Music Reviews

Braindance: Master of Disguise

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Dark / Gothic / Wave / New Wave / Dark Wave / Industrial Gothic
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Jul 20 2015
Artist: Braindance (@)
Title: Master of Disguise
Format: CD
Label: Progressive Darkwave Recordings (@)
Rated: *****
Braindance (not to be confused with the Brit streetpunk band of the same name from the 90's) is a progressive darkwave act from new York City. They've been around since 1992, and 'Master of Disguise' is their fourth release. Really?? How come I've never heard of these people before? Am I that hermitized? Checking out a little of their past discography, I found them to be a competent goth-metal band with not quite remarkable material...until now. This is their first new release in over ten years, and they've honed their skills and refined their packaging into something very noteworthy over a decade later. Braindance is essentially Sebastian Elliott - Lead Vocals and Vora Vor - Guitar, Backing Vocals, Keyboards, Programming. On 'Master of Disguise' they are aided and abetted by Beca Schack and Natalia Eth - backing vocals; Andrew Bunk - 5 & 6 string basses; Stygmie Von
Skunk-A-Loohvff (Kenny Grohowski) - percussion, and Tony Geballe - guitar, saz, and additional programming. (The latter formerly of the Trey Gunn Band and Robert Fripp's League of Crafty Guitarists.)

Before we get to the music, I have to address the packaging. The CD cover features magic word squares comprised of mystic symbols courtesy of Sebastian Elliott on the outside of this six-panel digipak. One ten-panel insert inside gives you the track listing, album credits, lyrics, and photos of Sebastian and Vora. Yikes! Sebastian has the physique and attitude of an up-and-coming WWE superstar, and Vora looks vaguely similar to a dominatrix I encountered at a party at the (ill-fated and now defunct) Nutcracker Suite in NYC. Well, if
you're gonna play the game you might as well have the looks, and for this kind of thing it certainly doesn't hurt. The second insert is a 16-page booklet mini graphic novel that outlines the concept of the album. I can sum it up in two words - "identity crisis". My copy also came with a thumb drive in the shape of a gold key giving me access to more band promotional material.

Now on to the music, because that's what it's all about, eh? The opener, "Unearthed" is a brief mechanoid ambient track setting the mood. From there, you are launched into "Lost" which sets the tone for the entire album. The sound production is slick and stellar. Elliott's powerful Pete Steele-ish baritone vocals made me sit up and take notice quickly. Appropriately themed dialogue samples fill in some gaps, and Vora's blazing guitar holds its own with many metal giants I've heard over the years. Everything here is just so damn good I'm having a hard time believing my ears! (SIDE NOTE: The video for this song, produced by Tony Hanson, is astonishing for an unsigned band. Part heavy metal fantasy, part Stargate, part mystic mayhem, and pretty darn expensive looking. If MTV was still doing music videos instead of the crap they morphed into, I swear this would be at the top of the heap.) From "Lost" the listener is quickly thrown into "The Eye of the Storm". Both of these tracks have decent hooks, but I'm detecting there is something lacking. That's made clearer on the next track, "The Game". There's a lot of good melody but I'm not being grabbed by anything truly
memorable. It's good, it's polished, but where is that je ne sais quoi that this band really needs to jettison themselves into the stratosphere? Oh well, maybe later. "Hunter and Hunted" is a sample-laden atmospheric piece with a quick-paced semi-tribal beat. Nice change of pace, but where are we going here? I'm beginning to feel like I'm stuck in a Marvel movie soundtrack."Dysphoria" pulls out all the stops in sampleville. This is a potpourri of dialogue samples culled from tons of movies you've seen centered the theme of identity. It's 2.5 minutes and would likely have cost mucho dinero to clear, but my guess is that it never was. (This could prove problematic to the band if they achieve the measure of success from 'Master of Disguise' that I'm sure they're hoping to.) Title track 'Master of Disguise' is
another neat melodic metal song lacking only a dynamite hook. "More Than a Moment" is a nifty, relentless burner that threatens to break the mold...almost. Still, a dynamite track. Changing pace, things slow down a bit for "The Silence", and once again, we have a very good
melodic metal song. I'm getting very Type-O Neg vibes from this one. "Dystopia" is similar to "Dysphoria" in its plethora of dialogue samples. This is getting a bit old by now, but I can see why this album took ten years to make...half that time must have been spent gathering and compiling samples. "Written in Stone" is an instrumental with yet more samples. Tracks 12, 13 and 14 are three chapters of "Valley of the Kings", and a strong ancient Egyptian component explored here. Past lives? Present dilemma? Future demagoguery? Who knows. Here Sebastian seems to be striving for meaning, spiritual enlightenment, wisdom
of the ages, etc., etc. Final track, "Entombed" is an elongated, atmospheric grandiose instrumental ending with the falling rain. Epic journey finally concluded.

