Sordid reviews - 4/12/02.
Mechanical Cabaret - we have an agenda (soiled)
This is a dirty, sleazy morass of noise and dance beats, and there's nothing at all wrong with that. Imagine Marc Almond from the earliest days of Soft Cell camping it up over music by the latter day Prodigy remixed by Sheep on Drugs (or vice versa) and you're somewhere close to what Mechanical Cabaret sound like. There's none of the clean lines of futurepop here, this is down and dirty underground music for fetish clubs. 'Nothing special' is dance music for rubber-clad freaks, while 'violated' is pure dancefloor poison. They let up the dance sound somewhat on the more retro synthpop 'devoid' and the particularly Soft Cell sounding 'meat closet', complete with porn samples. 'let's have some fun' is closer to Sheep on Drugs, while 'mein fuhrer' returns to the earlier dancier sound with a fairly poisonous attack on some poor individual, and this sound continues until the demented fairground sound with intense beats of 'a slapdash affair'. This is a great CD; a tasty dancey alternative to the cleaner sounds of futurepop and it nicely references the sleazier side of electronic music.
Clan of Xymox - Remixes from the Underground (Pandaimonium)
I can't imagine it will come as a surprise to anyone that Clan of Xymox have decided to release a remix album, they've never been afraid of a bit of electronic experimentation and spent quite a few years as an electronic act, Xymox. However, there are a number of puzzling elements to this. Firstly, why are they only releasing one now, when virtually everyone is doing it, rather than a year or so ago when they would have appeared as innovators rather than the Johnny-come-latelys they do now. They're no strangers to the concept, having released an album of remixes as Xymox, but they've waited until now to release one as Clan of Xymox. Secondly, for some bizarre reason, this 2CD collection focuses exclusively on their last album, "Notes from the Underground". This would have been a lot better if it covered at least the four albums since their return, but covering their entire Clan output would have been brilliant, introducing a whole new audience to the classic material they released in the '80s.
Those issues aside, this is a fairly substantial collection of 15 remixes, featuring a number of reasonably big names, Front 242, Beborn Beton, Assemblage 23, a few lesser lights and a couple of virtually unknown names, for me at least. While the press release states that they were more interested in having a lot of mixes than the big names, it is odd that such a high profile act wouldn't attract one of the "big three" (Covenant, VNV or Apop). The release says Ronny chose the acts himself, but I find it strange that he'd choose to have the second-rate angels & agony rather than the big guns, and, despite Front 242 and Michael Balch (formerly of Frontline Assembly), there's little representation from the old EBM scene. After Rodney Orpheus turned up on the Beborn Beton remix collection, I'm surprised not to see him here, and I'd also like to have seen some other names like Neon Judgement on show.
Anyway, to the mixes; the mandate, according to the press release, was to come up with a match of the remixer's style with the Clan of Xymox style rather than necessarily come up with dancefloor killers. As a result, the first two mixes, 'Anguish' by iris and 'Something wrong' by angels & agony are passable dancey mixes, but nothing truly spectacular, retaining most of the vocals and a large dash of the Clan's Gothic style. cut.rate.box's mix of 'Number one', though, is a revelation, for a band that largely stick to a more classic EBM style, this is a storming dancefloor track, using the Gothic elements to add bombast to a fabulous mix. In a strange twist, the Assemblage 23 (who have added a huge dash of dancefloor cred to cut.rate.box on occasion) mix of 'Innocent' pales somewhat in comparison, though it's still a quite enjoyable dancefloor track. Tri-state's mix of 'I want you now' is slower and in more of a bleepy/crunchy EBM style, with a strong Gothic feel retained, while dj ram's mix of 'The Same dream' is a refreshingly different story, mixing ambient sounds, atmospheric noises and noisy harsh electronic outbursts with distorted samples of Ronny's vocals. In Strict Confidence produce another rather surprising mix, of 'At your mercy', with breakbeats, bleeps and what sounds very much like a sample from Tiga & Zyntherius' electroclash number 'Sunglasses at night' underlying Ronny's vocals to interesting effect. 'Liberty' is a noisy beat-laden affair, with Boudoir adding more than a dash of industrial intensity to the track.
