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'Deathstars: Night Electric Night' - CD Review

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Sweden’s “Death Glam” electro-metallers Deathstars have undergone quite a few mutations over the course of their fairly brief career – several members of the band actually began in black metal acts like Dissection, and together formed the dorky-named Swordmaster (I could totally picture band members trying out versions of their logo in the margins of their Chemistry books), before leaving that genre in the rear-view mirror in favor of an industrial-metal groove with highly theatrical vamp-camp trappings. It was a savvy move (at the time), and allowed them to hold onto their dark-metal roots while planting one platform boot solidly in the “Gother-than-thou” arena… and flashing an eyeliner-heavy wink at that same crowd.

Deathstars quickly made waves in Europe within metal and goth circles, especially after touring with Korn early last year (they also headlined a few shows on that run as well), and interest began brewing for a follow-up to their successful album Termination Bliss – which had grabbed more attention on this side of the Atlantic when Nuclear Blast released an extended version last spring. The result is Night Electric Night, arguably the band’s most ambitious release to date. It made its overseas debut earlier this year, but as of today it’s finally available in North America. So, was it worth the wait? Jump in and find out!

The size and scope of this new material – recorded partly in the band’s native Stockholm as well as New York City – is considerably more massive here than Bliss… colossal walls of symphonic keyboards and operatic backing vocals herald an apocalyptic playground of doom as the well-oiled industrial machine chugs fully to life, with techno-pop sprinkles counterbalancing massively down-tuned guitar riffs. Vocals by the charmingly-named Whiplasher Bernadotte are lower, beefier and more monstrously menacing – admittedly with the same reverential nod to the dusky tones of Sisters of Mercy’s Andy Eldritch or Fields of the Nephilim’s Carl McCoy that so many gothic rockers employ – but thankfully I detect a playful hint of irony at work here. At least I hope that’s what I’m hearing, because it’s nearly impossible to take their lyrics seriously (you could probably design a dangerous absinthe drinking game from their repetitive use of the words “Night” or “Death”), and I’d like to think they’re being delivered with a knowing sneer.

Still, despite the occasional serving of cheese, the overall tone comes across much darker than in the previous two albums, but the danceable Deathstars vibe is firmly in place. Whether that’s a good thing is up to you… personally I think it’s getting a bit old at this point, but there’s some creative spark evident in some of these tunes that managed to hold my interest.

Opening cut “Chertograd” and the subsequent title track fit solidly within the signature sound of Bliss, but the band quickly steers a hard left with “Mark of the Gun,” a pulsing, iron-fisted industrial anthem that stands out as a strong repeater (goofy lyrics notwithstanding), alongside the equally aggressive “Blood Stains Blondes” as the most memorable and hard-hitting cuts. However, most of the mid-tempo material collected around these tracks is missing the same boisterous energy, and this absence may disappoint those who know this band as an explosive force on the stage.

The single “Death Dies Hard” has a strong beat and decent hooks, but is not nearly as memorable as the band’s previous catchy hits like “Cyanide” (my personal fave). On the other end of the spectrum, the band has managed to work in some effective and haunting atmospheric touches – best used in tracks like the melodically clean anti-ballad “Via the End” – which enhance the album’s overall dark tone, and the always-present electronic elements that flavor each track (usually in the form of sweeping intro passages) are allowed to take dominance in songs like “Arclight.” The band wisely chooses to close out the album on an epic note, thanks to the crystalline synth strains and solid rough-rock riffs of “Opium.”

The “Gold Edition” of Night Electric Night (with appropriately gold-tinted cover art) features four additional tracks –including a rendition of the title song with drums by Adrian Erlandsson (who has played with Cradle of Filth, The Haunted and At the Gates, to name just a few) and a cover of Gorgoroth’s “Unchain My Heart” – and a bonus DVD featuring videos for “Death Dies Hard,” hit single “Cyanide” and several others, with making-of featurettes for most of them.

Regardless of which version you choose, the band’s self-styled term “Death Glam” (the album’s original working title) tells you all you need to know about any Deathstars release: the flamboyant excess of goth-glam glued to dark, rumbling death-rock. It’s not always a perfect fit, and sometimes the tongue-in-cheek lyrical posturing gets a bit old… but fortunately, underneath it all these dudes still remember how to drive the big metal machine, often with relentless energy and a wide range of instrumental styles. Night Electric Night is seldom subtle – okay, it's never subtle – but in the end, that’s just not part of the Deathstars package. With that in mind, go in expecting a crazy good time (and don’t take them any more seriously than they likely do themselves), and you may be rewarded.

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