Necro Facility, “Wintermute”

Necro Facility
Progress Productions/ArtOfFact, 2011

Necro Facility’s first two LPs have been judged less for their quality than for their blatant Skinny Puppy worship. Debut LP The Black Paintings was nothing less than a straight recreation of Mind: The Perpetual Intercourse, but by 2007’s The Room they’d progressed by leaps and bounds…to jacking VIVIsectVI. While the comparison to Canada’s elder industrial statesmen is still valid, their 2011 release Wintermute shows the band not only developing a sound of its own, but also presenting a new vision of what crossover industrial can be.

Presaged by “Lightbringer“, their excellent collaboration with Covenant that hinted at their growth out of tribute act territory, Wintermute finds an equilibrium between Puppy’s more groove-oriented moments and club choruses of the “anthemic” and “sweeping” variety. If it sounds like we’re trying to reduce this to a formula it’s because Necro Facility have struck on one that works. Well. Very well. Take for example album opener “You Want It”. A grinding synthline and staccato vox on the verse give way to a lush chorus with a memorable vocal hook, that makes an impression before we even get to the second verse a minute and a half in.

Things play out similarly across the album’s ten tracks, but the band has enough panache to keep affairs seeming fresh and spritely for the entirety of Wintermute‘s running time. “Ignite” marries chunky palm riffed guitar with screamed and clean vocals which might have more in common with recent metal than with their industrial scene contemporaries. “Supposed”, on the other hand, has a shameless pop chorus which somehow bounces over a fat, classic EBM bassline. We should mention that this album is proving to be a remarkably summery affair in spite of its name. (Yes, we know it’s a Gibson reference, but by the band’s own admission it was picked just because it sounded cool.)

When NF do eschew their own formula, they display a keen appreciation for the past couple decades of popular electronic music, as they do on “Fall Apart” and reflective album closer “All That You Take”. Far from ghettoizing themselves in the industrial part of town, the band tastefully samples from a much broader palate than is currently typical for groups of their ilk.

We should also note that mid-album stand-out “Do You Feel The Same” (a staple in our club sets) distills the essence of Skinny Puppy’s “Worlock” into just under three minutes of plaintive, low-BPM magic. It’s instantaneously recognizable and infinitely replayable, the sort of lightning in a bottle moment that defines Wintermute. Make no mistake, we could probably spend a few paragraphs talking about the production choices or the lyrical tropes on display, but above all else Wintermute is an imminently enjoyable record.

We’ll cop to having been taken aback by just how far Necro Facility have come in the space between their last album and Wintermute. Even if “Lightbringer” and the pre-album release of “Do You Feel The Same” were signs of huge leaps forward, to listen to an album which demonstrates such a distinct aesthetic back to front is a rush. It works as a club record, as headphone candy or a soundtrack for your day to day. It’s a standout effort and one which is already a strong contender for ID:UD album of the year honours.

Buy it.

Tracks: July 5th, 2011

From time to time we’ll be posting tracks we’re feeling from recent releases: nothing more, nothing less. This time out: Kirlian Camera, Decree, Nosferatu, House Of Usher, Light Asylum.

Kirlian Camera, “Nightglory”
Angelo Bergamini and Elena Fossi continue their journey onward and upward into the mottled vault of heaven. Bit more guitar on this outing, too. If half of contemporary darkwave was a third as good as KC on their worst day, we’d live in a much better world.

Decree, “Fateless”
When a track like this is the closest thing an album has in terms of a “crossover hit”, you know yr dealing with a monster. Fateless is a relentless and punishing beast which we’ll be mulling over for some time at ID:UD HQ. Stay tuned for more Decree-related hi-jinks…

Nosferatu, “Horror Holiday”
Of all of the great 90s trad-goth bands, Nosferatu were pretty low on the list of ones I’d have tagged to make an utterly fresh and kick-ass record in 2011, but Wonderland is just that. On the lead-off track they offer up a very tasty blend of their classically staccato tomb-skulking and the far more sloppy garage-goth of recent years (see The Horrors’ Strange House).

