Posts Tagged ‘ Gothic Rock ’

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’

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Album of the Week 13-2018: The Sisters Of Mercy – Vision Thing


The change between The Sisters Of Mercy’s second album ‘Floodland’ and its follow-up ‘Vision Thing’ is apparent from the moment the album kicks off. The reverb-heavy gothic atmosphere of the former had been exchanged for a drier production and a riff-oriented approach. With four people credited with playing guitar on the album, ‘Vision Thing’ shifts the emphasis from gothic to rock here. Of course, with this being The Sisters Of Mercy, it’s not your standard rock album – it’s almost a parodic take on the genre at times – but it’s the hardest rocking material the band around Andrew Eldritch released thus far.

Atmosphere has not been sacrificed entirely here, however. ‘Vision Thing’ just sounds a lot more direct and ironic than The Sisters Of Mercy had ever done in the past. Eldritch, who was essentially running the band on his own by the time the album was recorded, never felt too comfortable with the gothic rock tag anyway and his reaction to the legendary goth album that was ‘Floodland’ seemed to be coming up with material that was the mirror opposite of the album. His characteristic deep vocals prevent it from becoming completely unrecognizable, but ‘Vision Thing’ is mostly built upon simple, beefy guitar riffs.

Somehow, Eldritch and his production team seemed to squeeze the most out of these uncomplicated riffs. Such simplicity, especially with the use of the band’s trusted drum computer Doktor Avalanche, would result in mind-numbing boredom at the hands of others. ‘Doctor Jeep’, for instance, makes use of one simple riff and a modulated chorus, but perfectly manages to portray the boredom with mass media that appears in the lyrics. Despite containing three riffs, the title track is another monument of less-is-more, working towards its cathartic chorus through agitated observations courtesy of Eldritch surprisingly effectively.

‘Floodland’ producer Jim Steinman was brought in exclusively for ‘More’, the only keyboard-centered song on the album. The song ended up sounding nothing like ‘Floodland’ though, despite being the most gothic track on here. If there is a think like soul goth, that’s what it would be. The album’s parodical nature shines brightest in the eighties glam-inspired ‘When You Don’t See Me’, which has a massive and remarkably enjoyable chorus, cliché-ridden as it might be. The reissue reveals the fitting working title of the song was ‘Bon Jovi’. Highlighting the album, however, is the deranged ‘Ribbons’, with its propulsive riff and borderline disturbing lyrics.

If The Sisters Of Mercy prove anything on ‘Vision Thing’, it is that parodying rock music by embracing everything that makes it ridiculous in a delightfully sarcastic manner could result in a surprisingly effective rock album. One that fans of the genre who do not share Eldritch’s sentiments may enjoy as well. Those who fell in love with the band through ‘Floodland’ may be surprised by how prominent the guitars of Andreas Bruhn and Tim Bricheno are on ‘Vision Thing’, but anyone looking for a bitterly ironic rock album that somehow is very listenable do not need to look any further.

Recommended tracks: ‘Ribbons’, ‘Doctor Jeep’, ‘When You Don’t See Me’

Album of the Week 11-2018: Buck-Tick – No. 0


With Buck-Tick on a surprisingly high second career peak from their 2005 masterpiece ‘Jusankai Wa Gekkou’ onward, a new album is always something to look forward to. Especially considering how good 2016’s ‘Atom Miraiha No. 9’ was. And while ‘No. 0’ isn’t quite as good as its predecessor was, there are a couple of new winners in Buck-Tick’s oeuvre to be heard here. The gothic-tinged first single ‘Babel’ is one of them, but ‘No. 0’ is anything but a return to the dark goth sound of ‘Jusankai Wa Gekkou’. Instead, it feels either like a logical continuation or an update of ‘Atom Miraiha No. 9’.

