As we head into the halloween weekend, houses are being suitably be-decked in all things spooky and it is the perfect time to re-immerse yourself in the much misunderstood genre that is goth. Not only does it make for the perfect soundtrack, you will be reminded just how great some of the music was.
I Am The Dark sits on the edge of a wonderful vanishing point, one where recognisable music forms are being sucked into a musical black hole. Pop, indie and rock strands are all enticed over the edge into this abyss but just before the colour and vibrancy are replaced by a stark grey musical nihilism, Petty weaves them into his dark design. The result is a track that links the post-punk experimentations prior to the gothic movement becoming a parody of itself with the blunt trauma that boomed at the heart of nu-metal, it summons the spirits of old blues shamans and looks to write the sound track of a dystopian future.
The further down this dark, spacious path Leah Hinton takes her solo Murmur Tooth project, the more I love it. Always aware that there is more musical currency in atmosphere and anticipation than bombast and clutter, here she builds a powerful and punchy piece from the bear minimum of sonics. The icing on this rich, dark and bitter sweet cake is the melancholic trumpet that weaves its way through turning a shrouded modern indie song into a twisted, timeless Old World dirge.
Dealing with the sensitive issue of memory loss, something that at least is being spoken about more and more in the current climate, it instils the conversation with an intimate perspective and a cold dread that comes with the thought that everything that makes up your life, your history, your personality, your very being, could one day drop from your memory piece by piece leaving you anonymous and detached from everything you once were.
As always it is the combination of beauty and terror that Leah captures so elegantly, the tension and drifting atmosphere that floats about the listener as if they themselves were part of a chorus line from a gothic musical. Cold, deep, poignant and reflective but also gorgeous, ephemeral and eloquent. It’s what she does.
This year marks 40 years since the formation of Bauhaus. To mark this occasion, founding member David J has announced two one-off solo UK concerts, to occur in between several festival dates with Bauhaus vocalist Peter Murphy and their newly-announced world tour. The second of these shows, ‘Back to Beck (The Crucible of ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’), is a historic intimate event preceded by a larger London date.
Perry Farrell of Jane’s Addiction once described David J as the Avant of the Avant-garde, with good reason. Since Bauhaus disbanded in 1983, David has enjoyed a long and varied solo career. The first of Bauhaus’ members to actively step outside of the comfort zone of his original band, he released his debut album ‘Etiquette of Violence’ that same year and has since released numerous solo albums, founded the hugely successful Love and Rockets, produced and played bass with The Jazz Butcher, and joined the reformed Bauhaus again twice for world tours.
No matter what anyone tells you about current musical fashions, what the zeitgeist might happen to be blowing in from cooler taste making circles, what the papers say is the next big thing or any of that sort of rhetoric, one thing never changes. The underground, the outside, the left field, the other…call it what you will, is always a far more interesting place.
It eschews common consent, public opinion and the approval of the masses and just makes music for itself. How great is that? And proof of that can be found in Cream VIII’s (geddit?) arty, electro-punk disco dirge, This Burning. It recalls some of the greats of the outside curve, it updates Bauhaus, sits next to Nick Cave on the piano stool, squeezes the high drama and cliche out of The Sisters of Mercy and wanders the same sonic underworld as the likes of Depeche Mode, once they realised that pop was not where their future lay and sold their souls and synths to a darker power.
Cream VIII, (formally Cream 8 but Roman numerals are more in keeping with the mystique of the band) released a string of CD’s throughout the 90’s and early part of this century and seem to have kept active enough since to keep in the public eye, but a brand new video for the track This Burning is big news indeed.
And as a music and video combination the two fit together perfectly. A striking gothic goddess, sashaying and slinkily grooving her way through decaying urban wastelands and buildings in the process of being subsumed by nature put to industrial beats and clinical synth sounds. It’s a great combination, a vision of mystery and otherworldliness, dystopia and seduction juxtaposed with a sound that feels half-human, half-machine, desolate and dangerous.
Building on the futuristic sounds of those 80’s synth pioneers, This Burning is a slick blend of the cold, clinical, noir-ish musical drama of those originators and a modern darkwave, slow dance vibe. It grafts an electro-gothic undercurrent on to an almost industrial pop sensibility (is that even a thing? I guess it is now!) and the result is the perfect soundtrack to be emanating from our car stereo as we drive into that final sunrise of a dystopian future. The future has never sounded so wonderfully bleak or so horrifically beautiful.
