Friday, June 18, 2021

Music Reviews

Hired.Life: Her Demoversion

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Artist: Hired.Life
Title: Her Demoversion
Format: CD + Download
Label: Advoxya Records (@)
Distributor: Poponaut
Rated: * * * * *
The Kaliningrad-based Russian trio of Hired.Life returns after several years back to the front of their homegrown scene and got recently picked-up the Hungarian-based Advoxya Records for the signing to this new release. As you may know, Hired.Life was established out of the ashes of the Russian Dark Electro project Denergized, which had made a massive impact out of the Advoxya roster from 2006 ongoing.

Hired.Life has been founded by band-leader Serge Vorobyov after the sudden and unexpected split with his former partner DS (aka Andrey Kuznetsov) in 2008. Under the Hired.Life moniker and with different co-musicians throughout the years, this project could release one full-length album entitled “End Of Line” on the Russian Gravitator label, a download-only sort of compilation named “We Don't Promise You A Rose Garden”, out on the now out-of-business Russian net-label Synthematik Records and also a few self-released, dowmload-only items available from their very own Bandcamp website (for example “Terminus” in 2015).

Hired.Life in its current formation exists of Sergey Vorobyov (programming, vocals), Pavel Blagov (programming, guitars), and Darya Revizonskaya (programming, keyboards). “Her Demoversion” is their latest album and kind of a final statement to end the era of Denergized, it tells us stories about memories, edited memories and about living the whole life in memories. Finally without any happy emotions, it's rather sort of depressive sounding outfit. The beautifully designed 4-panel digipack-wallet with its rather Synthwave-/Outrun-music style looking cover art is stunning for sure, but musically Hired.Life have developed into other territories.

After the ominous and haunting start under Denergized, the music itself has turned forward into a kind of straight and linear produced Electro-Rock outfit with a constant Dark Wave influence.The addition of Pavel Blagov also integrated Rock-/Metal-like guitar insertions into the musically outfit of this trio. “Her Demoversion” and its tracks surprise with its generally straight direction and compositions following a classic verse-chorus-bridge scheme. Actually only Serge's voice reminds on earlier days but also the integration of the Russian language into one or another track is no longer a no-go. “Empty Cell” is a relic out of the Denergized days, here reinterpreted in two different versions to close this chapter. “13th” is a classy danceable tune with howling Rock guitars and well installed synth lines.

My rather electronic-minded heart in me misses a bit a more tricky outfit here and there in the synthesizer arrangements but that's just me. Hired.Life have opened themselves to reach a wider musically oriented audience and their album title sounds anything else than a demo version, although the lyrically message is still a twisting one.
Overall quite consumable darker-minded Electro-Rock music.

Der Blutharsch and the infinite church of the leading hand: Rejoice

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Artist: Der Blutharsch and the infinite church of the leading hand (@)
Title: Rejoice
Format: CD + Download
Label: WKN (@)
Rated: * * * * *
You may recall encountering Der Blutharsch somewhere along the line if you've been listing to goth-industrial music for a good long while. Back in the mid-late '90s Der Blutharsch started as a side project of The Moon Lay Hidden Beneath a Cloud, an Austrian medieval neofolk electro-acoustic duo composed of Albin Julius and Alzbeth. They put out a bunch of albums but never made it to the 21st century as Albin Julius decided to devote most of his musical energy to Der Blutharsch. That project began as a martial industrial/dark ambient kind of thing, and that's undoubtedly where I heard of this before. Heard of, but never really heard, unless it was a track on a compilation. Sort of odd considering I did have a fondness for martial industrial in the late '90s/early 2000s, and this project put out a lot of releases. I guess Der Blutharsch just wasn’t on my radar back then. Anyway, somewhere along the line Der Blutharsch changed its name to Der Blutharsch and the infinite church of the leading hand, but put out (different) release sunder both names, and may even continue to do so.

Things kick off with "Coming," a nine minute trudge in the neoclassical/martial vein with Marcato strings in an ascending and sort of repeating progression with real drums beating out the tempo and intermittent vocals that are more spoken than sung. The effect is serious, tense and cinematic. (I can imagine it being used as a theme for some intensely dramatic movie or series.) There's also some sustained overdriven guitar chords accenting for effect as well. This may be just what some people who haven't heard Der Blutharsch in a while might expect.
The neoclassical melts away with "Fear," a distorted guitar driven thing underpinned with muscular drumming and reminding me a lot of Swans, until the vocals come it. I don't know if the voice is male or female but to me it was reminiscent of David Tibet (Current 93), but there's a section with slide guitar that had me thinking Legendary Pink Dots. Just like the Dots though, this is uber-hard to classify. Sort of psychedelic with a dark malevolent edge.