House Of Usher, “How Far Can We Go”
Faith and Begorrah! More trad-goth, albeit of a smoother cast. House Of Usher always seem to have taken their cues from The Mission above all others, and while that still holds true on new LP Pandora’s Box, they avoid falling into swirly purgatory and deliver some nice poppy gems.

Light Asylum, “Dark Allies”
Not an entirely new track, but one which I can’t let go of. With a voice that’s half Alison Moyet, half Grace Jones, Shannon Funchess drags us through an urban nightmare that connotes Christian Death as much as it does Moroder. If the rumours of a debut LP produced by James Murphy prove true, expectations will be ratcheted up to nigh unattainable heights.

We’re all strangers in a foreign land…

Check out this cute remix from Nitzer Ebb and Die Krupp’s recent tour EP Join in the Rhythm of Machines. As remix/covers EPs go it’s a bit of a trifle, (the Krupps version of NE’s Industrial Complex bonus track “On the Road” has a nice grind), but Doug McCarthy’s vocal take on DK’s “To the Hilt” lends the old chestnut some flavor.

Nitzer Ebb/Die Krupps – To The Hilt

Some of y’all may also recall Nitzer Ebb and Die Krupp’s 1989 single The Machineries of Joy (a version of DK’s 1981 single “Wahre Arbeit, Wahrer Lohn”). If you don’t, please enjoy some definitive EBM styles, not to mention one of the most ridiculously rivet videos ever filmed, f’really real.

Die Krupps Feat Nitzer Ebb – The Machineries Of Joy

Hope for Ashbury Heights?

Imagine the surprise of the your pals here at ID:UD last year when Ashbury Heights impressario Anders Hagström announced via the band’s Facebook and Twitter that the group would be disbanding due to dissatisfaction with the band’s label Out of Line. After all, the band had only recently released what went on to individually be one of the best records of the year Take Cair Paramour, and seemed poised to really break through in clubland with tracks like the anthemic “Anti Ordinary”. It was a blow to be sure, when so many bands rocking the accessible synth-pop steez were mired in predicatble Depeche Mode worship or mindless loop based nonsense, AH were making full blown RECORDS, complete with songs that were actually about something. They were a band that mattered, at least to us, and to think that after a scant two full LPs and an EP to their name that the project was defunct was shocking and disheartening.

Couldn't you just eat them up?

There’s some rumblings afoot however. Recently Anders has been updating the band’s largely silent Twitter with some slightly hopeful messages. Take the one that hit today:

“…Negotiations between lawyers is moving ahead, might actually be a future. Fingers crossed!”

Oblique to be sure, but even the hint that Ashbury might have a future is enough to get us excited. Still too early to tell obviously, but given that these songs are still occupying my brain long after I was first obsessing over them, there’s more than enough reasons to keep my ears open, hoping for some good news. Fingers crossed indeed. Enjoy this B-side from the aforementioned Take Cair Paramour, “Sensual Nothing”.

Ashbury Heights – Sensual Nothing

Kant Kino, “We Are Kant Kino – You Are Not”

Kant Kino
We Are Kant Kino – You Are Not
Alfa Matrix, 2010

I first caught wind of Kant Kino on the fourth Endzeit Bunkertracks comp. Amidst all the run of the mill harsh vocals and compressed basslines was a track with…well, harsh vocals and a compressed bassline. But “We Are Kant Kino” stuck out. Maybe it was the chorus’ whimsical melody which called to mind pastoral whistling. Maybe it was the cajones of putting their name in the title of the first track they released. Maybe it was the relative cleverness of the name Kant Kino itself. (“In a world…full of ethical contingencies…one man dared…to be…categorical.”)

In any event, I made a point to buy We Are Kant Kino – You Are Not when it dropped last year. While it certainly doesn’t break any startling new ground, it’s a refreshing take on the dark electro template which has been pretty much ground into pablum by people with far less panache than these Norwegians. Crunch and melody sit in pleasant equilibrium, and there’s an actual awareness of the songcraft underlying classic Belgian EBM. Dancefloor fodder to be sure, but Kant Kino don’t cut any corners and deliver satisfying, fully-fleshed tracks.