Heptapod exists at a point where pop falls into a dark abyss, where electronica starts to become self aware, where gothic music finds its way from the dark basement venues and onto the neon glare of the clubland dance floors. Apocalyptic disco? Doom pop? Gothtronica? Take your pick, they all work. Imagine if Depeche Mode and Zola Jesus had a couple of strange children (how could they be anything other than strange from such a union) or if Nine Inch Nails went into the commercial pop business.
Because for all its mercurial ways there is something wonderfully commercial about Heptapod, not as in chart hit, TV advert, mainstream radio playlist type commercial but there is an army of movers and shakers, discerning pop pickers and tastemakers who will dig its otherness, its ability to wander down the same streets as the regular folk, to walk hand in hand with the conformists of the music industry machine but still retain their weird and beguiling musical persona. You don’t have to try and change them, you don’t even have to try to understand them, but you do have to admire them.
Gothic music all had a touch of the melodrama and theatre about it, even those embryonic bands like Bauhaus who held the keys to the musical crypt revelled in a filmic, widescreen persona. By the time you get to the likes of The Mission and The Nephilim and the lines are completely blurred. Church of Lies uses this vibe as a touch stone but it mainly comes from the opposite direction. If they were goth bands bending the majesty and grandeur of classical music and wide-screen orchestration to their dark will, Rebecca Relansay comes from a more classically pure place but adopts something of their dark mantle.
The result is a song which wanders freely between a classical sound, pop accessibility and gothic charm. It toys with almost musical theatre poses and lyrically has something of the folk ethic about it. It sweeps rather than punches, shimmers rather than shocks and deftly blends minimalist dream-pop interludes to create some wonderful dynamic balance. Whilst it may not be goth in the literal music genre sense, more akin to Dead Can Dance exploring such territory, it would grace the sound track of any gothic-esque or noir movie more comfortably than most.
Any band worth their salt should be able to fill a book with anecdotes and stories of their touring and recording life, one that is a flame for moth-like fans and at least piques the interest of the more general reader. Any band, after even a few years on the road, who can’t fill such pages with tales of high-jinx and shenanigans would have to face some serious questions about their suitability for their chosen career.
Bauhaus, as you would imagine, are a band more than up to the task, as proven by Kevin Haskins new book, Bauhaus – Undead. The Northampton four piece always stood out, from their genre defining sound to their iconic look and right from receiving their first reviews in the local paper, drummer Haskins became the bands archivist. The book looks back at their 70’s/80’s heyday (as well as their Coachella reunion in 2005) and takes the form of a collection of amazing photographs as well as artwork for posters and flyers, there are backstage passes, handwritten lyrics, setlist, personal notes and even a Bauhaus comic strip all linked together by Haskins poignant and amusing text.
It charts the band’s rise from art-school dreamers through playing guerrilla gigs…they supported The Pretenders, without them even knowing…to the release of Bela Lugosi’s Dead which put them on the map and launched a scene which endures to this day, and finally bowing out devoid of fanfare. Somewhat ironic for a band long accused by the press of over the top melodrama and pretentious theatrics!
It goes without saying that this is a must for any fan of Bauhaus, the gothic sound, eighties alternative scenes or underground music in general. The book’s layout and design matches the bands stripped down aesthetic and art school origins but also signposts just how influential their mercurial blends of punk-gothique, reggae, dub, psychedelia and horror film soundtrack where to bands who followed. Everyone from Massive Attack to Sigur Ros and from Interpol to The Smashing Pumpkins have worshipped at their musical alter. More than that it will be the coolest book to be found on a coffee table anywhere in the Western Hemisphere!
Available from Cleopatra Music and Film HERE
No matter what anyone tells you about current musical fashions, what the zeitgeist might happen to be blowing in from cooler taste making circles, what the papers say is the next big thing or any of that sort of rhetoric, one thing never changes. The underground, the outside, the left field, the other…call it what you will, is always a far more interesting place.