Compared to ‘Atom Miraiha No. 9’, the electronics and samples are a little more pronounced on ‘No. 0’. They are nowhere near as prominent as they were on Buck-Tick’s nineties albums, on which they tend to dominate the productions, but those looking for more of the live sound that could be heard on albums like ‘Tenshi No Revolver’ or ‘Memento Mori’ may scratch their heads in bewilderment. These days, the electronics are a part of the songwriting process rather than the production process and as a result, they hardly ever become overbearing. The electronic rocker ‘Gustave’ and the ballad ‘Moon Sayonara Wo Oshiete’ are borderline though.

‘No. 0’ has a couple of notable peaks. First of all, there is the triptych of the exciting electrorocker ‘Salome -femme fatale-‘, the beautifully dramatic ‘Ophelia’ and the driving “live Buck-Tick meets electronic Buck-Tick” of ‘Hikari No Teikoku’. The latter has a wonderful chorus opening up the climax of the track, while ‘Ophelia’ really profits from its supreme dynamics and Atsushi Sakurai’s unique emotional vocals. The album ends on a high note as well: the aforementioned ‘Babel’ is a sublime catchy gothic rock song, ‘Guernica No Yoru’ a gorgeous minimalistic ballad that leaves Sakurai plenty of space to excel and ‘Tainai Kaiki’ rounds off the album in an upbeat atmosphere.

Before, after and between those songs, Buck-Tick explores the possibilities of their sound. Guitarist and electronic enthusiast Hisashi Imai first and foremost. The aggressive cyberpunk sound of ‘Igniter’ is an obvious Imai contribution, while ‘Nostalgia -Vita Mechanicalis-‘ and opener ‘Reishiki 13 Gata Ai’ have a menacing vibe that is the trademark of the guitarist. ‘Bisshu Love’ features the type of defiant eroticism that Buck-Tick has become known for through the years. By contrast, the songs that guitarist Hidehiko Hoshino wrote are generally more traditional rock songs, though the synth-driven electronic rocker ‘Barairo Jujidan -Rosen Kreuzer-‘ is atypical for him.

Though Imai’s fascination with noise and electronics gives ‘No. 0’ a slightly more electronic edge than its predecessors, it is another typical Buck-Tick album compositionally. The songs may come across a little more chaotic than usual initially, but they feature some tight writing and some excellent hooks for Sakurai to work with. I will be the first to admit that his deep, heartfelt voice is one of the main reasons why Buck-Tick appeals to me, but they have been releasing great albums for quite some time now and ‘No. 0’ certainly fits that pattern. Highly recommended to open-minded fans of visual kei, J-rock, gothic rock and nineties U2.

Recommended tracks: ‘Babel’, ‘Ophelia’, ‘Salome -femme fatale-‘

Album of the Week 09-2018: Buck-Tick – Atom Miraiha No. 9


With the release of the new Buck-Tick album ‘No. 0’ less than two weeks away, let us focus on why there is a reason to get excited about that. Unlike most other visual kei pioneers, Buck-Tick is still relevant today. In fact, they have been experiencing a second youth of sorts, which I personally prefer to their original youth. Their last album ‘Atom Miraiha No. 9’ even feels like an anthology of the band’s career, despite containing new material exclusively. How they achieved that is quite simple: they focused on their biggest strengths rather than aiming for a certain sound or aesthetic.

Prior to ‘Atom Miraiha No. 9’, Buck-Tick has been pursuing a more live sound after a decade of being strongly influenced by industrial rock and electronic music. Understandable, because while they did release a couple of great songs in those years, the electronics and samples were often too prominent and distracting. They have obviously learned from that experience, as ‘Atom Miraiha No. 9’ incorporates those influences into Buck-Tick’s music in a manner that is much more pleasant to listen to. No longer do the electronics bury the songs, they are a much more sutble and integral part of the compositions this time around.

The songs themselves are excellent. They retain the rocking energy of albums like ‘Memento Mori’ and ‘Tenshi No Revolver’, but the use of samples and synths gives the material a slightly more atmospheric edge. This is especially apparent in the more subdued songs, such as the ‘Manjusaka’, which starts out sounding like an electro track, but quickly develops into a passionate J-rock ballad with superior dynamics and – as usual – a breathtaking vocal performance by Atsushi Sakurai. ‘Ai No Soretsu’ is even more beautiful, with Sakurai getting all the room to shine and the emotional chorus being the perfect apotheosis.

