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Sordid Reviews Archive February 1999

Artrosis - "Hidden Dimension"(Hall of Sermon)
This is new - a Polish band who sing in English … and Polish! If German and French language music is at an advantage, then Artrosis are totally screwed. However, those of you out there who are unafraid of something a little different and dislike the Anglo-centric cultural imperialism of the music biz should check this out. It's not just a novelty, either - this band mix driving powerful rhythm, incredibly fast guitar playing and some amazing vocals. Medeah's singing ranges from all sweetness and light, on the angelic 'Dance' and 'Seventh Seal', to powerful and Gothic on the driving 'Black and White Dreams'. The Polish tracks don't even seem strange, especially seeing as no one could ever figure out what the hell the Cochteau Twins were on about. 'Rzeka Istnien' features an ethereal vocal backing and a spoken word theme. Much of the music has an almost operatic fell, the layered vocals wash over the intense power of the music, lifting it to an unearthly level, as on 'Epitanum'. At other time however, the vocals merely provide the spice for the pure, balls-to-the-wall energy of the music, as on 'Gora Preznaczeniu'. It's not just the language that separate Artrosis from the rest of the pack, it's also their inspired mixing of the contrasting styles of floating ethereal atmospheric and raw metallic power.

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Lacrimosa - "Live"(Hall of Sermon)
Lacrimosa are a rarity, a classic Goth band that doesn't date back to the early 80s. They're rare in another sense in that they are a popular band who rarely sings in English. Despite the scorn generally poured on the music of the continent, every now and then countries like France and Germany produce bands that astound all expectation (and at least they never foisted Take That or Boyzone on us). Lacrimosa are one of those bands, a band that also pioneered and advanced Gothic music in the dark days when it was the epitome of uncool. Lacrimosa did another thing as well, they proved, along with a few other bands that Gothic rock and the German language mesh perfectly.
A double live CD is generally something to run away from very quickly, as the format screams ten-minute drum and guitar solos. Not so here, while although there is the odd-bit of fret-wanking, in general the sound is kept as tight as a vice. Lacrimosa give the impression of being a professionally run circus - all the performers get their chance in the spot-light, but through it all, it is the ring-master who's the star. And what a ringleader Tilo Wolff is! His voice has an incredible range, from the sneering growl of 'Ich bin der brennende Komet' and the mournful lament of 'Vermächtnis der Sonne' or 'Schakal' and the sorrowful whine of 'Stolzes Herz' to the pure Gothic power of 'Seele in Not' or 'Versuchung' and the demonic roar of 'Copycat'. His vocals span the gulf between the disparate styles of music on display, the quiet piano, the lush synths, the driving rhythms and the screeching guitars. Anne Nurmi's vocals match his perfectly, providing a light contrast to his darkness with the harmonies on tracks like "Tränen de Sehnsucht', 'Siehst du mich im Licht' and the magnificent 'Kabinett der Sinne'. The only time the live performance seems to falter is when she sings solo, on 'Not every pain hurts' and 'Make it end.' Maybe they were recorded on bad nights, but the live versions do not have the power of her usual studio performances. Her voice seems to falter quite a bit. However, despite this minor flaw, which only affects two tracks out of seventeen, this is a great collection. It would make a perfect introduction to a classic band, but is also indispensable for the collection of long-time fans.

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Licorice - "Sulk"(Bloodflower)
This could be described as an unhinged version of the Bad Seeds, but that would imply that Nick Cave is hinged, and we all know he bears no resemblance to a door in that sense. Anyway, this is what you would call eclectic. I don't think I've ever heard an album that changes as much from track to track as this does. The opener, 'juliette loves me' is lunatic cabaret with a piano, followed by 'oh', which is like a carnival at a madhouse. Suddenly, 'the day gina lost her smile' creeps up behind you with some beautiful Spanish guitar and a beguiling vocal that is slightly, and attractively off-key. 'deadgirl' is different again, like a hysterical Violent Femmes. From out of nowhere bursts the heavy electro 'curl' and then we're back in Bad Seeds territory with the forceful 'darker' with a violin added to the piano this time round. It settles down into that style for a few tracks, apart from the snippet of conversation that is 'funeral jewellery and fairy liquid', until we get to 'taxis are fun', a mad mix of piano, distortion and speech. It all wraps up rather sedately with the ambient sound-scape that is 'we should hang out more often.' This is fresh, unpredictable and probably a sign of severe mental imbalance, but it is also very enjoyable and well worth a listen.

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Mara's Torment - "Across for Show"(-)
Dark trance/Gothic ambient, call it what you will, Mara's Torment play spacey techno sound-scapes with a dark, oppressive feel. The CD starts of with a fairly cheeky steal from the intro to the Sisters' 'Under the Gun' on 'Where We Go to Die', which then builds into a downbeat wall of sound. The pace picks up on track 3, 'Where it Begins', a track that features a pacier trance beat and some edgy keyboards. 'Trances, Dialogues' has a more Gothic feel, heavily atmospheric with a hint of classical vibes. 'Symmetry', on the other hand, is fairly bright electro, fast and noisy. 'Some Hope However Strong' is a fairly cool mix of raw, hard beats and violin sounding synths. Across the board, Rik MacLean takes chunks of Goth and dark electro and strips them to their bare essentials of synths and beats. It all comes together very nicely. It is a hard CD to listen to directly, like most ambient, it often seems fairly uneventful, but it is best as background music, providing a dark, edgy atmosphere. What is strange about this is the way it's been stuck in the dark/Gothic pigeonhole. This is, in truth, not a million miles away from the some of the stuff Aphex Twin or Luke Vibert (Wagon Christ) have done, yet while they're feted as innovative techno artists, this will probably languish in complete obscurity. It's a pity, really.

