Music Reviews

Ataraxia: Deep Blue Firmament

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Dark / Gothic / Wave / New Wave / Dark Wave / Industrial Gothic
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Jan 10 2017
Artist: Ataraxia (@)
Title: Deep Blue Firmament
Format: CD
Label: Sleaszy Rider Records (@)
Rated: *****
The Italian neoclassical darkwave band Ataraxia has been around since 1985, and has had at least 25 albums prior to 'Deep Blue Firmament,' this being their 26th. In all that time I've heard of, but never really heard Ataraxia. Shame on me. I have no idea why they've eluded me. Really, I should have picked up one of their CDs at least. I have no good excuse. But now I have 'Deep Blue Firmament,' and from the smatteri9ng of their discography I went back to listen to, this seems to be one of their best, if not their best yet. Not to say they haven't done some really nice work in the past, but they've matured and so has their music. With Francesca Nicoli (vocals), Vittorio Vandelli (guitars, bass, backing vocals), Giovanni Pagliari (keyboards, vocals), Riccardo Spaggiari (drums, percussion), and Totem Bara (cello on a few tracks) these folks make music that's absolutely magical on 'Deep Blue Firmament'. They sound fuller and more adept than ever before, The opening track "Delphi" is lushly orchestrated with group vocals that sound like a chorale from another age. Several of the songs have lyrics by poet William Butler Yeats, the others with lyrics by Francesca. At times Francesca's voice is operatic, without convention of opera. At others, just simply mystically folky. Even the male vocals (when they occur) are quite enjoyable. However, it's the elaborate orchestration Ataraxia uses that sets this band apart. Sometimes they almost seem to make Dead Can Dance sound pedestrian in comparison. Even though songs are sung in English, French and Italian, this band is very Italian in flavor. 'Deep Blue Firmament' explores a variety of moods, and although mostly melancholy as dark wave bands tend to be, they never come off as morose. Well beyond bands like This Mortal Coil or Love is Colder Than Death. For those looking for quality Gothic music that has been crafted to perfection, I highly recommend this. Definitely a cut above.

X-Bax: 'Twas The Night Before X-Bax

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Dark / Gothic / Wave / New Wave / Dark Wave / Industrial Gothic
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Dec 22 2016
Artist: X-Bax
Title: 'Twas The Night Before X-Bax
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Silber Records (@)
If you really think Christmas music is all Mariah Carey and Bing Crosby, think again. Admittedly it’s only the misleading track and EP titles that make this a ‘Christmas record’ in any way shape or form, which does seem to be cheating somewhat, but here’s a ‘festive’ (= not festive at all) release from Silber to scare your granny during Christmas dinner.

The centrepiece of the EP is fourteen-minute atmospheric epic “Panamanian Snow”, bolstered by five minutes of other bits & pieces. “Panamanian Snow” is a distant, ominous industrial hammering, a drone that’s part distant machinery part super-deep string instrument part synthesizer, and the supremely slow build-up of closer, smaller impacts and claps. After almost eight minutes a bell tolls, an implication of a change that doesn’t come; the industry continues unabated.

The opening two tracks “We Three Kings” and “Five Golden Rings” (which segue and are essentially the same piece with an arbitrary track break in the middle) are an overture of sorts, standalone discordant guitar power chords, sustained and distorted in an unsettling pattern.

Final track “Epiphany” is an anachronistic and playful guitar piece, starting from random flanges and fret slides before embarking on a simple riff that for a moment suggests this EP is ABOUT TO ROCK (get your index and little fingers ready) before looping and sustaining with an effect that’s a little like repeating the same word over and over so often that you start questioning how it sounds and it detaches from what it means.

Give me this over “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day” any day.

