Interview: Marc Heal

“It’s funny, having worked so hard to make a living out of music I found once I’d got there that I’d broken myself in the process. I needed a break to do some, uh, emotional housekeeping.”

Live: Katatonia – Brudenell Social Club, Leeds 07/05/2017

KATATONIA (+ TheGreat Discord, Ghost Bath) Brudenell Social Club, Leeds 07/05/2017

Wave Gotik Treffen - The Preview June 2017

The gathering of 2017s Wave Gotik Treffen, is but a month away. Time to get the fascinators out and the boots polished!

Review: Mortiis – 'The Great Corrupter'

MORTIIS 'The Great Corrupter' OMNIPRESENCE PRODUCTIONS

Review: Freakangel – 'How The Ghost Became'

FREAKANGEL 'How The Ghost Became' DIGITAL WORLD AUDIO

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Book Review: Aidan Levy – 'Dirty Blvd. The Life And Music Of Lou Reed'



AIDAN LEVY
'Dirty Blvd. The Life And Music Of Lou Reed'
CHICAGO REVIEW PRESS


Musicians of Lou Reed's stature are often mythologised figures, even while they are still alive. It has only been two years since the New York singer, songwriter, producer, photographer and lyricist died from liver disease, and his career as an artist which lasted from 1964 until his death has been canonised in the annals of rock history as a voice for the disenfranchised and disenchanted to rally behind. With a legacy that encompassed trailblazing rock, ambient, experimental and noise often characterised by deep lyrics and unconventional production Reed found himself equally praised and derided by critics with albums like the noise-heavy 'Metal Machine Music', or the sexuality and gender fluid themes of 'Transformer' showing how truly ahead of the curve he was.

There have already been a few books written about Reed already – such as those by
Victor Bockris, Jeremy Reed, and Mick Wall – which have all done well to lay bare his life. However, Aidan Levy's new biography of Lou Reed 'Dirty Blvd. The Life And Music Of Lou Reed' is the first posthumous analysis of his life and dissection of the complexities of the man behind the myth. Delving into a personal life where art, heritage, mental health, and rock 'n' roll excess collide head on, the book tries to illuminate the darkest corners of Reed's remarkable life to present the man, faults and all.

Coming from a journalistic background, the writing style is engaging; empathetic in places, critical in others, but very even handed in it's depiction of both Reed the man and Reed the artist. It avoids the pitfalls of falling into the super-fan fawning that some biographies tend to do, and keeps an authoritative tone and distance that elevates it to the level of such rock bios as 'Dear Boy: The Life of Keith Moon' by Tony Fletcher, 'The Beatles' by Hunter Davies, 'Hammer of the Gods...' by Stephen Davis, 'I'm Your Man...' by Sylvie Simmons and 'Strange Fascination...' by David Buckley.

Levy draws on original interviews, archive materials, footage and photographs, as well as the stories of Reed's professional, personal and romantic partners to contextualise and add depth to the narrative. The book unveils an often tortured genius complicated by a cruel personality streak and contrary lifestyle that revelled in a urban-bohemianism that on one hand shrouded him in mystique, and on the other only served to sabotage the relationships in his life. From his early life, first forays into music, the formation of the Velvet Underground, his solo work and later years, everything is brought under the microscope and looked at from multiple angles to try and reveal the true story.

'Dirty Blvd. The Life And Music Of Lou Reed' may show Reed to ultimately be as complicated, fallible and fragile as any other human being. But with this all in mind just goes to underline just why Reed's music, legacy and myth has endured in the way that it has. If you are a fan of Reed, or just a fan of a well written rock 'n' roll biography, then 'Dirty Blvd.' is well worth your time. 

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Friday, 25 September 2015

Review: Antagonist Zero – 'No Tears'



ANTAGONIST ZERO
'No Tears'
INVERSE RECORDS 


With a blend of doom, death and black metal that the band have christened “catatonic metal”, Finland's Antagonist Zero set out to bring the misery with their latest EP, 'No Tears'. Stylistically they have a lot in common with acts such as Swallow The Sun, Doom:Vs, Antimatter, Katatonia and Opeth with a deep dark ambiance just beneath their aggressive metal exterior. It's slow, heavy, atmospheric, but it is by no means catatonic music. Just good heavy doom the way that only Finland seems to be able to produce.

'No Tears' is a strong nine-minute song with a great riff, subtle melodies, a nice balance of vocal styles and a nice cavernous sound that is perfectly suited for this time of year. The next track, 'Profound Oblivion' has a bit more of a defined death doom sound with its nice chugging pace and excellent lead guitars that gives way to a lighter melodic centre before bringing the heaviness back in. The third original track 'Suru' is a very nice slow track with a nice balance of light and dark, heavy and soft with a great vocal performance in their native tongue to boot.

The fourth track is a cover of Jenni Vartiainen's 'Missä Muruseni On' which originally quite a soft symphonic meets folk rock piece, but given a really nice doom make over that carries on nicely from the previous song. The final song, 'The Lachrymal Sleep' is of course a Doom:Vs cover, and a fairly straight one at that. Which is a shame as these guys have a real knack for playing soft and heavy elements so a more ambient rendition of this would have been cool, but it's still well executed in its current form.

The production is pretty spot on with a nice spacious feel to the mix that lets the guitars and vocals ring out and create a massive sense of space. It is easily to the standard that modern metal should be held to and can easily stand shoulder to shoulder with recent releases from their countrymen Swallow The Sun.

Antagonist Zero might be relative newcomers with only an EP and one full-length album to their name prior to this release. But with 'No Tears' they have used their time in a considered way that makes you take notice. Each track hits hard, and despite the lengths involved, the intricate musicianship, strong songwriting and engaging vocal performances can't fail to hook you.  

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Thursday, 24 September 2015

Review: The Last Surrealist – 'Hypogean Blood Fractals For A Hypnagogic Sleep'



THE LAST SURREALIST
'Hypogean Blood Fractals For A Hypnagogic Sleep'
SELF-RELEASED


With a title such as 'Hypogean Blood Fractals For A Hypnagogic Sleep' you'd be forgiven for giving a tut of mock exasperation at the seemingly convoluted nature of it. But just as the title is a complex arrangement, so is the music behind it. US based one-man project The Last Surrealist, AKA Chris Romans, is a sumptuous blend of neofolk, ambient electronics, black metal, trip-hop, and drone designed for contemplative or even meditative listening that evokes a near new age aura.

It may only be five tracks long, but each one packs a punch often approaching the ten-minute mark in length. Yet the songs have a vice flow to them so the album seems like a greater whole containing movements within it. There is a dark melancholic beauty mixed with an air of unseen menace running through each song that is quite gripping as the softly sung vocals play with the trip-hop beats, folk and rock guitars underneath a veil of ambient electronics. The result is a progressive, haunting and hypnotic album. The first two tracks 'In The All Consuming Fires Of Sodom And Gomorrah We Make Love' and 'To Lie On Empyrean Shores' along with the stripped-down final track 'I Met God I The Caves Of Xibalba. She Told Me To Surrender. So I Did...' are hands down the standout tracks amongst what is a very strong release, purely for their sheer emotive power and presence.

In terms of production, it is pretty damn good. There is a very natural feel despite all the electronic elements running throughout. And while it is a little rough around the edges, with its emphasis on depth and space it sounds cavernous in its scope.

'Hypogean Blood Fractals For A Hypnagogic Sleep' may at first glance look like it will be a dense and unapproachable album, but it is a deeply rewarding one. Its mixture of dark but soft sounds, cinematic scope, and intimate vocal performances are complex but delicate. And it keeps your focus unrelentingly. If you are a fan of neofolk, ambient, or post metal, this is a recommended release.  

