Posts Tagged ‘goth’

Christopher Nosnibor

Having declared Evi Vine’s last album ‘a masterpiece’ and vowed to watch her and her band live whenever the opportunity presented, this live stream seemed like the best opportunity I’d get for a while. Lockdown may be loosening, but the prospect of proper gigs seems a way off yet.

While a lot of live streams have simply been solo bedroom shows, or bands playing from separate Zoom screens, have had a certain novelty, I’ve simply found them uninteresting and not even a remove substitute for an actual concert. It begins with a stream of something ambient and an empty space: yes, actual build-up and anticipation.

What’s more, Evi performs with bandmember Steven Hill providing additional guitar, heavily layered in spectral shoegaze effects as a backdrop to her hypnotic Dylan Carlson-esque picking, creating a much fuller sound that’s a closer approximation to an actual show.

Playing in a bay window facing out onto a luscious garden, the sun descending behind and casting the duo in silhouette, and with white fairy lights drapes thick on her amp head, the appearance is somewhere between a conventional stage and a garden party.

The nature of the songs – here, often rearranged – means they’re well suited to this more minimal kind of performances, sans percussion, and Evi’s voice is always the focal point anyway and it drifts in washes of reverb-soaked guitar as if in a dream. Sound and volume to matter, and they’ve turned things up. Consequently, I actually find myself feeling something, something other than simply watching music on telly.

If the accompaniment of Loki the dog’s barking and my buffering broadband (which means I miss out on minutes at a time, even causing me to miss ‘Sabbath’ in its entirety…. ) are impendences of varying levels to the experience, then the slightly blurry camera and the fact Evi’s dialogue between songs is difficult to make out really aren’t, and remind of common real-life gig issues.

It’s a captivating set, and ‘In this Moment’ is truly magnificent as sculpted contrails quaver and taper like smoke. They even manage some lighting action for a solo instrumental from Steve, which is immense, and after a haunting, elegiac close, there’s an abstract ambient track playing while they retrieve the dogs from the garden and pack up. It’s an alternative version of stage-clearing while the audience thins and people mill about finishing their pints, but it’s somehow a fitting end to the show.

Vine

Only Lovers Records – 27th March 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

This is an album I’ve been on the edge of my seat for for quite some time: their debit, Observed in a Dream was fully four years ago, which feels like an eternity. The two preceding singles set the bar for expectations for Prepared For A Nightmare – preparing us not so much for a nightmare, but a haunting set of songs that built on the foundations of its predecessor, flexing new muscles, pushing new boundaries.

The title track raises the curtain in grand style, brooding drama filtered through a misty haze of reverb. The guitars wander in and out of key along doric scales that spin a gothy twist to the echoey psychedelic surf vibe.

After a mid-tempo opening salvo, ‘Ludwig Meidner’ steps it up with full-tilt rolling drums reminiscent of The Danse Society circa Seduction, blended with The Cure on Pornography. There are cold, needling synths in the mix undulating across the thunderous barrage of percussion and the sound’s filled out by a low-slung bass groove while Trond sings about ‘dancing on your grave’: the lyrical themes and musical style remains unchanged, but what is different is that there’s more space, which conjures a different darkness.

‘The Night Before’ is a doomy, gloomy trudge, sparsely set and more about layers than rive – which is perhaps true of the album as a whole this is more focused on detail, on nuance, on atmosphere. Closer ‘Endless Shimmer’ hints at all the shoegaze, even op, and it’s in the mix, but it’s taut, dense, and dark and there’s a tension that simmers beneath that’s hard to pull apart. The fadeout on ‘Goldmine’ seems a little odd, but perhaps that’s as much about fashion as anything. The 80s… This is so reminiscent as to be a repro in some way. But it’s ok: there’s no sense that any of this s forced or artificial. Prepared For A Nightmare oozes song quality and a richness of performance and appropriate production. It’s seriously hard to fault any of it.

Prepared For A Nightmare is definitely darker and deeper and less immediate than its predecessor, but it’s all the better for it.