"Darkness *" definitely sounds psychedelic-lysergic with a slow paced beat, tremolo guitar, whispered vocal, and even some hippy flute. This is the kind of music old heads probably wish was still being made, though precious little of it is anymore. This is more Manson Family psychedelic than flower children though. The pace and intensity picks up on "Darkness **" with an underpinning of neoclassical strings in high drama mode. The vocal is bolder too, but not as upfront as it could be. Title track ("Rejoice") is the one thing that sounds most like a rock song, maybe even kraut rock; Amon Duul II and Hawkwind come to mind. Vocals are more spoken than sung (except on the word "rejoice") here and there is plenty of improvisational flute.

Final track "Burn" is over 10 minutes long and the quasi-tribal rhythm at the opening absolutely reminds me of early My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult. Vocals are sung but they're so mixed into the music that it's not easy to make out the words without listening really really hard. It does seem to have a ritualistic bent though. The track dances on this way throughout until it finally peters out, with spoken word samples revering the Prince of Darkness, almost a nod to MLWTTKK. All in all this is a very cool Der Blutharsch album, definitely worthy of owning.

Nite Risk: Finale

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Artist: Nite Risk (@)
Title: Finale
Format: 12" + Download
Label: Fellowshipwreck (@)
Rated: * * * * *
There is no faster way to move to the front of my review line here at Chain D.L.K. than sending me vinyl. For me, vinyl trumps all other formats and shows me that you're seriously committed about making and preserving your music because it's expensive to produce, often sounds better (than CD, digital download, cassette, etc.) and will likely not be forgotten in a month or two. That being said, this limited edition white vinyl record is already sold out on the Fellowshipwreck website (just released Feb. 1, 2021), even though I only received it yesterday. Oh well, too bad. Maybe they'll press more copies...someday. On to the band and its music though.

Nite Risk is two dudes from Denton, Texas, just four and a half hours north of that other Texas synth duo, Hyperbubble. These guys are nothing like Hyperbubble though, and that's not a bad thing; we only need one band like Jess & Jeff DeCuir's outfit. Nite Risk's brand of synthosity is more akin to Cold Wave, although they describe themselves as dark synth/electropop. From the one-sheet they sent with the album- "Nite Risk sing of uneasiness and hope. They keep things simple using only synthesizers, a drum machine, and haunting voices from the past. Imagine Depeche Mode walking castle halls by candlelight or Midnight Juggernauts taking their horses from a canter to a gallop and you will get the idea."

So there's an admitted goth element I guess (even though these guys don't really look goth), but I'm still going with Cold Wave. The synth sounds and synthwork (as well as the drum machine) is old, old school, like early '80s; quite simple, thick in most places (nearly sludgy at times) and the synth sounds are uber-familiar. As for the vocals, I am definitely reminded of pre-'Dare' Human League, and some of the acts on the British Some Bizzare label. The recording sounds fairly lo-fi, but it does work for this kind of music. There are 10 tracks of mostly upbeat songs with vocals, and the vocalist has a good voice for this type of material, strong and distinctive. (Think Phil Oakley crossed with Peter Murphy, but a little more of the former than the latter.) I don't know if they under-mixed the drum machine on purpose, but the synths definitely override the rhythm taking a bit away from the album's danceability, lacking some punch. I doubt these guys had EDM in their minds anyway, so maybe that doesn't make much of a difference. While there seem to be no "instant hits" with super-infectious hooks, some of the songs are likely to grow on you over time, such as "Life Dreams," "Deja Vu," and "Sign of the Times." The last couple of tracks are a little draggy but I think the band was going more for atmosphere than anything else on them.

I did notice that the vinyl sounded a bit murkier than the digital album, but that's not surprising. Perhaps Nite Risk might benefit from covering a classic Cold Wave song (such as Kraftwerk's "Showroom Dummies"; Human League's "Only After Dark"; Norma Loy's "Shiny Dream"; B-Movie's "Nowhere Girl"; or Signal Aout 42's "Dead is Calling," to name a few). I think there are a few darkwave/electropop oriented radio stations in Germany that would eat this stuff up and readily add it to their playlists. (I've been listening to a lot of world radio lately; definitely better than U.S. radio.) The album artwork by Pioneers of the New Idea is also rather interesting, although I don't see much connection with the music. I only wish (for your sake) they weren't sold out of the vinyl, but Nite Risk are still worth checking out anyway.

