Posts Tagged ‘ industrial rock ’

Album of the Week 52-2019: Killing Joke – Hosannas From The Basements Of Hell


Killing Joke albums come in many forms. Militant like their first two albums, polished like ‘Pandemonium’, catchy like ‘Night Time’… ‘Hosannas From The Basements Of Hell’ is different. With its long, slowly unfolding tracks, it feels like a deliberate attempt to create Killing Joke’s least accessible album to date. Therein lies the brilliance. More than any album before it, ‘Hosannas From The Basements Of Hell’ attempts to overwhelm with massive repetitive riffs, tribal rhythms and its sheer wall of noise in an almost Godflesh-like fashion. Difficult to achieve without turning into a monotonous mess, but Killing Joke succeeds with ease.

Sporting one of my favorite titles of all time ‘Hosannas From The Basements Of Hell’ already caught my attention before I had even heard a single note. And then there’s the music. There is something strangely hypnotic about the endless barrage of heavy riffing and pounding rhythms. The music sounds like it was not so much composed as it was made up on the spot and played until it made sense. That means there are hardly any memorable choruses and the riffs per minute ratio is ridiculously low, but the songs contain everything this combination of post-punk and industrial (doom) metal should have.

One thing that stands out about ‘Hosannas From The Basements Of Hell’ is how guitar-heavy the production is. Geordie Walker’s guitar sound was always a defining feature of Killing Joke’s sound, but it always shared equal billing with the bass and the synths. Especially the latter are buried in the mix here, but that is hardly a problem. Take a song like ‘Implosion’, where the constant drive of wide dissonant chords in a pseudo-metallic new wave sound carries the song. The following ‘Walking With Gods’ feels slightly more like modern Killing Joke, as Reza Uhdin’s synths are more prominent, giving the track something of a dance vibe.

Those who preferred the world fusion of ‘Pandemonium’ will be pleased by album highlight ‘Invocation’. Save for one half measure-long fill that occurs every now and then, Walker’s riff does not change for the entire eight minutes the song lasts, but the constantly building strings and the Middle-Eastern percussion add such a dynamic to the song, it’s simply brilliant. ‘Judas Goat’, with its awesomely brooding 5/4 riff, is another highlight. ‘Gratitude’ marries the immense heaviness of Walker’s riffs and Paul Raven’s bass with a surprisingly clean, but highly ominous vocal performance by Jaz Coleman and closes the album in style.

‘Hosannas From The Basements Of Hell’ is not the best album to start with for those who are curious about Killing Joke, despite ‘This Tribal Antidote’ being a relatively accessible opener. For a certain section of the band’s fanbase, however, this is 200 percent of what they’d want from Killing Joke. The album is as appropriate for apocalyptic darkness as it is for a dance party in hell. Personally, I think I prefer ‘Pandemonium’, but not by much. With its uncompromising approach and perfect production for this style, ‘Hosannas From The Basements Of Hell’ lives up to its amazing title as well as Killing Joke’s legacy in dark, but surprisingly blunt music.

Recommended tracks: ‘Invocation’, ‘Judas Goat’, ‘Gratitude’

Album of the Week 50-2019: Nefilim – Zoon


Back in the mid-nineties, the lone Nefilim album ‘Zoon’ must have been quite a shock for anyone who expected a continuation of the cinematic gothic rock sound that Fields Of The Nephilim was known for. There are similarities with the Fields’ sound, but those are not immediately apparent. Upon first spin, the music on ‘Zoon’ has much more in common with the industrial thrash metal leanings Ministry had around the same time. ‘Zoon’ still has plenty of atmospheric clean guitar moments and meticulous arrangements, but this is certainly a heavier, more industrial take on Carl McCoy’s visions than Fields ever was.

Then again, the gothic music landscape had changed in the nineties. Instead of desperately clinging to his past, McCoy and his fellow musicians apparently kept up with the times without forsaking their roots. McCoy largely sheds his “gruff Andrew Eldritch” label in favor of something that is pretty damn near a death grunt, but even the clean vocals sound more gruff than usual here. Also, in less than two minutes, you will have heard more distortion on Paul Miles’ guitar than Paul Wright and Peter Yates ever had. The combination of fast, palm-muted thrash riffing and chorus-heavy arpeggios works surprisingly well.