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Only Lovers Records – 4th February 2020

James Wells

Mayflower Madame step up the promo for Prepared for a Nightmare, the follow-up to 2016’s Observed in a Dream with a second single in the shape of ‘Swallow’. It reveals a mellower side in relation to its predecessor, the bruising ‘Vultures’, and while it’s still very much an example of their trademark sultry psychedelic surf, ‘Swallow’ reveals a previously unheard melodic leaning.

Described as ‘a love song… about the dependence and fragility one might feel in a relationship – involving both a fear of and a desire for submission’, according to front man Trond Fagernes, it’s still not quite pop, and not exactly a ballad, either, and it’s draped in gothy shadows and doomed romanticism.

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Mayflower - Swallow

Only Lovers Records – 4th February 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Sometimes, it doesn’t take much to change the mood of the day, and for me, it’s often the case that the ping of an email containing a release by an act I like that can be that mood-lifter on a barren or otherwise unremarkable day. The arrival of Mayflower Madame’s latest offering was today’s: having been snared by their debut album, 2016’s Observed in Dream, I’ve been on the edge of my seat for more, and while 2018’s Premonition EP was more than welcome, it felt like something of a placeholder ahead of the next event proper.

With album number two, Prepared for a Nightmare around the corner, they’re offering a taste of what’s to come with single ‘Vultures’, a song about ‘desire, gluttony and vanity – both on a personal level and as a general symptom of the excesses of modern society’ which is ‘partly inspired by the art of George Grosz and Hieronymus Bosch’.

‘Vultures’ very much cements the style and sound they’ve showcased previously, with reverby guitars dominating a psych/goth hybrid form that’s got tension and drama by the spade, but also a brooding, doom-laden atmosphere. The pessimism isn’t explicit, but hangs heavy in the air. But while retaining that psychy / dark surf twang, ‘Vultures’ is harder-edged than anything they’ve released to date, pinned down by an insistent beat with the vocals low in the mix and soaked in reverb and angst. The production more muscular, too, and it all stacks up for a belting blast of tense, dark contemporary post-punk that says the album is going to be a corker.

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Mayflower Madame - Vultures (cover)

SPV / NoCut and ADA / Entertainment One

24th January 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

And we’re back once again in the divergent and varied field of what’s come to be goth in the 21st century, and it’s a very far cry from its post-punk roots. The late 70s and early 80s saw the emergence of Siouxsie and the Banshees, Bauhaus, The Cure, The Sisters of Mercy, The March Violets, Christian Death and a slew of bands who would subsequently be labelled as ‘goth’, and who were subsequently joined by the likes of Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, The Cult, Fields of the Nephilim, The Mission, etc., etc. The fact of the matter is, there was little commonality between these acts, and that goth was something of a media fabrication. What about the fans? Let’s not confuse the fans and the artists, or a subculture with its icons. So what was a scene that never was morphed into an evermore diffuse group of subcultures, with an ever-broader range of bands who had little or nothing in common beyond their shared fanbase. After metal, there can be few labels that provide an umbrella for a greater range of styles.

So here we are, presented with The Book of Fire, the eleventh album by German goth-metal act MONO INC. And while it’s goth, it’s not really my kinda goth, and couldn’t be further from the dark post-punk or art-rock stylings of the first wave of bands. Is this evolution, or dilution, cross-pollination and contamination? I suppose that’s a matter of perspective.

The album’s first song, the title track, is over seven and a half minutes long. It begins with a slick guitar that almost manages to sound like a harpsichord, and then it glides into some kind of Celtic folk metal and it very soon starts to become uncomfortable. Uncomfortable because such buoyant energy is more the domain of the hoedown knees-up. The folk-hued power-metal of ‘Louder Than Hell’ brims with positivity about strength and stuff, and explodes with crisp synths and choral backing vocals and it’s fun enough, but it’s also pretty cringy: it’s the kind of thing Germany might enter into Eurovision.

Then again, ‘Shining Light’ has such a massive chorus and a hook so strong that it’s hard to resist even when you’re hating it: it has that uplifting surge that lifts you and carries you away on the tide from the inside.

