Sordid reviews - 06/09/02.
Red Flag - Who are the skulls? (Plan B)
Who are the skulls? Well, apart from the fancy secret society stuff Red Flag have surrounded them with, the skulls are just a collection of artists who have remixed material from their back-catalogue, which means that 'Who are the skulls?' is Red Flag getting around to release the obligatory remix album. Red Flag's style is very unique and not necessarily to all tastes, being fairly downbeat, but this collection has given a host of artists an opportunity to remake Red Flag in their image. It starts out really well, Mark Nicholas (Cosmicity) gives 'Nevermind http:' a fairly tasty Eurodance feel, while Paul Robb (Information Society) deconstructs 'Cause and consequence' and rebuilds it in a couple of different ways at the same time, some of it full-on noisy breakbeats, other bits with an ambient feel. The Rob Rowe (Cause and Effect) mix of 'On the highway' is fairly pedestrian, a bit trancey, but nothing really special, the kind of mix you'd find as track 3 or 4 on your average dance single, but Tony Kramer and Tim Kramer (Shades of Grey) do a lot better with 'I don't know why', the piano sound and dance beats lifting it into something of an old skool acid house sound, with more than a little trance flavour. Steve Zahler and Cameron Scott (Scribe Machine) seem to have the most fun, their mix of 'Russian Radio' sounds like Red Flag remixed by the Venga Boys, tacky eurodisco a-go-go and great fun!
The Michael Pohl (Wave in head) mix of 'Take care love' is another bit of retro acid house, but it retains too much of the original vocals that hold back the upbeat dance sound. Bobby Clark's downbeat mix of 'Destiny' just about succeeds because the vocals on the original track are so strong and emotive, while the Craig DeGraff and L. Barron mix of 'Control', all bleepy electro sounds, is another one that depends too much on the original vocals and would have been better done in a more dub fashion. Then the collection takes a downturn into a more moody, downbeat style, closer to Red Flag's own style, but frankly a bit boring. It picks up somewhat with Provision's poppy synthpop mix of 'If I ever', but not up to the level of the earlier tracks, while Bobby Clark's mix of the same track starts out well enough, but doesn't really go anywhere, it's vaguely hyperdelic sound again relies too much on the original vocals. Also, having two mixes of the same track side by side is a bad idea. Steve Zahler and Cameron Scott return to remix 'In my arms again', with a very nice trancey rave influence that lifts this back up to dancefloor fare, and they, thankfully, mix the vocals as well. The Hugo and Dante (Thee Skulls) 'Tragically hip mix' of 'Remember to forget' is another dark moody mix, an unfortunate choice to close the disk as it's not particularly memorable and fizzles out at the end. Some of this collection likely to appeal to futurepop fans, the rest closer to the usual Red Flag style and probably more in their fans' tastes, but this split appeal does mean it's not really consistent.
Over Voltage - Belaruser (Dis Productions)
Sometime you have to go to the very edges of a scene to find the most interesting stuff. While the centre of a scene can often stagnate, with commercial considerations and success stifling the creativity of artists, the further into the margins you go, there is always the chance of coming across isolated artists making innovative new sounds despite the lack of resource being so far away from musical centres can involve. Such is the case with Belarus, which is about as far away from the electronic music hubs of England, Germany and the US as you can get these days. Over Voltage is a project by Dis Productions' two main artists, Vlad Buben and Evgeni Rogozin, two men who, working together, produce some of the freshest sounding hard electronic music I've heard in a long time. Mixing together numerous different styles, from classic industrial noise and the electronic experimentation of "post-industrial" acts like Bad Sector to ethereal Gothic and rhythmic patterns from tribal sources all the way through to dance music. "Belaruser" is proudly eclectic and unpredictable, one minute screeching and whirring, the next matching choral vocals with deep and powerful rhythms. It's all done with such skill and musical ability that what would, in the hands of lesser musicians sound messy and unlistenable, is clear, interesting and simply brilliant.
Panie Kahanku - Le Cauchemar (Dis Productions)
Vlad Buben proves with this solo work that he is the Over Voltage man most concerned with harsh noise. This is far less rhythmic in the traditional sense than the Over Voltage album, but is far more adventurous in the sounds used. Everything but the kitchen sink has gone in here, monastic chanting, distorted voices, machinery noises and variable and unpredictable beats, with a variety of electronically produced music. This is darker and moodier than the other Dis releases and is the closest of the three to the experimentation of the original industrial bands. As with Over Voltage, this type of thing would probably sound horrible done by a lesser musician than Buben, but he manages to pull off an incredibly interesting and enjoyable collection of strange noises.
