Music Reviews

Antlers Mulm: Give Or Take / In Reverse

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Dark / Gothic / Wave / New Wave / Dark Wave / Industrial Gothic
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Nov 22 2016
Artist: Antlers Mulm
Title: Give Or Take / In Reverse
Format: 7"
Label: Enfant Terrible (@)
Two of the more upbeat tracks from the “Touring The Moon Bog” album released back in March 2016 get a 7” vinyl outing on Enfant Terrible. Staccato synth notes echoing around in heavily reverberant space, underpinned by gentle and unusual drum programming, form the bed for two pieces of melancholic, atmospheric, loose-structured and subversive electropop that sounds like it’s been recorded in an empty cathedral.

For retro comparisons, it will appeal to fans of OMD’s more experimental work, and the vocal even has hints of a subdued Marc Almond about it, as much in the emotional expression as in the vocal tone- but there’s also a harder-edged, Cabaret Voltaire feel to it. “Give And Take” is more introspective, “In Reverse” a little bit more aggressive, but they make a good pair very appropriate for a 7” outing.

microClocks: Soon Before Sundown

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Dark / Gothic / Wave / New Wave / Dark Wave / Industrial Gothic
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Nov 02 2016
Artist: microClocks (@)
Title: Soon Before Sundown
Format: CD
Label: Echozone (@)
Rated: *****
We here at Chain D.L.K. like to think of ourselves as the heralds of cutting edge music, music on the fringe of popularity, with a vibrant creativity that is oft overlooked by mass-media outlets. Yet, there is a certain necessary hypocrisy to that in that we don't cover all leading edge music, just that which fits within our genre parameters. So no matter how creative, or visionary hip-hop, country, regular rock or alt-rock, heavy metal, folk, blues, jazz (with certain exceptions), etc. artists or bands are, numerous submissions just aren't going to get reviewed because of their genre affiliation, no matter how good they are, and sometimes, they're pretty darn good. A label such as Echozone sometimes submits new releases that just don't fit in here, and sorry, but if the music doesn't fit our genre parameters, I (and the rest of us) just can't review it. So what happens when a worthy candidate that doesn't easily fit into the pigeon-hole shows up? Well, that's just the dilemma I have with microClocks.

If you ever heard previous material by this German band (that don't at all seem German) you might mistake them for a regular rock band or an electro-tinged pop band. The material on their latest recording, 'Soon Before Sundown' is miles way from that though. First and foremost, this is a dark album. It opens with a droney mood piece punctuated with sullen strings, eerie tinkling keys and plenty of atmospheric gloom as the "Follow the..." intro to "White Rabbit" (no, not a cover of the old Jefferson Airplane song) where it explodes with progressive urgency. This doesn't sound at all like the band did previously; what they're doing now is formidably advanced. The singer, J.T. sounds quite a bit different than before, his voice has become much more interesting and atypical of standard rock vocalists, now along the lines of such iconoclasts as Peter Gabriel, Peter Murphy, Lou Reed, Rogue (Cruxshadows), Peter Hammill, and Ian Anderson, with a certain edge and panache to it. No, he doesn't sound like any of the aforementioned, but the voice stands out, and is perfect for the material. This one song goes through a number of changes one would typically associate with progressive rock but never gets too far afield from its driving impetus. Marc Dorman's guitar magic is astounding here. microClocks doesn't let up for a moment on the follow-up, title track, "Soon Before Sundown," a rabid rocker with some dynamite organ from Stevie Jay. Yet it's Dorman's guitar on the instrumental break that elevates this track beyond the pale, recalling 'Nursery Crimes' era Steve Hackett. Okay, yeah, this is sounding a bit like prog-rock to me. But things take a darker turn on "Loves End" incorporating elements of goth and symphonic metal into a delicious, heady musical stew. High drama and exigent execution seem to be the norm on this album.

While not goth, songs such as "Here I Am" and "Life is Grim" do have a gothy tone to them, but there is also an arty, progressive bent that permeates the songs on 'Soon Before Sundown'. While not quite a "concept" album, as the opening song might suggest, microClocks explores social themes of love, loss, desperation, failure, the supernatural, the extraterrestrial, friendship, fear, and maybe above all, hope. The songs are all well-crafted and carefully arranged. I find it interesting that besides the core of J.T., Marc Dorman and Stevie Jay, two drummers (Daniel "Butcher" Stieber, Hendrik Hausmann) and two bass players (Andreas "Shapeshifter" Nicolau, Nicolas Rodriguez Pagan) were employed on this recording, all very capable players. The album ends with two strong rockers - "To a Friend, and ""Raptor" that keep the energy level high. This is a good thing in my estimation, rather than petering out with a melancholy ballad. My only disappointment is that the album is very guitar-dominated, and I saw plenty of opportunities for keyboards to take a more upfront role. Still, this is an album that's going to turn more than a few heads, and delight lots of ears. If you thought you knew microClocks before, you haven't really heard the same band they are now, and just what they are is tough to pin down, but absolutely worthy of attention.