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Review: Fredrik Croona – 'The Grey Line'



FREDRIK CROONA
'The Grey Line'
ADVOXYA RECORDS


Fredrik Croona will already be a familiar name to fans of aggrotech due to his work with Cynical Existence, Project Rotten and Menschdefekt. But like any good artist there is always new directions to explore, and with that in mind he has launched his first solo album under his own name in the form of 'The Grey Line'. Starting in familiar aggrotech territory as a foundation, Croona infuses elements of futurepop, trance and the result is a nice blend of harsh and soft sounds finding a balance that is seriously club friendly.

The album gets off to a bit of a slow start with the first track 'Always The Same' sounding a bit derivative. However, songs such as 'Everytime I Die', 'The Pain', 'Close Your Eyes', 'Disgrace',, 'Coming Down', 'I Tried', and 'The Path' show off the true power of Croona's vision with an infectious blend of steady beats, strong synth leads and a good mix of clean and distorted vocals. The futurepop elements give a nice depth to the songs which along with Croona's use of clean vocals add more emotion to the songs, which are counterpointed nicely with the aggrotech underbelly.

There are a few points where it doesn't quite come together. Not so much in terms of the formula, but the final execution doesn't seem quite up to the standard of the likes of Menschdefekt and Cynical Existence etc. However Croona digs deep and when it does come together it does so in a big way.

The mix is pretty solid as well. There is plenty of that dirty aggrotech grit mixed in that Croona does so well. But the futurepop and trance elements are definitely discernible throughout the majority of the album and the production keeps up with the pace nicely.

It may start off a little shaky but 'The Grey Line' is ultimately another triumph for Croona. The sonic formula keeps you interested and throws out some great dance-friendly tracks. The album maintains a nice pace and there is a darker and more smooth vibe running throughout thanks to those clean vocals in particular. This is a nice foundation on which to build, so hopefully this won't be a one-time-only deal and we'll hear more from this project in the future.

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Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Review: Zardonic – 'Antihero'



ZARDONIC
'Antihero'
ENTERTAINMENT ONE


Following on from the thunderous 'For Justice' single that went off like a bomb earlier this year, was there ever any doubt that Zardonic's next album was going to be one to watch out for? His unique blend of bass-heavy electronic dance music genres melded with extreme metal has lit a fire under the edm scene. In the ten years since its inception, Zardonic has become one of the hottest DJ acts in the world today with not only his original tracks being released to acclaim, but also his remixing skills  in demand from a range of notable artists. With a tour alongside DJ Starscream (AKA Sid '#0' Wilson of Slipknot) under his belt, and a spot on the line-up at next years Resistanz festival, the time is right for his next full-length album to be unleashed.

With a certain amount of anticipation behind it, 'Antihero' is an album that needs to hit hard, fast and leave a lasting impression. And that is exactly what it does. Drum 'n' bass, glitch hop, electro, darkstep, industrial, breakbeat, and hardcore techno collide head-on with extreme metal across eleven original tracks that will appeal to fans of Cubanate, Be My Enemy, Atari Teenage Riot, The Berzerker and the latest work from Combichrist, Yet, even if you are to approach it from a purely metal or purely edm back ground then you will still have plenty to grasp on to.

Songs such as, 'Against All Odds', 'For Justice', 'Vigilante', 'Pure Power', 'Raise Hell', 'The Time Is Now', and the bonus track 'Highway 666' are instant stand-outs with their balance of electronic and metal guitars perfectly balanced for maximum impact. The complex arrangement of the various styles and elements while preserving pure heaviness will give a lot of industrial metal bands a serious run for their money.

There is a real fire running through this album. It's not just a case of “yeah, that will get the dance floor moving”, there is an anger and passion channelled into each track that makes for powerful listening... it just also happens to be great to dance or mosh to. The tracks on display draw on all the elements from Zardonic's palette so far, but it is evident here that he has struck gold.

The production is excellent and the mix is pretty much flawless. Even the bonus remix CD with contributions from the likes of Counterstrike, Dub Elements, Esparta, Darksiderz, Heavygrinder, Evol Intent, The Outside Agency, and Voicians throws up some extra gems. The craziness of Counterstrike's take on 'For Justice', the complete overhaul of 'Override' into a great hardcore track courtesy of Darksiderz, and adrenalin fuelled remix of 'Antihero' from Voicians being the main stand-outs.

If you haven’t encountered Zardonic before, or are approaching his work with any degree of cynicism, then this should convert you. With 'Antihero' Zardonic has truly found his sound... and it kicks serious ass.

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Book Review: Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar – 'Dark Screams: Volume Five'




BRIAN JAMES FREEMAN & RICHARD CHIZMAR
'Dark Screams: Volume Five'
HYDRA


Edited by Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar of the esteemed Cemetery Dance Publications, the fifth instalment of the 'Dark Screams' series brings together five new tales of terror from Mick Garris, J. Kenner, Kealan Patrick Burke, Del James, and Bentley Little. The book draws together these novella length stories into a single collection that gives you a little more meat than your standard compendium of short stories, which allows the writers a little more room to manoeuvre without strict word counts holding them back. The stories are loosely tied together by love, lust, rejection and matters of the heart which creates some interesting scenarios.

The first story in the collection is also its longest. 'Everything You've Always Wanted' by Mick Garris is about a horror director who has come to a convention to be honoured for his most famous slasher flick. But a mysterious female fan takes his story down a different path with a high price to pay for it at the end. This is real pulp TV anthology material. While the writing style is nice and heavy on description, it is completely over the top in terms of its content, which keeps it quite light. In fact its almost like its an homage to The Twilight Zone in it's execution. It could have had a lot of fat trimmed from it to give it a little more punch, but it does make up for it by getting pretty visceral when it needs to.

'The One And Only' by J. Kenner is a nice blend of the classic ghost story and a heavy helping of New Orleans Voodoo. Heartbreak, rejection, and the hand of fate guide the story which is intricate in it's construction with a lot of details and events tying into each other very nicely. I've not encountered J. Kenner before, but I'll be keeping a look out for more. It's heavy on atmosphere and good old fashioned gothic scares that tries its best to keep clear of the obvious clichés. The conclusion is a little predictable, but it is nonetheless a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Kealan Patrick Burke's 'The Land Of Sunshine' is the shortest offering in the collection but the one that word-for-word packs the most punch. It's heavy on symbolism, double meaning, and dense atmospheric description. It's a very psychological and satisfyingly literary piece about a man racked with guilt and haunted by the accusing silence of his mute wife who sets out to find what he has lost. It has heavy nods to the melancholic remorse of Edgar Allen Poe, and with that ringing in your ears it does kind of plod along before its conclusion. Yet in terms of language and construction it is a powerfully written piece.

'Mechanical Gratitude' by Del James is another pulp TV anthology style short stories that keeps to a classic format. It's familiar, comfortable and has one or two nice surprises, and a pretty good conclusion. It sounds on the surface that it might be unmemorable, but James' tale of vintage car enthusiast Arnold and his passion for protecting his '68 Camero and his wife is a very enjoyable read that feels like it is over all too soon. Not the most challenging story in the collection, but well written and a surprisingly fine page turner.

Bentley Little's 'The Playhouse' is hands down the strongest story on offer in 'Dark Screams: Volume Five'. A simple set up of a real estate agent drawn to an old playhouse in the back garden of a house she is trying to sell soon becomes a mass of warped realities, distorted time and very memorable characters, with a great ending that almost asks you to decide what happens next. It's descriptive, engaging, wonderfully bizarre, and stays with you long after you've finished. I'll never look at a children's playhouse the same again. It's an expert exploration into the uncanny that is worth the price of admission alone.