Sophya's mix of 'Into her web' couldn't be more different to the tracks that precede it, a slower lush atmospheric take on the track, with loads of keyboards and piano sounds, and is a nice bit of variety. Second Sight retain the downbeat feel with a slow electronic mix of 'Internal darkness' that perfectly highlights Ronny's emotive vocals on the track. Front 242 kick off CD2 with a brilliant EBM mix of 'Anguish', everything you'd expect from the band that pioneered the genre and it really makes me wish they'd get around to recording some new material as themselves rather than concentrating on side projects. The Perfidious Words' slow, vaguely trip-hoppy mix of 'The Same dream' isn't much in comparison, but Aibofocen pick up the tempo again with a strange mix of slow bits of 'Liberty' and then a full on rave sound. Beborn Beton prove to be the most iconoclastic of the whole lot, their mix of 'Something wrong' is nothing short of complete deconstruction, turning the track into a piece of slow Europop, totally bizarre. The ex-Frontline Assembly man, Michael Balch wraps it all off with a disappointingly pedestrian electro-Goth mix of 'The Bitter sweet'. All in all, it's a mixed bag, which you'd expect from 15 tracks, but there are some absolute gems in there. It's just a pity they left it so long and restricted it to just their last album.
Architect's Eye - decline (Darkcell)
Architect's Eye have a dark and gloomy sound, which verges on doom metal, but stays just on the gothic side. Harsh vocals feature throughout, in a low snarly whisper, but they are all but buried in the mix of sharp electronic rhythms and wall of dark noise threaded through with a delicious piano sound. This gives their sound a spooky intensity that manages to be insistent and low-key at the same time. This is the sound of a nightmare, a horror show of unseen danger and terror, fear of the dark and unknown, more Lovecraftian than a slasher flick. Tempos vary from the funereal march of 'cold heaven' to the more upbeat rhythms of 'insignificance', but it's never lifted out of the realms of atmospheric moodiness. Architect's Eye are scary without being over-the-top and that's a very good thing.
The Crüxshadows - Wishfire (Dancing Ferret)
OK, I've got to think of something bad to say about this album, anything... OK, I got it, it's a concept album, and concept albums are bad, mmkay? Tracing the story of the angel character, Wishfire, from their previous work, there is a story of sorts threaded through the whole album, which we know from Prog Rock is really naff. Now that the negativity is out of the way, I LOVE this album. Without a doubt, this is my album of the year, beating off all competitors. I really haven't heard anything this good in a seriously long time, with "Wishfire", the Cruxies have become everything they threatened to be on their previous releases, coming up with a unique and varied sound that even has the potential to cross over. Reports that the Cruxies had gone futurepop were overstating the fact; yes they have beefed up the electronic sounds, but in no way to the cost of any other element. This is confirmed on the first song, 'Return (Coming home)', a delicious mix of techno beats, seductive violins, thundering guitars and Rogue's vocals. The violins are now even more reminiscent of Ed Alleyne-Johnson (former NMA violinist) than ever, in a very good way, and Rogue has thankfully dropped the overblown Gothy voice and now just sings his heart out so clearly that you'll probably find yourself singing along by the third listen. The songs are powerful, yet easily accessible, even to those beyond the Goth scene (my Goth-hating girlfriend even liked it) and it has it all. There's anthemic songs, I can easily see the whole crowd singing along to 'Seraphs', slow emotive lighter-waving songs like 'Spectators' and 'Go away', big brash dancefloor pleasers like 'Tears' (remixed by Apop on the recent DAF compilation) and 'Resist/R', a really tasty bleepy electro piece, 'Carnival' and even a Dead Can Dance-sounding piece, 'Roman'. I really can't put this strongly enough, this is brilliant, BUY IT. Oh, and by the way, not all concept albums are bad.
