Review

Review

The Birthday Massacre: 'Hide and Seek' – CD Review

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As far as we're concerned, it's always cause for celebration when Canadian power-pop team The Birthday Massacre share their latest creations, and this Halloween season is no exception. While their trademark blend of '80s synth melodies, stacked industrial guitars and singer Chibi's sweet but slightly sinister vocals built them a massive international following, they've never been afraid to experiment with the formula, adding or even replacing a few key ingredients to summon a different vibe when needed. Their acclaimed 2010 release Pins and Needles added rougher, dirtier punk elements to excellent effect, while last year's follow-up EP Imaginary Monsters cranked the aggression factor even higher through collaborations with industrial giants Combichrist and Assemblage 23. With their fifth full-length studio release Hide and Seek, the band has cast aside some of the playful melodic and lyrical elements that often define their core sound, in favor of a darker, less whimsical approach.

 
 
"There is an intensity to this record that I definitely felt while we were writing and recording,” Chibi says. "At times, for me, it was a struggle. I had some very strong emotions during the time we worked on this, and it shows. The lyrics also touch on some darker themes." Guitarist/keyboardist Rainbow explained how the band also searched for new atmospheres and textures to compliment these themes which were so deeply personal. “There was an underlying sense of tension and urgency throughout the writing process,” he said. “It was a tumultuous and emotional experience for us... the lyrics are decidedly darker and more meditative than much of our past work, which gives this album a lot of emotional weight and a very distinct tone." 
 
To help achieve it, industrial legend Dave “Rave” Ogilvie (who co-produced their two previous records) called upon many of the sound design elements he mastered while working with the likes of Skinny Puppy, Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson and Killing Joke. The result is fairly unique in the band's body of work, but there's still no mistaking Hide and Seek as anything but a Birthday Massacre album. "I think time has played a large role in the evolution of our sound," says lead guitarist Michael Falcore. "Our tastes have changed a little bit over the years and that shows in the music we make, but these changes are subtle. We have a sensibility that will always be recognized as Birthday Massacre."
 
As the rainy background effects of the opening track "Leaving Tonight” break into a low synth roll beneath Chibi's soft but urgent repeat of the line “I wanna go home,” you'll realize the spooky but upbeat band you've come to love has slipped into a lonelier, more threatening place of loss and loneliness – but without losing sight of their distinct personality. The rains continue into the broken-clock atmosphere of "Down" before the guitars and synths bust into one of TBM's darkest, heaviest grooves, with Chibi alternating her melancholy alto with ferocious punkish snarls before each chorus, which may come as quite a shock, but is a seriously cool addition to her repertoire. Take a listen:
 
 
"Play With Fire" returns to the mid-tempo darkwave of the opening track, with buzzing bass and whisper-sung verses, and "Need" plunges deep into heavy '80s dance-pop territory, letting the electronics do most of the rhythmic driving while the guitars wash across each chorus. There's even a distinct EBM groove to the more uplifting club-friendly cut "Calling,” with the band putting that classic cinematic reverb on the synth arpeggios over a shuffling electro beat. More spooky synths crescendo into the chunky guitar riffs of "Alibis,” which holds closely to the band's pop sensibilities but with a harsher, more burnished edge. "One Promise" also summons forth one of their signature beefy intros, but with leaner verses and glassy synth notes synced smoothly to Chibi's dark-pop lyrics (as well as a simple but strangely hypnotic bridge). The rains return for "In This Moment,” which glistens with old-school Gary Numan style keyboard flourishes, and the somber "Cover My Eyes" is built on a crunchy beat loop foundation that recalls darkwave icons like Collide, all the way down to the slinky whisper of Chibi's delivery. The darkest, moodiest track on the record, "The Long Way Home," is saved for last, bringing together ghostly vocal harmonies with sweeping power chords that rise and fall like the final breaths of a colossal but beautiful beast. 
 
In summary, if you're already a devoted TBM fan, you'll find plenty to love in Hide and Seek, but you may find yourself pulled to a darker place by the more pensive lyrics and shadowy mood, delivered with less of a wink and a smile than you might be expecting from their previous work. But I think you'll still feel safe there, in the warm embrace of a group who never fail to inject even the creepiest subject matter with infectious energy and even joy. Like the band says, rain or shine, they'll always be The Birthday Massacre, and that's exactly what we need this season, or frankly any time of year we want to feel like it's Halloween... and if you're a FEARnet regular, I'm gonna guess that's all year round.
 
Before you go, take note that the band will be kicking off a North American tour, with support from William Control and Aesthetic Perfection, running from October 27th through early December, so be sure to drop by their official Facebook page for an updated list of dates and venues. A live TBM show is an unforgettable experience, so if they're coming near your area, be sure to seek them out.
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