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Sordid Reviews Archive May 1998

Pitchshifter - "genius" (Geffen)
For years, Pitchshifter have been a second-rate British industrial band, eclipsed by former label-mates, Godflesh and Scorn. "genius" is an unexpected leap forward. The title track is an eclectic mix of styles, itís like the Prodigy mixed with Ministry, with a little help from the Wildhearts and the Ramones (one, two, three, foah!). Itís a dancey, hard-hitting cyber-punk number. "Floppy Disk", on the other hand, is dark, heavy dub number like a faster version of Godflesh. The Luke Vibert (Wagon Christ) mix of "genius" is a fucked up, distorted perversion of the original that sounds at times like it was recorded under-water, itís bizarre and pretty cool. "We Are Free..." is another heavy dub number, based around a Bill Hicks vocal sample a la Tool. A massive surprise that hints at great things in the future.

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definition of sound - "eccentric" (Universal)
The first track, "eccentric" is a weird little number - sampled hard rock guitars, pop rock vocals and a driving heavy techno backing. Sounds horrible, but it actually works pretty well. "outsider" is like a furious version of "born slippy", with a very heavy and noisy vibe, and Underworld-esque vocals yelled into the mike. The "lunatic calm" mix of "outsider" is really weird, a clash of styles - it is a mix of early Ď90s house, gabba and jungle - with great use of a Prince sample (that scream from "Get Off"). The final track, the album version of "eccentric" is pointless, the extra length actually taking away the edge of the single version. All in all very strange, but experimental and interesting.

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Clan of Xymox- "Hidden Faces" (Tess)
Clan of Xymox are back. After a few years with a shorter name (Xymox) and indie label obscurity, one of the original goth bands have returned in time for the current goth revival. Clan of Xymox have been around since 1984 and were originally on 4AD at the height of their goth period. But, the question is, 14 years later, with Bauhaus and the Fields of the Neph gone and the Sisters a pale shadow of their former selves, do they have anything to offer a generation obsessed with Marilyn Manson? The answer is a resounding yes. "Hidden Faces" is a classic goth album, with enough contemporary elements to make it relevant. They stick to a basic goth tapestry, with echoes of the Sisters, but no blatant rip-offs. They weave in 80s electro synths, mixed with current goth sounds, like the choral singing and tribal drums on "Wailing Wall", and a vocal style that is all their own, melodic singing with a really listenable hint of a germanic accent (which is something only a few bands like Lacrimosa and the Young Gods can pull off.) "Out of the Rain" has all the playfulness and magpie tendencies necessary for great goth stuff, the refrain "No, no, no" could have come from the Sisterís "No Time to Cry", but itís turned around into something fresh and original. "Sing a Song" is all gothic powerchords and techno beats, "Hypocrite" is a driving dark indus. number, while "Piano Piece" is just that. This is varied, eclectic, playful, but above all itís goth, at its most interesting. Perfect.

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With Sirens Entranced- "Epilogue" (Seraph)
This CD starts off atmospheric with a capital A. "Vesper" kicks in with a howling wind, then a ghostly choir starts to sing; rounded off with a dark David Lynch-esque sound-track. The ghostly choir is stronger on "Within a Dream", where a slow goth sound-track and a barely audible sample fill out the mournful sound. "Enid" is a particularly good piano piece in a wash of atmospheric noises. Tribal drums give "Lazarus" a heavy edge. "Drown" is heavy dub with choral vocals sprinkled on top. The piano is back on "Autumn Badge" and "Deprivation", while "Epilogue" is light and pleasant like the dawn after a stormy night.
The dub edit of "Within a Dream" and the acoustic mix of "Autumn Bridge" are obviously stuck on the end as some form of bonus tracks. The really add nothing and break the flow of the album proper. "Within..." is too heavy and techno, while "Autumn..." is too clean and sounds very like Dead Can Dance. But, apart from that minor flaw (and you can always programme them out), "Epilogue is a masterful work of dark ethereal atmosphere, a truly gothic creation completely lacking in cliches.