Highlights: Everybody talks about how nobody makes “real” industrial music anymore, but at least from a conceptual perspective, it doesn’t get more legit than “Owner Of This House Lives Here”, a track about those who refuse to leave their property in Chernobyl (a club mix of which was recently released on the excellent Electronic Body Matrix comp). Chopped, rhythmic sampling of a band’s own vocals is an old trick, but it works in the context of mid-tempo, relentless chuggers like “Red Rain”. “Stille!” is a skippy enough club track which somehow makes arpeggiated strings seem fresh again.

In addition to a pile of photos n’ stickers n’ such, the limited edition comes with a full-length disc of remixes (plus a rather unnecessary cover of “Control I’m Here”). While they’re not all barnstormers, DJs should find at least a couple of versions they like; I’m taking the Leather Strip and Trakktor ones.

So: a promising debut from an act proving themselves both capable and hungry (they’re currently doing tasty remixes for pretty much everyone and their dog). Well worth keeping an eye on.

Buy it.

Reasons to be Cheerful

Carrying on from what Alex wrote, one of the few commonalities that seems to tie Our Thing together is that whatever it is, its most hardened devotees agree: it sucks now. Perhaps that’s not so surprising, just about every subculture likes to hearken back to some Golden Age when “things were real”, but the multiplicity of sounds and histories which fall under the rubric of “dark alternative” stuff gives everyone and their axe to grind an easy out. Rather than simply yearning for nostalgia, anyone can point to entire sub-genres and declare them crap, the weigh of which is dragging the scene as a whole into mediocrity. We’ve all heard arguments like this before: EBM isn’t “real industrial” (and futurepop doubly so), you can’t dance to powernoise, nobody listens to goth rock anymore, etc.

Robert Tritthardt of "Writhe and Shine" knows the score.
Robert Tritthardt of "Writhe and Shine" knows the score.

To some extent, problems like this are endemic to any big-tent scene. But in the short-term, what about the music itself, evaluated by the standards of its own particular sub-sub-sub-genres? I’ve been guilty of giving damning State of the Unions in the past, of bemoaning the lack of interesting releases on once fresh and vital labels. Obviously, if you give a rat’s ass about music of any stripe you have to get active about looking for good new stuff, but even while putting in work I’ve been tempted now and again to throw in the towel and resign myself to a retirement made up of naught but soul and metal records.

That hasn’t been the case recently. Over the past year and a bit I’ve been overwhelmed by a barrage of new releases (and some reissues) from across the spectrum which have reminded me why I was drawn to the likes of, say, 242, the Sisters and Haujobb in the past, as well as some which have tantalizingly hinted at the shape of things to come. So, in the spirit of starting this, mine and Alex’s third foray into music blogging, on the right foot forward, here are ten reasons (all soon to be topics of separate posts) to be cheerful (to cop a phrase from Greg Egan) about the future of This Thing Of Ours:

Necro Facility
The Skinny Puppy-isms of their first two albums have given way to some of the strongest and most accessible club material of recent years. Catchy and well-produced, their 2011 album Wintermute is an early contender for favourite of the year.

Pretentious, Moi?
A trad-goth supergroup of sorts whose work has been percolating for years, their debut album recalls why we fell in love with just about every band Uncle Mick recommended to us in our teens. Leeds (or a corking representation thereof) stand up.

Liquid Divine
Another group that’s been around for a bit but with their 2009 album Autophobia coalesced into something fully formed. Recalling mid-period Haujobb and the smart polish of, it’s an album with poise and refinement, a real treat in a sea of clumsy aggression.

Absolute Body Control
A project that has existed since the early 80s, their 2010 release Shattered Illusion is simultaneously indistinguishable from their initial work yet still sounds utterly contemporary. The tension between singer (and scene godfather) Dirk Ivens and the buzzing electronics that make up their sound is compelling and radically atmospheric.

Kant Kino
While they’d never be accused of reinventing the wheel, this recent project is somehow far more satisfying than almost any other harsh electro act in recent memory. They’ve struck upon a great balance of melody and crunch, and their debut LP’s rife with club fodder.

Although more associated with the recent gravewave phenomenon, //TENSE// are mining the rich vein of classic EBM originally pioneered by Cabaret Voltaire and Front 242. It’s refreshing to see something gaining buzz and credence outside of the ghetto of the dark electronic club scene which is so steeped in it.

