Posts Tagged ‘ goth rock ’

Album of the Week 33-2019: Kukryniksy – Artist


Farewell albums often are a bit of an afterthought. Musicians throw some odds and ends together or, at worst, force one more product out. ‘Artist’, the final album of Saint Petersburg-based band Kukrynisky is the mirror opposite of that. For me, ‘Artist’ is the album where they finally fulfill their full potential. The flashes of brilliance that shone through their better songs are on full display here, ultimately resulting in the band’s best set of songs to date. Everything from the songwriting to the production seems to be just right on ‘Artist’. This is truly Kukryniksy at its very best.

Kukryniksy plays a highly accessible type of gothic rock. Uncomplicated songs with memorable choruses, atmospheric melodies and beefy rhythm guitars. In that sense, ‘Artist’ is no different than the majority of their output. Igor Vornov’s rhythm guitars just seem to be slightly beefed up this time around, resulting in something which sounds like a slightly less depressed take on ‘One Second’ era Paradise Lost. Aleksey Gorshenyov is relatively subtle in his deep vocal delivery and never overpowers the songs, though his harmonies with bassist Dmitry Oganyan – who has a killer bass tone – do provide most of the choruses with their sing-along quality.

The riffy nature of ‘Artist’ immediately becomes apparent when the propulsive start-stop riffing of the title track kicks in, but the way it develops into the mysterious vocal layering in its chorus already proves that Kukryniksy has not sacrificed any of its atmospheric leanings. There are lots of other excellent rockers which are atmospheric enough to appeal to the gothic rock crowd, but accessible enough for rock radio on artist. The particularly energetic ‘Shtorm’ is my favorite of those, but the bass-driven ‘Nadezhda’, the powerful single ‘Obnimay’ and the almost mid-period Moonspell-ish ‘Vihod Iz Roli’ are all nearly as good and similar in style. ‘Ekkleziast’ is a more electronically-tinged baroque goth track, but has the same impact as the more rocking songs.

Elsewhere, Kukryniksy shows its versatility. ‘Kommivoyazhor’, for instance, combines gothic piano and bass interplay with an almost spaghetti western-ish guitar pattern and a romantic string arrangement. That might sound like it could fall apart at any moment, but no one has to teach Kukryniksy how to arrange a song and therefore, the elements come together in an elegant track. This elegance can also be heard in the expertly structured power ballad ‘Nu Vot, I Ti Ko Mnye Slinoy!’, which is given extra power by Gorshenyov’s understated vocals. ‘Posledyaya Pesnya’ (which, fittingly, means “last song”) is the perfect subdued closing statement to sum up why we should be sad the band is no more.

Ultimately, finishing on such a high note as Kukryniksy does here is always unfortunate. On the other hand, there are very few bands that ever get to craft a rock album as good as ‘Artist’. The music has the hungry, visceral power that rock music should have, but never veers into mindless volatility, because Gorshenyov is too clever a songwriter for that. All we can do now is hope that he will continue this upward trajectory for his next projects. In the meantime, any fan of the more poppy spectrum of gothic rock should just ignore the language barrier and give ‘Artist’ a spin.

Recommended tracks: ‘Shtorm’, ‘Obnimay’, ‘Posledyaya Pesnya’, ‘Artist’, ‘Vihod Iz Roli’

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Album of the Week 08-2019: Whispering Sons – Image


Belgium’s Whispering Sons really managed to impress me at the Eurosonic festival last month. My first impression of the band was that they were a very authentic sounding tribute to the darkest side of the early eighties post-punk and proto-goth sounds, think Joy Division at their most depressive with hints of early The Sisters Of Mercy, Bauhaus and the few good songs that The Cure made. Repeated spins of their debut album ‘Image’ revealed that Whispering Sons is much more than just a convincing retro act. The atmosphere is too immersive and the songwriting quality too high to limit them to that.

Naturally, the eighties retro vibe is the first thing that stands out when you put on ‘Image’. The repetitive, hypnotizing bass lines and the tight, almost electronic drum sounds, as well as Kobe Lijnen’s atmospheric, reverberating guitar lines – there is very little chord work on the album – immediately bring the early eighties to mind. But then something happens: the album gets under your skin. The emotionally intense choruses get stuck in your head and you end up humming along the melody lines quite quickly. In addition, Fenne Kuppens’ deep voice has a dark appeal that fits the music perfectly.

