and some great backing vocals. The energy and power of the industrial-dance number 'Posthuman' is very hard to resist. 'I Don't Like the Drugs' is like 'the Dope Show' part II, more glam, loads of Bowie, some Gospel-style vocals and a straight take from 'Fashion'. Along with the music, there's also the usual mix of sarcasm, intelligence and irony (from an American!) in the lyrics. If you ignore the hype and actually listen, Manson does have a lot to say about tolerance, prejudice, fame and himself; and all of it is with an evil smile and his tongue firmly in his cheek. Check out 'New Model No. 15' -
"I'm as fake as a wedding cake,
and I'm vague and I know that I'm
I like this, it's fun, enjoyable and not to be taken too seriously. Forget the hype and the controversy and listen, then make up your own mind.
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Sabotage - "Acoustic Costumes"(Nightbreed)
Sabotage is a German EBM group that has been keeping the Euro heavy techno torch burning for a few years and have in their time worked with such notables as Front 242 and Die Warzau. "Acoustic Costumes" runs the gamut of electro styles, from trance, on 'schmerz', dance, 'goddess' and load of BPMs on the ravey, 'do what you do', and that's only the first three tracks! 'hearts & bombs' is different again, the first male vocal track, in German, over a guitar heavy industrial onslaught. Sabotage have it, whatever it is, not only have they remained true to their EBM roots and kept the music alive, they have also, like any good EBM band, added enough contemporary and popular elements to give them a very strong crossover appeal. Sabotage creates electronic music with character, with more than a little sexuality thanks to Isabelle Gernand's vocals. With the recent success of big beat and quirky French electro, the time is right for EBM to cross back over into the mainstream. Fingers crossed.
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Lacuna Coil - "In a Reverie"(Century)
It is surprising that a metal label like Century Media has produced quite a few bands with a very strong Gothic element. Presumably, it is a case of Black Metal bands coping on and actually playing good music, as My Dying Bride and Lacrimosa have already done brilliantly. The only flaw is that, staying with a metal label, there is presumably a bit of pressure to keep within the genre to some extent, something that holds back the bands' potential somewhat. Lacuna Coil has a lot in common with label-mates My Insanity. Both are relatively new acts, debuting with a very Gothic sound, yet both have kept an unfortunate element of the Black Metal scenes they obviously came from. However, Lacuna Coil does have an awful lot going for them.
They are an Italian band who sing in English, though thankfully without the dreadful accent of most Euro-rock band, perfectly lampooned by Armstrong and Miller on MTV's "So 90s". Another thing is that the amazing vocals of Cristina Scabbia are in the forefront. Cristina is, without doubt, the 90s version of Julianne Regan (All About Eve) combining power and melody over a massive backing of powerchords and crashing percussion. The problem is the male backing vocal of Andrea Ferro. When he sings, the contrast is wonderful and they have a great ability to sing in harmony. At times, they echo the best of Pist.On's melodic combinations. Unfortunately, he also has the very bad habit of trying to sound like he's coughing up phlegm that mars a number of the tracks horribly. It's like being at a gig where there's an angelic voice coming from the stage and some git at the bar is shouting his head off. When he doesn't do it, like on 'To myself I turned', Lacuna Coil are wonderful, very like All About Eve at their best, but with a power they never achieved. They really are one to watch, and this could have been a perfect CD, but…
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Rob Zombie - "Hellbilly Deluxe"(Geffen)
All hail Rob Zombie, the king of horror-show Rock n' Roll. Way back when, White Zombie's crusty-funk classic, "La Sexorcisto etc." burst the too-serious bubble of grunge and brought showmanship and fun back to alternative music. The natural successor to Alice Cooper, who's too busy playing golf to record any good music, White Zombie continued apace with the greebo-industrial of "Astro-Creep 2000 etc.", then released the disappointing "Supersexy Swingin' Sounds" remix collection and folded. Well, the dreadlocked undead one is back on his own, bigger, brasher and more cartoony than ever.