However, when ‘Atom Miraiha No. 9’ rocks, it is just as good. ‘Pinoa Icchio -Odoru Atom-‘ is driven and aggressive, ‘Bi Neo Universe’ is remarkable in the way the synths and the guitars interact and ‘Future Song -Mirai Ga Toru-‘ is a propulsive duet between Sakurai and guitarist Hisashi Imai. The album’s best song is neither of the extremes though. Despite starting out with the line “aishiteru” (“I love you”), opening track ‘cum uh sol nu -Fresco No Besshu-‘ is dark and menacing, possessing an almost tribal feel. It never quite explodes as it seems to suggest, but that is its charm.

Just about every song on ‘Atom Miraiha No. 9’ is excellent. That alone should be worth getting the album. The only minor downside is that the deep basses of the synths and electronics occasionally push Yutaka Higuchi’s bass lines to the background, but he makes sure his expert work is heard when it needs to be. Also, at a little under an hour, ‘Atom Miraiha No. 9’ has the advantage that it is one of the few Buck-Tick albums that does not outstay its welcome. Even the incredible ‘Jusankai Wa Gekko’ – my favorite Buck-Tick album – did not manage to do that. All of this makes me very hopeful about ‘No. o’.

Recommended tracks: ‘cum uh sol nu -Fresco No Besshu-‘, ‘Ai No Soretsu’, ‘Manjusaka’

In Memoriam Warrel Dane 1961-2017


Less than an hour before writing this post, word had reached me that former Nevermore and Sanctuary singer Warrel Dane has died in the middle of the recordings for what was to be his second solo album. Since Dane was one of the biggest influences on how I used to sing – if not the biggest – this news came as a shock to me, despite his history of health issues and addictions. Ever since hearing his voice on Nevermore’s ‘Dead Heart In A Dead World’, I was grabbed by his sense of drama and the operatic nature of his voice. It was an inspirational experience.

Many acquaintances of mine claim that they would have liked Nevermore if they had a grunter instead of a clean vocalist, but Dane was a significant part of Nevermore’s charm for me. Without him, Nevermore would have been just another technical groove metal band with a remarkably good guitarist. Due to the voice of Dane, Nevermore became the band that brought traditional metal and more contemporary sounds together. I have lost track of how many times I have listened to ‘Dead Heart In A Dead World’ and ‘This Godless Endeavor’, but it is likely that it will be more than a thousand times each.

Originally, Dane was the type of singer that so many metal bands in the eighties had, only even higher. His rise to prominence was Sanctuary’s Dave Mustaine produced debut album ‘Refuge Denied’, on which he occasionally went so high that I suspected helium may have been involved. Despite his obvious skills, it was apparently too much for Dane as well, as he sings significantly lower on the album’s follow-up, the delightfully dark near-masterpiece ‘Into The Mirror Black’.

After Sanctuary folded the way many eighties metal bands did – a silent break-up after disagreements over musical direction after grunge took over the guitar landscape – Dane formed Nevermore with Sanctuary’s bassist Jim Sheppard and live guitarist Jeff Loomis. Nevermore was notably different. Slower, down-tuned and more technical. A dark, heavy band that outdid the grunge of their shared native of Seattle in terms of sheer cynicism and dreariness. With a highly skilled guitar player, an extremely passionate singer and bass drums that pounded like there was no tomorrow.

Nearly a decade ago, Dane released his first solo album ‘Praises To The War Machine’, which I at the time described as Nevermore light with a larger number of introspective moments. Though it lacked the consistency of Nevermore’s best works, I loved the album’s goth-ish feel – its cover of ‘Lucretia, My Reflection’ introduced me to the music of The Sisters Of Mercy – and personal themes. The ballads ‘Brother’ and ‘This Old Man’ still stand as the best ballads Dane has ever recorded for me, together with the title track of Nevermore’s ‘Dreaming Neon Black’.