So, what is the meaning of it all anywho? That's for you to decide. 'Master of Disguise' is an interesting 77 minute excursion not without its fantastic and bombastic moments. Elliott's confident and formidable vocals are a force to be reckoned with. Vora Vor and company are superb. Yet, there is the problem of too many samples and not enough big hooks. Concept albums can be tricky, and Braindance came very close to pushing this one over the edge, but unfortunately no (five star) cigar. Still, I'm not writing this off. It has too much going for it, and I'm guessing that when they get around to taking this live, it will
be a show you won't soon forget.

Accolade: Catharsis of Rhetorik

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Dark / Gothic / Wave / New Wave / Dark Wave / Industrial Gothic
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Jul 13 2015
Artist: Accolade (@)
Title: Catharsis of Rhetorik
Format: CD EP
Label: self-released
Rated: *****
Well, this is a release I've been waiting to get my hands on for a few months, not long after I favorably reviewed Accolade's 'Legends' album. This CD EP, 'Catharsis of Rhetorik' counts as the band's third release, and is markedly different than previous material, in part due to a more gothy-electronic format, and the participation of keyboardist Sean Henry. It was also mixed and mastered by Martin Bowes of Attrition. How's that for cred? Still, Accolade has not forsaken their Celtic/pagan leanings, and it works fine in this more electronic environment. Drums and percussion are programmed here as Cade Burkhammer does not appear on this one.

First track "Gaze" unfolds with shoegazer ambience in a medium slow tempo, and Stefanie's beautiful, ethereal vocals. Very nice melody, sparse but stately drum track. Reminds me a bit of Lush's more atmospheric side, and something you might hear on 4AD or Projekt Records. Stefanie's wordless vocals also float in the background like an angel. Pure bliss! "Bleeding Cry" continues in this vein picking up the tempo just a little with bit more flowery melody. Material here is a bit darker than on previous Accolade releases, but no less enchanting. "March" sounds like something that might play cinematically at the beginning of a medieval battle; lots of beating percussion, and a simple opening melody line sung wordlessly by Stefanie in unison with low strings. The beating of drums (and likely shields!) continues more intensely running into a rapid pace with some keyboard cellos improvising on the melody. Stefanie sings the lyrics of the song over the pounding of drums and nothing else. If you were a medieval warrior and had this as your battle cry, you'd probably be inspired to join the fray and die for your cause.

"Carthage Fog" is a slow, highly atmospheric instrumental, ominous, dark and full of mystery. Final track "Heaven" is a song about dying and going to...heaven, of course! Despite its somewhat melancholy ambience and stately pace, it is rather positive lyrically, and Stefanie's angelic voice and the musical arrangement makes it a grand exodus. Overall, a great EP, and I'm sure people are going to want to hear more of this version of Accolade. If you enjoy artists like Love is Colder Than Death, Chandeen, Emilie Autumn, Love Spirals Downward, Stoa, This Mortal Coil, Faith & Disease, Bel Canto and Attrition, you will undoubtedly like this. It would be an excellent addition to the "heavenly voices" portion of your collection.

NID: A Fair Masquerade

 Posted by eskaton   Dark / Gothic / Wave / New Wave / Dark Wave / Industrial Gothic
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Jun 01 2015
Artist: NID (@)
Title: A Fair Masquerade
Format: CD
Label: La Esencia (@)
Rated: *****
I was unfamiliar with this Italian band, but just looking at the cover (yeah, I know....) gives some impression of where they're heading. The label describes this album as 'a kind of baroque parade where everyone wears a pompous and amazing mask on the stage of life but just because everyone is trying to stand out and emerge, in the end we realize that we are only equal and homologated.' Yes, we're heading into goth territory. But that's OK; I like goth territory. Putting in the disc, this is somewhat confirmed, as we are met with bombastic, orchestral music reminiscent of Arcana or The Protagonist with whispered vocals. This gives way to 'Again,' with mellow acoustic guitar and smooth baritone vocals. 'Shattered Flowers' changes it up again with synth and drum machine straight out of 'Geography' era Front 242. 'North´s Fire' brings it back with chanting and spoken word with acoustic guitar and chimes. Nicely done. 'Ultimo' is a bit more militaristic, with pounding drums and shouted vocals before mellowing out once again. We see variations of these ideas throughout the rest of the album. Some of the standouts include 'Einsamkeit - Buried In Sun,' which reminds me stylistically of Current 93's rendition of 'All the Pretty Little Horses.' Another is 'Standing Among The Ruins,' which is a bit different in that it is stripped down with what sounds like staticy shortwave radio at the end. 'White Rooms' is a good close to the album, with flute and guitar that slowly build in intensity (although I don't really get what the deal was with the chanting of 'Satan' in the middle of the track). Overall, this is pretty good stuff. If you like your neo-folk with a gothic chaser, this is one to pick up. This album weighs in at around 61 minutes and is limited to 500 copies.

