Music Reviews

Artist: Akathartos (@)
Title: First Nightmare
Format: Download Only (MP3 only)
Label: self-released
Rated: *****
Well, okay, sometimes things just slip through the cracks here at Chain D.L.K. as this was released just nearly a year ago, althjough I personally haven't had it that long, and when I get a pile of stuff to review, I review 'em when I can. Anyway, Akathartos is the project of Samuli Reivila, from Tuusala, Finland and 'First Nightmare' is Akathartos' debut release, a mini-album of six tracks, a little over 32 minutes. He describes it as Orchestral Electro-Industrial, and that's just about right, but I might modify it to Gothic Orchestral Electro-Industrial because it does have a very gothic tone to it. On this recording Reivila does it all, except for the female vocals provided by Satu Vaisanen, which are a nice touch. Akathartos cites its influences as Hans Zimmer, Suicide Commando, Wumpscut, Hocico (among others) and it shows in some ways. One of the most obvious is the processed, harsh distoro-vocals used by the latter three mentioned. I'm not really a big fan of that particular vocal style. In my opinion it works okay for EBM and some electro-industrial, but I think there's been a move away from that lately because it's been just so overdone. Fortunately that isn't the only type of vocals you'll hear on 'First Nightmare,' but still it plays a major part. Choral vocals play a big part in this work too, and in fact, that's the first thing you will hear. This helps to give Akathartos a huge sound, something much larger than you'd expect from a single person. The orchestral arrangements are heavy and gothic, nearly Wagnerian, or akin to some of the more morose Russian composers. Lots of drama and pathos in a neoclassical setting with an electro-industrial edge.

If you're familiar with Swedish neoclassical band Arcana, imagine them fused with say, Wumpscut, Hocico or Front Line Assembly, and you'll get an idea of the overall sound of this project. There are some places on 'First Nightmare' where this combo works really well together, and others where it sounds like two distinctly different entities. Satu's vocals add a beautiful dimension to the music, and although I wouldn't say she has a stong voice, she does have a pretty one. As for Samuli's voice, during the more neoclassical passages, he employs a less harsh type of vocal processing, and when the beat becomes more electro-industrial, the vocals get harsher. One problem though is the production, and maybe even the mastering. There is a lack of clarity and sharpness that is a hallmark of home production. Limited budgets and limited studio experience tend to give these kind of results. Here I wouldn't necessarily categorize it as bad, but with great studio and mastering skill, it could have been so much more. It sort of comes across as a live recording, and if this is actually what the project sounded like live, Akathartos would have no trouble selling out shows.

For a first outing, 'First Nightmare' shows just what this talented Finnish composer is capable of, and that's something that a few more-seasoned artists working in Neoclassical Darkwave or Electro-Industrial genres that I've reviewed here have yet been able to prove- something engaging and compelling that doesn't just sound like everybody else working in the same field. Akathartos is defintely one to watch for in the future, and enjoy in the now.
Artist: Plus Instruments (@)
Title: Signal Through The Waves
Format: CD
Label: Blowpipe Records (@)
Rated: *****
My last encounter with Plus Instruments was the 'Trancesonics' album from 2013, and since then, Truus de Groot has been kinda busy, sneaking by a limited vinyl release ('Exile in Paradise') that I wasn't even aware of prior to this one. Whereas on 'Trancesonics' Truus had only a little help from a single musician (Jimmy Virani on theremin and moog), here she employs additional musicians Paulo Bento (synths, bass, guitar) from Anvil FX and James Sclavunos (drums) from Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds and Grinderman. The result is something a lot less raw and a lot more controllled than 'Trancesonics,' yet still with that kind of "synth electronics as synth electronics" (as opposed to synths trying to emulate real instruments) ethic that seems integral to de Groot's music. Here Plus Instruments sounds a lot more like a real band than a solo artist with a lot of synths as on 'Trancesonics'.

Truus's vocal stylings have changed too; less experimental, less New Waveish, a lot more melodic, and somewhat jazzy and slightly soulful. Imagine Anette Peacock meets Amy Winehouse with someone else I've heard but can't remember her name. Plus Instruments tackles a variety of themes over the ten tracks on this album - a strange supernatural encounter ("Ghost"); passion ("This Fire Burns"); romantic breakup ("It's Over"); seduction ("Come Closer"). Some of the songs that work the best though can't be pigeon-holed to a specific theme, such as the title track "Signal Through the Waves". This little gem relies heavily on a distinctive sample & hold synth riff, a ring modulated chordal descending chordal progression and Sclavunos's snazzy drumming. Truus's voice is at her most appealing on this track, and the lyrics are great too. This track alone makes the disc a worthy purchase. Another great track is "Bad Mood" (rather self-explanatory) where drudgy broom-swept synths and plodding drums and bass back Truus's misery-tinged bluesy vocals. "You and Me" is as close as Plus Instruments gets to some of the chaotic 80's style experimentation so prevalent on 'Trancesonics'. But the most atypical song on 'Signal Through The Waves' is the last- "Your Mind" with guitar as the main instrument, and seething synths in the background. The poetic nature of this number is comparable to Patti Smith at the height of her powers.