Roaring back almost a decade after the release of their last record of original material, the release of 2011’s Dead Market single marked the return of thinking-person’s EBM. Myer and Samardzic have always occupied a special place in the industrial world, and their time working on side and solo projects hasn’t reduced any of their mojo.

Dan Gatto’s reputation as a consumate performer with Babyland crosses scenes and decades, and he’s going straight for the sweet synth-pop throat with his new work as Continues. A stand out performance at this year’s Kinetik festival and a few tantalizing samples of what he has in store for his debut have us salivating for what’s to come.

Access to Arasaka
The hype says that AtoA are the successors to Gridlock’s vacant crown, but don’t do them the disservice of thinking them a tribute act. This is some thoughtful and complex IDM; in the late 90s we called it technoid, the project is standing right where the lines between abstract techno and new school ambience blur into glorious sound.

Kirlian Camera
The perennial darkwave standard bearers are still active and still producing some of the most magisterial and breathtaking music we’ve collectively ever heard. With a full-length on deck and the recent Ghlóir Ar An Oiche EP folks should stay mindful, KC are still building on their already considerable legacy.

Hello, and a few words on Etymology

Third time’s the charm? Maybe not. For those that don’t know, this ain’t me and B’s first rodeo, although in honesty our previous endeavours in the world of music blogging haven’t ended in a particularly climactic fashion. More whimper than bang if you feel me. That said, now that my partner in crime is largely done bringing the fire to academia, and I’ve emerged from an extended period of crippling writer’s barricade, we’re ready to hold forth. We even got a focus of sorts this time, and that bears a bit of discussion.

Full disclosure: Bruce and I are DJs (although everyone is a fucking DJ now, so to clarify, we are gigging DJs, we play out, frequently), and for the most part we ply our trade in a specific area. Our shared residency, that is to say that the night where we spin together under the auspices of Vancouver mainstay DJ Pandemonium is called Sanctuary, or affectionately, Skank. If you already knew that, bear with me, I’m leading up to something here. One topic that we’ve discussed at length as that there isn’t any real agreed upon language to identify the area we work in. It’s funny because most towns have a night kinda like ours, a place where people who wear a lot of black clothing go to dance to Post-Industrial, Eighties, Goth Rock, New Wave, EBM and a smattering of other tunes. Keep in mind, these are some disparate genres, and it’d take a monster fuckin’ flow chart to trace back how say, a jam by new-Goth-old-schoolers Pretentious, Moi? can be gathered under the same umbrella as the well-informed Electro-Industrial of the guys in Run Level Zero.

It’s that kind of variety that makes this scene so hard to pin down. Traditionally people gather it up under “Goth/Industrial” as a catch all. It’s pretty lacking as blanket terms go, with a few notable exceptions most places don’t play more than a smattering of obvious Goth classics and a sizable portion don’t bother at all, and Industrial is a meaningless term for a lot of different kinds of music that don’t share much outside some common ancestry. I occasionally hear people refer to it as “Dark Alternative” but I’m not a fan of it; Alternative is a big fat umbrella, and it don’t keep the rain off if you wanna follow the analogy through. For my own part when I refer to it I often use the problematic “Dark Club Music” if only because a) the music is almost universally “DARK”, b) people into this stuff still do congregate together at club events. Given how unsatisfying all this terminology is, it’s not surprise that people into “it” often just call it “the scene”. Bruce and I have taken to calling it “Our Thing”*, which is good shorthand for us, but almost entirely useless in any kind of half-serious music writing on the topic.

So here’s the thesis: Given that this thing is exists, is established globally and is still a going concern, but we lack even a damn NAME to call it by, perhaps there’s some talk to be done on the topic. More broadly, I Die: You Die exists as an outlet for us to discuss the music of “our thing”. We’ll detour occasionally, but that’s where our focus will lie. Welcome aboard.

*It’s also a reference to a drunk joke we came up with regarding “La Gotha Nostra”, but explaining that would take time and confuse matters. We like to amuse ourselves here at ID:UD.