I've not had the pleasure of reading the previous four volumes in this series, but I will be exploring them further based on the strength of this collection. There are certainly some stories stronger than others, but each one is written well and has its own merits. But for those who wan something scary to read in time for Halloween, 'Dark Screams: Volume Five' would be a good bet.  

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Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Soundtrack to... 1995: In 20 Albums



Finally, we fast forward ten years from our last trip in the Intravenous Magazine time machine (FYI, we're using Back To The Future Rules here!). The year is 1995; MTV still has a generation grasped firmly in its neon claws feeding it a steady diet of alternative rock and electronic music. AOL and Prodigy coupled with Windows 95 and Yahoo! made home computing and access to the world wide web to millions. Richey Edwards form The Manic Street Preachers goes missing and is never seen again. Saddam Hussein is getting under the west's skin. Russian and US cooperation reaches new heights as NASA astronauts dock with the space station Mir. The DVD is announced as a new video and storage format. And the Million Man March happens in Washington D.C.

It was also another great year for music that saw heavyweights of goth, rock, indie, industrial, metal, and electronic music from the previous decade rub shoulders with a slew of hot newcomers and hungry young bands.

As with our previous outing we decided to keep it to just twenty LP/EP releases that stood out and set the standard for that year.

As with most of these kind of articles this is by no means the definitive releases of the year. Rather a cross-section of classics and other gems celebrating their 20th year. So sit back and relax as we take a trip back to 1995...


Siouxsie And The Banshees – 'The Rapture'

1995 saw the eleventh and final studio album from the seminal Siouxsie And The Banshees. Having formed in the crucible of punk, the band had become internationally renowned by the 1980s and Siouxsies iconic voice and style became a heavy influence on the gothic movement. The album showed that even after 20 years they were still able to pull a great album out of the bag, and one that continued to push the experimental ideas first heard on 'Peepshow', and blend them with the psychedelic pop of 'A Kiss In The Dreamhouse'. For some bizarre reason the band's label Polydoor would soon drop them, instigating the band's break-up after a world tour to support the album. Siouxsie and Budgie carried on as the Creatures, and seven years later the Banshees reunited for a tour and live album. But 'The Rapture', however lived up to it's title and is a fitting swansong for a band that is still sorely missed.




Swans – 'The Great Annihilator'

'The Great Annihilator' is a bit of an oddity in the Swans back catalogue but for good reasons. After a three year break, Michael Gira and Jarboe return with a refreshed core of musicians and some new ideas that they have had plenty of time to perfect. It is a wonderfully vibrant and experimental blend of post-punk, noise rock, gothic and industrial that sees a renewed and stripped-down approach and some of the band's catchiest songs to that point. The end result is something much more approachable than any Swans album before it, yet it keeps that uncompromising artistic integrity and apt for challenging songwriting. It's little swing towards some more commercial noises may have set off alarm bells for a few critics at the time. But there is no denying that 'The Great Annihilator' has held its own over the past 20 years as one of the essential albums in the band's catalogue.




Dark Tranquillity – 'Of Chaos and Eternal Night'

'Of Chaos And Eternal Night' was a crossroad for Swedish death metal outfit Dark Tranquillity. Having first dropped the super-technical, though unfocussed 'Skyflower' in 1993, the band subsequently lost their original vocalist and began to work towards the more disciplined melodic death metal that would become their forte. This EP has been maligned by a lot of people over the years, but it is still an important release not only in the development of the band, but of the melodic death metal genre as a whole. There is a defined sense of evolution over the course of the tracks here which range from the scatter-shot technical death metal sound of their first album, becoming more focused as they incorporate death-doom and more traditional rock songwriting elements into their sound. It may not be a definitive release for the ages, but for those with a love of melodic death metal, this EP perfectly distils the efforts of this generation of bands to move from their roots and form that sound.



Aphex Twin – '...I Care Because You Do'

Richard D. James returned in 1995 with 'Ventolin', one of the harshest techno singles ever, quickly followed by his third full-length album '...I Care Because You Do'. Blending his early hardcore techno roots with his more ambient leanings, James manages to create an album that is both comforting and unsettling at the same time. There are nods to the likes of Philip Glass and John Cage, as well as early drum 'n' bass elements making an appearance. There is an air of simplicity about the arrangements which only serves to heighten the disparate elements that James chooses. It isn't the mass appeal techno of The Chemical Brothers, Moby, or The Orb. It is a deeper more intelligent approach that owes just as much to avant-garde pioneers as it does to the dance floor. '...I Care Because You Do' is an important album in the development of IDM and bringing a more cerebral approach to electronica.



Faith No More – 'King For A Day... Fool For A Life Time'

Faith No More's fifth studio album was a serious departure that divided critics upon its release in 1995. The first of the band's album's recorded without Jim Martin, the heavy metal leanings of their previous output began to be mixed with elements of jazz, funk, prog rock and classical music. The result is a provocative and eclectic exploration of genre and songwriting conventions. It was perhaps a little ahead of it's time which is why it is so criminally underrated today. But with songs such as 'Ricochet', 'Digging the Grave', 'Evidence' and 'Just A Man' included, it is hard to resist its charms if you are open to them. It is one of the most accomplished and nightmarish albums in the brilliant Faith No More discography and one that definitely needs to be re-evaluated by critics for the progressive work it is that laid the groundwork for the final album of their original run and subsequent studio comeback in 2014.



Atari Teenage Riot – 'Delete Yourself!'

'Delete Yourself!' is part album, part political manifesto. Berlin's Atari Teenage Riot burst onto the scene in a big way in 1995 with their full-length début. Opening with the rallying cry of 'Start The Riot!' the Trio of Alec Empire, Hanin Elias, and Carl Crack unleashed an intense barrage of high BPM blends of jungle, techno, punk rock, and rave they christened “Digital Hardcore”. A reaction to the neo-nazi influenced Berlin techno scene of the time, the album's anti-fascist themes, slogan-like/sound-bite lyrics that sound as though they were recorded through a megaphone, and fast adrenalin fuelled rhythms combine to create an aggressive and powerful call to arms for cyberpunks. Though subsequent albums would further stylize and perfect the band's formula, 'Delete Yourself!' remains a pure expression of angst and political radicalism that stands on the barricade ready to take on all comers.



KMFDM – 'Nihil'

By the time 1995's 'Nihil' was unleashed, KMFDM were already a veteran band with seven albums under their collective belt. Seeing the return of Raymond Watts to the fold was a breath of fresh air for the band and the subsequent album 'Nihil' went on to produce one of the band's best known anthems in 'Juke Joint Jezebel', as well as 'Disobedience', 'Flesh', 'Beast' and 'Brute'. By the end of the year the album became Wax Trax! most successful release and KMFDM their most valuable asset along with it. Quite rightly the album saw critical praise for the both the songwriting quality and the high-tech production heaped on it from all sides. With this in mind you'd be forgiven that after 20 years it may not hold up to it's original hype. But it does. If anything it has matured and settled as a good album should and remains a vital record for fans of industrial rock to this day.



Strapping Young Lad – 'Heavy As A Really Heavy Thing'

Self-confessed “musical whore” Devin Townsend's first outing under the Strapping Young Lad moniker is pretty much the definition of a slow burn. Despite largely favourable critical review upon its release in 1995, it sold only 143 copies in its first six months on sale and it's creator has largely dismissed it as a collection of remixed demos with two great songs on it. Which is unfair. Sure the production is lacking, but 'Heavy As A Really Heavy Thing' is a genuinely great album. It's blending of thrash, death and industrial metal, along with the emphasis of intensity over song structure and a heaped dose of black humour makes for an absolute mind fuck of a roller-coaster ride. It hasn't aged particularly well, and it may be a sore point for it's creator who has gone on to do much bigger an better things with Strapping Young Lad, as well as under his own name, but there is something about 'Heavy As A Really Heavy Thing' that makes it a valuable listening experience.




