Reviews: gothic

(deathrock / (dark)wave / postpunk)

Cheveu – Clara Venus

Cheveu is an interesting band from France. This is their second 7” on which the band takes another step to define their own sound. They blend cheap electonic rhythms and sounds with a rough (post-) punk garage feeling.

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Charlotte’s Shadow – Hush

You may read in Charlotte’s Shadow biography that they’re inspired by the early Gothic scene and that their main ideas come from the concepts of melancholy, despair and romanticism. Surely so, one may find all these elements in their recent publishing “Hush”.

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Letatlin – La Sepoltura Delle Farfalle

Letatlin is one the more interesting new bands I came across this year. Their sound is an unique blend of new wave inspired guitar music and avant-garde influenced industrial electronic music.

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The Sound – The Dutch Radio Recordings

The stream of post-career releases by The Sound does not seem to dry up. The postpunk band from England existed from 1979 till 1988, after which their singer Adrian Borland continued a solo career. After his death in April 1999, the discography of both The Sound and Adrian Borland was far from complete.

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Deathcamp Project – Laxa(C)tivE

Deathcamp Project is a Polish band that was established in 2001. It consists of Betrayal who is responsible for bass, programming and keyboards and Void who looks after lyrics, guitars and vocals. They are said to create goth rock music with the elements of death rock, electronics and industrial.

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The Phantom Limbs – Random Hyms

Most of the work of The Phantom Limbs is not very accessible. This 12” might therefore come as a pleasant surprise. This release is relatively easy to digest in comparison with the other releases.

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V/A – Tête de Bébé

Strange to find a Belgian and French artists compilation on a US based label. Tête de Bébé is filled with the new wave of crazy and weird (post) punk / new wave acts that come from Belgium and France recently.

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Frustration – Full Of Sorrow

Frustration from France are slowly but steadily building a name for themselves in the post-punk scene. Their music is a raw and intense mix of cheap electronics and rough guitars with screamed vocals on top.

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Ultranoir – Suffer no fiction / Reach me, Helen Keller

Early 2005 I stumbled on the homepage of Ultranoir, a Finnish synth-pop group. The online songs I heard sounded quite promising. Later that year they also made it to part 3 of the acclaimed compilation series ‘New Dark Age’. Recently Ultranoir released their debut album “Suffer No Fiction”, preceded by the single Single ‘Reach Me, Helen Keller’.

Ultranoir’s music clearly takes consideration of the musical past. Their sound is a mixture of new romantic, synth pop, & goth rock. The Cure, Depeche Mode, New Order are some of the obvious references. “Suffer No Fiction” also has a nostalgic length, with 10 tracks in 46 minutes, which I prefer over cramming your cd with all the half-finished material you’ve got. The artwork and promo photos of the young band look stylish in elegant, black and red.

The songs of Ultranoir are quite easy to get into, they’re usually melodic and not very complicated. Uptempo, poppy songs are mixed with slower, gloomy pieces. Especially the lighter, danceable tunes are quite nice to listen to, though a bit predictable. Examples are ‘Angst macht frei’ and ‘Petals’. The slow songs like ‘Schoolboy and ‘Frontline fractures’ often sound a bit tiresome, dragging unto the end without getting to a point. The singer tries too hard to sound ’emotional’, sometimes coming across a bit pathetic (and out of tune). All in all the album does not exceed the label ‘promising’, there are too few original compositions. If Ultranoir would put some more guts and energy in their songs, they could be much better.

With the single ‘Reach Me, Helen Keller’ taken from this album, they made it into the offical Finnish charts. That does not surprise me, because it’s an attractive, catchy synth tune. It’s backed on the cd-single by two non-album tracks. ‘Dismember Me’ is a bit of an anonymous midtempo wave track, while ‘Too Late Anyhow’ has a slow threatening sound with prominent percussion, which has its merits.

The Weegs – The Million Sounds of Black

The second album by The Weegs is all you might expect. As on there debut the band delivers a nervous, neurotic and spastic post punk / no wave sound. They mix elements of Pere Ubu, Birthday Party, The Residents and early DEVO. This explosive stylistic blend results in music that is not easy to digest but worth every try to swallow it.

You could say this is over the top arty and freaky music made as anti-entertainment. This is basically true, but The Weegs succeed in making it entertaining after all. As The Million Sounds Of Black shows a band that is also capable of taking a step back from the fast forward punk craziness. While doing that The Weegs create weird down tempo hypnotizing pieces somewhere between avant-garde pop and free jazz.

This is what makes The Million Sounds Of Black a great record. There is more diversity as before, but all is done within the now established typical Weegs sound. Excellent!

This Empty Flow – The Album

When This Empty Flow’s debut “Magenta Skycode” came out in 1996, I found it very enjoyable. Ten years later, now the album is reissued by Eibon in a remastered version with a bonus cd as ‘The album”, I still find it appealing. The Finnish band, active from 1994 till 1997 with Niko Scorpio as one of the members, plays a type of guitar wave which may sound nostalgic, but not old-fashioned.