The euphoria swiftly dissipates with the next song, ‘Where the Raven Flies’, which is the definition of theatrical cliché melodrama. And herein lies the problem, which I accept is entirely personal, at least on a primary level. In short, I think it’s cheesy and naff.

On a secondary level, and one which is more objective, what The Book of Fire represents is very much a commercial take on the genre; theatre and drama don’t necessarily equate to an absence of depth, but this is good-time party goth, and any emotional sincerity is polished away under a slick veneer of pomp and overblown production. In this way, it’s as credible as examples of either folk or goth as Ed Sheeran’s ‘Galway Girl’ or Doctor and the Medics’ rendition of ‘Spirit in the Sky’. It displays all the trappings, but none of the authenticity. For all the theatre, there’s a woeful absence of substance, the brooding is third-rate thespianism rather than the anguish of tortured souls.

Elsewhere, ‘The Last Crusade’ is riven with choral bombast, but is little more than an obvious ‘This Corrosion’ rip-off, that once again leans heavily on Germanic folk tropes, and ‘The Gods of Love’ similarly brings together Floodland-era Sisters with Rammstein. I’m sure plenty will view this as a good thing, but they’d be wrong, so wrong. ‘What have we done?’ they ask repeatedly on the final and suitably epic finale track ‘What have We Done’, and it’s a fair question: whatever it is, it’s not good.

In fairness, it’s not quite ‘Rocky Horror’ bad on the spectrum of play-goth, but it’s not far off, and while it’s sonically ambitious, creatively, it’s depressingly derivative.

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Christopher Nosnibor

8th November 2019

The bio bit tells me that ‘NAUT is a 5 piece dark rock band from Bristol, whose shared love of classic rock and metal, alongside reverence for the post-punk pioneers of the late 70s and 80s makes itself known from the start. Their songs switch from raw tribal tom beats to uplifting anthemic synth in a moment, but always stay danceable and perhaps most dangerously, catchy’.

Fan comments on their bandcamp shed a little more light on their sound, observing the band’s ‘unique ability to recreate the original sound and feeling of 80’s uk goth rock. Sisters, Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, the Rose of Avalanche, early Nephilim…’ and their offering ‘the perfect mix of Post Punk with old school Goth Rock… Killing Joke meet The Wake & Love Like Blood.’

It’s no secret that I’m a rabid Sisters / Lorries / Nephs / KJ fan, but it’s equally documented that I consider most of the bands who’ve taken them as influences are generic and derivative, and that includes the mid-late 80s acts like Rose of Avalanche who traded in diluted forms of blueprint-based accessible alternative rock. This means I’ve no idea who The Wake or Love Like Blood are, but judging by the referential monikers, I probably don’t need to.

The EP’s title track kicks things off with a classically ‘gothy’ rhythm that’s dominated by a quickfire snare attack and defined by spindly guitars, trebly and awash with chorus. And talking of Chorus, it does boast a strong, hooky chorus, and there’s real energy behind it, which pushes it over the line from template-based to credible and sufficiently possessed of a band identity while still very much drawing well-studied inspiration from their precursors.

‘Spirit Horses’ steps down both the tempo and the individuality, and there’s a chord progression that’s lifted straight off The Sisters’ ‘Marian’, but the third and final track, which slows the pace further to a sluggish mid-tempo resembles ‘Blasting Off’ era Lorries, and works remarkably well with a looser feel but a grainy greyness that brings a certain weight.

On the strength of this outing, Naut are at their best when they go deeper and darker, and if they continue to evolve their songwriting in the directions demonstrated here, there’s a good chance they’ll break out beyond the trad-goth scene and into wider alternative circles.

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NAUT

Buzzhowl Records – 18th October 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

What came first, the music or the mindset? I’m going to put it down to how some of us – myself included – are wired, and will forever be drawn to that tense, dark sound that came out of the late 70s and early 80s that was a reaction to – and against – everything that was happening at the time. Just as punk was a reaction to – and rebellion against – prog and the beigeness of the times, so post -punk and its various strains, including (dare I whisper it?) goth harnessed the frustration and the dejection that was a product of the first years under Thatcher and the political climate of the second cold war and rendered it in a more articulate, and perhaps more musically resonant way (because let’s face it, 90% of so-called punk bands were just playing pub rock with the amps up).