Batalion d'Amour: Fenix

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Dark / Gothic / Wave / New Wave / Dark Wave / Industrial Gothic
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Nov 02 2016
Artist: Batalion d'Amour (@)
Title: Fenix
Format: CD
Label: Echozone (@)
Rated: *****
Polish band Batalion d'Amour has been around since 1989 and has five previous albums since 1998. They're kind of a goth/darkwave outfit fronted by the gorgeous Karolina Andrzejewska who has been with them since their previous (2005) album 'Niya'. One good reason why you (and I) may not heard of them before is Karolina sings mostly in Polish. (Well, to be fair, there is one song with English lyrics, and a version of one other song in English later in the album.) For me, this proves to be quite problematic; if I can't understand the songs without the translated lyrics, they're not going to resonate much with me. Be that as it may, Karolina has a beautiful voice (way better than their previous vocalist) and the band is also quite adept instrumentally.

Opening track "Bez Nas" ("Without Us") is a memorable one with a Spanish lilt to it. Second song, "Charlotte" seems to be the band's choice for a hit single, especially since tracks 12-14 are four different versions of it, and one version in English as I mentioned above. Funny though, as nice a melodic song as it is, I'm not getting "hit single melodic hook" out of this one, even in English; it's much too wordy for that. I'm not even getting a distinctive guitar part, or anything else that grabs the attention like a hit single should. Third song, "Miedzy Slowami" ("Between the Lines")seems to have more going for it, with a Fields of the Nephelim style guitar riff, strong verses and melodically memorable chorus. Good song for the dancefloor too. Throughout the album songs are done with dark romantic flavor, but I'm detecting a move away from traditional goth, and more towards a kind of progressive alt-metal sound. There is still a sort of gothy overtone, but not like they used to sound; steeped in it. On one level the songwriting seems to be getting better, but having found their niche, Batalion d'Amour seems to be heading for a more commercially accessible sound overall. Occasionally they do surprise though, as in the odd-timing instrumental break in "Zawroceni" ("The Way Back") and the acoustic "The Lost Diary" in English, a sentimental duet with John Porter. The song with Tomasz Grochola from Agressiva 69 adding some vocals with Karolina did nothing for me. On numerous occasions Karolina's voice is multi-tracked in harmonies, and although it's effective on the album, I'm not sure how that's going to translate live unless they add backing female vocalists. No doubt though that her lyrics are quite poetic; even in English (translated in the accompanying booklet) they have a certain charm to them. The band also adds some nice arrangement touches, especially in the keyboard department. As for the remixes of "Charlotte," the slowed-down acoustic version with violins is the best, and most different, and the English version is nice because it's in English. Pawel Penarski's remix clubs it up with a strong dance beat, but that's about it, and the "Radio Edit" is just superfluous.

'Fenix' could have been a lot better album if it was sung entirely in English, or perhaps two versions- one for the Poles and the other for the rest of us, because after all, English is the universal pop song medium, like it or not. Assuredly, there are those who would disagree, feeling that Karolina's words and voice are better, more expressive or even more exotic in her native language, but if you want to get anywhere in the world of popular music, English is a necessity. There are some few exceptions (Industrial in German for one, as it has that harsh guttural inflection and tone that conveys a certain sternness you can't get in any other language) but for what these folks are doing, the English language would serve them well. If they record their next album that way, I'll be all ears.

Y-Luk-O: Autark

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Dark / Gothic / Wave / New Wave / Dark Wave / Industrial Gothic
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Oct 19 2016
Artist: Y-Luk-O
Title: Autark
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Lukotyk Records
Distributor: Altone Distribution
“Autark” is a 4-track EP and a 6-track remix package bundled into one 10-track, 41 minute product.

Lyrically, this is as dark and gothic as the artwork suggests. “Autark”, “Zuse” and “Magnetar” are German-language, while “Communion” is an English-language lyric using a church Sunday service as a metaphor for sex in a way that’s bordering on the comedy lyric (“swallow me like communion”...), seemingly performed with a totally straight face.

Production-wise though, things are a bit lighter. Describing itself as “German-American Industrialpop”, they’re not ashamed of the “pop” element. This is synthpop, with a few discordant notes and jangles. You could easily take replace the metal vocal with something lighter and poppier and have something mainstream-radio-friendly. There are strong shades of bands like Empire State Human in the arrangements.

Of the four original tracks, “Zuse” is the most interesting, with its unusual, glitch-influenced groove, twangy country-guitar-like sounds and the most memorable hook of the bunch.

The remixes are generally on the short side- in fact they’re all shorter than the original version, which is unusual- and keep a firm eye on the original audience, rather than trying to bring the track into mainstream clubland or any other different realms. The Leipzig and Boston remixes are the band’s own, and it shows- stripping back but thoroughly respecting the original, polishing the synthpop credentials.

