Saturday, September 26, 2020
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Music Reviews

Artist: VV.AA.
Title: Aural Hypnox - Underworld Transmissions
Format: CD
Label: Aural Hypnox (@)
Rated: *****
On the occasion of the issue of this precious release - or rather a sort of re-release actually! -, some members of the Helixes collective performed some transmissions at Les Voutes in Paris, where they performed some transmissions for the listening and maybe spiritual pleasure of the people, who managed to take part to such a rare event. A certain secrecy, maybe related to banal geographical reasons, considering that the centre of their lodge is in Oulu in the icy region of Northern Ostrobothnia in Finland - is far from any big fancy city, and maybe as they're not really interested in large audiences, made some of their material not so easily accessible also due to the strictly limited editions of the stuff under the imprint of Aural Hypnox. This CD (in 150 copies coming in an awesome package) is the collection of the remastered versions of a series of even more limited (just 50 for each recording) cassettes called "Underworld Transmissions", rare improvised recordings filmed and captured on tape in their subterranean lodge, made by different artists of the Helixes collective, differently combined in different seances. Those boxes of cassettes, including six sessions recorded between February 2014 and April 2015 were sold out quite quickly, so that this edition sounds like a bargain for all those listeners who got trapped by the impressive quality of the output of this mysterious imprint. Some sessions (in particular "Seance II/2014" or the entrancing "Seance III/2014") feature opening stages that sound like preparatory for the transmissions that the artist gradually forge, but it can be normal and I'd say it's the fascinating aspect of any improvised recordings. My personal seances are the opening and, if they are in chronological order, the elder one "Seance I/2013", due to the ancestral fascination of the combination between a sort of sinister horn and a dark choir, supposedly recorded by some techniques adopted for binaural recordings, considering their heavy hypnotic power, and the last two recordings "Seance IV/2014" and "Seance I/2015", mostly for their dynamics whose ascensional crescendo runs parallel to the saturation of the sonic spheres, but the remaining three sessions are likewise catchy. If you're a lover of ritual dark ambient, but simply if you're relatively new to these sonorities (maybe cause you got fascinated by some performance of projects like the one by Phurpa) grab your copy, if you don't have to wait until another re-release.

Lupe: Burn

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Artist: Lupe (@)
Title: Burn
Format: CD + Download
Label: Alcyone Records (@)
Rated: *****
Solo album (sort of) from Lupe, the lead singer of Greek goth-rock band Mosquito, with some of the members helping out on this album. Instrumentally, Mosquito has that typical goth-rock sound ala Siouxsie & the Banshees, Sisters of Mercy, the Cure, Fields of the Nephilim, et al. Lupe's vocals are something else again; an operatic baritone with plenty of vibrato that leans towards the pretentious, then dives right into it with abandon. Not all baritone though; he does sometimes extend his range into soprano with falsetto technique, and even down to basso. Now this kind of works for Mosquito when they're rocking out, but in this solo setting of morbid orchestration largely comprised of piano and heavy (synth) strings it can be difficult to take. It's a bit like Klingon Opera; definitely not for everyone. Themes are ultra-serious and melodramatic wringing out every bit of emotion Lupe can muster. From what you hear you might expect some strange long-haired character draped in velvet and leather but Lupe actually looks very normal. It's hard to reconcile this level grandiosity with anything else I could possibly think of. Even Scott Walker at his most unorthodox doesn't compare to this. Lyrics are in English but I'm not going to do the disservice of quoting any of them out of context here. (Some get a little lost in translation.) It ranges from brooding melancholy to overwrought anguish. There are some who are going to love this, but I'm willing to bet they're definitely in the minority. For me, as a whole 'Burn' was tough to take; a little goes a long, long way.