In the Nursery - cause + effect (ITN Corporation)
After the fairly disappointing "Engel", In the Nursery have plumped from the ever-so-popular remix album option. But, the moment Flesh Field's absolutely storming harsh electronics meets militaristic classical mix of 'A rebours (against nature)' kicks in, all criticisms of predictability go out the window. Any release is worth it for that track alone. But it doesn't stop there, Faith & The Muse contribute an absolutely lush mix of 'Angelorum (fifth angel)', centred on the beautiful vocals. The ITN version of 'Love will tear us apart' in a medieval folk song style is interesting, to say the least, but Kismet did something similar a while ago and I think I prefer their version. Chandeen's mix of 'Belle Epoque (interpretation)' has a big brassy (literally) choral sound that's somewhat reminiscent of Enya at her best, while And Also the Trees go for a big beat military sound, backed with electronic noises, on 'Corruption (sister & brother)'. Steve Bennet's mix of 'Miracle Road (do you remember?)' has more of a bleepy trip hop thing going, with the gorgeous English and French vocals floating on top. Perennial remixer Tom Shear of Assemblage 23 unsurprisingly goes for a dancey sound with 'Hymn Noir (robotweak), creating a very mainstream piece not a million miles from the likes of Saint Etienne. The A_Robot mix of 'And your eye (and your soul)' isn't really much special, a bit of a slow electro sound, whereas Attrition's mix of breakbeats and doomy atmospherics on 'To the faithful (in remembrance)' is far more impressive. Ivan Lusco goes for a nice bit of a house sound on 'El Secreto (it)', while Haujobb go for a breakbeat-rich noisefest threaded through with elements of ITN's sound on 'L'esprit (angeldustrial)'. Electronium go for a bleepy soundscape, then harsh electronics, sound with some thumping beats on 'Chronicle (retold)', with the more neoclassical elements of the ITN sound buried at times and then emerging at others. Seize wrap it all up with a very nice drum n' bass mix of 'Caprice (levity)'. This is an incredibly varied collection, with a lot of imagination in the choice of remixers and sounds on show that you'd be unlikely to ever associate with ITN themselves. This is the kind of thing that proves that remix albums can still be a good idea.
Suture Seven - a.stitch.to.mark.the.wound (Sarx)
It's been a while since we've heard from Suture Seven, but now they're back and this album has been added to the Metropolis distribution list for their efforts. The album sticks largely to the template of their last, "aversion", in that there's a mix of different styles that, in the hands of a lesser act, would sound like a mess. It opens explosively with 'void', before we hear 'subside', which sound kind of like pre-"Psalm 69" Ministry remixing "Elizium" era Nephs; intense and brash, but also atmospheric and moody. 'eva's lullaby', which mixes distorted fairground music with some samples of WWII Germany (there's a note on the sleeve that this, in no way, means the band support Nazism), has echoes of really early Young Gods. 'whores' could be a Revolting Cocks song, except for the fact that it's backed with beefed up Hammer Horror type music rather than the fucked up disco sound of Rev Co. The spoken word piece, 'casket romantic', featuring John Boden, with its noisy and disturbed backing is comparable to similar piece by DJ Shadow as much Tool. For a bit of a boogie, there's the somewhat club-oriented 'secrets' or the vaguely dancey 'trash'. It's all wrapped up with couple of raw demos, 'kill me' and the spacey Gothic 'she', which isn't featured elsewhere on the album. This is a noisy, sleazy and very enjoyable ride. Suture Seven pay no attention to style boundaries or current trends, but also avoid being stuck in a rut of past trends.
Second Skin - Flesh Wound (Euphoria)
This is an enhanced CD, so, as well as five tracks, there's some nicely done video pieces. As for the music, this previews tracks from the new album with a collection of alternative mixes. 'Still my love' is a very dancey piece, a nice slice of the futurepop sound with a strong Gothic feel. The rest of it is more traditional electro-Goth fare, loads of distorted guitars, overblown vocals, loads of keys and electronic beats, with the expected religious references all present and correct. It's a good selection, though, apart from the first track, the claim of "dance remixes" is a bit overstated, as most of the tracks stick closely to the Goth sound. However, for those who prefer the lightbulb dance to a bit of raving, this is probably to their taste.