Artists Against Pop’s “Halle” remix demonstrates that they aren’t against pop at all and are seemingly rather partial to a bit of a power-pop-ballad, which is what the track becomes. Fakzility’s “St Eval” remix brings heavier breakbeats and guitars. Ninetwelve’s three-minute “Philadelphia” version is a dramatic, film-score type arrangement full of string stabs and percussion, while 11gram’s “Adelaide” mix gives it some Depeche Mode-like flavours.

This is two single’s worth of material rolled into one ten-track release that’s polished and sincere, but without having all that much of a “wow” factor.

Eilera: Face Your Demons

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Dark / Gothic / Wave / New Wave / Dark Wave / Industrial Gothic
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Oct 03 2016
Artist: Eilera (@)
Title: Face Your Demons
Format: CD
Label: Echozone (@)
Rated: *****
Okay, I admit it. I'm a sucker for dark pop bands with female lead vocalists, especially pretty ones with great voices. On that criteria Eilera already has my full attention. Eilera (given name: Aurélie Potin Suau) is originally from France and now resides in Finland. In France she was a guitarist and vocalist in a progressive death metal band called Chrysalis formed back in 1995. Apparently she got tired of that, changed her name to Eilera and has been releasing music under the name of Eilera since 2003. 'Face Your Demons' is her fourth full-length album. For all of Eilera's experience, she doesn't look very old. Having no prior experience with this artist, I checked out some of her previous material, and it was good, but not what I'd call compelling. 'Face Your Demons' is a whole 'nother story. This is one slick album, no doubt because it was mixed by Tero Kinnunen (Nightwish producer) and mastered by Mika Jussila in Finnvox Studios (used by Nightwish, Avantasia, and Amorphis). While Nightwish is still Finland's most successful rock band, Eilera's definitely knockin' on the door with 'Face Your Demons'.

Eilera has a somewhat exotic, ultra-melodic voice, simultaneously channeling Bjork, Tori Amos and Kate Bush into one hell of a charismatic potion. The music on 'Face Your Demons' straddles Goth and Pop, dark and light in an uber-appealing melange. The album opens potent and gothy with the title track, and you can tell right off the bat Eilera's aim is true in targeting the dark pop market. Great hook, great band, great arrangement, great song...what more could you ask for? Speaking of the band, Eilera has assembled quite a crew of musicians for this album - Roni SeppÄnen and Jani Luttinen (The Wake, The Scourger, Survivors Zero, Bleeding Harmony): guitars; Lauri Salomaa: keyboards; Toni Paanzanen (Malpractice and Hevein), Waltteri VÄyrynen (Hypothesis, Paradise Lost, The Ghost I've Become) and Mirka Kiril Rantanen ((Thunderstone, Warmen, Kotipelto, DO Messiah): drums; Emilia Lajunen: fiddle; Lily Neill: celtic harp, and also the Jousikaiku String Quarter.

There is no letdown with the second track, "Your Way," full of urgency, a relentless beat, and an amazingly powerful hook comprised of nonsense syllables. The atmospheric "Deadly Together" changes the pace exploring a strange, possibly destructive relationship. A beautiful song, "Angel Made Temptress" follows, with its ultra-memorable chorus. "Frozen Path" keeps the great hooks coming and the bittersweet fiddle is a nice touch too. This song epitomizes the stellar production; the band that's powerful when it needs to be, and demure when the music calls for it. I thought there might be a mid-album slump with "Polynia," a kind of standard mid-tempo rocker but Eilera's engaging vocals and melody save it from the doldrums. The same is true for "Cure," where you can't but help being drawn in. Time for a power ballad, Eilera-style with "Into the Sea." The chorus isn't particularly strong in my estimation (in light of previous songs) but it's nicely done. "Male/Female" Balance" might be taken by some as filler, borrowing the chorus melody from
"Your Way" in the background, but I like its ambiance. It's too bad that the album closer, "Protect You" lacks some punch, but is otherwise a good song. There is more though- Finnvox versions of "Frozen Path" and "Into the Sea." I don't think these versions are any better (or worse) than the originals, just slightly different; seemed a bit superfluous to me. I would rather have had a longer epic track to end the album, and I'm sure Eilera could have pulled one off.

I think most music critics (myself included) are way too harsh, and almost nobody turns out a perfect album. Still, there is so much to love about this darkewave effort, with great songwriting and arrangements and compelling vocals superbly blending drama, pathos and joie de vivre. Some are going to say it's not Goth enough, not dark enough, not metal enough, too pop-oriented, whatever. For me, the mass appeal of an artist who can engage a wider audience with this kind of music is just fantastic. I want to see Eilera make it big where she's not very well known, particularly in the U.S. of A. That's going to take some $$$$, and if Echozone has any vision and a decent promotional budget, they'd pony up and spring for a U.S. tour. I'd see that show in a heartbeat.

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