Earlier this year, we got a haunting preview of the latest album by Italian electro-rock unit Army of the Universe, in the form of the EP Until the End – featuring a guest vocal by Chibi of The Birthday Massacre and a chillingly sensual music video. The band has finally delivered the goods promised in that enticing peek, as The Hipster Sacrifice hits the streets today. Since their scary good 2011 debut Mother Ignorance, the lineup that began with internationally-acclaimed electronic music producer Albert “Trebla” Vorne, vocalist Lord Kalidon (Kult of the Skull God) and guitarist Dave Tavecchia has since added the legendary Chris Vrenna (Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson, Tweaker) to their ranks as drummer. The result is a bigger, more dangerous sound built on the same tight and simple framework of old-school synths, heavy beats and knife-edged guitars, which leaves plenty of room for sonic experimentation – something they indulge frequently on this record.
The tracks "Until the End," "Break the Walls" and "The Weight of the World" return here unchanged from the EP versions, which we covered previously in that review. The seven new cuts here are equally powerful, though not all as directly club-oriented, and most with a harsher, more industrial edge. The title track (which opens the album) is especially brutal, and does exactly what it says on the label – tearing mercilessly into hipster culture's “special editions and broken dreams.” Vrenna's crushing beats and Tavecchia's icy industrial riffs drive the message home, delivered in Lord K's semi-hushed salacious tones, while Trebla twists lo-fi analog synth patterns into nightmarish shapes. More old-school analog beats are paired with overdriven guitars, pushed harder and rougher to give "Pretty Unconsciousness" a dark, unnatural urgency, especially in the noise-infused chorus.
On the flipside of these more aggressive cuts, the band is equally skilled in summoning an '80s synth-pop groove, as demonstrated in "A Visionary Story," complimented by smooth vocal harmonies that feel summoned from that same decade. A similar mood comes through "In Another Place," a mellow and romantic synthesis of danceable '80s pop and dance-floor darkwave. They mix and match those lighter grooves with harder beats for the throbbing mechanical orgy of "Chillin'," where a spooky synth line lends a gothic touch before they blow the roof off in an industrial-metal breakdown. While I half expected "Coin Operated Girl" to be a cyber-spin on the Dresden Dolls hit "Coin Operated Boy" – it isn't, unless maybe by accident – I was surprised to find instead a stylistic callback to “Lovedead,” complete with the bump-and-grind beats and bit-crushing effects. The album closes with the marching robot beat of "Mine," which starts simple, with a buzzing synth sequence beneath dual-octave vocals, but evolves as it builds intricate puzzle patterns, including piano and light, spacey arpeggios, to an offbeat and breathtaking finale.
It's refreshing to hear the band stretch creatively with this record, pushing at the borders of their already solid formula in some pretty daring ways, drilling a bit deeper into Trebla's '80s influences while remaining true to their hypnotic, pulsing rhythms, which seem to be getting heavier and sexier with each release. If you dug Mother Ignorance, this one definitely goes a notch higher... and if you're new to this band, get in here now. The Hipster Sacrifice is available now via Metropolis Records (CD or download) as well as iTunes, Amazon and the usual digital vendors. In case you missed it before, here's the surreal and sensual video for “Until the End”...