Rob Zombie is never likely to record an album that breaks the rules and move music somewhere it has never been before, fuck it, this stuff was done by the Crazy World of Arthur Brown in the sixties, but that's not what he's about. "Hillbilly Deluxe" is loud, obnoxious, silly and great fun. The "13 tales of Cadaverous Cavorting" groove, bounce and yell their way into your head and get your body moving. The titles are taken straight from tacky horror B-movies, with tracks like 'Call of the Zombie', 'Dragula', 'Living Dead Girl' and 'What Lurks on Channel X?' and are, as usual, interspersed with samples of the same type of movies. This is more listenable than Gwar and fun like Alice Cooper was a long time ago, if you like music that makes you stomp and pogo with a smile on your face, this is for you.
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black tape for a blue girl - "As one aflame laid bare by desire"(Projekt)
This Mortal Coil, there, it's been said. black tape… sounds like Ivo Watts-Russell's seminal 4AD project. Nothing wrong there, it just had to be said. black tape.., like the Coil, is the project of one man, here's it's Sam Rosenthal, and is performed by a loosely defined collection of vocalists and musicians. The music is heavily classically based and is a mixture of electronic soundscapes, classical instruments and voice. It is delicate, sublime and wonderfully pretentious. In general, the music floats by, individual tracks are relatively unimportant, in a slow, ethereal wave of music that makes you close your eyes and just listen. Julianna Towns' singing is heavenly, while that of Oscar Herrera, on tracks like 'Tell me you've taken another' are more emotive and almost pained, bringing a dark discordant note into the proceedings. The musicianship is flawless and beautiful, so what more can one say. While this is like This Mortal Coil, it's different from Ivo's new project, Hope Blister, so if you are a fan of the former, try this as an alternative to the latter.
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Various Artists - "The Project Sampler"(Projekt)
There are times when American descriptions of music are confusing. Projekt is an ethereal/ambient/Gothic label - fine. But, when you put on this CD, you are immediately hit with a fantastic piece of neo-cabaret by Voltaire. 'When You're Evil' is Jacques Brel, by way of Scott Walker, that has a lot in common with Ireland's own Jack L. The powerhouse vocals, the wild fiddle and the witty sarcasm are Paris in the '50s, not London in the 80s. The song is very similar to Brel's own 'Devils (Le diable)' in tone and content, in other words, it's brilliant. It's followed by the vaguely trip hop 'By Your Side' by Love Spirals Downwards, a very tasty piece of emotive techno of the kind we do not hear often enough. Lycia's 'Estrella' is more familiar Sordid ground, a floaty atmospheric piece à la the Cochteaus. Soul Swirling Somewhere's 'How to Hang Yourself' is floaty, detached music, reminiscent of Red House Painters. Attrition's mix of techno, Gothic arrangements and classical music is something new. The slightly discordant wall of sound that is 'the Thin Veil' is different enough to be called unique.
black tape for a blue girl treat us to 'Russia', one of the best tracks off their current release, which stands up very well in isolation from the rest of that collection. Arcanta's 'the Solitary Pilgrim' is so Dead Can Dance, the song seems familiar. But hey, they're gone now, so someone's got to take the baton. Steve Roach and Roger King's 'Gone West' is really interesting, an ambient soundscape based on the American West, that really evokes the feeling of solitude and the Arizona desert, with some very nice harmonica sounds. Steve Roach returns with Vidna Obmana for the ambient soundscape of ' the Memory Pool', which, like most ambient tracks, is very hard to describe, as is Vidna Obmana's solo 'the Esoteric Source', another ambient soundscape, though with a bit more intensity than the previous track. And that's it. A very interesting and diverse collection of music that is very enjoyable, though it's not huge on innovation. One suggestion, though, drop the genre descriptions, they're restrictive and do not adequately describe the label's roster.
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