It eschews common consent, public opinion and the approval of the masses and just makes music for itself. How great is that? And proof that it remains the case to this day is Mary and The Ram’s arty, electro-punk disco dirge, The Cross. It recalls some of the greats of the outside curve, it updates Bauhaus, sits next to Nick Cave on the piano stool, squeezes the high drama and cliche out of The Sisters of Mercy but wanders the same sonic underworld. The Dream takes things even further into the Murphy – Cave axis of blasted blues meets electronic-gothica, somehow feeling like a spoken word aria from their twisted, co-joined pens.
It is electronic rock dancing a sultry and sensual tango with industrial electro-pop across a shaded and empty dance floor, it is primal urges caressing modern technology, old school experimentation getting frisky with future possibilities. And when the bored kids sat around the edge of the club sarcastically shout, “get a room,” they do and this is the result!
Much has changed in the Murmur Tooth camp since 2016’s The Room. Now a solo musical vehicle and described by its creative driver Leah Hinton as being “dedicated to the passing of time, to the peeling of memory and to the shedding of skin,” which before I have even pressed play sounds like my sort of thing. But I guess I knew it would be. So if the previous outing revelled in some moments of wide-screen, alt-rock drama, Dropping Like Flies is more intimate, more bruised, more soul searching, that with most of the short-circuiting sonic turmoil removed what remains of the bands sound is something beautiful, stately, darkly majestic and, ironically, more powerful.
A Belly Full mixes an almost music box rhythm with brooding sweeps of cello but oddly enough for a song built mainly on understatement it is actually one of the fuller songs found here as the rest of the album is woven as much from atmosphere and anticipation as it is from notes and beats. I Will Never is a dark waltz between vocals and piano and the short and brilliant Interlude is a celebration, a quiet one at least, of layered harmonies and glitchy, pulsating electronica.
The Accomplice is a fantastic piece of noir-ish minimalism and is the only track to creep beyond the two and half minute mark, which says something about Leah’s ability to convey so much emotion and reflection in the time it would take most writers to get to the first chorus. The album’s swan song is the haunting Of Memory, straight out of the Cave/Ellis emotive music manual and proving that writing minimal music is more than just leaving gaps but understanding the power music still has even when it has moved beyond actually making any sound.
The other piece of advice from the album’s accompanying notes states that it is “not for elevators, not for dancing,” but late night musical rituals in just such claustrophobic environments seems exactly what it is designed for. Let’s make such low key art-attacks the trend for 2018 and this its perfect soundtrack.
If someone like Nick Cave best typifies the dark, sweeping and majestic end point of the western blues derived musical experiment; this is the flipside of that coin. Portland/Atlanta trio, We Are Parasols, makes music which comes from a younger, though similarly angst ridden, oddly sultry and intense place, but one that has evolved out of the possibilities afforded by more recent technologies and more likely to tip its hat to Krautrock pioneers and New Romantic non-conformists than the more traditional canon.
And whereas the likes of Cave and the dark hordes which imitate his moves often rely on angular collisions and jarring music to create their apocalyptic beauty, We Are Parasols are driven by a more simpatico heart, one that pulses with an industrial, sometimes motorik beat but one which is also swathed in sumptuous harmonies, delicate synth washes and distant chiming guitars. Even when they rough things up a bit on songs such as the slow building Scoptophilia or the explosive Recoil, their music seems to mesh into post-rock walls of sound and shoegazing, effect drenched noise cocoons, the overall effect crushing rather than cutting.
The music suggests something beyond human a sort of impossible blend of the primitive and ancient and the clinical and futuristic, a hybrid of animal and machine, primordial yet complex as eerie atmospherics and Stygian sounds vie for attention and the end result is a heavy, claustrophobic and nebulous musical collection.
Whilst there has, in the modern age at least, been a real disconnect between the potential of the original goth scene with all its pomp and drama, knowing pretence and theatrical allure and the grit and integrity of the modern alt-rock and fractured, tribal metal community, Black Bluebirds feel like that missing link, that bridge between the two worlds. To be honest they should never have lost touch really but as the metallers swapped musical tenacity for sonic technicality and the gothic realm traded cinematics for cyber, the two musical worlds seemed set on very different paths.