‘Alone’ is a minor hit in Belgium and it might actually be the perfect way to get acquainted with Whispering Sons’ sound. It is one of the album’s most accessible tracks in the sense that it does not require a lot of time to absorb the atmosphere. It is relatively uptempo and Lijnen immediately builds a strong melody in the intro. The climactic chorus has a sing-along quality to it without falling victim to the trappings of the cheesier side of the new wave spectrum. Still a quite gloomy song, but it definitely has the potential to appeal to those who don’t normally don’t listen to the genre.

That is hardly the only good song on ‘Image’ though. In fact, the consistency of the album is admirable. Of course, there are some stand-out moments, like the profoundly desperate atmosphere of ‘Skin’ and the propulsive, threatening feel of opening track ‘Stalemate’. ‘No Time’ has sections that are a little more abstract and excellent climaxes lead by a simple, but brutally effective bass line courtesy of Tuur Vandeborne. ‘Hollow’ makes excellent use of dynamics by holding back during the vocal sections and pushing forward when in the guitar-lead parts, only to resolve in a fantastic apotheosis. I quite enjoy the subdued aggression of ‘Got A Light’ as well.

While ‘Image’ is sure to please fans of post-punk, new wave and early goth rock, who – let’s face it – have not had a lot of new stuff to rejoice over in the last few decades, it has the melodic appeal and the excellent songwriting to find its way to a much larger audience. Anyone who does not fear a little darkness in his or her music should certainly give the album a spin. Whispering Sons has a great sound and a lead singer with a magnetic charisma. What more do you need to find your intended audience?

Recommended tracks: ‘Alone’, ‘Skin’, ‘Stalemate’

Album of the Week 49-2018: Fields Of The Nephilim – The Nephilim


A significant portion of Fields Of The Nephilim’s fan base still considers their sophomore album ‘The Nephilim’ their best album. And while I personally prefer its follow-up ‘Elizium’, it is easy to understand why. It certainly delivers on the promise that the band’s somewhat underdeveloped debut album ‘Dawnrazor’ occasionally showed. Despite frequently being accused of merely copying The Sisters Of Mercy, their second album features Fields Of The Nephilim crafting its own sound that is indebted to gothic rock as much as it is to psychedelic rock and the soundtracks of the westerns they modelled their stage garb after.

Despite the fact that it’s obviously the same musicians playing on them, the original three Fields Of The Nephilim albums each are a world of their own. ‘The Nephilim’ is significantly more refined and cinenmatic in scope than ‘Dawnrazor’, but not as ethereal and melodic as ‘Elizium’. The derisive “gruff Andrew Eldritch” label that Carl McCoy often got is not entirely unjustified here, but though I prefer his cleaner approach on ‘Elizium’, it certainly fits the desperate, yet somehow defiant mood of ‘The Nephilim’. The production is ambitious, adding a layer of keyboards and samples in a way that doesn’t even feel like an added layer, but rather an integral part of the songs.

In addition, the band had not yet shed its Morricone-isms on ‘The Nephilim’. And while it would be easy to incorporate those into the overall sound in a way that sounds like they were trying to be clever, Fields Of The Nephilim does it rather seamlessly, enhancing the atmosphere instead. Opening track ‘Endemoniada’ is easily the best example of this. More than half of the track is spent building towards the explosive, but brooding main section through low-key arpeggios and slide guitar bits that seem to suggest a solitary desert night. The dynamics of the song are nothing short of incredible.

‘Endemoniada’ is hardly the only highlight here, however. More concise tracks like the venom-filled ‘Chord Of Souls’ and the incredible ‘Moonchild’ would soon become live staples and the combination between McCoy’s intense vocals and Tony Pettitt’s equally melodic as atmospheric bass lines provide the basic structure for ‘Celebrate’ and the classic – though slightly overlong – ‘Last Exit For The Lost’. Elsewhere, Tony Wright and Peter Yates make the most out of the broad two guitar approach, often by mixing chiming arpeggiated chords and massive reverberating riffs, as evidenced by the dark, shimmering cinematics of ‘Love Under Will’ and ‘The Watchman’.

