I've always had a taste for the twisted electronic stylings of Colorado artist Bryan Erickson, a dedicated do-it-yourself electronic musician and hardcore gear-geek whose band Velvet Acid Christ became a major club sensation in Europe during the mid-'90s with their debut release Church of Acid. Despite protests from electro purists for their inclusion of guitars (gasp!), VAC soon grabbed the attention of Metropolis Records, finally scoring a huge North American following after a series of remixes with Funker Vogt, and scored big with their third CD Fun with Knives – my first VAC experience, and one I'll never forget.
Ten years and multiple releases (and re-releases) later, Metropolis has rolled out Erickson's latest project The Art of Breaking Apart – and you couldn't ask for a more appropriate dose of autumn atmosphere to fill your room with beautiful gloom as the skies grow gray and cold. Read on to find out what chilling wonders lurk within...
Since the beginning, Velvet Acid Christ has been mainly Erickson's show, but its early phases involved contributions from artists like Grigory Bilham, Chris Workman and Gary Slaughter – all of whom brought aboard a similar passion for hard-edged electro, goth and punk, and a dark, surreal artistic outlook inspired in part by horror and sci-fi flicks. Watch the short film accompanying their 2003 track Pretty Toy (the primary single from VAC's hit album Hex Angel) for a blood-chilling example of these influences.
In 2005, Erickson brought guitarist Todd Loomis onboard for the breakthrough 2005 album Lust for Blood. That project introduced clean, untreated vocals into several tracks for the first time, setting aside some (but definitely not all) of the hardcore electro-industrial components in favor of a richer, more diverse musical palette, blending in acoustic and electric guitar with other organic elements to create a multi-textured gothic masterpiece. Erickson, now officially running VAC as a solo act, stays mostly in the same creative mode for The Art of Breaking Apart, but still manages to expand and explore that sonic environment in some impressive new ways, with more than a few callbacks to the depraved energy of Fun With Knives.
The odd samples and sci-fi effects that spice the click-and-bounce EBM rhythms of Tripped Out and Caustic Disco acknowledge the band's acid-soaked club origins, and even the eerie looped flamenco-style guitar that opens Vaporized is soon swallowed by the same type of old school filter-sweeping synth patterns, but with the arrival of Black Rainbows, the floor-pounding beats are cast aside in favor of a rich, Cure-inspired gothic ballad that will make you wonder why Erickson didn't call on those influences more often in the past. A more obvious pastiche of Robert Smith's vocal and guitar technique makes Killing a Stranger (a riff on The Cure's Killing an Arab) a bit too derivative to be very memorable, but it's another indication of how far Erickson's finally willing to go in order to pay homage to his musical heroes.
A harsher, grittier style drives Phucked Up Phreak, the title of which is an obvious callback to Phucking Phreak from Calling Ov the Dead... but that's where the similarities end: this one strays far from traditional EBM turf, opting for an ominous, down-tempo guitar riff locked to high, bell-like synths and deep, filtered vocals in the mode of Pretty Toy. The instrumental Killed in Space is a much more direct link to the Knives era (a bit like The Dark Inside Me) and has a nice solid kick-and-hat spine, but in the end it doesn't pack the same lethal punch, and doesn't really rise above minimalist dance floor fodder.
The title track is a slow-paced lurker, this time dominated by strummed acoustic guitar, and benefits from a clean, uncluttered mix drawing attention to Bryan's tragic lyrics, while Amnesia is a slower, more stripped-down and chilling approach to the same structure, aided by a distant, reverb-soaked vocal and deep, buzzing synth pads. Faithless shakes up that formula even more by treating the backing electronic rhythms with a swirling chorus & reverse-delay effect that continues to increase in size, creating a spiraling whirlpool sensation. Silver closes the album in tragic beauty, disposing of the electronics (aside from some glittering pads) in favor of whispered vocals, high piano notes and a single snare drum, creating an atmosphere reminiscent of early Love and Rockets.
In less skilled hands, The Art of Breaking Apart might have come across as a slightly schizo project, whiplashing from iron-fisted hardcore EBM and industrial noise-rock to surprisingly tender, pensive ballads and introspective ambient pieces. But the mood's the thing when it comes to stitching this kind of creature together, and Erickson is expert at crafting a gray, autumnal ambiance with his softer material, building the haunting sense that darkness – and the demons which dwell there – is creeping up with the very next track. And when it arrives, you still get a chill – or an outright scare – when the shadows finally envelop you.
If you're craving old-school electro-industrial, you probably won't be satisfied here... but if you want to be surrounded by a strangely inviting sense of doom, this is just the ticket. As much as I love Bryan's early material, I'm really impressed with the unusual directions he's taken lately, and I'm already looking forward to what's next.