Music Reviews

Ritual Howls: Rendered Armor

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Dark / Gothic / Wave / New Wave / Dark Wave / Industrial Gothic
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Mar 18 2019
Artist: Ritual Howls
Title: Rendered Armor
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Felte
Detroit trio Ritual Howls’ fourth full-length album feels like it’s fallen through a wormhole in time from the late 1980’s. The combination of twangy guitar and bass, slightly weedy synths and squelchy electronics, simple drum patterns, gravelly vocals and sinister lyrics evokes thoughts of just-going-dark Depeche Mode, Cassandra Complex, pre-acid Shamen, or from slightly earlier, more than a hint of Joy Division. This release does for the more gothic side of 80’s indie pop what synthwave does for 80’s synth works, except that it’s even more authentic-sounding, with every detail from the songwriting to the production rooted so firmly in that sound that it must surely be a deliberate labour of love.

Luckily the songwriting is strong enough to carry it as a worthwhile listen rather than a tribute exercise. “Love Cuts” exemplifies the tone well and has anthem potential among the band’s fans. I was drawn more to the tracks that leant more electronically, with “I Can Hear Your Tears” a strangely appealing bit of anti-disco with a perhaps unintentional feel-good atmosphere. It’s a compact set of pop songs, generally keeping things to-the-point and well under five minutes, and tracks like “All I’ve Known” cut a decent pace that keeps things moving nicely.

Sonically there’s more than a hint of nostalgia about it, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing of course, and I’m sure there’s still a scene out there that will lap up this fresh material in a traditional style.

VV.AA.: Munk Presents Teutonik Disaster

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
Dark / Gothic / Wave / New Wave / Dark Wave / Industrial Gothic
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Mar 14 2019
Artist: VV.AA.
Title: Munk Presents Teutonik Disaster
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
In this 8 track compilation, Munk & Kapote have unearthed a variety of very rare early 80’s German new wave funk and disco punk records- or, more pedantically, they’ve unearthed a 2003 Gomma Records compilation called “Teutonik Disaster” which they themselves curated. They’ve given the tracks some faithful, Greg Wilson-esque re-edits, added a few drum machines, polished them up a bit and the result is a collection of high quality, near-authentic-sounding 1980’s style extended mixes.

Despite the flamboyant name, instrumental opener “Monogamie, Kannibalismus unserer Zeit” by Die Heteros sets the laidback tone rather well. Long, organic, disco-pop music, a true fore-runner of house in its structure and grooves but with the sonics of funk-rock. We stay mostly in 120bpm territory, never getting too dynamic or dramatic, and keeping everything very mid-set and DJ friendly.

Tracks like Carmen’s “Schlaraffenland” (a slightly cheeky take on The Archie’s “Sugar, Sugar”) don’t sound too far away from tracks DFA, Soulwax or LCD Soundsystem might have written in the mid 2000’s, which is to their credit, while the Prince-style (but pre-Prince) funk guitar work on BBB’s “Alltag” glues it thickly into the 80’s as a decade. The squeaky synths on “Mit Der Allein” by Roter Mund and the bendy bass and pitched-up vocals of Camilla Motor’s “Gefahr Im Tovoli” are two of the compilation’s more fun, possibly tongue-in-cheek moments.

It’s a chilled out hour long listen that allows you revel nicely in old-fashioned extended mixes of tracks that may not be familiar, but which are certainly enjoyable, in an unchallenging way. A nice set for giving your leisurely house sets something a little different in character.

The Star Pillow: Music For Sad Headbangers

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
Dark / Gothic / Wave / New Wave / Dark Wave / Industrial Gothic
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Mar 13 2019
Artist: The Star Pillow
Title: Music For Sad Headbangers
Format: CD + Download
Label: Midira Records
Although the tongue-in-cheek title might lead you to expect distorted slow guitar drone and electric noise, and the opening chord of the Slayer-referencing first track “Bruno Martino is my Tom Araya” seems at first to confirm the presumption, over the course of 37 minutes this relatively short album does prove to be broader and more detailed than that. Admittedly the opener does escalate into slow, heavily processed thrash guitar hammering, but inbetween the grunge, such as the climax of “Moving Grey” and the inevitable finale in final track “Sad Headbanger”, in many parts this has a more thoughtful level of detail and introspection that tempers it very well.

Longest track “Departures” is a soft, appropriately pillow-like sonic wash of gentle pads and warm hums, with small guitar-sonic details that give it a live, leisurely improvised feel.

“Circle Of Events” stands out as slightly odder, with a more overt guitar melody line that sounds quite twangy, almost corny pseudo-Americana that doesn’t quite work, but “Quiet Cooper, we’ll not die today” pulls off a slightly similar arrangement more successfully.

It’s a result that builds a well-measured touch of class and introspective thoughtfulness around its gritty core, to mostly strong effect.

Stillnox: Mercury

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Dark / Gothic / Wave / New Wave / Dark Wave / Industrial Gothic
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Mar 03 2019
Artist: Stillnox (@)
Title: Mercury
Format: CD + Download
Label: self-released
Rated: *****
Getting anywhere commercially in the music biz these days is always a Herculean task, even to merely get noticed with all the noize out there. It's even harder on the fringe of goth/industrial/darkwave because it's such a specific genre subset; the people who like it are such a small segment of the music listening population; it rarely (if ever) gets widespread notice nearly no matter how good it is, and the people who like this kind of music are notoriously picky and typically unforgiving. It's even harder if you're a solo artist without a band and without a reputation. Also, there is zero chance any label is going to want to pick up your album, or give you any kind of distribution deal unless you're relentlessly touring and have some sort of following. So with all this in mind, here comes Poland to Manchester, UK transplant Martin Seraphin and his Stillnox project. He founded Stillnox back in 2002 but never really got it off the ground until the completion and release of 'Mercury' in January 2019. It's self-recorded, self-produced darkwavish electro-goth , but it really took me a good long while to get into it.