White Zombie – 'Astro Creep: 2000'

With the surprising breakout success of White Zombie's previous album 'La Sexorcisto: Devil Music Volume One' all eyes were on the New York alternative metal outfit. The album they produced, 'Astro Creep: 2000', would go on to not only be their most successful album... but it would prove to be their last. Favouring a more industrial metal sound over their previous psychedelic-tinged groove metal it produced monster hits such as 'More Human Than Human', 'Electric Head', and 'Super Charger Heaven'. It is a thematic blur of horror, sci-fi and Americana set to down-tuned guitars and addictive keyboards that is both heavy and dance-friendly. It is the formula that would go on to inform vocalist Rob Zombies most successful solo albums. The album would go double platinum and see the band receive a Grammy for their performance of 'More Human Than Human'. It is a classic example of a band dissolving at the peak of their success. But what a way to go out.




Moonspell – 'Wolfheart'

Portugal's Moonspell made their début in 1995 with the dark 'Wolfheart'. Mixing gothic metal and black metal with elements of doom, the band thematically walked a similar path to England's Cradle Of Filth, though opted for a far more romanticised execution. Their first offering 'Wolfheart' is one of those wonderfully naïve recordings that take on and increasing charm as the band's evolve and grow over time. With songs such as 'Wolf Shade', 'Vampira', 'An Erotic Alchemy', and 'Alma Mater' the band blend morbid lyrics, death grunt and baritone vocals, sexy keyboards and addictive riffs to create a strong musical foundation from which to move forward. There are a few points where the formula slips into self-parody, but they are as previously stated mainly out of nativity. And to judge the whole album at their expense is an injustice. 'Wolfheart' along with Tiamat's 'Wildhoney', Type O Negative's 'Bloody Kisses' and My Dying Bride's 'The Angel And Dark River' provide the foundations for the gothic metal genre.


Babes In Toyland – 'Nemesisters'

'Nemesisters' is another one of those great albums by a great band that unfortunately dissolved soon after release. American punk rockers Babes In Toyland achieved mainstream success on the back of the grunge and alt rock movements of the early 90s with their second album 'Fontanelle' showcasing a refreshingly raw and primal sound 'Their follow-up 'Nemesisters' walked a much more experimental path that blended their previous formula with heavy metal and power pop to create a deceptively slick but punishing album. Songs such as 'Hello', 'Sweet 69', '22' and 'Killer On The Road' are great and show a band having a bit more fun with their sound. While the de-constructed cover versions of 'All By Myself', 'Deep Song' and 'We Are Family are worth the price of admission alone. The anger of their first two albums that endeared them to so many at the time is largely missing in favour of more humour, which led to mixed reviews on its release. But it is long overdue a re-evaluation.




Opeth – 'Orchid'

Since their début album 'Orchid' in 1995, Sweden's Opeth have gone on to be one of the cornerstones of modern heavy metal. Progressive, cerebral and always interesting, their path started with the seminal 'Orchid'. Progressive rock, folk rock/acoustic, black metal, and death metal elements came together in a perfect storm that kicked both genres up the arse and made a lot of people take notice. Most of the songs exceed nine minutes in length and showcased a hungry young band with grand ambitions, but most importantly the talent to live up to them. Songs like 'In Mist She Was Standing', 'Forest Of October', 'Requiem', and 'The Apostle In Triumph' are grand evocations that foreshadow a long and eclectic career as they blend extreme metal with prog, jazz, folk and simply wonderful instrument ion. It is deeply introspective to the point of being awkwardly pretentious in places, however so strong is the band's conviction, you can't help but fall in love with it.



My Dying Bride – 'The Angel And The Dark River'

Yorkshire's masters of the morbid and morose, My Dying Bride, hit their stride with 1995's 'The Angel And the Dark River'. The third studio outing from the band created their most sumptuously melancholic expression up to that point. Moving away from their death-doom origins, they drenched themselves in gothic misery as though it was rain on the moors outside Whitby. Aaron Stainthorpe dropped the death grunts in favour of his anguished baritone, while the songs took their cues from the intricate violin and keyboard work of Martin Powell. The end result is seven tracks of epic proportion that ooze gothic melodrama in it's purest sonic form. It can be argued that this is the point where the gothic-doom genre solidified into a definitive formula, but it goes without question that this is one of the band's strongest and most strikingly original albums in their expansive canon. Quite simply put, if misery loves company, let this album be your companion is despair.



Nine Inch Nails – 'Further Down The Spiral'

“A remix album!” I hear you cry? Well yes, and with good reason. 1994's 'The Downward Spiral' by Trent Reznor and his Nine Inch Nails is undoubtedly one of the most important industrial rock albums of all time. But it is a testament to the original album and Reznor as a writer that the collaborative deconstructions and regurgitations on it's remix companion are so strong. What we have here is the experimentalism of the original pushed to the fore by a cohort of legendary names such as Rick Rubin, J.G. Thirlwell, Jhonn Balance, Peter Christopherson, Aphex Twin, Dave Navarro, Sean Beavan, Dave Ogilvie and the Nine Inch Nails crew themselves. The name of the game isn't the standard dance-friendly mixes that come to inhabit remix albums these days, but a purely industrial kind of anarchy that builds on the work seen on 'Fixed' and 'The Downward Spiral' to become its own monster. It's remixing done right.



Paradise Lost – 'Draconian Times'

They may have christened a new genre with there album 'Gothic' but it wasn't until 1995's 'Draconian Times' that Yorkshire's Paradise Lost began to reach their potential. The band referred to it as the missing link between Metallica and The Sisters Of Mercy, and that description holds up throughout. Spacious epic guitars, thunderous drums, brilliant riffs, sensual keyboards and anguished vocals make this an essential release in the gothic-doom/gothic metal genres. The arrangements are more rock orientated, and the performances more contemplative than previous albums. The album charted well across Europe and the subsequent touring sealed the band's status as a headline act to take note of. After this album the songwriting would veer more towards dark rock and electronic orientated sounds that would alienate some of their early audience, but in recent years the influence of this album has been felt increasingly amongst new Paradise Lost releases which have drawn those fans back.



Garbage – 'Garbage'

Out of an anarchic sea of band break-ups, suicide, and heavy experimentation, the eponymous début album by rock super-group (of sorts) Garbage in 1995 and the band members never looked back. Spear-headed by ex-Spooner hand and producer Butch Vig and fronted by the indomitable Shirley Manson the band produced a richly layered, grungy and dark album that innovated on every single track. The album with songs such as 'Vow', 'Only Happy When It Rains', 'Queer', 'Milk', and 'Stupid Girl' tearing up radio stations worldwide was an instant hit and made Garbage a household name over night. It charted high and achieved gold and platinum status in numerous countries around the world, and is still considered one of the most innovative and strong débuts of the 1990s by many critics. Even after 20 years, it is an album that still holds up.



My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult – 'Hit & Run Holiday'

Most often associated with the early years of Chicago's Wax Trax! Records, My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult had since made the move to Interscope by they time they dropped 'Hit & Run Holiday'. Already infamous for psychedelic industrial hits such as 'Kooler Than Jesus', 'A Daisy Chain 4 Satan', and 'Sex On Wheelz', the band threw in generous helpings of surf rock, motown and good ol' fashioned American fun for their answer to a concept album. The album is far sunnier than its predecessors with a kitsch b-movie party atmosphere that frames the band's usual themes of camp excess. It may be somewhat over shadowed by classic albums such as 'Confessions Of A Knife...', but this is a damn fun album that has aged really well. It was critically well received at the time of its release and is easily the most accessible of the band's discography for newcomers to get in to. It is definitely one to explore if you haven't done so already.