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Various - "Splashed with many a speck" (Dewdrops)
Named after a Shelley poem, featuring 29 bands and 2 1/2 hours of music, this compilation has pomposity and self-indulgence written all over it. And isn't it lovely. Dewdrops records has an obsession with 4AD, which is very admirable. "Splashed..." is the follow-up to "Thurtene", a Dewdrops tribute to 4AD, but it is more of a sequel. This truly is touched by the hand of Ivo. The most obvious sign of this is the inclusion of a great slow, jazzy number by the Cochteaus. "Touch upon Touch" is a classic, floaty, mellow and totally incomprehensible. Then there's Heavenside's heavenly cover of Lush' "Thoughforms". Apart from the obvious, though, even a cursory listen reveals the influence of Lush, the Cochteaus, Dead Can Dance and even the Red House Painters and Belly through this collection. The few exceptions to this rule are the Curtain Society, who sound more like early Stone Roses, and Ireland's Daniel Figgis, who has produced an 11 minute tapestry of bliss, with all the atmosphere of ambient, but with real instruments. Originality is not a strong point, but when the tracks are as lovely as "Train" by the Floating House, who cares. "Splashed..." is a time capsule of pre-MTV alternative and offers us a collection as diverse and varied as the 4AD roster of the time. Sublime.

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Zoar - "Cassandra"(Point)
Zoar's CD is a soundtrack for a film that doesn't exist, but it's nothing like Portishead. Zoar mix prog rock and psychedelic influences such as 70S Pink Floyd and Tangerine Dream, with film sound FX as instruments and a basic music talent and an instinct for mood. The three parts of Cassandra (the piece of music) mix simple piano melodies with soaring guitars, the sound of a man trying o catch his breath and a slowed down fire to form a tapestry of lightness and calm, until the final part adds a note of urgency and panic. "The Passing of a Plague" is a poetry reading (Henry Miller's "Sexus") on a base of running water, light strings and a dark atmosphere, that ends in a burst of screaming reminiscent of Elend. "Death by Denial" is full and deep, mixing electric guitars, violin, light percussion and children singing. "Nine Days Later" is light and acoustic, a breath of fresh air and a triumphant yell before the unease of "Ligeria". "If Only You Knew" soars, before "an Early Disobedience" drags the listener back to earth with nature sounds, chanting monks and church bells. It finishes with "A Handful of Poison", an eclectic mix of light and shade, using elements of other soundtracks. All in all, Cassandra is a powerful, moody soundtrack, reminiscent of older ones, but at the same time completely now.

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Penitent - "As Life Fades Away" (Draenor)
This CD is beautiful, undeniably a work of true neo-classical art. 6 tracks of orchestrated instrumental perfection, mixing medieval sounds with modern synths in a flawless soundscape that is beyond description. This is different from all the other stuff on this page, because it is not alternative, it just brilliant. It really should be reviewed in classical magazines, not in limited interest genre mags. Being a complete philistine, I could not possibly do justice to the beauty of "Life Fades Away" by trying to write about it. Iíll quit while Iím ahead, but if you have any soul at all, try and get your hands on this.

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Falling Janus - "My Shallow Thin Shallow" (Seraph)
This is truly awful. Each "song" is a blatant rip-off of somebody else, mainly classic goth and dark electro, but really bad versions of them. "Harbringer" is bad Fields of the Neph. "Elizium"-era, "Descend" is bad Sisters, pre-"First and Last.."-era, thereís bad Joy Division, "May Violets..", bad Bauhaus, "Allison", bad Lacrimosa "Song for Winter". Combined with a truly dreadful attempt at tribal drumming piece with an attempt at whimsy that is too like Norman Wisdom to be even close to funny (incredibly both in the same piece, the title track!). This is possibly the worst goth album in the world, ever. Derivative, boring, uninventive and truly uninspired, this is too bad to even be called generic. Avoid like the plague.

