Italian electro-metal act Dope Stars Inc. have made FEARnet news before, thanks to their recurring musical presence in the first three SAW installments and later lots of inter-buzz about the status of their ambitious new concept album, based on the dark techno fantasies of author William Gibson and dystopian sci-fi flicks like Blade Runner – the ultimate realization of the band's self-proclaimed “cyberpunk” aesthetic.
After a few unfortunate delays, that project is back on track and nearly poised for launch this summer through their North American distributor Metropolis Records. The band didn't want to make their fans wait any longer, so they reached a compromise in the form of this jam-packed EP based around singles “Criminal Intents” and “Morning Star,” both springing from that forthcoming (and yet unnamed) full-length project. But that's just the beginning... this package has a helluva lot more goodies inside.
Only an EP in the sense that it's built outward from the two singles, this disc still clocks in at well over an album's worth of tunes, with plenty of previously unreleased material to ease fans' anxiety and make them hungry for more. In addition to the title tracks, the disc is filled out with thirteen additional cuts, most of which are remixes or new interpretations of tracks from previous album Gigahearts, undertaken by some of the biggest names in Gothic, industrial and EBM.
First off, if the main attractions are any indication of what's to come in this summer's release, there are some pretty ambitious sounds ahead, benefiting from a grandiose production style (frontman Victor Love produced and mixed and mastered all the tracks himself at Subsound Studios in Rome) that demonstrates how tailored this band's music is for the big screen. The two feature songs represent two very opposing songwriting and performance styles, each showcasing the band's balancing act of old-school glam-rock and postmodern synth-driven industrial: “Criminal Intents” lays out a seemingly neutral slab of electro beats before the band leaps into pure '80s metal attitude; counterpart “Morning Star” is richer and more delicate melodic synth-rock with a more somber lead vocal. Cyber-rebel anthem “Digital Warriors” blends these two styles seamlessly into a blast of pure, unfettered arena rock with a driving synth bass line over which sleazed-up guitar riffs, chunky drums and vocal harmonies charge in like a glitter-painted Panzer tank, and the ass-kicker “Nothing is Left” discards subtlety (and pushes synths to the background) for a wall-crushing steamroller of drop-tuned metal.
The Gigahearts cuts feature a virtual roll-call of the band's genre peers, with iconic talents like KMFDM, Mortiis, Gothminister at the head of the class, but nevertheless overshadowed by quirky renditions done by lesser-known artists. There's a lot of repetition here (most of the titles get two or three remixes apiece), but the styles are distinct enough to keep things fresh and interesting. The standouts among this group would have to be Deflore's mean, dirty take on “Braindamage” and Spiritual Front's oddball accordion-accompanied rendition of “Can You Imagine.” Rounding out the collection is Dope Stars' pumped-up cover of “Jasmine and Rose” from Dutch über-goths Clan of Xymox and a fairly nondescript demo version of “Vyperpunk” from their first record Neuromance.
Dope Stars Inc. often succeed where many industrial-metal bands fail – by smoothly integrating their synth sequences and electronic beats with tight metal riffs in equally potent proportions, without sounding like one element is merely being used to accent the rhythmic base of the other – and they have an old-school rock attitude that elevates the material above the average laptop-based, loop-happy industrial act. There's a lot of intriguing promise in this little preview, and I for one am looking forward to the feature presentation.