With its limitless capacity to create, mutate and destroy sound in all its forms, electronic music has always found a comfortable home in the realm of horror – either as accompaniment to frightening or suspenseful imagery, or a trigger for nightmarish moods and images lurking within the listener's own imagination. Winnipeg-based indie act Distorted Memory, the creation of composer/songwriter Jeremy Pillipow, has developed a solid following based on their skills in the latter, and while their material might be loosely classified as EBM or aggro-tech, at heart they're an avant-garde unit that warps and transforms itself to fit many different moods.
Over the years they've been gradually folding a much broader range of genres into the mix, including vintage dance grooves, tribal beats, and harsh black metal vocals, a formula which solidified in the 2011 release Swallowing the Sun. At that stage the band was sometimes being associated with the so-called “witch house” genre – a chaotic goth/trance/hip-hop mashup incorporating occult imagery and themes – though they never truly fit that mold. Pillipow continued sailing toward darker shores with last year's transitional EP Temple of the Black Star, bringing even more abstract dark-ambient ritual elements to the game, and the new full-length release The Eternal Return stays on that course, but with a surprising infusion of vintage-flavored EBM energy. This record is best experienced front-to-back (preferably with the lights out, of course), but there are some definite standout singles on this record that can easily hold their own in an intense playlist of gothic, industrial, house and dark ambient tracks.
Pillipow's songwriting style is distinctly cinematic, with the vast opening strains of "In the Heart of Your Fire" calling up images of a barren post-industrial wasteland before stepping fully into a mid-tempo dance structure. While the mood here is more somber and pensive than terrifying, his crushed whisper of a vocal gives it a dangerous urgency, and he ramps up the energy for the heavy aggro-tech cut "Lose Control" and the springy, Euro-style sequence of "Throwing Stones," which calls to mind the sinister edge of early Wumpscut, and the stomping heavy beat of "Back Away," which taps into the same flamboyant energy as KMFDM.
The tempo drops for the pensive gothic piece "White Light (Dark Hope)" before kicking into high gear for the metallic thumper "Let Hate Be Yours," one of the album's creepiest, most sinister tracks. An ominous bass-and-kick combo drives "Becoming Winter," which is as bone-chilling as its title implies, while the brighter-toned "On Our Wisdom" puts a pure synth lead line to excellent use. Clean plucked string instruments (though sampled) and a distant female backing vocal lend a ghostly, ritual feel to the closing track "Fall," reminiscent of the more ambient poetic experiments by bands like Celtic Frost and Ulver.
While there's a distinct and surprisingly upbeat vintage EBM vibe driving The Eternal Return, Pillipow's dark envelope of sound casts a shadow of cold dread over the melodic sequences and pulsing beats, bringing the album comfortably into the fold of post-industrial gothic dance music, but also tying the tracks together into a cinematic work that stands up well as a whole. That said, there's still a bounty of solid club singles here, with tracks like "Let Hate Be Yours" showing the most danceworthy potential for my money. Listen to that one below, and drop by Distorted Memory's Bandcamp page to hear more.