Stereonoize gallery - Synthetic wings (Dis Productions)
Of the three Dis releases, this is without doubt the most dancefloor friendly. Evgeni Rogozin of Over Voltage has produced a collection of the rawest and edgiest dance music I've heard in a long time. Mixing elements of industrial, EBM, techno and house - bleeps, whirrs and screeches, underscored with thumping beats and a delicious throbbing bassline that verges on subsonic and it's all topped with great tribal vocals from Tanya Kozlova. There's only three tracks here, with multiple remixes each, but, unlike far too many remix compilations, each mix is so mutated and reconstructed, they could be mistaken for nine different tracks. Evgeni's Over Voltage bandmate, Vlad Buben, lends a helping hand to turn 'submachina' into a dark and brooding monster, the 'buben short mix' and a spacey slice of EBM with the 'buben ebm mix'. Most of this stuff would sit as well in an open-minded house DJ's set as your average industrialist's. Someone please sit up and take notice so we can hear this stuff on vinyl where it should be. For the moment, we'll have to make do with the CDRs.
Aesma Daeva - The Eros of frigid beauty (Root of all evil (US)/Irond (Russia))
The press release describes this as "a truly unconventional record" and boy are they telling the truth. Aesma Daeva's second release takes them further along the path marked out by their debut and is totally unlike anything you'll hear elsewhere. In case you've never heard the music of John Prassas and co before, Aesma Daeva mix classical music, opera, heavy metal and electronic elements to create music that's intense, bombastic and incredibly powerful. From the opening, furious metal guitars add intensity to the operatic vocals and classical instrumentation, all backed up with strange and shifting electronics. It's hard to describe this any better, their music defies any real categorisation and really has to be heard to be understood, but it comes highly recommended.
SMP - Hacked (Invisible)
Industrial rap was an idea that never really worked out, did it? Consolidated were fairly successful around a decade ago, but it never really sounded authentic, while the only band to really do it well was probably the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, largely because Michael Franti was a rapper working with an industrial musician rather than an industrial musician trying to rap. As a result, SMP have always had a mountain to climb, with the added disadvantage of making industrial-type music that was popular 5 years ago, but is less so now. This remix collection is their latest assault on the scene, accompanying Invisible's re-release of 'Terminal', but it really isn't likely to change things much. It starts out well enough with Mindless Faith's thumping EBM mix of 'Chemicals', which thankfully lacks any rap element. However, the rap element does come in on Vers' 'Jihad Style' mix of 'September' and it is really as naff as you'd expect, dated sub-Consolidated clichéd nonsense. Nothing a remixer can do to fix that, unless they remove the rap, which none of the six, yes six (way too many versions of the same track for a remix compilation), acts to remix 'September' do (well, Akuma & Reverb's dub mix does push it to the background than remove it, which it is better). That's to say nothing of how dodgy it is to rap about Jihad in a song called 'September' post 11 September, not SMP's fault as the original tracks predates the attacks, but it is in somewhat bad taste to redo it now in the aftermath. Other tracks on offer include 'Topside', which has a more hardcore punk vocal than rap and is fairly nicely remixed by Tim Ebling of Spinefolder in a spacey harsh electro style. Doll Factory's mix of 'Megaton' starts out nicely in something of an industrial dance style, and the rapping is more punky than on 'September', so it's not bad, but nothing really special, while the Thine Eyes mix of the same track is completely different with its downbeat bleeping, but is a bit boring really, and finally, the raw Codex electro mix is interesting, but doesn't really match the rap. Doll Factory provide a nice quirky bleepy second mix of 'Chemicals' and SMP provide two of the mixes themselves, a reasonable moody cut and paste version of 'Born of science' and a bassy coldwave version of 'Intensity' that's nothing special. Alien8 and Chad Bishop of Idiot Stare remix 'Militia Love' into something equally unimpressive, bleepy industrial dance noise that's a bit of a mess and contains another bad rap and verges on metal at times. Ending it all is Johnathon Sharp of New Mind's 'Datura Mix' of 'Born of Science' is vaguely ambienty, built around the voice sample with lots of bleeps and whirrs, but it's ruined by the patchy inclusion of heavily distorted pieces of the vocals and is, as a whole, quite pedestrian. Overall, this is not a release that will revive the fortunes of rap in industrial music, it was a bad idea that's been taken to worse extents in nu-metal, but this release is patchy and the differing quality of the mixes just displays the abilities or lack thereof of the remixers and does nothing for SMP.