Z Prochek - In my mind (Synapse)
This is Z Prochek's first release and, with it, they attempt to mark out territory for themselves in the futurepop scene. The initial mix of 'In my mind' kicks in with a pounding beat and some nice bleepy sounds, but the vocals are the first sign of what's wrong with this release. The words, the way they're put together, are so like Apop's 'Unicorn' that I found myself singing that tracks' words instead of the ones I was hearing. With futurepop under attack from a number of quarters for being unoriginal, this just confirms those opinions. It is a nice dancey number, but Z Prochek should have spent a little more time coming up with their own sound. There's the obligatory selection of remixes, with colony 5 putting a more rhythmic stamp on the title track, epsilon minus doing the exact opposite, giving it a slower bleepier feel and distorting the vocals, pride and fall boost the dancefloor flavour with an absolutely thumping beat, vocals pushed down into the mix and snippets of KLF-type sounds and, finally, the nice and strange 'jazzmix', which ends the CD, slower, jazzier, with a dark soundtrack feel, and is a far more interesting version of the track and a direction Z Prochek could really do with examining more. Also contained on the CD are 'sacrifice myself', the music of which is a straight steal from VNV Nation's 'Fearless' and vastly inferior to that track. Their cover of klinik's 'moving hands' is harsher and more EBM in feel and sticks out like a sore thumb. Including a cover is, at least, more honest than copying other bands, but it's a pointless addition. All in all, Z Prochek have little to add to the futurepop scene except fillers to a DJ set, but if they were to do more in the jazzy direction they would be far more interesting.
Aenima - Never Fragile (Equilibrium Music)
Portugal's Aenima (named after the Tool album?) show no shyness as they open "Never Fragile" with the 'intro to end all intros', a bombastic piece of beat-heavy soundscaping that may not quite live up to it's name, but definitely grabs the listener's attention. 'Forlorn' introduces the powerhouse vocals of Carmen, deep intensity to higher ethereal sounds, backed with a brilliant mix of slow and intense beats and some pseudo-classical sounds. This is something of a throwback to the powerful female vocal stuff that used to come out on the likes of Tess Records, but it is such a strong and appealing track that it stands tall in its own right. 'At the edge of a cliff' is more traditionally gothic, with a dark take on the likes of All About Eve, while 'The Light' is more upbeat and betrays more than a little bit of a Cranberries influence, though it's far better than anything the Limerickians have done in years. Alas, the quality of the tracks does slip a little on 'Lilith', where Carmen forgets about the deep intensity and instead decides to go for a full-on high-pitched caterwauling! It is a bit too much to take for an entire track. 'Rapture' initially seems like it's soothing sore ears, with a smooth soundscapey sound that picks up into a funky beat, but the vocals kick in and, while they're fine for the most part, they do reach an almost unbearable pitch once or twice. Aenima sound great most of the time, a big bombastic sound that takes no prisoners, I just feared for my ears at a couple of points, the vocals do approach weapons grade now and again.
God's Bow - what's beyond the suns (Black Flames)
God's Bow follow a formula that's produced some nice releases in the past, powerful female vocals in a vaguely folky style, on top of a somewhat ambient electronic sound with nods to classical and world music. So, it's not exactly original, but, barring excessive cheese in the music or irritatingly overblown vocals, it's hard to go wrong with a good vocalist and a decent musician. And God's Bow don't go wrong, Agnieska Kornet has a strong and attractive voice, bringing to mind a load of singers from Julianne Regan and Lisa Gerrard to any number of the vocalists in the atmospheric style. Krystof Pieczarka's music is more reliant on a bleepy electronic sound than the pseudo-classical style preferred by many in the style, echoing some of Aesma Daeva's early work. Lyrically, the pair threads religious imagery with symbols of isolation and the feeling of being very small in the universe. It's all very nice and enjoyable, one of those CDs you can stick on in the background and enjoy while doing something else.