Dyr Faser: Dyr Faser

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Dark / Gothic / Wave / New Wave / Dark Wave / Industrial Gothic
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Dec 20 2016
Artist: Dyr Faser
Title: Dyr Faser
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Silber Records (@)
Many of the Silber “5 in 5” series releases I’ve heard to date have been drones, atmospheres and noises. This seemingly self-titled “Dyr Faser” release is the closest to ‘pop’ I’ve heard them come. It’s a lo-fi, muddy collection of five miniature pop songs, all packed into one minute doses (well some of them go several seconds over that but who’s counting?) There’s a swaggering lethargy to some of it, like a grumpy New Order bumping into a drunk Depeche Mode in 1986. The lo-fi production gives you a slightly thin sound, with vocals bathed in reverb and heavy use of stereo separation that’s faintly discomforting.

Both “Just A Face” and “Only The Dark And I” sound like the first minute of longer songs abandoned or unfinished. “Until Then You” is a riff and soft breakbeat. “To Be Desired” has an interesting groove that’s got hints of the 1960’s White Noise experimental protopunk-with-oscillators over which a guitar wanders, ad libbing in search of a riff.

Particularly on “Take The One”, the combination of psychedelic effects, rough-edged electronics and thin-sounding twangy guitar is reminiscent of the before-they-were-famous sound of The Shamen, but without the catchy hooks that propelled that band into an utterly different world.

The Silber “5 in 5” concept series suits some artists better than others. There are some interesting ideas and definite potential swilling around, but unfortunately rather than feeling like a complete five-minute work, this is one of those that feels like a teasing sampler to build interest in their longer EP’s on Bandcamp.

Heathen Apostles: Albatross

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Dark / Gothic / Wave / New Wave / Dark Wave / Industrial Gothic
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Dec 19 2016
Artist: Heathen Apostles (@)
Title: Albatross
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Ratchet Blade Records (@)
The Heathen Apostles take a central core of faithful Americana and murder ballad arrangements and give things a slightly stylish, faintly gothic twist. “Albatross” is a one-track single and while their discography has several remixes and electronica elements in it, this is a straight-up three-minute 3 / 4 song featuring slightly Chrissie Hynde-like vocals over a folksy arrangement of violins and mandolins that would appeal to staunch Levellers fans. Accompanied by a music video where great costumes and thoughtful storytelling are let down by wobbly camerawork, this is a neat little introduction to the band, but as a regular ChainDLK reader I’d certainly want to know more about their remixes than their originals.

Magnetic Ghost: Loss Molecules

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Dark / Gothic / Wave / New Wave / Dark Wave / Industrial Gothic
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Dec 07 2016
Artist: Magnetic Ghost (@)
Title: Loss Molecules
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Silber Records (@)
“Loss Molecules” is a dark mini-album that merges shoegaze with drone, and attracts a lot of genre labels that begin with ‘post-’. It’s guitar and effects-heavy, with meandering and often indistinguishable vocals throughout most of it. It’s expansive, atmospheric, but unfortunately at the same time, a little bit drab. It’s the sound of raw but resigned emotion in a lonely, windy place.

The filmic tone of “Sleeping Is Believing” is a highlight, whereas tracks like “Landfill” sound like they’re weakly fighting the urge to transform into rock songs. At best there are hints of Ulrich Schnauss-like widescreen thinking, at worst it dips into muddy meandering lo-fi.

Magnetic Ghost is the one-man band project of Andrew Larson, and there’s a typically shoegazey sense of self-indulgence in parts, inviting the listener to either admire the melancholy, or listen to something else. Each of the pieces is in sections, eschewing the “one idea for seven minutes then stop” approach you sometimes get with drone work in favour of occasional mild drama.

The one-man-band approach can lead to modesty (false or otherwise) at the mixing stage, but a mix from Neil Weir has dealt with the danger that sometimes arises from people mixing their own performances. Nevertheless, there are points such as in “Grand Canyon” at which the vocal still sounds a little low in the mix and a little dry in places. Apart from that it’s a mostly exemplary and polished production, but of an album which merges broad influences into something that ends up slightly grey.

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