'Signal Through The Waves' shows just how much de Groot has grown as an artist, and the songs are worth revisiting over and over again. While these tracks are more acessible, don't mistake accessibility for commerciality. This ain't mainstream, and we can be very thankful for that.
Artist: VV.AA.
Title: Ten Years of Souvenir
Format: CD
Label: Souvenir (@)
Rated: *****
Getting stomping (it's required by the style they deal with), but with a certain grace. This simple strategy could summarize the secret formula that justifies the longevity of Berlin-based label Souvenir Records. The label got founded ten years ago by Dj Ali Tiefschwarz and his partner Basti and keeps on withstanding the upheavals of a fast-paced scene, where stars got dimmer seconds after they gleam and shine. They are perfectly aware of the fact ten years in the current musical market is an astronomical era, and that's why they have a reason to celebrate. Besides a tour that will touch many finest clubs in Germany, France and Switzerland, they celebrate by this compilation, including a mouthwatering selection, exploring a broad range of styles in between tech house, techno, deep house and electronica, melted together by an intuitive sense of quality. Over a decade, they collected many good tunes, such as Ruede Hagelstein's hymn "Emergency", Tiefschwarz collaboration with Jaw for "Hurricane or floor filler "Triple S" by Chris Wood and Meat. This compilation of 15 breathtaking tunes is really catchy since the opening "Eago" by the above-mentioned Ruede Hogelstein - a lovely chilling warm-up on finest airy deep-techno chords - to the final "Taboo" by IOAKIM SAYZ - a mesmerizing declension of tech house - and groups together both long-term partners of Tiefschwarz label and newcomers such as Mathame, Cesare vs Disorder, Dixie Yure (tributing his "Mapache" to Ulises Gomez) and the duo by Thomas Von Party and Thomass Jackson (his misty tune "Boneyard Fluteman" is one of the highlights of the selection). Released under the lucky number augurs well for label owners!
Artist: Stranger In The Night
Title: So Much Subtle Fun EP
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: DAMN!
Distributor: Believe Digital
This is a release that oozes confidence and attitude. While there's a music librarian in me that will always do a bit a Forest Whittaker eye at the idea that a release with only 2 tracks could be an "EP", this is a 20-minute dive into the Stranger's quite nerdy wallowing in acid techno basslines, and slow knob-twiddling of digitals wails and squeaks.

With the gradual progression and slightly unorthodox structure, there's an almost improvised feel to these tracks, as if they have been moulded and shaped on the fly, with the Stranger riding the faders and filters in real time. As such, "So Much For Subtlety" possibly overstays its welcome by just a couple of minutes, running out of tricks towards the ten-minute mark. This is largely boosted by the slow, almost "has it started yet?" intro that would make it a good set-opener for DJ's willing to set their stall out very clearly.

Despite the similar track titles and the fact the second one is labelled as a dub, these are two distinct tracks. They may originally have had the same musical root but they have branched out in quite different directions. "So Much For Fun" is a tighter affair which sticks to its brief and has a more determinedly clubby outlook. The almost tongue-in-cheek organ again has a slightly making-it-up-as-I-go-along feel to it, restraining itself in the first half before losing the plot into a crescendo of random arpeggiations, then spontaneously getting a grip and returning back to loop A. It's all very restrained- personally I wouldn't have minded a bit more drama and dynamic on this one.

This is the second release on the DAMN! label and marks them out as people to keep an eye on.
Artist: Linus & Eingrad
Title: Traumfahrt EP
Format: Download Only (MP3 only)
Label: Broque
Distributor: Broque
A traumfahrt is a journey, and in this release, the journey leads the dream. It's a collection of four gently progressive, atmospheric trance tracks, carefully controlled and measured, with the reverb-heavy, super-slow melodies providing the dream topping on a very sedate rhythmic ride. The melodies are strong, the shifts are gentle. As club music this would be more romantic than euphoric, but it's equally functional as a soundtrack to a train ride through rolling countryside.

The title track is a showcase for Celina de Torres' impressively pure, operatic vocal. It's a stand-out track and it's worth the price of admission for this track alone. It has more than a dose of "My Head Is A Jungle" about it, and definitely in a good way. The reprise version highlights how, with the right remix package, this track could get an awful lot of attention.

Celina de Torres' second appearance on "Der Turm" is not quite as enthralling but still leaves you thinking that Linus and Eingrad (actually only one man, Lienhard Hemme under an alias) should definitely be employing Celina's services on a regular basis in the future. The blend of her tone and 'their' (his) mellow motorik rhythms is a winning combination. Instrumentals "Mein Herz" and "Bremen" are very polished and tight, but faintly forgettable by comparison.

This is a pretty strong and consistent collection of tracks for rhythmic self-reflection.
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