Suicide Commando: 'The Suicide Sessions' – CD Review


Known as “The Godfather of Harsh Electro,” Suicide Commando (alias Johan van Roy) has been pounding out hyper-aggressive industrial beats for twenty-five years now, and while he obviously shows no signs of slowing down – he's already got another disc slated for release next month – Johan and his various collaborators are celebrating the quarter-century mark by releasing a monumentally massive career retrospective, weighing in at nearly 70 tracks. That's a lot of ground to cover, but it's the ideal summary of the early career of an artist whose music has shocked and awed club crowds and arenas around the globe. The Suicide Sessions spans three double-disc volumes, with the first released in May, the second hitting the streets this week and the third and final pair slated to drop in late July. I've just finished cycling through the entire monolithic collection, and hopefully I managed to sum things up below the fold. Read on and find out for yourself!

Call it what you will – hellektro, aggro-tech or terror EBM – the darker side of dance music is an intense fusion of threatening beats and terrifying soundscapes, often led by harsh, distorted vocals and sprinkled with horror-movie soundbites: in other words, the perfect formula for club-hopping horror fans. We've given plenty of coverage to other notable bands in the genre, including Combichrist, Wumpscut and Velvet Acid Christ, but I thought this retrospective would be a great way to bring you up to speed with one of the founding fathers in the field. Hailing from Belgium, Johan kicked off the group in the mid-'80s, but it would be nearly a decade before they scored their first major club hit with the single “See You in Hell.” After placing high on dance music charts throughout Europe, the band gained wider international acclaim with tracks like “Hellraiser,” “Face of Death,” “Murder” and “Love Breeds Suicide,” and the last two studio albums Bind Torture Kill and Implements of Hell became their most successful releases on both sides of the Atlantic.

The bulk of The Suicide Sessions comprises the band's first three full-length studio albums – Critical Stage, Stored Images and Construct-Destruct – all restored here in their entirety and remastered from the original source tapes. Also included are most of the tracks from the US release of Contamination, and several cuts from Re-Construction. The collection is rounded out with a mountain of bonus material, including live tracks, remixes, b-sides, demos and other rare cuts, many of which are featured here for the first time. All three early albums benefit from a pristine remastering, and while the bonus materials are a mixed bag, there are some real treasures to be found there, such as an excellent remix of “Desire” by Wumpscut and a chilling remake of “See You in Hell” by Monolith that amps up that song's already high terror factor. Among the previously unreleased tracks, highlights include the epic rhythms of “Take My God Away,” the Middle Eastern groove of “Commando” and the shocking lyrics of “Violator.” There are numerous instrumentals and oddball pieces scattered throughout the bonus discs, ranging from minimalist dark ambient soundscapes like “Desire for Dead Bodies,” to frantic industrial noise-fests including “Autopsy (Vivisection I). There's also an excellent live recording of “See You in Hell,” comparable in audio quality to the live DVD included with the 2007 release X20.

Listening to the three earliest albums, I was surprised to discover that SC's musical identity was pretty much fully-formed at that early stage; the lyrical themes of death, hell, violent crime, the corruption of power and societal collapse are all present, along with the coarse, gritty feel of the synths and beats. As time progresses, the production becomes tighter and cleaner, but none of that early, noisy and chaotic edge is lost. Electro-industrial can be a fairly conservative genre when it comes to the range of instrumentation, and some of the familiar sounds (like those buzzy Euro-style synth leads) have not changed radically over the past couple of decades... but when you hear these first three albums front-to-back, you'll have to agree that many of the aggro-tech and terror EBM bands operating today owe a debt to Johan's early work.

If you're new to the Suicide sound, these two volumes will totally catch you up on the band's musical evolution, and the first two volumes are now available for download via Metropolis Records. But if you're already a serious fan, I'd suggest picking up the 6-CD box set (limited to 2000 copies), which contains all of the above material; that one's slated for release on July 24th. But if you want the full Suicide experience, you may be in luck... the band will be crossing the US this October for a short run of concerts in Philadelphia, Austin, Seattle and Denver, as well as two shows in Los Angeles (one of these two shows will focus on the band's vintage material only). Drop by their official site for details on the tour and the box set.