With all the elements Fields Of the Nephilim employs here, it is hard to end up with an album that sounds pretentious or simply laughable, but somehow, it works. ‘The Nephilim’ cemented the band’s reputation as the new hopefuls for fans of the darker end of the rock spectrum in the late eighties. Even the less notable songs on ‘The Nephilim’ are very much worth hearing and work wonders for the dynamics of the album. It also finds the perfect middle ground between the raw aggression of ‘Dawnrazor’ and the psychedelia-infused ambition of ‘Elizium’. An excellent album by a band that would never be content doing what others have already done.

Recommended tracks: ‘Endemoniada’, ‘Moonchild’, ‘Celebrate’, ‘Love Under Will’

Album of the Week 37-2018: Atsushi Sakurai – Ai No Wakusei


With his amazing voice being the defining factor that it is in Buck-Tick, it is quite surprising that no one in the Japanese record industry pushed Atsushi Sakurai to release more solo albums than just ‘Ai No Wakusei’. It sold reasonably well, but it would be logical to assume that Buck-Tick took up most of his time, given that their second career peak started shortly after its release. With several of the song titles containing references to his contributors, it is likely that Sakurai was inspired by the people he worked with. That also explains the wide range of styles here.

A different songwriter and different musicians on every track sounds like the album could turn out quite messy and to be honest, it kind of is. After Wayne Hussey’s sublime gothic rock of opening track ‘Sacrifice’ and Raymond Watts’ heavy industrial rock with Arabic string interlude in ‘Yellow Pig’, the album is all over the place for a while. There’s electronic tracks (‘X-Lover’), sparse funk highly reminiscent of Prince (the surprisingly cool ‘Smell’) and J.D. Thirlwell – perhaps better known as Foetus – contributed the hyperactive, chaotic jazz of ‘I Hate You All’. That could throw you off, but it’s worth hanging on.

The album settles for a certain groove during its latter half, that groove being low-key rock with a distinct dark vibe. It is public knowledge that Buck-Tick guitarist Hisashi Imai was inspired to write a more gothic-leaning album (the incredible ‘Jusankai wa Gekko’) after hearing Sakurai’s solo performances in support of ‘Ai No Wakusei’. And with songs like the menacing ‘Hallelujah!’, the incredibly dynamic ‘Shingetsu’ and the brooding majesty of ‘Yokan’, a reworking of his excellent collaboration with Dutch electro-goths Clan of Xymox, it is clear why Imai heard the impact Sakurai could have in dark, gothic surroundings. His deep, emotional baritone is tailor-made for it.

However, that does not mean that ‘Ai No Wakusei’ is all dark all the time. ‘Taiji’ has an optimistic chorus with subtle guitar work and a gently purring hammond organ in the background, while as a whole, the track is simply a powerful, well-constructed pop rocker with several surprising climaxes. ‘Fantasy’ is an upbeat electro-based track and the semi-title track ‘Wakusei’ has a bit of a positive ring to it, despite being built upon crunchy power chords and reverb-drenched lead guitar parts. ‘Neko’, which I assume is a tribute to Sakurai’s cat, even closes the album in a surprisingly soothing manner.

Somehow, ‘Ai No Wakusei’ is one of those albums where you don’t know what to expect even after you have heard it. But that is part of its charm as well. What the first half of the album lacks in terms of flow, the album as a whole more than makes up for in the individual quality of the songs. It is also not quite as vocal-centric as one might expect from a solo release by a singer as characteristic as Sakurai. A decade later, Sakurai would team up with several ‘Ai No Wakusei’ contributors to form The Mortal, but in name, this is truly the only album where he could do whatever the hell he wanted and one thing is for sure: he ran with it.

Recommended tracks: ‘Sacrifice’, ‘Yokan’, ‘Smell’, ‘Taiji’, ‘Shingetsu’

Album of the Week 31-2018: Moonspell – Irreligious


Depending on your outlook on music, ‘Irreligious’ is either the album where Moonspell finally got its shit together or the first step into the wrong direction. As a whole, ‘Irreligious’ sounds infinitely more professional than its legendary predecessor ‘Wolfheart’, but it also shifts the focus somewhat away from metal towards gothic. That was never a problem for me, as I tend to prefer the Portuguese band when the goth elements are most pronounced. A majority of these songs are still live staples at Moospell shows, which is a confirmation of the quality songwriting and the fully immersive atmosphere of ‘Irreligious’.