Most of the songs on the album are characterized by accessible compositions with spacious guitars, moody synths, sensitive vocals and a relaxed pace. The melancholic style of songs like ‘Useless’ or ‘Nowafter’ reminds me of early Cure, The Essence, Felt or more contemporary acts like In my Rosary. A few tracks are bit deviating, like ‘Towards distant’, which features piano, sampled voices and electronic effects. The first half of the album is quite tranquil, but there are a few heavier songs towards the end, like in ‘Snow blind’, when the guitars and dums suddenly rock out loud.

As I said before, “Magenta Skycode” is still an enjoyable album. Especially the first few songs are excellent. The sound also benefits from the modernized, fuller production. If this wasn’t enough, you’re treated to a bonus cd with eleven rare tracks recorded in 1994/1996, including a few alternate versions of tracks from “Magenta Skycode”. Perhaps the unreleased material sounds a bit more anonymous than the material of their debut, but it has some nice moments too which will appeal to lovers of dreamy wave music.

V/A – Transmission

Infrastition, a daughter label of Cynfeirdd, was founded in 2004 as an outlet for (re)releasing classic wave/gothic music by bands from France. Some of the artists on their roster are Baroque Bordello, Clair Obscur and Norma Loy. Their first compilation Transmission has the subtitle ’81-89 The French Cold Wave’, which says it all. There are legendary bands present, but also completely obscure names.

Of course not all tracks equally appeal to my personal taste, but there a certainly a few gems. The atmospheric synth and typical wave guitars of Asylum Party are very nice, making me curious about their upcoming releases on Infrastition. Baroque Bordello is mostly appealing because of the excellent female vocals, somewhere between Siouxsie and Lush. ‘Demain Berlin’ is an cold minimal synth classic by Guerre Froide, sung in a combination of languages. Addictive! Leitmotiv offers rather theatrical but convincing batcave sounds in the vein of Bauhaus with uptemp drumming. Martin Dupont offers a pleasantly light song in line with Siouxsie’s poppier work More avantgarde sounds are contributed by Clair Obscur and Opera Multi Steel.

The booklet contains some pictures of the bands, info about the original releases the tracks were taken from and an introductory text in French. The 80’s were clearly a fruitful period for darker underground music, also in France. Most tracks on this quite varied cd are of a good quality, therefore this Transmission compilation is very enjoyable for lovers of wave / postpunk music.

Every New Dead Ghost – The Final Ascesion: a retrospective 88-92

Gothicrock label Strobelight also starts looking backwards. This cd is the first in the new series called “essentials”. In this series there will be re-releases of classic bands from the past.

Every New Dead Ghost came from the UK and had a classic gothic rock sound with loud pounding drums, heavy guitars and dark vocals. The band released three albums, one live record and a few singles. Strobelight collected the best tracks for this retrospective.

The sound of Every New Dead Ghost is reminiscent of Play Dead and Southern Death Cult, thus typical classic gothrock. Tracks like ‘Miranda’ and ‘Obvious’ will still do well on the dancefloor. Nice are the two added videos and the thick booklet. The Final Ascesion is a very nice album for the fans of the genre.

La Mamoynia – Mono Ego

The previous release by La Mamoynia pleasantly surprised me. Their music is a good mixture of minimal electronics, new wave and industrial elements. Opening track (‘I stand alone’) of this new album fits the above description of how the band sounds very well. It is a track with metal sounding drums, new wave synths and a minimal character.

On tracks like ‘Ich bin Niemand’, ‘Kenurhgia Avghi’ and ‘And nothing more for you’ these elements are present too. The band also incorporates some modern gothic influences in their music now. But their love for 80’s music is again shown in the Mecano cover ‘Links’. La Mamoynia succeeded in transforming the song into a track of their own without losing the original mood and feeling of the piece.

Mono Ego is not an essential album but it is a solid achievement and hopefully a prelude to even better music from this band.

Clan of Xymox – Breaking Point

Clan of Xymox exists for over twenty years now and has never delivered a really bad album. “Breaking Point” unmistakenly carries the Xymox-signature, without sounding overly dated. On the contrary, the new album is a perfect fusion of all their different elements: the nostalgic wave atmospheres, danceable synthpop, contemporary electro, dark gothic rock and of course the typical voice of Ronny Moorings.

The tone is directly set with the powerful and energetic opening track ‘Weak in my knees’, after which The Clan manoeuvres between fine uptempo tracks (‘She is dangerous’, ‘What is going on’, ‘Under the wire’) and haunting electronic goth ballads (‘Cynara’, ‘Pandora’s box’).

“Breaking point” has a tight and clear production and sounds solid as a rock. I have given up hopes that the band will ever experience a large-scale breakthrough in the Netherlands, but if there is one album that has that ability, then it’s this one.

Siglo XX – 1980-1986

Industrial areas in a state of economic decline were always a fertile breeding ground for gloomy music groups. British cities like Manchester and Sheffield produced countless new wave / postpunk bands. Similar developments took place in Belgium. When the mines closed in Genk, the employment figure rose rapidly. Amidst the general mood of depression four guys formed a band: Siglo XX. They are one of my favourite acts from the early 80’s.

