Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Music Reviews

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.

Les Anges De La Nuit: The Witch

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Artist: Les Anges De La Nuit (@)
Title: The Witch
Format: CD + Download
Label: Echozone (@)
Rated: * * * * *
After 15 years in the project, four albums and one EP, Les Anges De La Nuit are back with their fifth electro-darkwave studio album, 'The Witch.' Where have they been all this time? Hiding out the pandemic in South Florida, I presume. The band consists of songwriter, producer and vocalist Richard Abdeni and keyboardist Anthony Stuart. If you didn't know better, they sound as if they could be from the Left Bank of Paris. For an American band, they sound very French, and sometimes Abdeni sings in his native française as well.

The album is 14 tracks with 2 remixes and 2 edits for a total of 55 minutes. The band opens with its strongest and title track, "The Witch," which begins with an appropriately witchy Halloween sound effect witch cackle before launching into a medium-pace dancefloor stomper, with strong vocal and campy lyrics from Abdeni- "She walks into the night and holds on to the light, She runs out of my sight and goes on for a fight with fear. She wanders through the rear and whispers to my ears, A sign across her eyes, she has to say goodbye with tears...Here comes the witch, Long live the witch, Here comes the Witch, Long Live the Witch..." Good goth! This is a real hoot. Love it!

Too bad the rest of the album isn't as good as this. The follow-up track, "Trois Points de Suture" (in French of course) almost sounds like a different band. The vocals are pushed way back, and it sounds like Richard is singing down the hall...in another room. Anthony Stuart's synths are right up front and on target though. The second-best song on the album, "Voyage" is next. Once again lyrics are in French and the vocal isn't buried this time. Quite a charming French darkwave song. Throughout the album the mood is very dancefloor darkwavey, but Abdeni's subdued baritone vocals aren't bold enough to sustain interest throughout 14 tracks, and while Anthony Stuart does his darnedest to keep things sounding interesting musically, the songs tend to sound too similar from the mid-point on.

With the exception of "The Witch," the songs in French tend to sound better than the ones in English. There are times when the album veers into EBM territory, and it makes me wonder what Signal Aout 42 are up to these days (yeah, Belgian I know, but close enough). Still, in spite of its shortcomings, 'The Witch' still has merit. How many good French electro-darkwave bands are there still around these days anyway, especially ones that happen to be tucked away in the Miami area.

Scatterface: 2020

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Artist: Scatterface (@)
Title: 2020
Format: CD & 12" & Download
Label: Echozone (@)
Rated: * * * * *
German artist, producer and songwriter Chris Techritz, formally known as Scatterface, has been creating songs since he was 16 back in 2001. He wanted to start a nu-metal band ala KoRn, and eventually became a founding member of German Industrial band =fudge= in which he is the keyboardist/vocalist, and the band is still active with him. As Scatterface though, Techritz is up to something entirely different. If variety is the spice of life, then '2020' is the Sichuan hot pot of rock. In order to make this album Techritz enlisted a variety of international singers and musicians to put his music across. The album opens with "SC4TTERF4CE," a song that starts out electro (synths and programmed drums), moves into metal (guitar) and even has a rap section. Participants include Husky Wolfenstain (Bahamas) - concept & samples; Delia Tamasanu (Romania) - voice acting; Jimmy Konsta (Greece) - guitar solo; Amon Lopez (Spain) - vocals, Bindi The First (India) – rap vocals/words, Stephie Lune (Argentina) - vocals; and Chris providing the song lyrics. And that's just the first song! (There are numerous others involved in songs following.) Giving everybody credit for all the songs on this album in this review would not only be exhausting, it would take a lotta lotta space, so we'll just keep it to the highlights. "State of Change," which follows is a piano-based ballad nicely sung by the UK's Alice Banister. Following that we get "Null," a standard heavy metal rocker in the tradition of Iron Maiden, Judas Priest or Dio. The stars on this one are Oliver Fecci-Chiffi from the UK (composition, guitar, bass & drums), Jimmy Konsta on guitar again, and Craig Cairns (also from the UK) on vocals. Big change of pace with "Symptoms" which starts out as a chaotic dubstep electro-rap (Bindi The First rapping again), then turns into a blazing alterno-grrrl rocker with Abby Strickland (South Africa) on ethereal lead vocals. I have to admit that one was unusual.