Various - Working with children & animals, vol 2 (Wasp Factory)
Wasp Factory follow-up their first label sampler with a second selection of the label's bands. This features two tracks each from eight of the newer names on their roster, though they are names that will largely be familiar to the London live scene. First off is Swarf, whose electronic sounds with powerhouse female vocals on top has obvious mainstream appeal, 'Drown' is technofied indie, reminiscent of the now defunct Northern Irish indie guitar band Scheer, while 'Sorrow' is slower with a serious All About Eve vibe going on. D.U.S.T come second with two slices of big sleazy rock music, 'Mind' and 'Wraith', tracks you might have heard on the Strip back in the heydays of the LA sleaze scene, except for the fact that both tracks are underlaid with some very current electronic sounds. Katscan describe their own music as Gothhop, which, though naff, is probably as good a term as any for the noisy beat-filled electro-Goth sound of 'Stutter-Cut' and '008 Biology', the second having a very interesting Faith No More thing going at the end. Psychophile's 'Vice girl' is a rather strange mix of dancey synthpop and ethereal Goth style vocals, while 'Illumination' is a more traditional pseudo-classical ethereal track. Freudstein bring a nice slice of anarchic futurepop into the mix with the anti-capitalist onslaught of 'Robots'; 'Answers' is a slower and more vocal-based. Spray bring a bit of party flavour to the proceedings, with the cheesy disco track 'I am Gothic' and the storming pop tune 'Child of the 80s' (with more than a nod to the old Killing Joke track), the vocals particularly impressive given the fact that the whole band seem to have their tongues firmly planted in their cheeks. Interlock couldn't be more different, their beat-laden Gothic metal sound with growling male and melodic female vocals clearly nods in the direction of acts like Lacuna Coil or older Theatre of Tragedy, but the harsh aggro-industrial sound driving them is fairly appealing. 'Birdman' and the slower 'The Hold' are likely to appeal strongly to the metal crossover scene. Finally, Seventh Harmonic openly plunder the sound of 4AD's great past to create a big brash mix of ethereal, tribal and Celtic sounds. 'Icarus' and 'Chains' sound a bit too like the sounds of Dead Can Dance and others to sound truly new, but they do sound fresh these days and lift the ethereal genre out of the downbeat complacence of too many acts.
Various - Cyberpolis: a darker dancefloor vol II (Cyberpolis)
Various - Electro club attack: shot five (Zoomshot)
I decided to review these two collections together for obvious reasons - they're basically the same thing, double CD compilations of underground electronic club toons. The Zoomshot compilation is just one of the many the Zoomia family of labels put out, while the Cyberpolis collection is a product of the UK club. There's the same kind of tracks on each, across the range of styles from the harsh growly elektro stuff, via the more EBM style stuff, through the dancier sound of futurepop and similar styles. The two have quite a few bands in common as well: Skoyz; Lost Signal; Cenobita; H_M_B; cut.rate.box; Assemblage 23, there's even the same track by Hocico, 'Instincts of perversion'. I don't think I need to tell anyone of my dislike of the growly elektro sound of the likes of Hocico, so that's an obvious downside of these two collections for me. However, there's more than enough other stuff to satisfy me. The Cyberpolis collection focuses on some of the smaller names on the scene, which means that there's a few of the less imaginative types, including the VNV-soundalikes Lost Signal. However, highlights include the floaty dance-pop of H_M_B with 'Wanted'; the big crunchy EBM beast of Restricted Area's 'Turn like the devil'; Dulce Liquido's chaotic beats-fest that reaches an almost gabba like intensity on 'Spectral sound'; the bleepy 'Glaubenskrieg' with a full-on beats onslaught from Feindflug; the harsh dance sound of 'E\Craft' and 'Kill the fakes'; the superior futurepop sounds of Assemblage 23's 'House on fire' and The Azoic's 'Not justified' and the hypnotic driving beats of Mono No Aware's 'After the experiment'. The 'Electro club attack' collection has some of the bigger names, Psyche, Neuroticfish, Icon of Coil with the stomping 'Access and Amplify', Diary of Dreams, Skinny Puppy with a great live version of 'Dig it' and, judging by their live show, the only notable track in Angels & Agony's repertoire, 'Revelation'. Particular kudos for including two of the most imaginative bands on the scene these days as well, Implant with the fabulous 'Log on/Log off' and Welle:Erdball's genre-busting 'Super 8'. They're both great compilations, and either one provides a decent overview of the scene, though neither comes close to the recent DAF "Advanced Electronics" compilation in terms of imagination.