Rammstein – 'Herzeleid'

Ah Rammstein, where would modern metal be with out those industrial Teutonic pyromaniacs? I dread to think. The band are international arena headliners, selling out venues all over the world and have become one of the most successful heavy bands on the planet. But it comes from such an unlikely source. Born from the German Neue Deutsche Härte scene, the band's first album 'Herzeleid' is a fairly standard mix of industrial metal, European techno and dark, sexual German humour. The album is very easy to get into with singles such as 'Du Riechst So Gut', 'Seemann', 'Asche Zu Asche', and the disturbing 'Rammstein', which featured on the soundtrack to David Lynch's 'Lost Highway'. It's frenetic, heavy, and easy to dance too. But once again it is a very naïve début album that shows the seeds of the later genius. The band definitely had some growing to do between this and their breakthrough 'Mutter', but Herzeleid is a charming and catchy first outing from these future powerhouses.



Marilyn Manson – 'Smells Like Children'

Another remix album?! Yes! 1995's 'Smells Like Children' is a real oddity in the Manson discography, and one that was meant to be far darker and more conceptual than it actually turned out (see Manson's autobiography 'The Long Hard Road Out Of Hell'). It bridges the gap between the nightmarish psychedelic rock of his début album with elements of a nastier, thrash-industrial metal sound that would characterise his follow-up, 'Antichrist Svperstar'. Featuring remixes, crazy instrumentals and warped samples, the album's biggest selling points are its brilliant covers of 'Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)' – which gave the band their first heavy rotation on MTV – 'Rock 'n' Roll Nigger', and 'I Put A Spell On You'. It is a confusing, and odd collection that received mixed to negative reviews upon release. But it has a genuine character to it that is hard to find on remix albums these days, and for that it is a must listen.



Fear Factory – 'Demanufacture'

Cyber metal outfit Fear Factory unleashed their sophomore album 'Demanufacture' in 1995 and with it etched their place in metal history. The conceptual storyline is pure Terminator as man goes head to head with the machines set to a blistering display of heavy riffs, pounding rhythms and scathing synthesizers as thrash, industrial and groove metal elements are churned up within. It is a landmark industrial metal album that was years ahead of its time, spawning a host of imitators over the years while tracks such as 'Demanufacture', 'Zero Signal', 'Replica', 'Piss christ' and their cover of 'Dog Day Sunrise' have gone on to become genre standards. Fear Factory's career may have been subject to its ups and downs in the years since, but this album is the linchpin (no pun intended) of their discography that captures the band at their best in terms of songwriting quality and level of performance.



Right, that's our countdown of 1995 in 20 albums. We hope you enjoyed it and we're sure you have your own picks to add to the list. If you want to make your voice heard leave a comment on this post on our Facebook page. We'll be back with another countdown next year when we look back at 1986 and 1996.

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The Sacred Art of Tattooing - From Rite of Passage to Modern-Day Ritual

Photo by Erin Murphy


Tattooing is one of the most ancient rituals of humanity.
The people of the ancient tribes and civilisations would mark their bodies permanently with symbols representative of rites of passage, defining who they were, what they had achieved, and their relations to their gods, goddesses, and to each other. 

As the Europeans conquered the lands of the Earth one by one, attempting to eradicate most of the Natives and Aborigenes' cultures and beliefs, the meaning of rituals like tattooing became stigmatized. As time went on, tattoos resurfaced (though they seemingly never entirely disappeared, perhaps were only ever very-well hidden), associated at first with the bad and the freaky, and now, in 2015, after many-a cultural revolution, a tattoo may be found on almost every single body out there, all over the world.

Could it be established that tattoos have left the alternative side of culture, officially becoming a part of  pop culture?  Is there any lingering stigma to tattooing, and has its sacredness lost itself, or has been revitalized? These are some of the questions I've recently asked Abdala Kaufmann, owner of Galerie Abyss in Montreal, an art gallery established both to showcase new, cutting edge art from local artists, and serving as one of the hottest tattoo parlours in town (with Kaufmann herself as main tattoo artist).  



Every month, Kaufmann presents a new exhibition in her gallery, each time with a different theme. She reaches out to underexposed Montreal artists, asking them to create a unique piece for the group show, thus developping a strong, beautiful community of underground local artists, united by their fierce mastery of pop surrealism and lowbrow art. After exploring topics such as Comic Books, Fairy Tales, Monsters and Celebrities, Kaufmann chose a theme that hit as close to home as can be for her September show: Tattoos. 

I went to the vernissage and revelled in the many ways each artist interpreted the theme. From paintings that you'd give up everything to get tattooed on yourself to portraits of tattooed men and women, to animals adorning human-shaped tattoos, it was fascinating to see all these completely different creative universes bringing forth their very own shape and colour of the word, and meaning of the word Tattoo, united under the same roof. "Funnily enough, I am the only painter and tattoo artist in the show", Kaufmann observes. "I asked many tattoo artists to participate in the show, but none of them joined in. What you see here are the works of painters interpreting the theme". 

'Eden' - by Abdala Kaufman


Tattooing is a huge part of Abdala Kaufmann's life, and a huge part of her art. She presents herself as a painter, tattoo artist, and gallery owner, wearing all these hats with a perfect balance of pride and humility. Galerie Abyss allows her to hold a space for the underground art community she is a part of, and believes in, and provides an inviting, and inspiring environment for her to create body art with and for her clients. I asked Kaufmann what it meant to her to be a tattoo artist, how she experienced the sacredness of this oldest of rituals, both from her perspective as an artist, and as a person who's been tattooed, and what tattoos mean in our culture, in 2015.  

Kaufmann laughed with me at first, saying she's so busy taking care of all the aspects of her business, making her pieces for the next show, and booking her next client's appointment, she doesn't have time to sit down and think about the sacredness of tattooing -very typical of me indeed to bring such points out in conversation! We laughed a bit more, and then she went on saying that she does recognize the meaning behind tattooing someone, to the point where if you think about it too much, it can get a bit overwhelming. A tattoo artist indeed will permanently mark someone's body, and there's blood that comes out of everyone, in every session. People get tattooed for very specific reasons, and each individual will experience the session in accordance to the reason why they're there, getting this particular design inked upon their body forever at that specific time in their lives. A tattoo session is a very intense and intimate moment shared between the artist and the client. As any other art form, it can become a therapeutic experience, holding both a good, cathartic side, and a draining, painful side. People may or may not even be aware of what they're doing in this moment, the ritual that they're putting themselves through. They might be going through grief, or heartbreak, and getting tattooed is this way of them going from one place to the next within themselves, and outside themselves. Kaufmann holds a deep respect for each client she gets, and does her utmost to make the client's experience a positive one. The sessions she appreciates the most are those where she'll be fixing someone's tattoo. She always feels very honoured, and humbled, when a client asks her to fix a tattoo that either faded too quickly in time, wasn't executed properly, or that needs to be revamped so as to give it meaning again. "It's huge for me to have someone put their trust in me to fix up their tattoo, I'm turning this bad previous experience into a good one, into something they can enjoy again, and be proud to show off." 



To Abdala Kaufmann, the wider acceptance tattoos are getting more and more, say, for the last 20 years, is a very good thing. Amidst all the various types of clients she can get, Kaufmann says she holds a soft spot for the older ladies she'll get to ink up. "I've tattooed women between 60 to 80 years old, women who had always wanted to get a tattoo their whole lives, but couldn't when they were younger because of the stigma it would entail. These ladies' daughters and grand-daughters all have tattoos, so they're feeling like now, they can go ahead and get this tattoo they've been wanting for 40 years, and wear it with pride."