To revisit briefly an observation I’ve made variously in recent years, these are bleak, bleak times, and the future is well out of hand. The post-punk renaissance that began around 2004 with the emergence of Editors and Interpol grew from an underground which was there long before, but now it’s in full spate. Reading’s Typical Hunks fully embrace all of this as a guitar bass duo backed by a drum machine.

The guitar on ‘Snakebit’ is spindly, reverb-heavy, weaving one of those tense post-punk guitar-lines that’s pure Joy Division, and it snakes its way around a tight, insistent bass that booms and drives along with the insistence of the grooves Craig Adams laid down to define the sound of The Sisters of Mercy in the early years. That in turn is wenled to thumping beat that’s a distillation of all things Yorkshire circa 1983-4. It’s all in the programming: nothing fancy, no attempt to make it sound like an actual drummer, no flash fills or flourishes, just a hammering repetition and a snare sound that’ll slice the top off your head. Those Boss Dr Rhythm machines really are unbeatable. The vocals are tense, paranoid, and channel disaffection.

Strains of feedback and a hesitant bass hover before everything locks in around another relentless rhythm on ‘Unravelling’ with elements of March Violets, Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, and early Danse Society all spun into a solid block of discomfort. Vintage in its roots yet ultimately providing the soundtrack of the zeitgeist, this is a cracking Aside / B-side combo housed in a suitably barren sleeve, that showcases Typical Hunks at their strongest and most focused yet.

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Artwork

New Heavy Sounds – 11th October 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

Cold in Berlin’s evolution has followed a fairly steady but swift arc: having emerged in 2010 with the spiky attack that was Give Me Walls, Rituals of Surrender represents their fourth album. That’s a respectable work rate, and over that time they’ve remained true to their dark, post-punk gothy roots, but have become progressively slower and heavier, the guitars growing sludgier, doomier.

In musical circles, there is always a ‘new strain’ emerging, even if said strain is a revisioning of an older strain. Not so long ago, it was post-punk revivalism, then there was a vintage heavy metal return, which in turn spawned the emergence of a stoner / doom / sludge hybrid. Cold in Berlin, having crashed in on the post-punk tidal wave are now more closely aligned to another more niche strain of the latter, namely colossally heavy female-fronted bands who bring an ethereal and emotive aspect to the sludgy / stoner / heavy template. Is it lazy journalism to bracket Cold in Berlin’s latest offering alongside Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard and the last couple of albums by Chelsea Wolfe? Perhaps, but the references are at least instructive in terms of establishing a certain thread of stylistic commonality. But for every similarity, there are equal differences, and Cold in Berlin are most definitely a unique proposition in the way they balance the instrumental heft with Maya’s powerful vocals.

The album gets straight down to business with ‘The Power,’ which prefaced the arrival back in early September, accompanied by an appropriately moody, horror-hinting video. The bass and guitar grate and saw in unison over a slow tribal march. The tension builds and breaks in a landslide to a mammoth chorus.

The nine tracks on Rituals are heavy – plenty heavy – with some killer riffs. But that weight and the overloading overdrive is not at the expense of accessibility: the songs are clearly structured and benefit from strong and defined choruses.

Lyrically, the album is strewn with funereal imagery of death and decay, coffins and caskets, yet somehow manages to avoid cliché. The songs also pour anguish. ‘There is grief that tastes good in your mouth / there is grief that takes years to scrub out / There is darkness buried beneath my skin / there is darkness at the heart of everything’, Maya sings, pained, at the start of ‘Avalanche’ against a sparse sonar-like bass boom and a weeping drone of feedback before the drums and power chords come crashing in with crushing force. Can there be onomatopoeic instrumentation? If so, Cold in Berlin have mastered it, the pulverizing

The ritual aspect of surrender is never far from range: ‘You could string her up / you could string her up her body’s a temple for your love’ Maya sings commandingly on ‘Temples’ against a thunderous grind of heavily distorted guitars. Elsewhere, ‘Monsters’ is tense, intense, and grand, drama radiating from every note, and Rituals of Surrender is outstanding in its consistency.