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mittageisen - "… alles is anders … nichts hat sich geändert"(mital-U)
mittageisen v2 - "geld - arbeit"(mital-U)
The mittageisen CD is a compilation of material, mainly from a three-year period, by one of the earliest darkwave/electro Goth bands. These tracks were mostly recorded from '82 to '85 (seven of them in '82 when Depeche Mode still couldn't get enough), mixing the emerging Gothic sounds of the Banshees (from whom their name comes in part), Bauhaus and the Cure with the sparse electro of Kraftwerk. In general, it's slow, dark and morose with droning guitars and vocals, under-pinned by a sharp electro beat. In other ones, they are one of the archetypal darkwave bands who were releasing albums when the Sisters were only working on their early EPs. There is, however, a very simple and obvious reason why this band do not occupy the same privileged position as the classic Goth bands - they didn't sing in English. Most of the tracks are in German, with one, 'Persistance de la Mémoire', in French. It's the kind of music you hear as the soundtrack for oppressive, dark German sci-fi films. The sound does not stay the same all the way through, 'Automaten', which is here in two versions, is a fairly upbeat, electro piece. Others are more sound-scapey; droning pieces that evoke factory work. This CD is more than an historical oddity, it is a must for fans of early Sisters stuff, or the Cure's dark period which culminated in the oppressive 'Pornography'.
Fast forward quite a few years and we've got mittageisen v2, Bruno Waser and Co. are back with a hint of things to come, four mixes of a new track 'Geld', and 'Arbeit (nur für automaten)' which is 'Automaten' reconstructed. Bizarre as it may seem, they seem more in tune with what's hip now than they were then. This is strange Euro retro-electro that does seem to be all the rage at the moment (Air, Daft Punk, etc.). These two track don't have the dark, brooding style of the old stuff, but they may be keeping all that for the forth-coming album. For now, they're releasing a more mainstream electro single to try and attract attention. Smart move.

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Murder of Crows - "Toys of Desperation"(-)
Gothic riot-grrrl, yippee! Maybe it is true that a lot of what Goth bands sing about is fairly cliched - vampires, religion, insanity - but I don't think screwed up relationships are a good replacement. That's become an even more cliched subject, and at least Goths normally have their tongues firmly implanted in their cheeks. This was cool when Tori Amos did it first, but then she had the humour and the touch of craziness to make it work, but since that horrible Morrisette woman, I do not ever want to hear lines bitching about 'sucking on your dick' (from 'Who's the Bitch') again. Musically they're not bad, very grungy Goth - bassy, chugging guitars and a strong rhythm, with a fair bit of Tool influence. Unfortunately, the singing, while intense, is much too Riot Grrrl, much too early 90s, to be cool. Goth needs to have some humour and irony in there, and this is far too indignant and self-righteous to cut it.

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My Insanity - "Still Dreams in Violent Areas"(Century Media)
Imagine a band that's more metallic than the Fields of the Nephilim, yet at the same time as powerfully dark as the Sisters, as technologically adventurous as Clan of Xymox and as classically influenced as Lacrimosa. Then add in a perfect sense of melody and power, and what you've got is My Insanity. Faust's vocals range from Carl McCoy or Tilo Wolff at their hoarsest, to harmonies Neil Young probably wouldn't turn his nose up at, while most of the time settling into an Andy Eldritch-style growl. This is an album of contrasts that work very well - classical synths with gravely vocals, piano with speed metal guitars, techno beats and pure Goth vibes. My Insanity have done what many others have failed to do, they have married Goth, techno and extreme metal in an enviable union, without the jarring mismatch that has afflicted bands like My Dying Bride and the Nefilim when they tried crossing over.
The reason My Insanity has avoided this pitfall is their overall sense of melody and music that prevents them going too far into any dead-end styles. The harmonies on 'Castle of Dreams' or the layers of synths and piano throughout are masterstrokes that prevent the music becoming stale. It's not perfect, by any stretch of the imagination, at times the sound almost veers too far into Black Metal territory, but the great thing is, it never stays there long enough to get irritating. Something crops up to make it tolerable. If you like your Goth heavy, or you're a fan of metal bands that are unafraid of mixing styles and experimenting a lot, then this is highly recommended.

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Paris by Night - "Dawning"(Seraph)
A band of Gothic elegance? What the hell is going on? There was a time when most bands avoided the term Goth like the plague, now it seems to have gone completely the other way, at least Stateside. Paris by Night are not dark, powerful or in any way Goth. There have always been bands for whom the term was debatable - All About Eve, for example - but this isn't even as close as they got. Shakespeare's Sister were more Goth than this! So, be warned, don't believe everything you read. Musically, this has much more in common with sixties bands like Jefferson Airplane, it's full of hippie clichés and it ain't Goth. That's about all there is to say except to ask what is the world coming to?

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