In hindsight, the change from ‘Wolfheart’ to ‘Irreligious’ was not as massive as some extreme metal fans may want you to believe. Some streamlining was really all it took to reach the sound of the latter the likes of ‘Vampiria’ and ‘Love Crimes’. Compositionally, ‘Irreligious’ is more efficient than the debut. These songs certainly are simpler in the sense that they are shorter and contain less riffs, but the arrangements are significantly more thought-out. Fernando Ribeiro’s deep baritone improved considerably in the year between the albums, which is undoubtedly part of the reason why it is much more prominent here.

Hardly any filler can be heard on ‘Irreligious’ and the flow of the album is very pleasant. Part of that is the way the tracklisting is set up. The album consists of a couple of suites that span multiple songs and a handful of stand-alone tracks. Fields Of The Nephilim’s masterpiece ‘Elizium’ was undoubtedly an influence here, given the clear display of inspiration from that album in the many clean guitar lines of Ricardo Amorim. Many may know ‘Opium’ as a powerful goth single, but it actually forms a continuous suite with the desperate ‘Awake!’, the cathartic ‘For A Taste Of Eternity’ and the brooding (and brilliantly titled) intro ‘Perverse… Almost Religious’.

Compared to what came before, ‘Opium’ refuses to let go because of its increased memorability despite lacking an actual chorus. That in itself is one of the greatest redeeming qualities of ‘Irreligious’. The album is basically a never-ending chain of memorable moments. If it’s not an utterly sublime chorus (the album’s most gothic moment ‘Ruin & Misery’, the borderline poppy ‘Raven Claws’), it’s a gorgeous guitar melody (‘Herr Spiegelmann’ has a couple) or the general horror-esque atmosphere of a song (‘Mephisto’, ‘A Poisoned Gift’). ‘Full Moon Madness’ still closes Moonspell’s concerts to this day and it does sort of feel like a mission statement. It is also by far the album’s heaviest, most doom metal-inspired track; don’t let that beautiful clean guitar intro fool you.

While ‘Irreligious’ is considered a gothic metal classic these days – and rightfully so – I can see how the album could have alienated an audience that felt attracted to Moonspell’s black metal roots. Those influences have not completely disappeared on ‘Irreligious’, but the gothic side of the band certainly is more prominent. Those who have acquired the album hoping to find some intricate riffing should be warned: the distorted riffs are fairly simple and there is an abundance of elegant clean guitar parts. Anyone hoping to find a more metallica alternative to The Sisters Of Mercy or Fields Of The Nephilim will certainly find something of their liking here though.

Recommended tracks: ‘Opium’, ‘Ruin & Misery’, ‘A Poisoned Gift’

Album of the Week 19-2018: The Mortal – I Am Mortal


Atsushi Sakurai was born to sing gothic rock. His deep, emotional baritone belongs in the genre. But somehow, despite their gothic masterpiece ‘Jusankai Wa Gekko’, his main band Buck-Tick does not want to make the full leap into the genre. As a result, he needs to set up projects like The Mortal every once in a while. In a way, ‘I Am Mortal’ is a logical continuation of Sakurai’s solo debut ‘Ai No Wakusei’, but the album leans far more to the goth side of things and because of that, this dark monster of an album feels a lot more consistent.

On the ‘Spirit’ EP released a month prior to ‘I Am Mortal’, The Mortal was already quite clear about its influences. Sakurai has never made a secret of his love for Bauhaus and the fact that he covered them – alongside The Damned and Souxsie And The Banshees – on that EP should already give a clear hint of what The Mortal sounds like. The Mission is a clear influence as well, especially in ‘Mortal’. At times, the band explores the noisier end of the post-punk spectrum, however, resulting in intense, aggressive moments such as ‘Barbaric Man’ and ‘Pain Drop -It Rains Cats & Dogs’.

While those explosions of energy certainly contribute to the varied nature of ‘I Am Mortal’, the album is best when introspective. ‘Yume – Deep Dream’ has the huge eighties goth production, but in essence feels like a really dark love song. Closing track ‘Sayonara Waltz’ keeps things considerably smaller, being rooted in just Sakurai’s vocals and the classical guitar of Jake Cloudchair, but is no less atmospheric. The album starts in quite a dark, introspective manner with as well with ‘Tenshi’, which is a really good taster to set the horror-like mood of the rest of the album.

