Photo by Ester Segarra
I'm still on a high from last year's Pins and Needles – the best release to date from gothic power-pop group The Birthday Massacre, which made FEARnet's best music list for 2010. Now, less than a year later, the band is back again with a few new songs and some impressive remixes of that album's highest-profile tracks. Not only does it include new additions to the band's well-known arsenal of memorable pop hooks, straightforward crushing guitar riffs and moody '80s-style electronics, but the eight-song EP Imaginary Monsters also involves several guest contributions from some of the biggest names in industrial, EBM and techno music, including chart-topping heavy beaters like Combichrist and Assemblage 23. Read on for a track-by-track review...
Here's the short take on Imaginary Monsters: if you consider Pins and Needles a positive evolutionary step in the band's sound, then you'll find plenty to love here. The transition to more raw, gritty guitars, sometimes ordering on punk, and less bottom-heavy industrial-style crunch, was one of the album's best tweaks to the TBM sound, moving them into a more timeless dark-rock vibe that perfectly compliments frontwoman Chibi's sensual but still distinctly girlish pop vocals.
The EP leads off with three new songs that were apparently cut from the final tracklist; whatever the reason for that omission, it certainly wasn't due to lack of quality, because all three are as just as strong as any of the standout tracks on that record. "Forever" is definitely the best of the three, packing all of the elements that make this band unique and memorable – warm '80s synth undercurrents, soft guitar washes and silky vocal harmonies. "Burn Away" feels more bouncy and energetic, but it's still dark and brooding thanks to a simple, beefy chorus riff. "Left Behind" is a short, floaty synth-driven ballad that should resonate with fans of Tangerine Dream's '80s-era movie scores, and it makes a smooth and dramatic segue into the remix section that follows.
The remixes are front-loaded with the best of the bunch, the "Rubber Unicorn Mix" of the song "Pale," crafted by industrial icon Dave "Rave" Ogilvie (who co-produced Pins and Needles) and Kevin "Kevvy Mental" Maher of alt-rock unit Fake Shark, Real Zombie! The synth and electro-beat additions give it a more threatening sound, but the original male/female vocal harmonies are still front-and-center, which was a wise creative choice. "Control," one of the album's most powerful tracks, gets a club-friendly remix treatment from Tweaker – the solo project from another music legend, Chris Vrenna (formerly of Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson). It doesn't really deconstruct the original version, which is good because tampering with it too much would have killed the goose to get the golden eggs, as they say.
Industrial-metal powerhouse Combichrist do their nasty thing in the "Good For Her" mix of "Shallow Grave," but the in-your-face beat and frantic sound-slicing comes off a little bit too choppy and simplistic for the source material. The title track from Pins and Needles is reworked by KMFDM/Marilyn Manson alumni Tim Skold, and it's been amped up with a driving industrial beat that should send ominous tremors through the dance floors, but much of the song's melodic strength is drained in the process. The album ends with a second remix of "Shallow Grave," this time by electro-industrial band Assemblage 23, who mostly succeed in capturing the song's melancholy mood while transforming it into a fairly routine Euro-style EBM track.
If the three new tracks on Imaginary Monsters were cut for the sake of album length (that's my theory, anyway), now you can put them with the others to create a more satisfying experience, because they come off just as strong, original and catchy. The remixes aren't exactly life-changing stuff – I'll always be partial to the original versions of "Control" and "Shallow Grave" as some of the band's best work – but most of the new interpretations are entertaining at least, and inject more menacing energy into the songs. If you loved the last record as much as I did, you'll definitely want to invite these Monsters into your home.
Be sure to check out their charmingly macabre video for "In the Dark," the band's best and most ambitious visual work, which inserts sly homages to everything from The Twilight Zone to A Nightmare on Elm Street. The video file is included as a bonus on the EP, but you can watch it here too...