Though one can argue as to whether our society really wants to recognize spirituality in its many modern-day versions of rituals, getting a tattoo is definitely one of the most meaningful experiences one can go through -and people do recognize it, showing thus that beneath the ever-changing fads of pop culture lies this intrinsic, collective consciousness, and understanding, of the sacredness of rituals as old as time. 

For each and everyone of us is a part of a tribe.   
    

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Friday, 18 September 2015

THE WOMEN OF DOOM



Autumn is here, and the skeletal hand of time is on our shoulders. Darkness encroaching upon the day, nature whithering away, another year of our lives nearly over. Soon the macabre cabaret of Halloween will be here, as the strange horrors of our collective subconscious parade the wintry streets, and then that strange celebration of political violence and fiery destruction on bonfire night.

Lovely, isn't it?

This relentless march of time and realisation of our futile mortality (keep up at the back) is the essence of Doom Metal. The failure of the revolutionary fervour of 1968 led to a collapse of optimism and a retreat into a kind of Zen nihilism, which naturally led to a kind of morally justified hedonism. Black Sabbath were the first to tap into this strangely reassuring bleakness, and were of course followed by a multitude of others who followed those slow, down-tuned chords which sounded like the existential tolling of the bell.

Doom, unlike other metal sub-genres (the obvious exception being Black Metal) has it's own philosophical universe – that of anti-ideology, anti-authority, anti-utopia, hedonism, nihilism, liberty, morbidity, drugs, drink, facelessness, occultism, Satanism and horror. Whether these concepts are explored with seriousness or if they are used to explore the most disposable side of dark pop culture the basic premise is essentially the same - that we are all doomed, nothing matters, so all bets are off. Nietzsche, I imagine, would have appreciated a loud blast of 'Supercoven' as much as he did Wagner.

One of the more exciting recent developments in the genre is the rise of female-fronted doom metal. With doom metal no longer the primary domain of rather slovenly long-haired chaps festooned with crosses and moustaches, women are now leading the way in the international development of the scene. Whether that is the occult rock sound of Lucifer, the progressive flute-driven sound of Blood Ceremony, the folk psychedelicism of Purson, the experimental menace of Chelsea Wolfe, the Sabbathy riffs of Alunah, not to mention Witch Mountain, Witch Charmer, Kult of the Wizard, Jess and the Ancient Ones, The Devil's Blood, Undersmile and many many more – a long list of fantastic new bands that the writer recommends you all check out as soon as Satan allows.

Amongst the many interesting elements to this development are that women are being put (literally) centre stage in what has hitherto been a male-dominate genre, and that the contrast between the depressive heaviness of the riffs and the female vocal provides a fantastic musical contrast which opens up new dark terrain. But what is also of interest is that it undermines the old assumptions about male attitudes being more prone to themes of nihilism, morbidity and the occult – that the philosophical impact of doom is not confined to angry or disillusioned men, and that women can explore these concepts too.

What can we read into the rise of female doom metal? Of course, it is more appropriate for the genre to raise questions rather than answer them – there is, after all, no conclusion to anything or any inherent substance either. But where this development is headed should be of great interest to anyone with an interest in rocking misery.

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Thursday, 17 September 2015

Review: Dekad – 'A Perfect Picture'



DEKAD
'A Perfect Picture'
BOREDOM PRODUCT


Formed as a trio initially, French synthpop outfit Dekad is now the solo project of founding member JB. Dispensing with the services for his former band mates for his last outing on 2011's 'Monophonic' JB quickly proved he didn't need support to bring his vision to life. And his new release 'A Perfect Picture' solidifies his ability as a solo artist. Blending synthpop, ebm, and future pop the fourth full-length studio album from Dekad is a catchy and melancholic expression of pop hooks and stylish synth work.

Songs such as 'Polaroid', 'Searching', 'Tied Up', 'Beautiful Inside', and 'The Guilt' bring big dance floor potential with their addictive rhythms, memorable melodies and sing-a-long vocals. While the likes of 'Slow Motion', 'Not Really There', 'Hate', and 'Miss Me' add a more introspective experience to the album that is perfect for solitary listening.

There are nods to the likes of And One, Celluloid, Covenant, Depeche Mode, Front 242, Massive Attack, and Royksopp throughout the album. But Dekad is its own beast. Sometimes there is a wonderfully laid back trip-hop quality to the pace, before it suddenly fills with dance-friendly energy and anthemic synth lines. It's a subtly varied listening experience which is reflected well in the production. It's minimal, almost to the point of being stark. But it works really well and gives the songs the space to change with ease.

'A Perfect Picture' is an album that synthpop fans will want to check out. It has a nice amount of variety and some strong synth work that keeps things interesting from start to finish. It's not as perfect as the title makes out however. JB's vocals tend to stick to that mid range, which is good enough for the most part, but there are one or two songs that feel like they could do with a little emotion, and it feels like he holds back. But on the whole it is a solid album that delivers a lot.

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Review: Beborn Beton – 'A Worthy Compensation'



BEBORN BETON
'A Worthy Compensation'
DEPENDENT RECORDS 

After a six year absence the German synthpop trio Beborn Breton return with their sixth full-length studio album. The band's blend of mellow melodies, easy pace, and catchy rhythms remains intact while getting a nice production overhaul befitting 2015. But after so long in the wilderness do the band still have the edge they once did when a whole new generation has reached maturity?

Well, the simple answer is yes. 'A Worthy Compensation' presents a more mature and self-assured sound than the band's previous output. The dance potential remains intact throughout, while Netschio's voice sounds the strongest and most engaging it ever has.

There are some easy stand-out tracks that will undoubtedly find a welcome spot on club playlists around the world. The likes of 'Daisy Cutter', '24-7 Mystery', 'A Worthy Compensation', 'Was Immer', and 'Terribly Wrong' are great, subtle, melancholic but nonetheless infectious cuts that get under the skin. While the likes of 'She Cried', and 'Who Watches the Watchmen' add a nice depth of flavour to the proceedings.

The production is clean, fresh, minimal and most importantly right for 2015. There is no trying to relive past glories or attempting to recapture the sound that first brought them to the public's attention. But then, Beborn Beton have never been about the past. The album is wonderfully simple and stright to the point with the mix giving the synths and the vocals plenty of room to move and create a much larger sound as a result.

'A Worthy Compensation' may not be the blinding revelation that some will be hoping for. Nor will it put young guns like Mr Kitty in their place. What you do get is a damn solid and enjoyable synthpop album from three tried and tested songwriters that lives up to it's predecessors and provides a platform for them to move forward.  

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Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Review: Grave Pleasures – 'Dreamcrash'



GRAVE PLEASURES
'Dreamcrash'
SONY COLUMBIA


Under the moniker of Beastmilk, the band that is now Grave Pleasures instantly seared itself into the rock landscape with a stunning EP release in 'Use Your Deluge' and the follow-up full-length debut 'Climax' Blending post-punk, proto-goth / death rock, and elements of black and doom metal giving themselves a lot to live up to. The band then had a re-shuffle, changed their name, signed a new record deal and have hit even harder with their latest output 'Dreamcrash'. It's arguable as to whether is is in essence a debut or a sophomore album, but that minor complication is by-the-by. 'Dreamcrash' consolidates all the effort the band made under the Beastmilk moniker, expands on it, and focuses its gaze on the horizon.