Za La Thu: Ritual of the Abyss/77+ (7+7)/7 +77=156

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Dark / Gothic / Wave / New Wave / Dark Wave / Industrial Gothic
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May 03 2015
Artist: Za La Thu (@)
Title: Ritual of the Abyss/77+ (7+7)/7 +77=156
Format: CD EP
Label: self-released
Rated: *****
Za La Thu is a ritualistic occult metal band from Enterprise, Alabama consisting of The Awakened One (instrumentation) and Katera (vocals). I know what you're thinking - Jeez, yet another black/death/doom metal band with occult overtones, ie, Black Sabbath, Morbid Angel, Burzum, Candlemass, etc., etc, insert name of your favorite satanic metal act...well, no, not really. The Awakened One has been on this path since 1995 and throughout the years the band name has changed from Muses of Chaos, DRALA, The Awakened One, The Inverted, Aethyria, Servants of Twilight and now ZÄ Lä Thü (pronounced ZAY-LAH-THEW). I don't know if there were any releases under those previous monikers, but what we're concerned with is the NOW, these two releases, 'Ritual of the Abyss', and '77+ (7+7)/7 +77=156', which they call "demos", but are available for sale on their website, so I call them "product". Although they're home recordings, the sound quality isn't bad, just not as polished as they'd be in a professional ($$$) studio, but I'm not complaining. As I implied, this isn't your typical occult metal outfit, and although the music is guitar-based, also employed are Roland Guitar Synth, drum machines, sitar, sax, Udu drums, native flutes as well as other world music instruments.

The CDs (actually, CD-Rs) are really EPs, being just a few not very long tracks. The first CD,'Ritual of the Abyss', opens with an invocation by a famous occultist (no, not Crowley, but his personal secretary, Israel Regardie) on "Opening of the Portal" which instrumentally is a combination of metal and gothiness. There's quite a mixture of metal styles in the music, and although well played, tends to be a little chaotic. Za La Thu gets down to business in the next track, "Into the Void, Beyond the Sun" which instrumentally is more straight-ahead riff-based metal with dual vocals by The Awakened One and Catera. Lyrics are Ritual Magick-based, and nicely melodic. In fact, the track is more prog-metal than death, doom or black metal. I could see this going down a storm live. "One Star in Sight" is closer to death-doom-black metal with deep, growly, screamy vocals, but then it gets riff-fancy in the guitar leads halfway through. No bout a doubt it, The Awakened One has put his many years of basement practice to good use here honing his guitar chops. So that wraps up the first disc.

Second disc, '77+ (7+7)/7 +77=156' is way different. For one thing, Catera handles all the vocals. The music also seems more Goth. "Hail, Hail Babylon" makes few concessions to metal, being primarily synth-based. "Flame of Torture" is more in the metal-mode again, and although an okay track, doesn't have the impact of the opener, but it does have a sort of middle-eastern overtone. "Val-Kree" is really a strange tune. metal at the core, yet with a sitar lead and some clever changes and effective chanting. People looking for something really different should dig this. Before you know it, it's over, leaving you wanting more.

Definitely worth checking out, and probably worth buying too. They also have some pretty neat Za La Thu tee-shirts for sale on their website as well. The Awakened One made a good choice in adding Catera to Za La Thu, and I think they may still be looking for a drummer (adding a bass player and keyboardist might not be a bad idea either) but if you're thinking of applying, you might want to bone up on your occult texts, and I'm not talking about the Necronomicon or LeVay's Satanic drivel. These folks seem to be passionate and serious about what they're doing; posers be warned.

Friends of Alice Ivy: The Golden Cage and its Mirrored Maze

 Posted by eskaton   Dark / Gothic / Wave / New Wave / Dark Wave / Industrial Gothic
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Apr 25 2015
Artist: Friends of Alice Ivy (@)
Title: The Golden Cage and its Mirrored Maze
Format: CD
Label: Elysium Sounds
Rated: *****
I was unfamiliar with these artists, but evidently this Australian duo has been part of the scene for a long time, as part of the 1990's darkwave band Ostia. Surrounding the core of Amps and Kylie are a host of guest musicians from such other notable Australian bands as Ikon (Clifford Ennis) and Eden (Adam Calaitzis), as well as orchestral harpist Megan Reeve, cellists Zora Barisic and Emily Williams, and classical soprano Frances Catherine Brüggener. Add lyrical inspirations ranging from Romantic era poet Percy Bysshe Shelley to astronomer Carl Sagan, and this promises to be an interesting disc. As the press release explains, 'The emotional heart of the album is a return to beauty and a nostalgic sense of wonder.' So let's get to the music. When I first put the disc in the player, I had to check to see if this was put out by Projekt or some similar label. This reminds me a lot of old Love Spirals Downward ('Ardor') or Faith and Disease, with its beautiful female vocals and delicate instrumentation. At other times it takes on a medieval vibe reminiscent of Cold Meat Industry act Arcana (e.g., 'Song of Lyra'). If Hyperium Records were still around to put out their Heavenly Voices compilations, Friends of Alice Ivy would fit right in. But this is not just worth checking out for nostalgia; this is excellent in its own right today. This is simply beautiful and it's a shame that there isn't more music like this today. Well done. This album weighs in at around 44 minutes.

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