Any metalhead curious about the gothic industrial sound of ‘Zoon’ should start with the riffier songs, such as opening track ‘Xodus’, ‘Penetration’, the relatively complex ‘Pazuzu (Black Rain)’ and the almost full-on thrash metal of ‘Venus Decomposing’. Aside from its brooding middle section, the latter sounds like it could be the missing link between Sepultura’s ‘Arise’ and ‘Chaos A.D.’. All of these songs have super tight riffing courtesy of Miles and particularly intense drumming by a musician with the impossibly metallic name Simon Rippin. The blunt riffing causes the immediate impact of these tracks, but don’t be fooled: the production is surprisingly sophisticated.

Songs like ‘Shine’ and the titular trilogy – though the three parts span two tracks – make ‘Zoon’ a surprisingly smooth transition from ‘Elizium’, however. It is here where McCoy gets his chance to, well… Shine. That song in particular shows him building from the mournful verses to the barely contained anger of the chorus and the surprisingly emotional climax. ‘Zoon’ in particular feels like an industrial reimagining of the longer suites on ‘Elizium’. It builds from a dark ballad through industrial ambience into the epic grandeur of the third part, subtitled ‘Wake World’. That particular part also starts out with McCoy singing as I prefer him: deep and clean.

Is this better than Fields Of The Nephilim? Of course it isn’t. ‘Elizium’ is a work of uncommon beauty. It is worth noting, however, that the “reunion” album of Fields Of The Nephilim – ‘Mourning Sun’, released almost a full decade later – sounds like a combination of their classic sound and the heavier industrial approach of ‘Zoon’. McCoy was obviously serious about this sound and despite familiar influences, ‘Zoon’ is quite a unique-sounding record. Admittedly, I personally prefer the more gothic moments of the record, but there’s some of the best industrial thrash metal of the nineties on the album as well.

Recommended tracks: ‘Shine’, ‘Zoon (Part 3) (Wake World)’, ‘Xodus’

Album of the Week 22-2019: Rammstein – Rammstein


Rammstein’s first studio album in a decade was bound to cause some controversy. After all, controversy follows the band everywhere they go. Sometimes it’s their provocative – but often really funny – videos and lyrics, but their untitled seventh album may just cause a rift among their fan base. On one hand, the music is Rammstein as one would expect them to be, with their trademark militaristic rhythms and blunt, simple guitar riffs firmly in place. However, as a whole, the album is also notably more melodic than most of their previous material. But is ‘Rammstein’ really worth the wait?

Whether or not that is the case depends on your taste, but I think it is a more than admirable effort. It would have been easy for the band to pump out another typical Rammstein album, but with it being the first one in ten years, they seemed aware of the fact that something different was desired. For the first time ever, the band worked with a different producer than Jacob Hellner, though Olsen Involtini has worked with the band in the past. He seems to favor Christian ‘Flake’ Lorenz’ keyboards, because they are significantly more prominent, though fortunately not at the expense of the guitars.

The first singles may not have given the impression that ‘Rammstein’ would move in a slightly different direction. ‘Deutschland’ and ‘Radio’ are both strong metallic rock songs with anthemic choruses and lyrics clearly rooted in the band’s East German history. The pseudo-symphonic metal of ‘Zeig Dich’ sounds somewhat familiar as well, although that one clearly shows Involtini’s experience as a string aranger. In addition, Till Lindemann’s vocals – which I still think are not as appreciated as they should be by “serious” music media – are allowed a larger range of singing styles and emotional expression than ever before.

Further into the album, the experimentation is turned way up. ‘Was Ich Liebe’, ‘Weit Weg’ and ‘Ausländer’ are among the poppiest Rammstein tracks to date. The latter was initially too electronic for my taste, but it’s a grower. ‘Diamant’ is an absolutely gorgeous acoustically-based ballad. One of the true highlights is ‘Puppe’, which moves from a dark ballad to nightmare fuel with Lindemann going absolutely mental in its chorus. It kind of feels like an even darker stylistic sequel to ‘Stein Um Stein’. The first person perspective child abductor story of ‘Hallomann’ is another brilliant theatrical move with a nice and dirty bass line courtesy of Oliver Riedel.

