My first exposure to this wickedly inventive, dark electro-rock outfit was the track ?I Cast You Out,? a dark, heavy beat electro-fest built entirely on Regan?s filth-spewing demonic dialogue from The Exorcist. Needless to say, I replayed that one about twenty-six times (to the obvious horror of those sitting nearby, which delighted me even further), but it was after digging a little deeper into Anders? work that I realized there was more than just a spiky, macabre sense of fun going on here...

The sound of Anders Manga, by now quite well known in Goth & Darkwave circles (bigger in Europe, but pretty well-entrenched in the US as well), is heavily infused with nostalgia for the ?80s dance roots of the current Gothic dance movement, but they manage to avoid rehashing the club-friendly formula that tends to overshadow the genre?s occasional moments of dark brilliance. They also know how to craft a slick hook without betraying the dark mood ? something bands like New Order and Sisters of Mercy managed to pull off at their respective creative peaks.

With the assistance of vamp-a-licious keyboardist Devallia, synth guru Sco and drummer Curse, the Charlotte, NC-based Anders recently rolled out his fifth full-length release X?s & the Eyes ? a hybrid of sorts which effectively splices the harsh grind of 2007?s Blood Lush to the softer elements of their freshman album One Up for the Dying.

On average, the overall energy level of this outing is a bit more subdued, which creates an environment for either lumbering menace (exemplified in the title track) or reflective melancholy ? the latter possibly due to the influence of co-producer Isaac Glendening, co-founder of softer synth-pop outfit Cesium 137. I was pleasantly surprised by the emotional strength of gentler tracks like ?100,000 Tears? (one of the best candidates for a Goth slow-dance number I?ve heard lately), as well as the somber tone of piano-based closing track ?These Colors Never Run.?

This is not an unusual move for Anders, since they scored low-tempo, mellow hits in the past with ?Sleeping (In the Fire)? and ?Surrender,? so this is still fairly fertile ground for their brand of retro-futuristic romanticism? although the sparkly, major-key ?Change of Skin? may be pushing it too far for any members of the sunlight-shunning crowd who might be lacking a sense of irony.

Anders? music has always gone over well with Europe's club kids, and first single ?There Will Be Blood? has already begun climbing the dance charts in Germany. For good reason, I might add ? the chorus is catchy in its simplicity (?There will be restitution? There will be absolution?) and the mid-tempo beat is accessible enough for more than just hardcore rivet-heads. ?Apple? is in a similar class, and is likely destined for the same level of popularity.

This time out the band generally keeps the beats and melodies simple and straightforward with many tracks that sit about as close to the mainstream as this kind of music gets ? a savvy move with an eye toward those craving a good dance number with a darkly romantic vibe. Me, I prefer to seek out the creepier stuff, and thankfully there?s plenty of spooky treats to be found here too? I mean after all, this is an artist daring enough to whip out a cover of Mercyful Fate?s ?Gypsy? without batting a black-lashed eye.

Although there are fewer overtly menacing pieces this time out, what's there doesn?t disappoint. ?Trisect,? with its crawling, noise-heavy electronic triplets and octave-stacked vocals (a Goth staple), is one of the heaviest hitters in this category. ?Fade to Black? takes a wry twist on vampire romance and stirs it up in a warm (blood)bath of buzzing, slurring synths, and both ?Stoke the Fire? and ?The Shrunken Head? capture that minimalist, cold-machine groove reminiscent of EBM acts like Front 242, Leather Strip or Wumpscut.

US Goths and clubbers the world over are already well-versed in Anders? consistently strong output (the band is frequently booked at the annual convention known as ?Dracula?s Ball,? a veritable Mecca for the fishnet & PVC set), and thanks to the near-mainstream potential contained in many of the tracks here, they stand a solid chance of stepping up to an all new level of popularity. So pick up this one quick, but also be sure to take a tour through their earlier catalog so you can tell your friends you knew 'em when.