Blending hefty riffology with full-lunged brooding, Rituals of Surrender sees Cold in Berlin occupy the space between doom and goth, emerging like Sabbath fronted by Siouxsie. And they do it so well: this could well be their definitive album.

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Cold in Beerlin - Rituals

30th August 2019 – Retratando Voces

Christopher Nosnibor

This split release, which pairs Leeds solo artist Black Ribbon with Nottingham duo Don’t Try, follows up on the former’s remix of Drahla’s single ‘Twelve Divisions of the Day’ and the latter’s 2018 single, ‘JWAFJ’, emerging on a German label. Mixed and mastered by Wayne Adams of Bear Bites Horse Studios, and featuring artwork by Hayden Menzies (METZ), this has got the lot behind it – and it delivers on all of its promise.

Listening to the dark, goth-tinged post-punk vibes that permeate both contributions, it makes sense: you get the impression that however much there’s been a sustained renaissance for all things goth-tinged and post-punk here in Britain (which, let’s face it, hasn’t been especially great of late), these are artists who will likely fare better on the mainland, especially in Germany.

Black Ribbon’s ‘Interception’ arrives in a squeal of feedback before clattering percussion and angular synth discord pave the way for a driving dark disco groove. It’s a magnificently mangled hybrid of DAF, Gary Numan, The Human League and early Foetus. Take away any one of the elements and it’s a different animal, but it’s the collision of all things at once that make it special. Done differently, it could be a straight-ahead electropop tune, albeit with an industrial production and early 80s vibe. But with incidentals exploding all over the place, while the vocals, heavily treated and low in the mix have a robotic tone and veer between blank monotone and rising desperation.

Transitioning through a series of passages with some expansive instrumental segments, it stretches out to build a masterfully epic listening experience. Fading out just shy of nine minutes, its end brings a disappointment that its not much, much longer.

The Big Black comparisons that have been hovering around Don’t Try are of merit in the context of ‘Melancholy Chapters’, the drum machine pounding relentlessly behind a gauze of guitars reminiscent very much of ‘Bad Houses’ from Big Black’s debut. Notably, this was Albini and Co’s attempt to sound like The Cure. And while it captured the claustrophobia of 17 Seconds, it did so with everything cranked up to eleven. Don’t Try bring the goth via Big Back loop full circle here with a pulverising six minutes of hard-hitting bleakness.

However, something about ‘Melancholy Chapters’ calls to mind other acts, notably to my ear The Screaming Blue Messiahs, particularly in the sneering vocal delivery. It’s kinda punk, kinda something more sophisticated. That doesn’t mean it’s not direct, hard-hitting, heavy: if anything, this is denser and packs more impact than their previous releases, which have focused on primitivism and treble.

It may only contain two songs, but this feels like a massive release, a landmark of sorts, and something deserving of a lathe-cut clear vinyl 12”. It’s challenging and likely divisive, with both acts taking something that could be accessible and rendering it with degrees of difficulty. On a personal level, this is much of the appeal: I crave art that makes demands, and admire the makers of the art that does so. But it’s more than that: art that challenges probes into the soul and the psyche, it alerts the senses and makes you feel. Against a backdrop of sameness that induces a numb torpor, we need that jolt, that kick, that buzz to remind us we’re alive. And this does that.

Hayden Menzies Artwork

There are rituals surrounding all acts of surrender; the strange dance we perform before the many endings scattered throughout our lives, before the next beginning rises from the dust. Cold in Berlin’s new album Rituals of Surrender, released on 11th October via London label New Heavy Sounds, offers up thunderous modern fables, crawling from the wreckage of an ordinary life – dark and hopeful – standing tall in the debris.

With new single ’The Power’, Cold in Berlin return with a dark slab of gothic doom just in time to soundtrack a burning world, which they describe as, ‘dark, black and infinitely heavy’. Listen now: