Posts Tagged ‘The Birthday Massacre’

It’s a wet and blustery and very northern night in York, but this eagerly-anticipated rescheduled show from The Birthday Massacre, which sold out this intimate 150-capacity venue long ago has brought the old goths out of the woodwork like a swarm of woodlice, and with doors advertised as being as an early 7:00, it’s busy on my arrival at 7:20, and despite Witch of the Vale not due on till 7:45, already the front rows are solid.

The synth-heavy, mood heavy Cleopatra Records signings Witch of the Vale deliver a magnificent set of dark brooding ambient with ethereal vocals and combine spacious moody soundscapes and introspective vulnerability. There are strong hints of Zola Jesus, but also so much more. Harder edges and industrial percussion grow in force as the set progresses. They don’t do chat, they don’t do audience connection, but they do very much do moving, haunting atmospherics. Toward the end of their forty-five minute set, they cover Nine Inch Nails’ ‘Hurt’ in an industrial shoegaze style, and it’s good. In fact, it’s all good, although instrumentalist Ryan’s denim shorts spoil the look a bit .

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Witch of the Vale

“What’s up Yorrrrrk?” I slump a little inside as Vanilla Sugar struts onto the stage. From the off, there’s lots of posing, hands up cheerleading… Suddenly, maybe three songs in, the urban cybergoth pop karaoke gets dark. That is to say Pretty Hate Machine NIN meets Kelis with direct and fairly juvenile lyrics, and while she’s got an impressive light show, it’s still urban cybergoth karaoke. ‘Listen York I want you to vibe with me now’ toots the skitzy mall goth, and while she may call it horror pop, it’s ultimately r’n’b with dayglo, pink hair, and zips, and the overreliance on backing including backing vocals which make t difficult to determine what’s actually being done live rather undermines the impact of the handful of decent tunes she does actually have, There’s lots of tongue out and Instagram posing – but not a lot else.

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Vanilla Sugar

The Birthday Massacre are as straight up goth as they come in terms of image, and have spent the last twenty-three years mining a seam of technoindustrial / electro / dark pop / goth.

This is a small stage for a big band, and I don’t just mean in terms of dimensions. Back home, they’d just played the 600-capaccity Lexington in Toronto; two nights ago it was the 200-capacity Lexington in London. The 150-capacity Fulford Arms, with its low ceiling and low stage very much epitomises the concept of ‘intimate’. But they absolutely revel in it, as do the crowd.

There’s an overpowering smell of Deep Heat at first, but that’s swiftly replaced by the tang of perspiration. It’s hot, hot, hot! Amazingly crisp, dense sound. Keytar! Instant clapalong to #’Destrpyer’ which lands early.

They repeatedly describe it as cozy, and that’s hardly surprising in context) but seem genuinely enthusiastic to be playing this intimate show with lots of handshaking and high-fiving. As they slam out relentless poppy choruses and phat chunky riffs. The drums are so tight they sound programmed, and despite the apparent chaos onstage, they’re pristine tight. It’s a proper pea-souper of a smoke show, too.

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The Birthday Massacre

I’d be entirely immersed were it not for the fact the bearded ponytail-sporting guy in front of me is an irritating end, extravagantly waving one arm while clenching his girlfriend’s waist tight with the other and dancing and singing along as if to prove he’s an uberfan. Uberfanny, more like.

‘Precious Hearts’ thuds hard, while ‘Crush’ is an anthemic slow burner. ‘Enter’ is lighter and brings giggles in the first verse. Sara does get a bit lost in the songs at times, bit rides it well, and she ventures into the crowd for hugs. It’s a hot a sweaty crowd. Fans are out. My eyeballs are sweating. Recent cut ‘Fascination’ still sounds a bit Paramore to my ears, but ‘Pins and Needles’ brings a thick industrial chug.

They do the no-departure encore, and respect is due for that. Everyone knows that going off to be clapped back on is nothing more than ego-stroking bollocks, and it’s welcome to see bands acknowledge that.

‘Falling Down’, the second song of the non-encore is a decent pop song, and they finish a high-NRG set with ‘In the Dark’. And it’s a job well done: they sound great and the energy is on fire. Wednesday nights don’t get funner than this.

Over twenty years and a dozen albums, The Birthday Massacre have become prime exponents of goth synth pop. They describe Fascination as ‘at once the most fully realized album with the bands signature blend of haunting vocals, captivating electronica and aggressive guitars and their most accessible’.

It’s this accessibility that immediately announces itself from the outset. The title, ‘Fascination’, immediately makes my mind leap to the song by The Human League, and this is unquestionably poppy, but this is in a different league instead. It’s the title track that opens the album and it’s a colossal anthem. It’s in the slower mid-pace tempo range, and the production is so immense as to be arena-worthy, the slick synths drifting over big, bombastic guitars. Some may baulk at the notion, but it’s pretty much a power ballad. It paves the way for an album that’s back-to-back bangers.