Artist: Cathedral In Flames (@)
Title: Children Of The Blackest Hole [EP]
Format: 12" + Download
Label: self-released
Rated: *****
I've said it before - send me vinyl and you go to the top of the review pile. Here's a band who did just that, and all the way from Prague, Czech Republic, and a gothic rock outfit no less. (I'm tickled black by this!) 'Children Of The Blackest Hole' is the debut EP by Cathedral In Flames, the band being Phil Lee Fall - lead vocals; Gatsby - bass, programming; Billac de Ville - guitar; Ambra Von Bernstein - backing vocals. The EP is only five tracks but they're all good, and somewhat different. The information so far had to be gleaned elsewhere on the web, being that there was no one-sheet accompanying the album, and nothing on the album but the band name, album title, and track titles. I also have to assume this was self-released as there is no label info either. First, you need to know this is not "modern goth," that sounds either very electro or alternative melodic metal with a sprig of darkness. This is old school goth that harkens back to Sister of Mercy, Christian Death, and Fields of the Nephilim. Great! (There's some labels that could actually use an act like this on their roster...use an act like this on their I hear an Echo?) Okay, so about Fall's vocals - take a little Andrew Eldritch, and some Carl McCoy, season liberally with Pete Steele, top it off with a dollop of Nick Cave and a touch of Till Lindemann, add a dash of a Slavic accent and you have the voice of Cathedral In Flames. Deeply baritone with a whiff of pretentiousness, just the way good goth should sound. Beginning strong with "Red Car," which sounds a little derivative but effective nevertheless, the song has all the hallmarks of old school goth, and a dynamic chorus to boot. Fortunately, all the lyrics are in English. Title track ("Children of the Blackest Hole") is up next with a change of pace, a slower, moody number that shows some diversity in the band with some spot on piano. Ambra's backing vocals on this one adds effective atmosphere. Speaking of atmosphere, "Hungry As The Grave" is full of it, and once again Ambra earns her keep in the vocal department. Instrumentally, the bands works very well together with no one particularly dominating, but all striving together to bring their dark sound to fruition. "Python" is the song I saw in the band's performance video, and I have to say that Ambra appears to be the most animated member of the group, and quite a looker as well. The song is a solid piece of work, although not my favorite on the EP. That honor would fall to the last track, "Gunslinger's Blues," with a Nick Cave meets Ennio Morricone vibe. Plenty dramatic, and a little bit creepy, something you just have to hear. Ambra's vocals on this one remind me slightly of Die Form's Éliane P. This EP is definitely going to leave you wanting more from Cathedral In Flames, and I hope they remember me when they put their first full album out. A worthy purchase, and recommended on vinyl, even if you have to jump through a few hoops here in the U.S. to get it, currency conversion and whatnot.

Artist: LYCIA
Title: In Flickers
Format: CD & 12"
Label: Projekt Records (@)
Rated: *****

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With In Flickers (2018) LYCIA present an excellent, unpretentious, very intimate and at the same time emotionally charged album (which is not a contradiction as LYCIA were able to demonstrate with songs such as “She” or “The Path”).

The programmed drum patterns are carefully arranged, unobtrusive, but always supportive - mostly mixed in the overall sound: very aesthetic.
The chord progressions of each song are simple / modest, but very fitting and aesthetic as well.
Rock-inspired, heavily distorted guitar and bass are gently embedded in synth sound voicings and fine melody ornaments. They all merge into big ambient soundscapes, over which the fragile, breathy voices of Mike VanPortfleet and Tara VanFlower lie like fog.

The vocals are also kept very simple: very fine, tender and intimate. With Mike, the vocals are more breathy (he might like to show a little more of his vocal sound!). Really nice melodies (mostly “ahh” backing melodies) very clearly sung and with a very authentic, natural sounding voice from Tara. The two voices are really well combined.

The whole album seems to be from one single source: a defined, very meditative mood, with a lot of space and an overall dark-melancholic spirit. Everything is coordinated, partially almost a bit monotonous, mostly calm and with generally little mood and sound contrasts, but with atmospheric-distorted and milky-foggy soundscapes, which definately has its charm. The sounds are very well chosen for all instruments and well-coordinated!

If there's one thing I miss about this album, it's the strong contrasts and tensions. Everything follows everything. Sometimes I really wanted at least a few more powerful sounds to be set in the compositions. The individual instruments and synth sounds could - at least in phases - be played more independently and take up a little more leeway. In this regard, I particularly like “Rewrite” because the bass here is strikingly more present than usual, which is really good! Or “25 Years”, in which the vocals of Mike and Tara are set a little stronger. In addition, this song has more metallic, penetrating sounds (somehow bell-like) coupled with more massive drums. Such elements fit perfectly and do not detract from the overall meditative mood.