That is why bands like Black Bluebirds are so vital, a reminder that both were once musical allies and by taking the power and potency of metal and using it to channel the dark and sultry temperament of gothic rock a wonderful reunion unfolds. But more than sounding like a reunion in the truest sense of the word, a nostalgic gathering, a remembrance and a rose tinted revisit to past glories, this is instead the sound of both camps moving forward in unison. Grating guitars and synth washes, pounding bass lines and thunderous back beats all swirl in the mix and the vocals bruise and brood, and the result is a grinding grooving alliance of musical blood brothers. Okay, it’s not the first time such a generic gene splicing has been tried, but rarely has it been done this effectively.
I love the fact that I have lived long enough to witness the word Lynchian become a recognised label, one that can be applied to art and creativity across a wide range of spectrums. In the visual aspect it is synonymous with delving beyond the ordinary surface to find the dark and unsettling underbelly of modern society, to turn the familiar into the something elusive, uncertain and eventually horrific. 68 Creep seem to be the perfect band to take such an attitude and render it into the perfect soundtrack.
As Kimberly Q sings “I killed my baby in the middle of the night” and then throws in a unemotional “I’m sorry” you get to the heart of what the band are about. Slow, meandering gothic jams and visceral garage rock grinding creates a canvas onto which they paint their terrible visions. But the real terror is not the things they sing about so much as the wistful detachment with which they deliver them, the horror seems so much more intense when it appears to be pointless or just for kicks.
Part PJ Harvey and part The Cramps, 68 Creep inject their own brand of darkness into the gothic musical heart, one for a more modern, smarter musical audience. Whereas first time around the genre was clinical and romantic, florid and pretentious, now it is focused and intense, raw and threatening. Guitars wander between razor wire shape edges and cavernous onslaughts and the vocals are 60’s girl group leads warped and lacerated by life all driven by an unrelenting distant industrial beat.
Strangely beautiful, wonderfully weird, taut and tense and as I said in the introduction, brilliantly Lynchian, it comes as no surprise that the album title derives from the great man’s most examined, interpreted and brilliantly confusing film Mulholland Drive.
If the band, album name and artwork seem to suggest something aimed at the black clad, wannabe pagans who still have visions of relocating to Sunnydale and hanging around with Buffy and the gang, I am most happy to report that Occultation rises far above such first impressions. Give the music a spin and you find yourself in a dark and emotive alt-rock soundscape. Even the term gothic, as a genre at least, is slightly amiss here, for it neither fits in with the old-school post-punk movement or the metal sub-genre it has since become. If it is gothic at all it is more in the literary sense, painting dark mystique, broken romanticism and haunted emotions across its musical canvas.
So if I have established what the record isn’t, lets look at what it is. Dark Moon Lilith at times reminds me of Concrete Blond and their ability to weave introspective lyricism through powerful and theatrical music and similarly to sound like your favourite cult band but drip with commercial possibilities. Songs such as Hiding Place with its jagged guitar riffs, pounding classic rock drive and sultry warmth seeming to sum this up more eloquently than I can put into words.
And as much as I am trying and failing to avoid the term gothic, maybe it is a gothic alternative, music for those who found the likes of The Cure too mannered, Bauhaus to fractious and The Mission too pretentious first time around or who misses the mystic and mythology which used to be an inherent part of rock music before classic rock double-denimed down and alt-rock became all about skinny jeans and complicated hair.
And then they throw World Away at you, a minimalist ballad dripping with pain, heart wrenching emotion, majestic spatial awareness and anticipation and you realise that there is much more to the band than fits into easy generic boundaries, which obviously is how it should be. Considering my own musical journey through the bands mentioned above and particularly along that tipping point where the glamour of the gothic world met the pose and power of rock, Dark Moon Lilith are a wonderful find and one whose dark dramas I shall undoubtedly be spending more and more time with as the nights draw in, the perfect soundtrack for my half-lit domain and fire side hibernations.
The past is a different country; they promote their musical releases differently there. And whilst there are lots of recognisable references shooting through A Shoreline Dream’s hazy, neo-shoegazing, the idea of releasing each track on their planned album as a single in its own right before a physical, vinyl only release, is very much a marketing technique in keeping with the modern promotional drum beat.
Room For The Others is the fourth instalment in a series that wanders down some interesting musical pathways linking early post-punk explorers with modern adaptors and the result is music which matches familiarity with forward thinking, hazy sonic drifting with confident structural dynamics and moody gothic shades with cinematic, post-rock soundscaping.