A Prayer For The Worst: Lullabies For Babies

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Artist: A Prayer For The Worst
Title: Lullabies For Babies
Format: CD & 12" & Download
Label: Lonely Demon Records (@)

Herr B worked several years on his solo project debut, at first as 'Children Of God' before he settled on A Prayer For The Worst. He finally accomplished it's debut due to last years spring lockdown and it got lovingly mastered by Friedemann Kootz who started to make himself a name in industrial / experimental / minimimal circles. Otherwise this is a complete solo work - even the design.
The soft pink artwork paired with an mediveal like image showing the revenge of the pigs is a hidden hint on the possibiltiy of everything getting turned upside down.

With "The Awakening" an electro ghoul lures you into this viciously soft journey through darker realms. With the aid of nothing but electronics and vocals a melancholic song cycle unfolds, soothing the listener into a comfortable mellow mood with it's addictive poison spread slowly. Not the darkest black but shades in different guises of grey are the main theme.
Midtempo minimal ballads, not necessarily with vocals, enter the stage one after another. A disillusion goes hand in hand with it, saving 'Lullabies For Babies' from gothic cliches and pushing all these melodramatic sentiments paired with irony and pragmatism into the post electro-punk area although titles like "Funeral March", "A Cry In The Desert", "A Lament" and "Last Breath" call out to a certain existentialistic point of view.
The melodramatic sentiments paired with implied irony and a pragmatic approach reaches a certain positive punk level in the heritage of Virgin Prunes, Fad Gadget, à;GRUMH...,Boris Mikulic a.o., paired with the expertise of someone who actually lived through it all.

Lullabies For Babies is a coherent and enjoyable listening. Many of the 13 compositions are rather short but carefully shaped, the vocals and lyrics are supportive without demanding full attention, the keyboard uses a palette between organ and classic synthesizer sounds in a minimalistic way. A surprising powerful and equally mellow debut fitting with it's subtle melancholy perfect in our times.

This album is one of the few independent productions that actually appears as LP (in soft pink Vinyl), CD (soft pink Digipak) and digital.

Stillnox: Aten

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Artist: Stillnox (@)
Title: Aten
Format: CD + Download
Label: self-released
Rated: * * * * *
Wow! Two reviews of goth electro-darkwave projects in a row. Guess this makes up for all the ambient stuff I've been receiving to review lately. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.) This time it's from Martin Seraphin's (Manchester, UK) Stillnox band, now augmented by La Toya - vocals, lyrics; and Greg Ros (Rain of Sorrow) - synths, programming, production and mastering. I reviewed Stillnox's previous album, 'Mercury' back in March 2019, and I have to say on first listen that 'Aten' is a whole lot better. One of the problems with the previous effort was Martin's voice. (He sang most of the lead vocals.) It was a bit wobbly and flat. There's some of that here, but he's adjusted his style and doesn't step beyond his ability much, utilizing a more forceful, direct speak-singing style which is fine for this type of music. Song-wise and instrumentally the game has been upped as well. The opener, "Fade Away," is strong track with dual vocals by Martin and La Toya with a good hook chorus. "Spellbound" has an interesting off-kilter instrumental opening before launching into the lyrical body of the song, a Wagnerian sort of rock duet. For some strange reason I can imagine Bjorn Ironside and Gunnhild (from the TV series 'Vikings') singing this together. I suppose you would have to have seen the show... The harmonies these folk use are very Eastern European...not surprising considering they're all from Poland.

The first song that really perked up my ears though was "War of the Worlds." It's a killer track with effective vocals by Seraphin, a strange chorus and oodles of dark dancefloor potential. "Broken Flowers" is a nice plaintive ballad with the vocal spotlight on La Toya. The real surprise was the next track, which I heard before looking at the name. The guitar in it immediately sounded like Duran Duran, and damn! if this isn't a cover of "Ordinary World," and a rather good one too. Not the easiest song to cover well, and Stillnox doesn't skimp on the arrangement. La Toya takes the main lead vocal while Martin handles the supplementary voice. (He sounds a bit like The Church's Steve Kilbey on this one.) These guys have definitely upped their game!

Back to the electro-goth on "When The Man Is Lost" which must have lyrics in Polish because all I could understand was the chorus "When The Man Is Lost" lyrics. No matter, still a good song. Title track "Aten" (did I mention this album has an Egyptian theme?) is a little overwrought, but still perfectly acceptable here. There is a bit of a bog on the next few tracks ("Noctnisa," "Awake," "Razor Blade") but the band bounces back nicely on "Amarna" and concludes majestically on "Nefertiti." This is an album worthy of your attention, and I think the band is ready for, and deserving of a label deal.