"Lust II" is the first song that actually sounds like gothic rock, and Argentine songstress Stephie Lune's voice is a major factor in putting it across. "Snowflake," which follows begins as a nicely arranged ballad highlighted by Terrienne's (France) sweet voice and the cello of Maria Gabriela Rosas Oviol (Venezuela) and Piotr Galinski's (Poland) brief guitar solo. A new cellist, Nina Uzelac (Serbia) gives a neoclassical introduction to "Apocalypse" that has not much to do with the chaotic hot mess that's the bulk of this song. It's metal of a sort, but goes through so many changes all over the place it left me confused. If that was supposed to throw you for a loop, the brief intro to "Path of the Sun" ("Kyosis") is pure Westenized gamelan. "Path of the Sun" reminds me instrumentally of Mortiis, but Abby Strickland's vocals bear no similarity to Norwegian Håvard Ellefsen. The song is actually Eastern-themed. A lot of people contributed to "Endless Rain," but the one you will remember is Maria Grazia Zancopè for her outstanding vocals. Back to metal again with "Secret Rooms," largely the combination of Nahu Pryrope (Argentina) - composition and instruments, and Josephine Kyba (Italy) vocals. Although Kyba is a good vocalist, I think she got overpowered by Pryrope's powerful arrangement. "State of Truth" is an interesting track, even if it tries to be too many things at once, but all you are likely to remember from it is Maddy Behrens' (South Africa) vocals. Tracks 13 & 14 ("2020" & "Apnoea") are both instrumentals that Techritz probably had more to do with than anyone else, the first being techno morphing into a sort of Grand Gugnoil neoclassical, the second - a little girl nursery rhyme over space ambience. It gets very goth-metal on "We All Float"; kind of 'Brutal Planet' era Alice Cooper meets My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult. This is obviously the show-stopper.

You might think the album ends here, and you'd be partially right. There’s a 6:11 track of silence before the instrumental version of "Endless Rain," which we really didn't need, so just consider it a bonus track. Stuffing this much variety into a single album is risky business, especially if it's your first solo project, which really isn't a solo project at all. There's the question of identity (what are your listeners/fans going to identify with) and even what genre to associate the project with. The album has enough metal inclinations to lean it in that direction, but this really isn't a metal album, although some things on it are solid metal. I don't know a lot of musician/producers who have had a lot of success cross-breeding musical styles like this but I do know one - Yves Schelpe's Psy'Aviah. Yves has hit the mark more often than missed it, due to good songwriting and finding the right people to carry it off. It seems as though Chris Techritz is following a similar path, even if there are some bumps in the road. Most of the tracks on '2020' are really good, and a few are extraordinary. Once you get past the non-homogeneous aspects of the music, it is a very enjoyable ride. The booklet/CD artwork is very cool too. Since this is being released on vinyl as well (only 16 Euros) I'd opt for that while supplies last.

PlanetDamage: Relapse Protocol

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Artist: PlanetDamage
Title: Relapse Protocol
Format: CD + Download
Label: self-released
Most of Planetdamage’s debut album “Relapse Protocol” follows an electro-cyberpunk formula that is, on the surface at least, very familiar. Pulsing synth lines and drum patterns are the bed on which are laid angsty, semi-shouted, mildly distorted monologues about politics and the state of the world, infused with frustration and determination. It’s the lyrics that are placed centre stage, while the electronics are mostly there to provide a frame and a sense of urgency.

“Kompromat”’’s assertion that ‘history is deepfaked’, and “So Is Europe”’s talk of ‘sandbox fuckery’ (I think) and the remarkably understated side question, ‘what about the US?’. “Hi Rez Lo Life” turns its attention to online and social media, talking about pays per clicks and demanding “got no need for engagement” (always a difficult claim for musicians trying to promote themselves online), while “Vex” resorts to naming a selection of multinational companies to be viewed with suspicion. “The Mark” resorts to the chant of ‘question authority!’, which I have to suspect is a message that will only reach those who already do. Whilst I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with any of it, it does feel somewhat mansplained at times.

Unfortunately, despite being relatively short (40 minutes), it ends up being a little bit undramatic and one-note. The fact that the tracks are segued together seamlessly, sometimes a really interesting musical move, in this case unfortunately only serves to highlight the excessive similarities in tone and pace between each of the tracks. The vocal delivery is the same throughout all the tracks, which under-sells the message it’s trying to convey at times. There’s a decided lack of drama in the delivery, both lyrically and musically- the synths are mildly aggressive but never really given teeth, and fills and drops are sparse, curt and simple. The opening of “Regret Gunner” shows dramatic promise, then flattens out. And while not trying to bow to mainstream popular culture, a few stronger hooks or riffs would not have gone amiss.

There is some great techno work under there- “Firewalls” into the light acid tones of “The Mark” was a highlight area for me musically- but in the social-media driven industry that the lyrics complain about, I don’t think there’s enough distinct character, nor lyrical insightfulness, for this to really gain traction.