A Shoreline Dream is the master of time travel and generic cross-pollination. There is something detached and remarkably North European about their sound but it is also flooded with acid tinged psychedelic waves washing in from the darker underbelly of California’s lost hippy dream. Part of it seems as specifically located as the M4 corridors original shoegazing scene and part of it is as progressive, wandering and limitless as anything in the post-genre world.
And if Room For The Others is happy to take a loose and sonorous journey, one that is lush and wonderfully orchestrated, elsewhere in the package, such as on Whirlwind and Revolvist, they show a more intense and muscular side to themselves and touch on what perhaps the dark visions of Joy Division may have evolved into had they not burned out so spectacularly and quickly.
It’s an interesting journey that takes us towards the halfway point of the final album and one that matches a inward looking, dark intensity with the sound of celestial soaring, claustrophobic insularity with shimmering crescendos. A blues-less blueprint for cleansed rock reborn? Perhaps, but either way it gets my vote.
Good music paints pictures with sound. Great music conjures scenes from imaginary stories. Then there is music such as is found in this collection of songs that seems to spring to life like a soundtrack to a movie yet to be made. For although the songs themselves may not have been necessarily written to sit together as a finished album, there is none the less a over-riding feeling, a inherent aura to the music which supplies the required cohesion.
It is an aura woven from plaintive emotions, hints of melancholy, a dark and dramatic tone, an epic feeling but one that deals in bristling restraint rather and subtle underplay rather than howling dynamics and taking the more obvious route of swagger and bluster. And whilst the core of the music is firmly based in a rock sound, one that can certainly play the anthemic card when required, it is the other elements that are strung through the music which add the important detail and diversity.
At one extreme I’ll Fly Away plays with pop melody to temper the savage beast, whilst Stirring Gently sits at the crossroads of brooding rock and deft neo-classicalism, mournfully strings and chiming acoustica set the tone of Mother and there is even room for some more experimental musical manoeuvres on Puzzles, a strange encounter by anyone’s standards.
But for the most part it is the dark and subtle choices that define this collection, which feels slightly enthused with gothic romanticism though thankfully with out the usual theatrics and driven by familiar rock sounds but again without resorting to clichés and overly complex showboating. Every note counts, every chord seems considered, every beat necessary.
So what of the film that is conjured in your mind as this plays? Well, I’m sure it will be different to each listener but the film I see is one of dramatic vistas, colliding oceans and the very destruction of worlds. Why pay to see a film when you can just buy such a soundtrack and let your imagination fill in the gaps?
Whether a conscious decision or not, Crow Swan Wolf may just be the perfect sound track to the world we find ourselves going into. Yes, the dystopian vibe is certainly obvious right from the start but there is also a texture and subtlety in the music that seems to reflect the intricate machinations of the world today.
Musically they are children of an unlikely post-punk coupling, where the 4AD ethic hooked up with clinical, urban goth chic, where the razor wire guitars of the latter cut through the romantic and bucolic washes of the former, where night fell on that hazy dreamscape. And if that seems as if it has all been done before, the trick here is that rather than pander to the windswept, crushed velvet urges of its parents, TCHZ, like all dutiful children, rebel against expectations and instead get their kicks running amok through the detritus of the modern world.
Theirs is a playground of dystopian hi-jinks, of night times on the decaying streets, of subversion and protest, of industrial wastelands and underground nightclubs, of shadows and neon, light and shade taken to it’s extremes. It is the collision point of the sound of brutal industrial machinations and transient, clinical digital languages, the distant humming of the modern world and the poetry of decay. It is a distant, disembodied opera, which echoes from our technology reflecting the detachment and unease of the world around us.
It is easy to see where they come from, where some of their references lie, but the ability to shape those influences into new statements about the world they find themselves in and comment on where it may be heading is all you can ask of them.
I sometimes struggle with music in such an extreme end of the market, a lot of it doesn’t speak to me on a very personal level, that isn’t a problem, not everyone can be the target audience. But then I heard Our Darkest Shadows, a song that sits both comfortably within the sound that In Silent Agony make but also seems to explain to me the scope and potential of the music much better than any of the other songs.