Somehow Martin managed to convince 5 Polish gothic divas - Agata Pawlowicz (Desdemona, This Cold), Anja Orthodox (Closterkeller), Maja Konarska (Moonlight), Agnieszka Kornet, and Inga Habiba (Faith-Healer, HabiArJan, Lorien) to support him vocally on the album. Martin sings all the lead vocals, which may take some time to get used to because it’s not exactly typical. The Polish divas are all vocally wonderful, and their presence is a big plus. Also on the plus side is Martin's skill in the instrumental aspects of the music. His synth work is very good and the rhythmic aspects are solid and dark dancefloor worthy. From what I can tell, ‘Mercury’ seems to be a concept album, but the concept seems rather nebulous to me. The songs are interesting and somewhat varied but not exactly what I’d call typical of the genre. In a way, some of the songs are almost progressive, not due to instrumental virtuosity or complex compositional structures, but rather in a conceptual and emotional manner. It is unexpected, and might even be a bit off-putting at first. It took me at least a half-dozen listenings to get into it at all. Some of that was due to Seraphin’s voice, which like some (Edward Ka Spel of Legendary Pink Dots comes to mind) is an acquired taste. It goes down much smoother when he sings with the ladies as opposed to just solo.

‘Mercury’ is an ambitious debut outing at 16 tracks (18 if you get the digital version with two extra bonus tracks) and not everything has the same level of quality or engagement. The album is “front-loaded,” with most of the best tracks coming early on. Things begin to drag in the middle beginning with “Mercury’s Code” and while Martin warbles “don’t give up” you might be tempted to. Then out of nowhere comes “The Hope,” an un-dark, dancey electro-house number which would be a well-needed uplift, but lyrically it’s just a little too wordy and the chorus hook isn’t memorable at all. This is symptomatic of a number of tracks (but not all) on this album. Maybe it’s the English/Polish language differential, but it is still something that needs to be addressed. The one track in Polish (“Nadir”) sounds about right in balance of lyric to expression, but I admit I have no knowledge of the language. Viscerally, it just sounds right.

So with all that in mind, there are some quality songs on ‘Mercury,’ but definitely not all of them. There is also a lack of strong bass which upsets the instrumental balance. Martin’s got his work cut out for himself though in promoting this project and album. Live performance (essential these days) is going to require some vocal sirens to back him up, and traditional outlets won’t be inclined to help. I wish Stillnox well though, and perhaps the next album will be better.

Silver Dust: House 21

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Dark / Gothic / Wave / New Wave / Dark Wave / Industrial Gothic
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Dec 13 2018
Artist: Silver Dust (@)
Title: House 21
Format: CD + Download
Label: Fastball Music/Escudero Records (@)
Rated: *****
'House 21' is Swiss band Silver Dust's third album, a melange of steam punk, metal, goth and prog rock that is really confounding. If you read through the lyrics in the booklet you'll find that this is a concept album with the story taking place during WWII where a soldier, sickened by the atrocities of war, deserts and flees the battlefield arriving at a creepy refuge (House 21) where the bulk of the story takes place. Certain lyrics are attributed to certain characters in the story, but the band's singer, Lord Campbell sings all of them so without the booklet you really won't know who's saying (singing) what. It's ambitious, but kind of a lot to swallow for the casual listener, but we'll soldier on anyway. After an atmospheric dark cabaret opening instrumental that reminded me of Netflix's "Chilling Adventures of Sabrina" you are thrust into the doom metal of "The Unknown Soldier," (not a cover of The Doors song but an original) heavy with guitar and gothy keyboards and a singer who sounds like a cross between Ozzy and Pete Steele. The spooky-ooky carnival of souls-ish vibe on the title track is all rock & roll sideshow, and to me it sounds like Mr. Bungle for wayward goths and steam punkers. "Forever" dispenses with the circus act but sounds as if it could be any heavy guitar alt-rock band. "Once Upon A Time" is perhaps the most solid track on the album doing what this band sounds like they do best- vocally potent metallic rock with enough gothic touches to appeal to a black-clad crowd. Then they veer off into the ozone with the hardcore wacked and wacky "La La La La" and I feel like I'm in a Bungle nightmare again. Adding insult to injury, the next track is a cover of that Kim Carnes chestnut, "Bette Davis Eyes" featuring the vocal of Mr. Lordi of the Finnish metal band of (nearly) the same name. Of course it's a joke, but this makes as much sense as Thor singing "Total Eclipse of the Heart" during the Infinity War. Perhaps it's ironic that the title of the next song is "This War Is Not Mine," a rather dreary ballad that's supposed to evoke some emotion and compassion, but when Lord Campbell's voice turns falsetto, it triggers an involuntary snicker. I can't help but think of Spinal Tap when it comes to "The Witches Dance," and although Silver Dust doesn't sound much like Nigel Tufnel, David St. Hubbins and Derek Smalls, I picture the lit'l people of Stonehenge, and oh how they danced. Funny though, on the next track ("It's Time") they actually do sound like a parody of a metal band, and uh, isn't that just what Spinal Tap is? Last track, "The Calling" pulls out all the stops to give listeners the big finale they deserve for making it through this metallic phantasmagoria. It seems too much, too little too late though. On the positive side, everything is executed with ultimate precision, and the artwork in the CD booklet is very cool. It all depends on how much you're willing to buy into their concept for ‘House 21’ to make any sense, and perhaps this may be more apparent in Silver Dust’s live show, but chances are only fans of the band are going to get into ‘House 21.’

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