Das Ich - anti'christ (Massacre)
Das Ich's return to their roots with the aim of presenting the music they got together to make with a modern sheen turns out to be exactly what they set out to make. As one of the most important acts making Gothic EBM, anything less than a polished slice of dancey EBM with doses of bombastic pseudo-classical music and an intense harsh vocal performance would be a disappointment, but thankfully this isn't, it's everything it should be. Stefan, thankfully, is not one to mistake shouting for intensity and, as a result, his hoarse growl has depth and complexity absent from too many '90s EBM bands. The theme of the album, an examination of the relativity of the concepts good and evil, is clear, even though the lyrics are all in German, and it is very obvious that "anti'christ" is playing with Satanic imagery with far more intelligence than your average screeching black metal band. This is a varied, complex and highly entertaining release that shows dark EBM is not a one-trick pony and still has something to offer as it is eclipsed by futurepop. Also included is the video for 'Reanimate', which proves two things - Bruno should sing more (though that was probably obvious from the original release of the track) and not all videos for this kind of band have to be as awful as some I've seen. It's a great slice of dark, intense imagery.
Fiction 8 - Chaotica (Cryonica)
Fiction 8 rerecorded this album completely for Cryonica, but, seeing as I haven't heard the Nilaihah original, I can't tell you if there's any big difference. Anyway, the band describe what they do as dark pop, which is their prerogative I suppose, but I'd be more likely to use that term for some of Siouxsie and the Banshees or The Cure's most mainstream stuff, so it's not what I'd call them. Their music is something of a mix between the poppier side of EBM and darkwave - melodic, moody and backed with some nicely upbeat electronic sounds, with some elements of dance music coming in, but not quite enough to make it futurepop. I must say, though, that Michael "23Jade" Smith's vocals can, at times, sound a bit like he's constipated, but most of the time, there's a nicely harmonic balance going on, with three other voices coming in. Some of the tracks are nicely infectious and you could find yourself singing along to stuff like 'Sister Illusion' and the highlight of the album for me, the bleepy 'It's over now', while slower tracks like 'Set you free' and the violin-drenched instrumental, 'Stasis', are really nicely done. Kelly Bearden gets a credit for "additional backing vocals", which is a bit unfair as I presume it is she who contributes the entire, and really strong, vocals to 'Somnabule'. They do introduce a bit more of a dance vibe on 'Break the line', which has a serious dancefloor potential. This version of the album also features five bonus remixes not available on the US release, but the question is, are they really a bonus? Well, Reza and Alexys of Inertia team up with Geoff "6" of the Nine to do a tasty synthpop mix of 'Somnabule' (which is, ironically, far more pop than the original), while Reverend Pete's 'Revved Up' mix of 'Let go', which adds a slightly funky hip hop element to the backing, isn't all that interesting. Implant's techno mix of 'Set you free', no the other hand, is a bleepy and stomping dancefloor monster. The 'Spank mix' of 'Let go' isn't quite as good, but it is a fairly nice electro take on the track by R Erkelens, P Norman and DJ Tower. Last, but not least, DJ Scot lifts 'Nothing Undone' from their last album and gives it a throbbing bassline that adds punch to the strong moody vocals. All in all, this is a very slick and professional release from an act that have a sound that's at something of a remove from most of what's out there, but not a million miles from the futurepop scene, and the remixes are, mainly, a definite bonus.
Audra - Going to the theatre (Projekt)
From the opening track, it's clear that Audra specialise in trad Goth fare - deep edgy male vocals, razor-wire guitars, sharp down-tempo rhythms and a deep, booming bassline. However, Audra retread old ground with a freshness and classic simplicity that it is very appealing and doesn't sound at all contrived or forced. This fact becomes clearer on the synth-filled 'There are no snakes in heaven', where a nagging thought begins to rise; vocalist Bret sounds really like someone else. It's undeniable on the simple acoustic sound of the title track - he sounds just like Peter Murphy. It's not that he sounds like he's trying to be the great one himself, he just sings really like him. Once the nagging thought has cleared, this starts to sound really good - it's like an album Bauhaus never made, but might have. It's a chilled out album, none of the intensity of most of Bauhaus, closer in mood to "The sky's gone out", but without the craziness. Audra may love their audience, but the impression they put across here is that they love their music and are making sweet mellow gothic music because they like it. And that's a sound worth hearing.