There is a depth, drama and dark theatrical script at work here, a mad combination of Wagner, Jim Steinman, Fields of The Nephilim and Anne Rice; a metal opera for a dystopian world and once I had that key to the music I found I could unlock and appreciate what was going on around this central song.
Approaching the rest of the EP with this new understanding I also realised that a second obstacle had been dealt with. Most of the music I have encountered in recent years that falls into such genres – thrash, metalcore, death metal – has been….now, let me be delicate…not very well conceived, all front and bravado and shown up by a record such as this. Part of the accessibility of Treacherous is the production, separation of sounds, the layering and textures, especially those that wash emotively behind those visceral riffs, textures that help build tension and sculpt otherworldly atmospheres.
Existing fans of metal in all its forms will find a lot to like, the gothic set will appreciate its dark soundscapes and the more industrial minded will find its clinical beauty and cold apocalyptic foreboding to their tastes. But if like me you have been away from the extreme metal trenches for a while and are looking for a way back in, this is the perfect place to start. Okay chaps, over the top we go….
Sleep Keepers are a band built of contradictions and collisions, of both celebrating differences and sharing common ground. The core players behind the music describe themselves as being “ a guitar player from a war zone and a lead singer from the capital of Ukraine” which already imbues them with a wonderfully enigmatic cloak. When in full flow they are a wonderful mix of dystopian melodies, trippy dance beats and raw alternative rock, of sweet soaring vocals and visceral underground experimentation. It is dark, it is futuristic, it is effortlessly cool.
It is an interesting, not to mention brave, move then for the band to release an album like Hearts Get No Sleep, a piano led collection of songs which hints as much at a past classical tradition and symphonic soundscape as it does their usual dark future visions. All the hallmarks of the bands sound are still there but it has been cleverly stripped back; loud dynamic breaks have been replaced by chilling atmospheric interludes, shimmering pianos now fill the space that would otherwise have been occupied by rigid beats and the overall affect is altogether less tangible. If their usual sound can be seen as a flame casting dancing shadows and illuminating the space around them, this then is the spiraling smoke that is left to drift and softly fade once the candle has gone out. Hypnotic, emotive and ghostlike.
Not just a brave move then but a confident and clever one, one that shows a different side to Sleep Keepers yet still has the same heart beating at its centre. As an introduction to their music or as an alternative to what you already love about them, this is a set of songs that will really put them on the map.
For all things Sleep Keepers, including this e.p. click HERE
There is a fine line to be walked when making music in the dark, atmospheric realms that Soft Ledges inhabit. Step too far into the gloom and the music enters the po-faced, theatrical world of goth, too far the other way and the sunlight starts to burn away the shamanic cloak of shadows that acts as your guide. Thankfully Soft Ledges are fully aware of this and travel sure-footed through this twilight musical world.
Whilst there is something very Nick Cave about the brooding minimalism of the open salvo, La Nina, like the antipodean Prince of Darkness, Soft Ledges are a tricky beast and if that is the tempting morsel they use to entice you into their world, you soon find that it is a multi-faceted one and very much fashioned to their own design. Contrasts and contradictions begin immediately with Tear Me Down, a song built on heavy bass grooves and skittering drum shuffles but with the same approach to space and emotional tone. The guitar is bravely pushed to the back of the song punching a void where you expect the musical pay-off to be.
And so they continue down a this twisting path, thwarting expectation both in style and structure, delivering piano ballads and torch songs, undertaking post-punk experiments, building soaring post-rock sonic cathedrals, mixing ethereality with aggression, lush soundscaping with wanton destruction.
The clouds clear briefly for Long Way to The Ground, a more conventional alt-rock interlude that sits somewhere between wistful ballad and reflective soul search and acts as a perfect showcase for the positivity that underpins their music but is often lost in the voluminous and distorted music trappings they draw around themselves.
It isn’t until Seven Stories appears majestically before me that the other reference point I have been struggling for looms large. The street rock urges, the hypnotic riff, the staccato vocals – when they head down a more melodic road they remind me of that most underated band Concrete Blonde, not the 90’s MTV version of the band but the voodoo groove and similarly mercurial mix of intelligence, depth, sophistication and aggression that they played with so tantalisingly the previous decade.