Icy cold atmospheres, sinister jangling guitars, tribal drums, palpitating bass lines, and the distinctive emotional evocations of vocalist Mat “Kvohst” McNerney come together in such a perfect way. There is nothing forced or contrived. The band feel like they have always been together it sounds so natural. There is a hell of a lot to get your teeth into here with its rich and textured melodies and rhythms swirling around a varied and engaging vocal performance.

Songs such as 'New Hip Moon', 'Crying Wolves', 'Crisis', 'Worn Threads', 'Lipstick On Your Tombstone', 'Girl In A Vortex', and 'No Survival' form the backbone of the record blending raw emotion with desperate aggression that brings to mind early Siouxsie And The Banshees, Joy Division, Killing Joke, Patti Smith, Echo And the Bunnymen, Jesus And Mary Chain, and The Cure but manages to sound completely unique and original at all times.

With a metal pedigree running through the band's DNA, there is a slick modern production that lets the heaviness of the songwriting come across without dulling the edge of their savage melodies. It is a distinctly approachable album. Metalheads can get behind the deep, bleak, black metal atmosphere, while goths and fans of post-punks can engage in the pop-tinged eclectic rock at its core.

'Dreamcrash' is an album that has successfully surpassed expectations. Any worries about the line up change and subsequent re-branding of the band are instantly dispelled and all that is left behind is some of the best gothic-tinged post-punk released in years – and what has to be a contender for album of the year. Grave Pleasures have all the tools needed to become a worldwide musical force breathing life into the dark side of rock music once more.  

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Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Editorial: September, 2015



Invitation emails are flying back and forth out of our account inviting some great artists and bands to be a part of our third free download compilation. The response to the first two compilations has been overwhelmingly positive and I'm grateful to everyone who has downloaded them so far. If you're new to this site and haven't downloaded them yet, please click the album cover in the sidebar and download yourself a free copy of both of them from our bandcamp page.

Even though invitations have been sent I have no doubts we'll be able to make room for a few more artists who want to contribute. If you/your band fit the criteria please contact us via the form on our contact us page with subject “compilation” and a link to your music (soundcloud / youtube etc). We'd need all submissions to us by THE END OF NOVEMBER if we are to keep to the 01/01/2016 launch, so please keep that in mind!

Once again we'll aim for a shorter and more concise album that will probably be about sixteen tracks in length maximum rather than trying for a double album as we did with the first compilation. This time we are focusing on the darker, heavier and downright weirder end of the spectrum of bands that we cover. As you could have probably guessed from the above artwork.

As with the first two compilations we'll be looking for exclusive new songs, demos and remixes from new and exciting acts from around the globe. And again we'll be including a PDF booklet with the album that will feature biographical information and hyperlinks for every band and label featured.

Like I have said before, these compilations are a big job, and I put them together on my own. But it is done out of a belief in this website and over the past few years I've been humbled by the bands, artists, labels, promoters and most importantly the readers who believe in it and keep coming back to it.

I hope you'll all continue to download, share and recommend the 'Blood Pack' compilations and most of all support the artists, bands, and labels that submit new and exciting music to them.

Anyway, that's where we are with it this month. I'll be sending out requests to bands myself. But if you'd like to be considered, please feel free to message us.

And finally, make sure you have these links in your favourites:



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Book Review: Barbara Hambly – 'Darkness On His Bones'



BARBARA HAMBLY
'Darkness On His Bones'
SEVERN HOUSE


Having unfortunately been unacquainted with the previous five instalments of Barbara Hambly's novels following the exploits of James Asher, this review is approached with no preconceived notions based on the rest of the series, and as such is analysed as a standalone novel.

Set against the back drop of imminent war between the imperial powers of 1914, James Asher – a scholar, spy, and vampire hunter – is investigating a threat to the Parisian vampires when his is savagely attacked and left for dead. It is then his wife Lydia and an old friend in the form of the vampire Don Simon Ysidro whom Lydia has called on for help as she tries to piece together James' movements before he was left in a coma. War is declared and forces begin to move against the trio. As James comes out of his coma the shelling of Paris begins, still ailing there is a desperate race to move the ailing investigator as his original purpose remains shrouded in a veil of dreams that must be unravelled before a sinister evil moves against them.

If you are new to the series and vampire fiction in general, even with this being number six in line of novels, it is still pretty easy to get into. The characters are pretty well formed – the scholarly James asher torn between duty and friendship, the noble but damned Simon, and Lydia with her secret love for the vampire – the setting is also and easy one to be drawn into with the First World War gaining more media coverage recently due to it's centenary. In that respect the setting and plot at first glance may be unremarkable, but Hambly is a damn good writer and her brand of vampire owes just as much to folklore as to Anne Rice.

There are the now familiar trappings of elegant and hedonistic nobility, but these are much more violent and predatory creatures than Lestat, Louis and Armand. They have claws, gaunt corpse-like features and move in a much more supernatural manner benefiting their undead title. Hambly gives some much needed bite back to these creatures after the genre's wasted pandering to teenage fantasies over the paste decade.

Hambly's writing style is eloquent, descriptive and makes great use of analysing the wider environment to give a solid perception of her characters' surroundings. She uses the unseen forces of the vampires and the advancing Imperial German army to build a palpable tension that doesn't want to release it's hold. It is an engaging and fast paced text that keeps you wanting to turn the page.

However there are two main issues with the wider construction of the novel. The first is the heavy use of dreams. These by their very nature are hard to follow and occasionally you are forced to go back and re-read passages when you realise that there was a significant development that you missed as your mind plays catch-up to the surreal twists has just tried to visualise before jumping to something else. This si hard to get right and the over reliance on this device does slow down the pace and muddy things up somewhat,

The second issues is with the point of view. The narrative switches back and forth between the point of view of Lydia (who dominates a good portion of the book) and James (who does his best work in his dreams in this outing it seems). Lydia's point of view with her infatuation with the vampire Simon, and her attempts to keep up appearances as the horror of war draws ever closer, provide quite a bit meatier than James rather confused and matter-of-fact mindset.

On the whole though, this was a gripping and fast-paced book that helps to bring the vampire fiction genre back from the edge and into respectability once again. It may have its foibles and get bogged down every so often, but nonetheless it is a solid read that, if you are new to the series, will make you want to explore more of this world.  

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Monday, 14 September 2015

Live: Amphi Festival - Köln, 25th – 26th July 2015



AMPHI FESTIVAL 

Köln, Germany 
25/07/2015 – 26/07/2015 

Prologue

Its 2.00pm on an August afternoon. Glancing over gothic fashion in the pages of a financial Times supplement, I try gathering my thoughts of the gothic music calendar of this year.

Growing from a small festival that saw a few hundred patrons attend, Amphi festival transformed to a weekend that sees over 18,000 gather in black lace, rubber, cyber dreads and colours of all, not just from Europe, but the whole of the black globe, verifying the success and impact Amphi has had on the alternative scene. For it’s convenience in regards to transport & travel, family-friendly, as well as good quality has kept it in that stage for many years.

Friday
The weather looks dreary outside in Edinburgh, so no need for sun protection. With a quick shower, croissant and a strong black tar coffee it’s off to the airport. My charming Goth morning looks get me away with 3kg over the baggage limit (thank goodness for the tar coffee!). Now just past the x-ray to watch the security guard’s reaction to my New Rock’s and another festival is about to commence!

This year saw a change in the Amphi venue, from the legendary Tanzbunnen situated on the side of the Rhein; with its three stages and Goth patented Beach Club. Located nearby, the Laxness arena was chosen.