I mean, make no mistake, this is a pop album in a pure 80s vein, and pushes tendencies that were always in evidence in BM’s work. People often seem to forget just how dark a lot of mainstream pop was in the 80s, but listen to A-Ha, even Howard Jones or Nik Kershaw objectively and the currents of darkness are clearly apparent amidst the clean lines of the clinical synth pop production of the day. It’s perhaps time to re-evaluate what actually constitutes ‘cheesy’ – an adjective so often pinned to the 80s with no real consideration – and cast aside the idea of ‘guilty pleasures’ when it comes to a lot of music of the era.

‘Stars and Satellites’ is bold and brooding, and probably the most overtly ‘goth’ track of the album’s nine, although ‘Like Fear, Like Love’ grabs bits of The Cure and tosses them into a stomping disco tune. But those drums… they’re great, they’re huge, but they really are the epitome of the 80s sound. Elsewhere, the guitar line on ‘One More Time’ actually goes 80s U2 with heavy hints of Strawberry Switchblade (and they weren’t goth either). Step too far? Maybe for some craving the chunky chug of industrial guitars, because this is fundamentally a riff-free zone, but Fascination works if you embrace the spirit of its being easy on the ear and accessible.

It feels fresh for the band, but also feels like a relatively safe step in the direction of commercialism. It’s ok, and the songwriting and performances are solid throughout, that much is undeniable. It’s one of those albums that may take some time to sink in, in the way that Editors’ On This Light and on This Evening and The Twilight Sad’s Nobody Wants to be Here, Nobody Wants to Leave, felt just that bit mainstream initially. Digesting an overtly ‘pop’ album or a change of direction – and while the direction of Fascination is something that’s always been a part of The Birthday Massacre’s sound – hearing it placed front and central inevitably feels like a shift. And it is a shift, of course, just not one of seismic proportions.

‘Is anyone real anymore?’ they ask on ‘Precious Hearts’ before the final cut, ‘The End of All Stories’ goes Cure again, only this time with monster power chords that border on metal to fill out the mix.

Dig it, soak it in, play it a few times. You’ll probably like it, even if not on first listen.

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Ahead of the release of their new album, Fascination, released 18th February 2022 on Metropolis Records, The Birthday Massacre have unveiled ‘Dreams of You’.

Listen to ‘Dreams of You’ here:

A Canadian darkwave ensemble who incorporate elements of electronica, goth and new wave into their lush and atmospheric dark pop sound, The Birthday Massacre have enjoyed success over the last decade with albums such as ‘Hide And Seek’ (2012) and ‘Under Your Spell’ (2017), both of which charted at home and abroad. The early spring of 2020 then saw the release of the brooding and mystical ‘Diamonds’, just as the onset of the global pandemic curtailed extensive touring plans to promote it.

The group has released a brand new single entitled ‘Dreams Of You’ today as an opening taster from their upcoming ninth album, ‘Fascination’, which is out on 18th February 2022. Expansive sounding yet intimate feeling, TBM’s signature blend of captivating electronics, aggressive guitars, cinematic melodies and beautifully bewitching vocals are on full display, while the album shows that the magical world they have created with their music has grown ever more captivating.

The Birthday Massacre commence a 30 date US tour the week after album release, with a similarly extensive set of dates in the UK and mainland Europe to follow later in 2022.

The Birthday Massacre formed in 2000 in Ontario and were originally known as Imagica, their name taken from the title of a novel by Clive Barker. Having relocated to Toronto, they renamed themselves The Birthday Massacre just before the release of their debut album, ‘Nothing & Nowhere’, in the summer of 2002. The ‘Violet’ EP was issued in 2004 and then made available in expanded form as a full album via Metropolis Records, a label with whom the group have remained ever since.

The next two TBM albums, ‘Walking with Strangers’ (2007) and ‘Pins and Needles’ (2010), plus the EP ‘Imaginary Monsters’ EP (2011), were followed by 2012’s ‘Hide and Seek’, which enjoyed a warm critical reception and a measure of chart success. The group turned to their fans to help crowdfund their sixth album, ‘Superstition’, which appeared in late 2014 and was supported by major tours in North America, the UK, mainland Europe and Brazil.

A compilation of early four-track demos entitled ‘Imagica’ (2016) preceded ‘Under Your Spell’, released in 2017 and which made a strong showing on multiple US charts. Three years later, the band celebrated their 20th anniversary with ‘Diamonds’, its release seeing new drummer Phillip Elliot and bassist Brett ‘Bat’ Carruthers join the band’s ranks. The latter is also the frontman of alternative rock band A Primitive Evolution.

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