To follow a thread I began earlier the term gothic now seems to have been re-appropriated into just another sub-genre of metal by a generation who want to live in the Sunnydale of Buffy The Vampire Slayer but this album manages to pull referential strands from the older, darker heart of the punk-gothique and industrial genres. The Bells and You Beneath is a wash of darkwave patterns that Bauhaus would have sold their soul for, if indeed one could have been found, and around this understated and challenging centrepiece they build their dark-art.
At their most minimal they are happy to merely build delicate musical structures around the atmospheres already present in their nighttime world rather than try to fashion new ones own. The spaces in between the notes, the pauses between the words, all add something, expectation and attentiveness…even entrancement. But at their most driven they are nothing short of glorious. They can take tribal rock beats, power on growling bass lines and willfully savage razor cuts of guitar and between defined musical structures conjure eerie atmospherics and Stygian sounds and the end result is a claustrophobic and nebulous musical collection And just when you think you have them pegged they are still able to throw in a wonderful curve ball such as Don’t Wait which has all the hall marks of a late night, soulful, r’n’b cry against the anguish of loneliness. Well, they are from Chicago; it’s a sound that is probably in their DNA anyway.
Few do it better, it unites the dark hearted followers of earlier musical ages with todays children of a colder, more clinical night and this atramentous crusade has not only had me turning to the thesaurus for suitable descriptive words but is nothing short of a fantastic set of songs that will act as a rallying call to those looking for an alternative to both the mainstream and those wishing for a dark musical resurgence.
Even though we constantly hear that rock music is dead, a recent slew of hefty new music through the letterbox reminded me what I really already knew. All is well and good in that sector of the creative world, it’s just that, like any other genre, the rock fraternity has to move with the times and not everyone is happy about it. Any art form has two options…evolve, adapt, move forward or keep looking over your shoulder and mumble about past glories. It is prevalence for the latter than means that most bands playing grassroots venues on a Saturday night are a classic rock cover bands or worse, a tribute to a band of that era. But when it chooses to move with the times, ahead of the times or not even bother with chronological referencing, great things can happen. Things like the latest album by Losers.
With a CV that includes such wonderfully original bands as Cooper Temple Clause, YourCodeNameIs:Milo, Vennart and British Theatre you know that the potential for good things is beyond dispute, you just might not have expected it to sound quite like this. How To Ruin… is a dark, blasted classic, simple as that. If the label Goth hadn’t been misappropriated by emo and metal listening Buffy fans but stayed true to it’s original musical connotations, it would be the right moniker for Losers second album. The clinical beats, razor wire guitar riffs, the industrial sound washes, the passive/aggressive vocal delivery, the theatrical dynamics…all reference The Sisters of Mercy and Nine Inch Nails more readily than anything in the current crop.
Raw, visceral, brooding, brutal? Certainly.…losers? Anything but.
I hate bands that are predictable, but you knew I was going to say that. So, what’s the opposite of predictable? Unexpected, random, surprising? Armchair Committee? They are pretty much musical shorthand for any of those terms. It may be fairly easy to describe the band in broad terms, dark, bluesy riffs which wander between the intense and the desolate like a dystopian, steam-punk western soundtrack mixed with brooding grunge urges and gothic-Americana shroud. But if it is easy to describe the mechanics behind the music, the end result of twisting these genres to their will is a harder task to put into words.
At one extreme Thinking Again is a fractured soul searching journey built of shards of guitar, plaintive piano drenched in a heavy melancholy and Monarch in The Townhouse wanders as close to a growling, slow burning mainstream ballad as they are likely to get (don’t worry it isn’t particularly close and by the end of the song they would have totally destroyed the chart system anyway.) At the other the thunderous pulse of Virginia Creeper and the staccato cascades which define The Poisoning of Queen Bona explore a deep musical ferocity and barely restrained fervoured tensions which goth and metal bands might think is their domain but Armchair Committee are happy to prove them wrong and re-appropriate such lush musical treasures.
And if those would-be creatures of the night and testosterone driven Buffy fans want to know where they are going wrong then they just need to listen to a song like No One Will Ever Believe You, skittering dynamics, soul wrenching melodies, a groove so deep and dark it sounds like a sat-nav voice guiding you through the seventh circle of hell, earnestness, energy, emotion, excitement and lots of other words from other parts of the dictionary.