An impressive venue, when first glimpsed at online, maybe a bit too impressive in size for the Grufti culture to handle. However sometimes experiments must be made, in order to continue on improving the festival experience. Over the years the Tanzbunnen had become overcrowded, in certain situations, with issues such as rain creating problems for entry into certain stages, it could be seen that this was part of eliminating this issue.
So with a bit of ‘Aesthetische’s’ new promotional tracks blowing through the eardrum, the warm-up parties are under-way!

Call the Ship to port, was an impressive experiment of making use of the Rhein, as a floating warm-up venue, that has become a permanent add-on to the festival. Combine that with the new Alter Watersaal’s location in the Köln hafen complex, which hosts the official Amphi Festival warm-up party, improvements are being made every year. The Essig Fabrik was visited for the first time, breaking tradition and is a great warm-up substitute if wanting a change from the Depeche Mode Amphi Party.

Saturday – The Perfect Storm
The new venue did not get off to a flying start, literally… Köln that Saturday experienced seriously high storm winds, that led to the two outdoor stages including all the stalls being shut down until further notice. Mainly due to the possible capsizing disasters caused by triple platform boots!
The major issue created by the wind was a wave of disarray, which led to overcrowding within the laxness arena. There was really not enough clear signage in regards to the two outdoor stages and indoor stall area. However kudos must be given to Amphi management, for doing their utmost to tame the situation and create a solution to the health and safety hazard.



The end result led to the outdoor venues remaining closed, and having acts squeezed into the main Arena stage in order to get as many acts back on the list. There had been querying over the improvement of the vegetarian and vegan options available at Amphi this year. Either I was unaware to find them, though there seemed to be no change. It must be pointed out though, there was indeed a change in the variety of food available and I was happy with my Bratwurst and Met; and my personal EBM dance of joy was given to the introduction of Guinness!


The likes of D.A.F.’s Gabi Delgado brought down the drum to the beat with old skool EBM. The advantage of the Arena could already be seen, watching the Beer and body movements bring me back to Cold War, also reminding me I was missing out on fun in the pit!

Leaving Mussolini in the past, we travelled into dream world. Chibi let her pigtails go; drawing her audience to a place of cake, blood and wonderland dark swirls; as the Canadian project ‘The Birthday Massacre’ delivered a little slice of nightmare to the Arena. Flying around the stage, the band delivered purple and black romance of young splatter tales to the pit, and as an act to observe from the medium level was quite perfect. The songs covered the entirety of their work from the sewing up of ‘Pins & needles’ to the waltzing nightmare fairy-tale of ‘Lovers End’.

 Whatever was left of the bloodcake, got finished off with Agonoize. They walked onto the stage; transforming the Arena into a church and preached gospels to a crowd that rose into a blood-coagulated tornado. Having the masses gathered at the Arena stage; the Guinness and met stand looked like boats from afar, becoming engulfed in a alcoholic energetic black wave. Chris,L ramped up the volume and cut-throat bass. Using the rage of his voice and dark joy, he worked the blood-lust of the disciples to his advantage. By now the floor was dashed in salt and muscle juice.

Front 242 made it onto the Main stage, an anticipation after not playing last year due the sound issues that plagued not only the Tanzbunnen’s main stage but that also of the Stattenhaus.

Sunday - We shall rebuild!
From a festival goers perspective having acts such as [:SITD:] so early in the morning, was an unfortunate solution due to time as well as knowledge of the rescheduling being short. Carsten did his best to salvage the scrap metal and bring a beast out with Slow deep pulsing EBM reactor. With the help of Chris. L, the crowd got their morning stomp in the face.

If any of all the bands that can make an amusing drama, the building lords ‘Patenbrigade: Wolff’ are the Kings of construction electronica. A few sight levels, orange visibility vests and we have ourselves progress and beer! Taking the light movement with their own patented style of music and there movement through the ages, the festival awoke from the grave and found some new life.



The Arena played to ‘Combichrist’s’ Joy of Gunz, with heavy drums and blasting bass, with a combined dash of guitars. Andy La Plauega has taken his project’s act much more metal in his performances, in comparison to previous live acts, a great performance to show off his Rammstein touring experience, for the gigantic venue.

‘Henric de la Cour’ was an exceptional act for the orbit stage, producing a meteor of synthetic waves, combined with guitar strings that left a lasting impression. An interesting group of zombified keyboardists and a single guitarist gave an amusing touch to the fantastic vocals and performance of their lead singer. For the first time seen all weekend, they electrified the crowd and for me made the best new act of the festival.

The lasting thoughts were that the orbit stage had the best vibe of the overall Sunday. The dense energy from the nearby stalls and light chitty chatting of the back, and Guinness at arm’s length was perfect.


Down Hill

I am over critical of sound and atmosphere; as I believe it is the secret key to most spectators, that these conditions will create the best for any act, producing the feeling of nerves standing up upon the skin to the right resonance that cannot be beaten.
For Diary of Dreams, I have seen them on previous occasions outdoor and regardless of sunlight, I am aware it can still make the night-time crawl in. I left the vicinity of the green stage, as I believed that if I listened to Adrian Hates any longer on stage under these conditions, my thoughts and place in my head for the band would be tarnished. The sound was far from acceptable if you were to listen not that far away. As much as props and the movement of artists can catalyse the mood, the sound is the greatest multiplier and in this case , negative.

Oomph came alive, opening with ‘Alles Aus Liebe’ for a packed black Arena. It had a mixed proportion of alive Oomph maniacs at front of stage, and a representation on the upper floors of a few tired looking faces recovering from Saturday. However still able to enjoy the sound of the industrial Goth rockers. For the Laxness Arena, here I could definitely see an advantage for this point in time, but it recreated the feeling of being in a Museum?






The orbit stage saw the acoustics of Rome reign in and feel the Neofolk force of Jerome Reuter, producing his ballad of fury and desolation of society amongst the blades of grass. Rome bestowed a clean chill of melodic rituals, of death and power, that erased the earlier sounds.

VNV Nation closed the Amphi epilogue for 2015, and by far was the best choice. Watching Ronan Harris perform his act and use the sheer size of the Coliseum before him to its full potential was spectacle at its finest. Engaging the crowd from the pit to the rafters the sheer volume of spectators was horrifying; at the same time what a fantastic adrenaline rush! The highest moment was seeing the darkness of the laxness arena become illuminated. Phones and lighters, brought the whole of Amphi together at, before the curtain closed until the following summer... 


Epilogue aka The Post Morton 
Monday came and over a spot of lunch including a strong cup of black resurrection, in the inner city of Köln, I compiled my thoughts of the Gothic long weekend.

Having two outdoor venues reduced the atmosphere for a lot of bands, which would have been better suited to indoor acoustic environment. The sound quality was dire if listening in the vicinity of the green stage. The orbit stage however was a good size; it did create overcrowding, but was made up by the quality of sound and overall feeling of the acts and atmosphere by dark festival goers.

The Arena was a spectacle, but only for the bands that would see the space being filled and for the music artists that had developed the skills to channel the audience from the stage, to the metal sky. I think also a festival such as the laxness arena may have positives with such are large seating area, however overall you felt very disconnected from it all and I did not come to a festival to sit and watch bands.

The Tanzbunnen, was a much better location, I believe the towering size of the laxness arena, reduced the feeling of the festival and caused claustrophobia outside. The ability to see a great distance over the whole festival at the previous grounds was only brought to my significance this year, and I believe produced a better feeling of black community. There was too much feeling of disconnection for it to be a festival for me .

Experiments are there for taking risks and seeing if a better result came and as much as it can be said the negatives were far greater this year. I am happy Amphi attempted it, as it shows innovation and a management that is alive and trying to improve on a great festival.



So To Next Year!
End of communiqué 

Review by Dominic Lynch (DJ LX-E)
Photography: André M. Hünseler Thinking Pixels

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