Unknown Pleasures Records – 14th February 2018
Given the band’s name and that of the label they’re signed to, it’s only fitting that they’re exponents of bleak synth-driven post-punk. Sure enough, as the Italian five-piece’s biography notes, Stefano Bellerba (vocals, guitar), Leonardo Mori (synth), Matteo Luciani (bass), Saverio Paiella (guitar), and Daniele Cruccolini (drums) formed in 2010, and united over their love of Joy Division, The Cure, Nine Inch Nails, and Depeche Mode. The bio adds that ‘their music is also strongly influenced by Bauhaus, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Japan, The Damned, Interpol, Suicide, CSI, CCCP, and Massimo Volume.’
One of my favourite poems of all time is Philip Larkin’s ‘This be the Verse’, and the fact they put it to music for single release in the summer of 2017 -and made a decent job of it – got me on-side ahead of the new album.
The album in question, Santa Sangre is a lot more guitar-orientated and edgier: while the synths are still very much in the mix, the sound is dominated by brittle, metallic-edged guitars drenched in reverb and flanged hard. It’s the sound of 1982-1985. I’d be hesitant to use the term ‘gothic’ or any variant, despite the snaking atmospherics of tracks like ‘Rejoice’, with its strolling bassline and vocals all but lost in an ocean of echo, which allude to the likes of The Danse Society and acts of similar vintage.
I make no apologies for being an old goth (although I’m not nearly old enough to be a proper old goth, having been born in 1975 and only discovered alternative music in any form in 1986/7). Similarly, I make no apologies for not being a purist, or for my knowledge of second-wave and beyond bands being limited. There’s so much else out there in the musical sphere. Yet, at the tail end of the year, feeling weary and wintery and withdrawn, I find myself here – as I did late last year, and the year before – with a crop of albums which betray gothier leanings which leap out as among the strongest and most compelling releases I’ve received all year.
Lead single, ‘Circle’ was a blast of buzzing bass and squalling guitars, with elements of The Jesus and Mary Chain and A Place to Bury Strangers, pitched with chilly synths and vocals with a grippingly desperate edge. It’s placed up front in the track listing, and serves the purpose of demanding the attention with its urgency and serrated edges.
Snaking basslines, choppy guitars and tribal drumming abound, but there’s a pop edge to a number of the songs: ‘Blown Away’ melds fractal guitars to an insistent flanged bassline that’s as pure Cure as the synths which eddy at a respectful distance in the background. There’s a certain bounce – and even catchiness – to the richly-layered shoegaze-goth of ‘For Every Flaw’.
When they do lugubrious, it’s as sparse and bleak as anything on Faith, and when they do slow-build, they really go for delayed gratification, forging a dense atmosphere along the way.
Santa Sangre is taut, tense and crackles with dark energy.