Theatre of Tragedy - Assembly (Nuclear Blast)
It probably goes without saying, but Theatre of Tragedy are no longer the band they were. While they jettisoned many of the old metal fans with their last release "Musique", this is destined to loose them some of their newer Goth fans, but should gain them a whole new following. "Assembly" is some of the most polished techno-rock I've heard in a long time. Liv has taken the lead vocalist position, with their former lead singer Raymond relegated to a supporting role providing atmospheric and largely distorted droning. Liv's strong singing, edgy but melodic, is backed with a delicious mix of electro and techno sounds, interspersed with powerhouse guitars. Much rockier than the likes of Curve or Garbage, ToT cover a broad range of sounds, from the rocky dance track 'Universal race', through the slower bleep, beats and guitars of 'Episode', the funky 'Play' to the poppy singalong potential of 'Superdrive', they are likely to appeal to a much broader range of people than before. The funky dance beats, sexy vocals and thundering guitars of 'Let you down' make it probably the best track on the album, powerful, dancefloor friendly and packed with mainstream potential. However, that's not to say the quality drops as they run though the moody 'Starlit', the rock anthem 'Envision', the raw electro-rock sound of 'Flickerlight' with its fabulously poppy chorus. It slows down a bit towards the end with the more downbeat 'Liquid man' and 'Motion', but they just do it so well that the quality stands up. Basically, forget the past and enjoy, because Theatre of Tragedy has such major crossover potential they could be livening up the charts filled with manufactured popstars and cruddy nu-metallers soon.
Tracer - Tracer
The usual way I get stuff to review is through the post, sometimes I request them, sometimes people ask if they can send me stuff, some comes unsolicited or from mailing lists. But, sometimes, people just come up to you and give you a CD. And such was the case at Dark Jubilee. I was writing notes during a performance (I think it was Void Construct) and someone handed me this two-track demo, so here I am reviewing it. First thing I'll say, and this goes for anyone making a demo, get to the point as quickly as you can, show what you can do as quickly as possible. If you don't get it across in 30 seconds (which is generally how long you have to capture an A&R man's attention), forget it, it's in the reject pile. Tracer fail to do that, 'Blinded' starts off really slowly in an atmospheric style and then builds gradually into a beat-driven techno-Goth track over nearly seven minutes. 'Crusader' does better, starting with the beats, but it still takes over a minute before the song proper starts. However, as I'm not an A&R man and stuck with it, I can give an opinion on the whole thing - it's a bit flat. The tracks are inoffensive and would pass fairly unnoticed on a compilation, which isn't bad as Tracer wouldn't be the band to wreck a comp, but it has nothing special about it to make someone with a chequebook take notice. Could do better, I'm afraid.
Ivory Frequency - [The strangest callings] (Dependent)
This promo for Ivory Frequency's new album "Plug-in" features two mixes of 'The strangest calling'. The first mix, 'Version II' is a hodge-podge of different dance styles and influences, kicking off with a very KLF-esque intro, then mixing a melody line that's virtually identical to Mesh's 'Firefly' with a vocal style very like E Nomine and a full-on futurepop trance sound that builds to a massive crescendo, where the KLF sound reappears, but it is a nice slice of hands-in-the-air type stuff. The 'album version' is more straightforward futurepop - chunky EBM rhythms topped with trance, and retains the E Nomine vocals and the Mesh-like melody line. On the basis of these two mixes, I'd say Ivory Frequency have a lot more to add to the dancefloor, but not a lot to add to the progression of the futurepop sound. But hey, who's complaining.
O Quam Tristis... - Le Rituel Sacré (Palace of Worms)
Every now and again, a CD blasts your preconceptions about itself. O Quam Tristis, with a name like that as well as being on the Palace of Worms label, was obviously going to be another mediaeval style release, which it is. But the moment the electronic beats kick in on the first track, it's obviously something different as well. This band performs authentic, but accessible, mediaeval style music, with a mix of soft male and female vocals, but they've added electronic beats and it sounds great. They vary how much of each style they put into each track, 'Separari permitas' is straightforward plainsong, while 'Venerabiles manus suas' has a dancey beat and electro bleeps galore, but most of the album maintains a balance between the two and break from the monotony that ruins too many releases of this type. Granted, classical music buffs would balk at this, but their clever and tasty updating of ancient musical styles should appeal to fans of ethereal music and some of it might also find admirers among dance fans who like Delerium and the like. The EBM rhythms of 'Gratias agimus tibi' even manage to work the lyrics, which are repeated over and over, into your head until, if you're not careful, you could find yourself singing along to a section of the Latin Mass! All in all, this is a very nice mix of styles, which will have your feet tapping to the rhythm while the ethereal vocals float around your head.