Armchair Committee once again prove that power and ferocity are about more than just playing loud and fast, of how many notes you can play or if you are wearing the right band t-shirt, they know that it is about putting not only your heart, but your very soul into the songs. And if Armageddon comes and the fallen angels have one last battle with the guardians of heaven, you will probably find these guys playing the after party.
The Arthur Rackham illustration on the cover of Nasty Little Lonely’s latest musical outing should give some idea to the uninitiated of what lies within. The dark fairy tale nature of the artwork reflects the juxtaposition of the industrial-gothic music vibe that the band does so well with the often-girlish yet sometimes sinister and warped vocals of Charlie Beddoes. But those in the know have been here before and relish these nightmarish soundtracks and broken dreamscapes.
And whilst the term gothic now seems to have been re-appropriated into just another sub-genre of metal by a generation who want to live in the Sunnydale of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, this gloriously grim gang manage to pull referential strands from the older, darker heart of the punk-gothique and industrial genres. Snake Oil is a wash of darkwave patterns that Bauhaus would have sold their soul for, if indeed one could have been found, and around this understated centrepiece they build their dark-art.
Tribal rock beats power on growling bass lines and wilfully savage razor cuts of guitar and between defined musical structures eerie atmospherics and Stygian sounds vie for attention and the end result is a heavy, claustrophobic and nebulous musical collection. Few do it better, it unites the dark hearted followers of earlier musical ages with todays children of a colder, more clinical night and as always this latest atramentous crusade has not only had me turning to the thesaurus for suitable descriptive words but is yet another fantastic set of songs by them.
Rack and Ruin is out on 22nd April.
A lot has happened in the world of Nite Fields since we found Prescription resting in our “to do” pile at the start of last year. Core members Danny Venzin and Chris Champion have left their Australian base of operations and now front a revolving team of players from their new homes in Moscow and New York respectively.
What hasn’t changed is their ability to make dark, pulsing, intriguing music. Music that sits on a line that runs from the likes of Bauhaus through early goth and new romantic and yet embraces the sound of not only now but the future. in that cyclical way that music operates it tips a hat to dark, basement club experimentations in european underground scenes of the eighties as much as it feels part of a subversive new dance scene, albeit one that would probably scare the hell out of your average pop punter.
Stark atmospheres and clinical beats form sharp structures over which razor wire guitar riffs ring out and deadpan vocals show distain for the listener. And it is brilliant. With a twin base of operations spread across the western hemisphere, they are set to take Europe and The US by storm.
I won’t dwell too long on the lead single Magnet in Your Face, we have already covered that ground, except to say that it makes for the perfect opening salvo to this record. Yes, I’m old, I still call them records. Perfect in that it introduces you to a band whose sound ricochets between the pent up aggression of the metal world, trippy experimentations, brooding atmospherics and the byzantine complexities of progressive rock. Yet throughout all of it’s twists and turns as a mission statement if only tells part of the story and what follows is nothing short of mesmerising.
It doesn’t even begin to hint at the violent undertones of Palm Trees, a song that begins in jaunty hypnotic spirals of music and ends in what sounds like the inner soundtrack of a raging serial killers mind. It doesn’t prepare you for the cinematic Part 6, which starts life as a score to images of deep space, colliding worlds and dying suns and resolves itself as a late night chill out track from the house band at the Mos Eisley Cantina. Spooky Action pushes their eclectic ways to the limit, jumping from a heavy gothic introduction through bright interludes, slowly building into ever denser textures and a raw and visceral crescendo.
One of the things that TFATD prove is that as important as great lyrics can be, when you get the music right that can also speak to you in the same way. Not through direct communication but through non-verbal avenues, emotion and musical colours, through a sort of acoustic body language and at times almost a feeling of your personal space being invaded and at it’s most extreme Magnet does feel like an unwanted presence that almost makes you recoil.
It is heavy but understands that density and strength comes from proper construction rather than just bulk. It is dark and brooding but without resorting to the schlock-shock of the current gothic scene or the easy root of melancholic machinations. Above all it is intelligent and conceptual but without the trappings that have often made progressive rock an easy target of ridicule. Whichever way you look at it and whichever part of the rock spectrum you prefer to stand in, The Fierce and The Dead is a band who are embracing the post-genre possibilities of the modern music paradigm and more than delivering the goods.