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Various- "Aria" (Tess)
This is a Tess Records sampler featuring some of the biggest hopes for a full on goth revival. Not for these the blurring of the boundaries between goth and industrial, these bands are going back to some of the more marginal goth(ish) bands of the 80s for inspiration in an effort to drag the style up to today. Influences are very obvious, Siouxsie, All About Eve, Dead Can Dance, the Cochteaus and Rozz Williams are all to be spotted. This is not to say it's all derivative, though some is, these bands are producing music with life and passion the originals have largely lost. Opener "Frater Ave Atque Vale", a duet between Faith and the Muses' Monica Richards and This Ascension's Dru is a sublimely beautiful choral piece. Trance to the Sun's "August Rain: Volume III" is a slow surreal number, which owes a lot to the Cochteaus, but has a style of its own. Faith and the Muse' "All Lovers Lost" is like Siouxsie singing with All About Eve, an interesting mix of hypnotic spiralling sounds. Blade Fetish' "the Boy with the Rose" is the kind of thing Brendan Perry doesn't do anymore, unfortunately. Autumn's "Suffer the Wild Dogs" is a fragile, foppish goth piece that doesn't sound whiney, which is an achievement. Finally, This Ascension's "Lydia's Friends" is a piece of atmospheric pandemonium. Originality may not be its strongest point, but this is high quality stuff.

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Garden of Dreams - "The Seraphim's Desire" (Seraph)
Atmospheric music has really taken off recently. At times, it is used to add depth and feeling to gothic doom, like Elend, at other times it seems like an attempt to create ambient trance with real music rather that sound samples, Enigma, while at other times again, it is a way bands use to modernise ancient music forms, Dead Can Dance. Garden of Dreams are a mix of all three, creating a contemporary soundscape from old music forms and new gothic styles. "dream facet" is reminiscent of "Tubular Bells", but is more fluid and complete, without the experimentation for the sake of it feel of the original. A heavy DCD influence starts to creep in on "drinking from my soul", but it is most evident on "distant", a track that would have fitted in well on DCDís "Toward the Within". "The Innocents" is darker, a black soundscape, while the following remix, "The Innocents? (Deranged/Second in Line) is bizarre, a very dark, very heavy techno mix of atmospheric sounds. In a vein of music where mood is more important that complete originality, Garden of Dreams take the listener on a trip from light to dark in a five track progression, without being at all depressing. A well-crafted piece of work.

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Various - "exoskeleton"(Possessive Blindfold)
This is a compilation of industrial, EBM and heavy electro psychosis. Heaviness is the order of the day, all of the tracks pound and crash in the best distorted manner. Top tracks are the truly fucked up, off-kilter madness of Synapscape with "stop yield" and, the grooviness of Patchworks' "Medecine" and the sample driven machine industrial of PAL's "t.a.e". Other tracks descend into pure noise such as the pointless noise-nikking of Salt and Noisex. The most common flaw among the bands is, big surprise, the vocals. Far too many new heavy techno bands seem to think that if they spend a lot of time and effort creating powerful techno sounds and mixes, it's then enough to get someone to shout themselves hoarse on the top. It's not, the complexity of the mix is usually let down and the lack of variety can get very boring. Jugend Staat's "vaterland" is a prime example, a Kraftwerk on Crystal Methe mix let down by the hoarse roar of the vocals. However there are a lot of new bands here with a lot of potential, who will hopefully develop in time.

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Rachel's Surrender - "Within the Tears of Winter" (Seraph)
This is a droning electro-goth CD, which is at times mesmerising and surprisingly catchy. But, at other times, it just seems bland. Influences seem to include NIN ("Pretty Hate Machine" era) and latter day Depeche Mode and Lead Into Gold, though there is a hint of something else I know I'm missing out on. Track like "Only Sometimes..." and "the longing" slide into heavy electro, with hard beats and industrial mixes. By half way through this CD interest waned. The vocals remain very similar through-out without much range or actual melodic ability. Eventually it all just gets tiresome. Not bad, but far too long and nowhere near enough variety.

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