Various - WTII records: the resurrection (WTII)
WTII, in case you haven't guessed, is the attempt to bring back the classic Wax Trax label in a modern form. It's a very tall order, as Wax Trax dominated the underground electronic scene in the US in late '80s and early '90s to a degree that is probably impossible to recreate. Of course, whether or not it's even possible, there is the small fact of having to beat the current kings of the hill, Metropolis, at their one game, no small task given the sheer size of the Metropolis roster and even bigger distribution catalogue. "The Resurrection" lays out WTII's stall and, em, well they're not ready for a serious challenge yet. However, there is some great music here. It kicks off with the dancey EBM, but not quite futurepop, sound of In Strict Confidence with 'Kiss your shadow', which is followed by HMB's bleepy dance music sounds on 'This fire'. Melotron's 'Tanz mit dem teufel' is a superior slice of futurepop, sharp dancey beats, with a great German vocal on top and a great chorus, while the techno beats of Stromkern's 'Perfect Sunrise' are irresistible and are topped with a great punky vocal that thankfully doesn't slide into the usual growly EBM sound. Trigger 10d have an interesting style, to say the least, the singer sounds vaguely like No Doubt's Gwen Steffani, but the eclectic electronic sounds couldn't be more different from the No Doubt sound; it works very nicely. The seminal Beborn Beton need no introduction, and while 'Peach 2002' isn't necessarily their best track, it's still a good representation of their sound. Controlled Fusion go for a more traditional EBM sound on 'War', with harsh vocals putting them in the Das Ich vein, but it is a strong track, while Regenerator's 'Take me' brings back the dancey futurepop sound nicely with some female vocals. State of the Union go for a full on dancey synthpop sound, topped with droning electro vocals and a melody line that could have come straight out of the eighties. Deceptio Mentis go for a very poppy electro sound, with distorted vocals and a fairly flat backing track, and fail to impress, while it all closes with something completely different, an Eastern-influenced ethereal track, 'Lakshmita' from Arcanta, that's very like Dead Can Dance. They're not close to rivalling the Wax Trax roster of the past, but the selection is impressive in the context of a new label that's only been around a while. Who knows what seismic shifts may yet come on the scene.
Blind Before Dawn - Scared of Firewalls (promo sampler)
Credit where credit's due, Blind Before Dawn took note of the criticism made of their last release and have very definitely improved. Davi Lovatt's back on vocals after a short-lived replacement and, with the help of a decent producer, have managed to produce something that's not only far more listenable than the atrocious "Distant EP", but actually quite good. 'Happiness' takes a chunk of the more poppy sound of Apop's "harmonizer" and comes out as a very dancey bit of synthpop. 'Far away (Close mix)' is more futurepop in sound, a deeper EBM-lite sound underlying the dance beats and stronger vocals, with Davi managing to sound pretty good, if he's not exactly a fabulous singer. 'Without you' is fairly straightforward synthpop, a bit of a "heart-rending" tale of love lost with dashes of dance noises to make it contemporary, it's not bad, but it's nothing compared to the Human League's most recent stuff in the same vein. Finally, 'Sensory' is back to the futurepop type sound, though it's more synthpoppy than most, and slows down a bit much in parts to light up the dancefloor. This is an improvement, but it's not perfect. However, as it's just an unmastered sample of BBD's debut album, perfection's not really to be expected. What matters is that they have improved a lot since I last heard them and have the potential to become even better.