Of course, criticism of Dane is justified. He didn’t always take proper care of his voice and his live performances varied wildly in quality. I have seen Nevermore live at least four times and he was only truly good at half of them. The last time I saw Dane perform was two and a half years ago when a reformed Sanctuary opened for OverKill in Zwolle, promoting their excellent comeback record ‘The Year The Sun Died’. There, he actually showed that he could work with his diminished range, resulting in a good, if somewhat restrained performance.

Ultimately, I will always remember Warrel Dane for how unashamedly emotional his vocal performance was in a time when tough guy posturing seemed to be the norm in contemporary metal. He left behind a legacy of excellent metal. I’m just sad that this is it.

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-wrenchign 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 brillian 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’

Album of the Week 33-2017: Moonspell – Alpha Noir / Omega White


Bonus cd’s with complete albums are something of a strange phenomenon, but they have been appearing more frequently. It is especially strange when the bonus album is significantly better than the main portion, as is the case with this double album of Portuguese gothic metal stalwarts Moonspell. It could be a simple matter of preference, as ‘Alpha Noir’ emphasizes the band’s extreme metal roots, while ‘Omega White’ is pretty much a full-on gothic rock album. While the band’s power was always in blending these genres, it is praiseworthy that they were inspired enough to come up with this much material that stays interesting almost all the way through.

The sharpest division between the two albums is undoubtedly in the vocal approach of Fernando Ribeiro. Apart from the verses of the title track, ‘Alpha Noir’ features his guttural, yet still somewhat comprehensible growls almost exclusively, while his beautiful, deep baritone takes center stage on ‘Omega White’. Still, there are compositional differences. Only a few songs could have been on either album, depending on the vocal approach. ‘Omega White’ is notably more atmospheric, with Pedro Paixão frequently adding keyboards in addition to guitar riffs, ending up sounding somewhat like a more guitar-heavy take on The Sisters Of Mercy and Fields Of The Nephilim.

Having said that, ‘Alpha Noir’ excels when its songs feature a healthy dose of atmosphere as well. ‘Em Nome Do Medo’ has all the riffy violence you could wish for, but also has some excellent keyboard textures and a beautiful, open middle section. ‘Versus’ is a lesson in layering and song construction, while the bombastic opener ‘Axis Mundi’ is an absolute highlight. It is also, together with the title track, the only song with notable gothic overtones. The cinematic instrumental closing track ‘Sine Missione’ is nothing short of spectacular.

‘Omega White’ is more memorable and consistent, however. Starting out with the gorgeous ‘Whiteomega’, it is obvious that we’re dealing with Moonspell’s goth sound here. This could be an issue for some fans, but the songs are so good that it is easy to forget about that. Its great chorus and the sensuality turn ‘Herodisiac’ into a classic that should not be reduced to bonus track status, while ‘Sacrificial’, ‘White Skies’ and ‘Fireseason’ are all expertly constructed, infectious goth rock tracks with big, beefy riffs, haunting melodies and an excellent vocal performance by Ribeiro. The atmosphere isn’t quite as dark and mysterious as on the 1996 classic ‘Irreligious’, but the best songs are equally impressive.

Ultimately, one could wonder if it would be wise to release this as two separate albums. Personally, I would have gotten rid of some of the weaker tracks (my suggestions: ‘Opera Carne’ and ‘Incantrix’) and released this as one excellent 70-minute album, which could work wonders for the dynamics as well, but I guess people who are only into the band’s heavier side could just settle for the normal edition without ‘Omega White’. However, that would mean missing out on Moonspell doing what they do best: crafting atmospheric songs with great vocals. It’s your choice.

Recommended tracks: ‘Herodisiac’, ‘Whiteomega’, ‘Alpha Noir’, ‘Axis Mundi’, ‘Sine Missione’

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