In Strict Confidence - herzattacke (minuswelt)
It should surprise no one that 'herzattacke' is a crisp piece of dancey EBM with some harsh vocals with lyrics in German, seeing as that's basically what In Strict Confidence do. They are a good example of the better part of the 90s EBM scene, with little of the dance music elements of futurepop or the excessive shouting of too many of their cohorts. This is an 8 track EP, with five mixes of the title track and three other tracks. Olaf Wollschläger provides the club mix of herzattacke, but it's a bit of a "club mix by numbers", a little bit of dance added in, nothing special at all. Ronny Moorings, on the other hand, provides a far more interesting 'Clan of Xymox remix', where he does the exact opposite of most remixers and gives the track something of a Goth makeover, admittedly it's the electrogoth sound of the Clan he brings in, but it is enjoyably different. Chris Peterson of FLA and Delerium also puts his own stamp on the track with the 'c.p.r mix', toning down the vocals and giving it a spacey, ambienty feel. The 'single version' is little more than a trimmed down version of the 'extended version' that opens the CD. Then there's the three new tracks; 'into ashes' is a fairly standard dark EBM piece with a bleepy sound, 'kaleidoskop', on the other hand, is a much more interesting piece, a bleepy slice of vaguely trancey atmospherics, while 'the final embrace' is actually a better track that the title, alternating between atmospherics and a driving EBM beat with some strong spoken word vocals, it's just a pity it's not longer than 3½ minutes. All in all, this is a nicely varied selection, with some quality 90s EBM which any fan of that sound will like, and some surprisingly good remixes by some high quality artists.
Various - Defend the Palace - Worms MCLXXXIV (Palace of Worms)
"Defend the Palace", it probably won't surprise people interested in this kind of music, is the "sequel" to the Palace of Worms' "Storm the palace" compilation of a few years ago. It's much the same story, a variety of mediaeval-inspired sounds from different bands, this time featuring the Machine in the Garden, Loretta's Doll and Dream Into Dust as the main attractions. Unto Ashes kick the fourth act (acts I-III are on "Storm the palace") off in full-on classical style with 'Funeral march for Queen Mary', followed by Belborn, who ruin an acoustic vocal piece in German with some pointless black metal style roaring in the middle. Regard Extrême put it back on track with the authentic sounding mediaeval instrumental, while the Blue Horn treat us to a powerful ballad with stunning vocals. Then there are some strong vocal-based pieces from Sieben and the Machine in the Garden, before Furvus take us back to a more traditional mediaeval style. Hexentanz mix a doomy soundscape effect with mediaeval military music and a witchy spoken word vocal rather well, which feeds nicely into the Hammer Horror soundtrack Gothic of Dawn of Reflection's 'Trial of the beast' with the deep exorcism spoken vocals. 'Jube Domine Benedicere' is O Quam Tristis... in fine form, a ye olde folk song underlain with a taste of modern electronica. Loretta's Doll live up to expectations with 'March of 10', a great dark, brooding piece built around marching drums.
Gaë Bolg and the Church of Fand kick off Act V with a quirky piece with sprightly rhythms, horns and somewhat overblown vocals. Messrs Rush and Dall do a quick change around to re-emerge as Dream Into Dust for 'The Trial Invisible', which sounds strangely like Radiohead, but in a good way, as if Thom Yorke had pulled his head out of his ass and mixed the pop simplicity of their debut with some of the atmospherics of their later stuff. Still, it's strange to hear it from Dream Into Dust, but anyway, it's followed by the bright and cheerful bit of flutes and drumming that is Sir Logla and the Black Nights and then a return to the gloom with the ultra doomy and atmospheric 'White Logic' by Chtonic Force, but it's an enjoyable gloom all the same. The same can not be said for the leaden doomfest that is Sophia's 'Perceval' or the strange, but fairly boring, mix of atmospheric noises and guitar that is 4th Sign of the Apocalypse's 'He hungers for the sting of insolent flesh'. Socrates Wounded win the prize for the longest song title with 'Contradiction for the god, who wants to know himself... in you', a rather bright piece with a lot of metallic drumming and some bloke mumbling, a rather pointless ditty really, but not bad, before Mysterian get all doomy again, but 'The pale halls of Pluto' is a more mediaeval funereal type of doom and it's pretty good. Von Thronsahl's 'Shuld + Sühne' is a rather nice piece of cut and pasting, mixing film samples and bits of classical music on top of a simple organ melody, it's kind of like the sound of some strange fairground ride. Summer Ends seem a bit modern with a track called '1984', but it's a really great piece, that simply mixes the voice track from a German film with some acoustic guitar and a little drums… to dramatic effect. And then Pimentola wrap it all up with the pseudo-classical 'Outro'. This is another fine collection of mediaeval inspired music from Palace of Worms and well worth adding to your collection if you've a taste for the old world.