The band was named after an anarchist movement during the Spanish civil war. In 1980 Siglo XX independantly released their first 7″ single ‘The Naked and the Death’. Things really got rolling two years later with the maxi-single ‘The Art of War’, still a classic and for instance included on a ‘New Wave Club Class.X’ volume. Later they signed to Antler Records which released a few of their albums and maxi’s.

Their sound resembled Factory bands like Joy Division and Section 25: cold new wave, with dark basses, moody synths and depressive vocals. Siglo XX sounded probably even rawer than their more famous examples, with sometimes punky guitars.

In the mid 80’s a move to Play it Again Sam followed, where three albums came out. The last was ‘Under A Purple Sky’ in 1989. By that time the sound of the band had changed from typical coldwave to a dark rock sound, which appealed to me less. In the last years there have been rumours about a Siglo XX reunion.

Recently EMI has made a compilation available with 17 tracks from the period 1980-1986. This was certainly welcome, because Siglo XX’s music was very hard to find on cd. The two previous cd compilations, Antler Tracks I & II, were released in the late 80’s and are traded for a small fortune on eBay. “1980 – 1986″ is sort of a condensed version of these earlier cd’s.

The cd starts with their first single and ends with three live tracks. Absolute highlight is ‘Dreams of pleasure’ (1983)`, which is still overwhelming with its naked sound, rolling drums and throbbing bass. I find it a pity that their classic ‘The art of war’ is only present in a live version.

The selection of tracks is of course a matter of preferences. Of my personal favourites I miss for instance the energetic and stifling ‘Factory’. Also a more extended booklet with a biography and photos would have been welcome, but then again this is meant as a low-budget issue. Hopefully this will result in a wider ecognition of this historical material by Siglo XX.

By the way, I bought this cd for only 5,99 euro at the Belgian mailorder Mediadis. They also stock other cheap Belgian wave reissues on EMI, from the likes of Arbeid Adelt, TC Matic and 2 Belgen.

Primus inter Pares – Gerda

After an intriguing preview on the label compilation “Eisiges Licht 2″, Eis Licht now presents the debut cd of Primus Inter Pares. It is mainly through the vocals that you recognize this as a project of Orplid’s driving force Frank Machau.

Musicwise he follows a different approach this time, by letting in many electronic elements and new wave influences. Though multiple layers of sound are combined in the brightly produced tracks, the album still has a minimal feel. This is caused by the clear melodies and repetitive structures. The music is very suited to let you dream away, with long-stretched beautiful sounds and gentle rhythms.

The first two tracks are my favourites. ‘Gerda’, in which a clear guitar wave sound (think of Factory Records) is combined with the grave, distinct spoken vocals of Machau, in an effective composition with a great melody. ‘Ans licht’ is a very moving piece with crisp electronic sounds as well as ethereal, neo-classical elements.

I really like the sound and feel of this album, which Machau dedicated to his daughter. The songs are patient, a bit lazy even, and put me in a not unpleasant state of melancholy. They also have an air of timeless nostalgia, like for instance the spacy ‘(…)’, reminding of krautrock and 70’s electronic pioneers.

Perhaps the second half of this album is a bit less sparkling and some songs are somewhat lenghty. But the first two tracks alone are worth the purchase. Eis & Licht has announced that this album by Primus Inter Pares indicates a shifting focus of the label towards more electronic, organic and melodic sounds. Let’s wait what the future brings, so far it’s a promising development.

The Holy Kiss -­ Back To Colma / Grey Horizons

The Holy Kiss is a stylish post-punk band. This new 7” single sounds reminiscent of the cabaret rock by Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds in their earlier years. Also the A-side, “Back To Colma”, has a sort of 60’s punk feeling.

The B-side, “Grey Horizons”, is even more cabaresque with a moody piano and a nice tension throughout the song.

I am curious to what else The Holy Kiss will serve is in time. Anyway, this 7” is a brilliant piece of original dark cabaret music.

Honeyhander -­ Woolley Mannerisms

At times like these when post-punk is being hyped and plugged in mainstream media it is good to see some people continue with what they have been doing fore years. So, Release The Bats Records comes with this very good EP by the American based band Honeyhander.

In only 23 minutes this band impresses with this record full of fierce and original post-punk sounds. Expect no catchy dance tunes but noisy and more experimental tracks. Early Sonic Youth sounds pop up at times, just like the noisy side of My Bloody Valentine.

Our Connoisseurs Are Feeders” is the most easy track and could do good at some parties. But you should not listen to Woolley Mannerisms for only that track. The whole collection of sounds should be heard.
This record is refreshing and more then welcome among all the slick produced so called post-punk music of today.

Chants of Maldoror -­ Every Mask Tells The Truth

Some years ago Chants of Maldoror surprised listeners with their debut album full of old school batcave and deathrock songs. It took some time but now the band has returned with their second album entitled Every Mask Tells The Truth.

After hearing the new record a few times the conclusion can be made that the band has produced a very cohesive record. The band sounds more mature as on the debut and the songs are better worked out.

As a whole the album is thus more consistent but also a little more polished. Very nice are the three interludes on the record, which enriches the listening experience. In short, Every Mask Tells The Truth is a huge step forward for Chants of Maldoror.