Most of the pieces sound like they were played or sung through fog, very atmospheric and in places almost romantic-beautiful, in a somber way - obscure and dreamy (pieces like "She", "Mist", "34 Palms", "Late Night Solitude”, “Autumn Into Winter”). Songs like “A Failure” or “Mist” are a more rhythmic. I find songs such as “In Flicker”, “The Path”, “She” and “Rewrite” particularly well done, because they are very defined and original, with all the musical peculiarities of LYCIA. “The Path” is extremely atmospheric and expressive and my personal favorite (great drum programming!).

A wonderful album! Especially for those special bitter-sweet, melancholic, dreamy moments when you want to immerse your soul in dark and gloomy moods.

Personal listening tip: “The Path”

What went through my head spontaneously: it could be exciting if there was a collaboration between LYCIA and the thereminist and singer Dorit Chrysler - at least for one song. I have the impression that they would fit together extremely well.

Artist: Vlad In Tears (@)
Title: Dead Stories Of Forsaken Lovers
Format: CD + Download
Label: Echozone (@)
Rated: *****
It's bands and albums like this that begs the question: "What is Goth (anymore)?" In years gone by it used to be a pretty easy question to answer. Siouxsie & the Banshees, the Cure, Sisters of Mercy? Sure. The Smiths, Gene Loves Jezebel, New Order, Evanescence - not so much. (And for this instance, let's not go down the darkwave road.) So what have we got when a band has a very gothy name (Vlad In Tears, sounds pretty bloody gothic to me), a gothy album title ('Dead Stories Of Forsaken Lovers'), and the band has a dark gothic look, but the music has all the earmarks of melodic metal. Musically, Vlad In Tears has more in common with bands like Amorphous, Dark Tranquility and Ghost (and maybe even Van Halen) than gothic metal bands like My Dying Bride, Lacuna Coil, Type O Negative and 69 Eyes. (Think of Vlad In Tears as more of a pop pseudo-goth metal outfit like HIM.) This Berlin-based band was founded by the three brothers Kris (vocals & piano), Lex (guitar) and Dario (bass) and their friend since preschool, Alex (drums). The band, originally based in Italy, started out by playing cover songs but soon created their own (kind of) dark sound. 'Dead Stories Of Forsaken Lovers' is their eighth album (since 2006) and I imagine they’ve build up quite a following since their inception. The album consists of 17 tracks, which is six or seven too many in my opinion, but we'll get to that later.

Opening strong with "We Die Together," vocalist Kris set the tone in the tune with a perfect bit of melodic pop metal that perks up the ears and alienates, well...nobody. Never been so happy about a suicide pact for lovers. All the elements are in place, hooks fastened tightly to the skin, a commercial winner all the way around. Bit of a mating ritual in the sexual conquest theme of "Tonite," the obligatory "puttin' on the moves" number. "Born Again" (with guest vocalist Lex Megaherz) isn't about religion (thankfully) but rather being redeemed, renewed and re-invigorated by a woman. By this time the album is settling into that familiar melodic metal groove, and for those who love it, it's well...groovy. For those (like me) finding it a bit clichéd, I'm wondering if this is pretty much all there is here. From a pop metal (emphasis on pop) standpoint, the songs are mostly pretty good. From a goth standpoint though, not nearly brooding, dark or edgy enough. Songs tend to have that modern alternative sound that just seems so ubiquitous in rock today. At least the major portion before the Special Acoustic Tracks ends strong with “Tears Won’t Fall,” a neat rocker with a few short, mellow breaks. If the album ended there, it would have been just fine, but no- 7 acoustic ballads get tacked on weighing the whole down like a millstone.

First up is a remake of Alice In Chains’ “Man in the Box,” a pretty big MTV hit for them, but certainly no ballad. It’s just Kris and his piano trying to channel Layne Staley’s emotion, but he has to work too hard at it to come close. I could have lived with that if it was the only bonus track, but six more follow, and that’s just waaaayyy too much. It’s not that these minimally orchestrated (piano or guitar, the last being a little of both) tunes are mediocre (they’re not), it’s just that after a couple of numbers it becomes a yawn-inducing experience. It would have been much better to spread them out over the next few albums rather than shoot the wad all at once here. Also, the way the last song (“Entrapped Soul”) just ends inconclusively, it sounds like a demo. Not good. The album would have rated higher if not for those last 7 cuts, which, like it or not are still part of the album.


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