Filled with glistening black sonic gems for the fishnets-and-rivets crowd...
By Gregory S. Burkart
Last week we tried something new here at FEARnet's music department and offered a taste of the latest and pending musical arrivals from one of the world's premier purveyors of devilish rhythms and dark electronic delights, Metropolis Records. After heralding Too Much History, a two-disc retrospective of German industrial legends Die Krupps, and the roof-raising proto-punk of The A.K.A.s (Are Everywhere!), we realized we couldn't possibly cram the label's entire February and March slate into one review... so once again into the darkness, dear friends.
This time round, it's only fair to flip to the lighter side of industrial ? if such a thing exists ? to find Hanzel Und Gretyl, who despite their moniker are not actually a German band at all (they hail from New York), but seem committed to out-Germanizing the most Teutonic bands in the business. It's all served up with a leer and a touch of sarcasm... no, make that a giant, rusty shovelful of sarcasm. Subtlety is not this band's strong suit, and they dig it like that: their oft-quoted motto is ?Machines Good, People Bad.? After hitting their stride as an opening act for Marilyn Manson in the mid-'90s and contributing a track to Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, they made a name for themselves through a highly deranged, over-the-top sense of humor, typified by album titles like Transmissions From Uranus.
Their latest album, 2012: Zwanzig Zwolf, is their third full-length release for Metropolis and a continuation of the apocalyptic concepts asserted in most of their work. Based on the Mayan prophecy of the world ending in 2012, the theme of this bombastic epic is basically ?Party ?til your flesh melts.? Like I said, no nuances here... just harsh electronics, deafening beats and ridiculously overdriven guitars, accompanied by siren wails, explosions, computerized vocals and tortured, guttural screams from PVC-lederhosen-clad vocalist Loopy, all executed (pun intended) with Wagnerian flourish.
This is less of an industrial effort than straight-up extreme metal embellished with electronic elements (like EBM's ubiquitous ?hoover? synth lead) and sampling galore, and taken in that context it's pretty effective. Though they strive to be as outlandish as possible, their tight technical skills do come through, which is essential for any band that aspires to this kind of cartoonish insanity (take GWAR, for example). If they sucked musically, the joke would end up being on them. Fortunately, they're a pretty wicked combo, and their lyrics are an often hilarious mock-German amalgam.
Case in point: only this band could get away with a song titled Heil Hizzle Mein Nizzle, with the title words repeatedly chattered by a Stephen Hawking-style voice synthesizer over a hefty thrash riff... and while you're giggling, they club you solidly over the head with the thunderous, operatic Lederhozen Macht Frei. Silly titles notwithstanding, there are some real burners in this bunch, including Fukken Uber Death Party, Bavarian Beerhauz Blood, and the explosive Sternkrieg. Production on these tracks is simple, but still very big-sounding, with tight, stacked riffs, deep kicks and some of the lowest bass lines I've ever heard. If you're into seriously heavy electro-metal served up with even heavier irony, Hanzel Und Gretyl may be the band for you.
Now that my ears have stopped hemorrhaging, let?s dial it down ? waaaay down ? from fist-pumping, head-banging mode and check out the new release from the French synth duo Die Form, comprised of instrumentalist Phillipe Fichot and singer Eliane P. Recognized for nearly 30 years for a uniquely erotic blend of lush electronics, operatic vocals and multi-ethnic beats, all tied up (so to speak) in sadomasochistic overtones, risqué performance pieces and gorgeous album art (courtesy of Fichot), Die Form?s music is just as fitting for a cozy night in front of the fire with your favorite Gothic novel as it would a backing track for the fanny-smackin' shenanigans at your local S&M club.
Fresh off a pair of elegant concept albums, InHuman and ExHuman, the pair were commissioned for a series of thematic pieces based on the works of Johann Sebastian Bach as part of last year?s Bach Festival in Leipzig, Germany (previous contributors have included Laibach and VNV Nation). The public response was overwhelmingly positive, and their fans embraced it as a natural progression of their classical influences, so it was imperative that the group release the collection as an album. The result is titled, appropriately, The Bach Project.
By turns a straightforward electronic interpretation of the composer?s musical ideas ? in the mode of Wendy Carlos?s electronic classic Switched-On Bach ? and an experimental sonic exploration of the band?s own favorite themes, The Bach Project is difficult to describe in terms of distinct songs, as the creative source is well-known and recognizable to those familiar with the composer, but the end product is more of an organic/cybernetic hybrid landscape.
For example, just about everyone has heard Bach?s most famous Toccata and Fugue in one form or another (just think of Vincent Price or Boris Karloff camping it up at the pipe organ and you?ll know what tune I mean), but I guarantee you?ve never heard it like this. The programmed elements here serve more as ambient background for genuine classical instruments (both real and sampled) including violin, flute and organ, combined with Eliane?s elegant, soaring vocals and some unique analog textures that transcend the sonnets, toccatas and cantatas above mere electronic versions of the originals. It?s one of those rare works that is equally fitting in the collection of classical music aficionados, dark ambient shoe-gazers and fans of electronic experimentation.
As evident in our coverage last week, there's also been quite a bit of divergence from the industrial & Gothic mold at Metropolis lately, and in the wake of their signing The Birthday Massacre, a spate of similar power-pop bands have been sighted gathering under that company's banner. I'll let you decide whether that's a good thing.
One such new arrival is the California-based five-piece A Kiss Can Be Deadly, whose self-titled debut fuses synth-pop and new wave influences into a bubbly concoction that helped catapult the band from underground status to one of the Internet?s most popular unsigned bands, finally making their ?official? debut via Metropolis this March. Singer Lauren Baird?s voice doesn?t really distinguish itself among the bland homogeneity of the pop landscape, but it does have a certain Belinda Carlyle quality, which seems to suit the material. Despite my lack of affinity with dance-pop styles in general, I?ll admit their songs do manage to pack in hooks aplenty. I expect these kids to make an even bigger splash once they hit the road later this year, and they stand a good chance of reaching an even bigger audience.
Last but definitely not least, Metropolis will soon be rolling out the long-awaited new album Autoimmune from experimental electro-beat artists Meat Beat Manifesto, for which a tantalizing taste will soon be available in the form of single Guns N Lovers. If the single (and its associated remixes) is any indication, MBM are still in the game, with their usual multi-vehicular collision of techno, hip-hop, dub, jazz and assorted dance genres programmed to send a hypersonic signal directly to your brain?s boogie cortex.
There?s plenty more to come, and you?ll read all about it here, but in the meantime be sure to check out the Metropolis website for details on how to grab these tunes for yourself.