The calmer moments are not the only highlights of ‘I Am Mortal’ though. ‘Tsuki’ is the opposite end of the spectrum, with its propulsive, straightforward punk beat and intensely repetitive chorus. The rhythmically unpredictable ‘Grotesque’, ‘Guignol’, ‘Dead Can Dance’ and the spectacular ‘Fantômas – Tenrankai No Otoko’ are masterpieces of creepy goth and horror punk and the aforementioned ‘Mortal’, probably the most traditional gothic rock track on here, is simply too catchy and emotional to be ignored. It should be noted that the atmospheric memorability of the choruses is the rule rather than the exception here. Even if you are not adept at Japanese, these melodies will stick. Trust me, I should know.

‘I Am Mortal’ was followed by the impressive live dvd ‘Immortal’, but as of this writing, no new The Mortal plans have been announced. I truly hope there will be a sequel to the album though, because the album shows Atsushi Sakurai doing what he does best: singing dark, emotionally laden gothic rock songs. His love for the genre oozes out of the album’s pores. Also, Sakurai and his band mates appear to have a very strong connection musically, so it would be a pity to not hear more of this. Even the classic goth bands cannot quite reach these heights anymore.

Recommended tracks: ‘Fantômas – Tenrankai No Otoko’, ‘Mortal’, ‘Sayonara Waltz’, ‘Tsuki’

Album of the Week 37-2017: Fields Of The Nephilim – Elizium


Some bands go out while they’re on top. Goth masters Fields Of The Nephilim was one of those bands. ‘Elizium’ is a masterpiece that was far ahead of what any other band in the genre – even The Sisters Of Mercy – were doing at the time. The album has a dark, ethereal atmosphere that makes listening to it an incredibly immersive experience. Maybe working with Andy Jackson, famous for engineering Pink Floyd, has contributed to the flawless production on the record, but the incredible song material and Carl McCoy’s cleaner and all around better performance should all be credited to the band.

While containing eight tracks, ‘Elizium’ really consists of four long suites, the longest – and best – two being split up into several parts. I would not be too surprised if this was an attempt to trick the record company into believing the album was more commercially attractive, but this album is not about singles. It is about setting a certain mood that the listener cannot help but being carried away on. The psychedelic, in deed Floyd-ish elements that were always in the sound of Fields Of The Nephilim are somewhat amplified here without sacrificing their dark, sometimes twisted goth roots.

Fields Of The Nephilim never was a band with songs in which a lot happens, but ‘Elizium’ really lifts their art of slowly and carefully layering and deconstructing parts to a new level. Their sense of dynamics is impeccable here as well. Though I have a strong preference for the slow, moody, almost depressive sections, a passage like ‘At The Gates Of Silent Memory’ would not work anywhere near as well if it was not surrounded by more uptempo, yet equally dark moments like ‘For Her Light’ and ‘(Paradise Regained)’. Likewise, ‘Submission’ comes alive due to a few histrionic lead guitar climaxes.

The 14-minute diptych that closes the album is some of the most beautiful music I have ever heard. Again, not much happens here; Tony Pettitt only changes his bass riff when ‘Wail Of Sumer’ morphs into ‘And There Will Your Heart Be Also’ and even then the difference is not that big. There is a climax where you expect the riff to go to a G, but it ends up going to an E instead and there are some simple, but heart-wrenching solos, but it moves along at a similar pace for its entire playing time. And still, this suite grabs you and will not let you go until it is over. There is a sense of post-apocalyptic romanticism in it which really profits from the fact that McCoy dropped the gruff take on Andrew Eldritch and went for something truly original. Not the most uplifting music in the world, but so profoundly beautiful…

As much as I have written about the genius of ‘Elizium’, it truly has to be heard – or rather experienced – to be believed. It takes gothic rock far beyond its post-punk roots, but nowhere near the fusion with metal it would soon meet, not in the last place because of McCoy’s own Nefilim project. Though the album does not really do anything radically different than the past works of Fields Of The Nephilim – the middle section of ‘Sumerland (What Dreams May Come)’ has Pettitt working with a delay effect on his bass part not unlike the brilliant 1989 single ‘Psychonaut’ – it just highlights a few of the best elements of the band. The band split up not long after the release of ‘Elizium’, which still stands as one of the ultimate goth rock albums ever.

Recommended tracks: ‘And There Will Your Heart Be Also’, ‘Wail Of Sumer’, ‘For Her Light’

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