Out of the more typical Rammstein track, the big, Black Sabbath-infused groove of ‘Sex’ is surprisingly effective. ‘Tattoo’ is lyrically hilarious, but it feels a little lost in the shuffle between all the experimentation going on during the second half of the album. Hardcore fans of the first two albums may scratch their heads upon hearing ‘Rammstein’, but the truth is that the album is a pretty logical progression from everything the band did from ‘Mutter’ onward. The riffs, rhythms and clever, at times laugh out loud funny lyrics are still there. There is just a slightly different polish this time around, which I’d say is a welcome experiment.

Recommended tracks: ‘Puppe’, ‘Zeig Dich’, ‘Hallomann’, ‘Radio’

Album of the Week 19-2019: Rammstein – Reise, Reise


Rammstein is probably the most popular rock band that doesn’t sing in English. And yet, they are also one of the most misunderstood bands in the world. Not alone is the at times hilarious word play in their lyrics lost on people who don’t speak German, but their music is also often perceived as much more aggressive than it actually is. Sure, subtlety was never the band’s strongest feat – something which is even more evident in their massive live shows – but albums like ‘Reise, Reise’ should not be taken at face value. There is more to this record than one might first assume.

In a way, ‘Reise, Reise’ is a logical follow-up to the band’s definitive international breakthrough album ‘Mutter’, which saw the band improving their arrangements significantly. There is still very little complexity in Rammstein’s songwriting, as two or three riffs are the norm for the band, but the productions and orchestrations became notably more sophisticated on those records. In addition, Till Lindemann’s voice really came into its own on ‘Mutter’, and his operatic vocals in particular. These are featured prominently alongside his rawer performances on ‘Reise, Reise’. Put those two together and you end up with a brutally effective album.

Also not unlike ‘Mutter’ is the fact that Rammstein kicks off ‘Reise, Reise’ with a relatively adventurous track in the shape of its title track. The riffs are massive, the chorus larger than live and the nautical theme of the song is captured perfectly by the almost symphonic quality of the arrangement. The fact that I love how the accordion, an instrument I hate with every fiber of my being, is incorporated into the apotheosis says enough. ‘Morgenstern’ employs a similar sound with a particularly dramatic chorus and some delightfully aggressive start-stop riffing, while the brilliantly constructed and particularly intense ‘Keine Lust’ is probably my favorite single of the band to date.

That may just be why ‘Reise, Reise’ is my favorite Rammstein album. It is not radically different from earlier work, the highlights are just a tad better than on every album. Especially ‘Dalai Lama’, which is probably their most flawlessly crafted song to date. The modern interpretation of Goethe’s ‘Erlkönig’ is perfectly expressed by Lindemann’s vocal delivery and Christian ‘Flake’ Lorenz’ keyboards form a perfect melodic contrast with the palm muted precision of guitarists Richard Z. Kruspe and Paul Landers. ‘Amour’ and especially ‘Ohne Dich’ are the band’s first successful attempts at honest power ballads, which makes them the perfect follow-ups to the gruesome moodswings of the excellent ‘Stein Um Stein’.

Sure, ‘Reise, Reise’ is full of simple, metallic downtuned guitar riffs and Christoph Schneider’s at times drum computer-like rhythms never go overboard on tempo and virtuosity, but the music is very clevery and carefully crafted. That was always what lifted Rammstein above their followers in the Neue Deutsche Härte scene and other types of industrial rock music. They have always made their own rules as they went along. How else could you explain something like ‘Los’, which sounds as heavy as the average Rammstein song, only acoustically? ‘Reise, Reise’ is equal amounts recognizable and experimental, which is better than what most successful bands can hope for.

Recommended tracks: ‘Dalai Lama’, ‘Keine Lust’, ‘Morgenstern’, ‘Reise, Reise’

Album of the Week 34-2018: Eisbrecher – Shock


Often labelled a Rammstein clone – which is not entirely unjustified – Eisbrecher has been moving away from sounding like outright clones and more into “inspired by” territory in recent years. Sure, there are German lyrics sung with a reasonably deep voice over semi-electronic rhythms and simple, but brutally heavy guitar riffs, but the music Eisbrecher put out on ‘Die Hölle Muss Warten’ and ‘Schock’ technically has the potential to appeal to a wider audience than Rammstein, had they not come first. Eisbrecher’s songs are more melodic, the choruses are highly catchy without exception and ‘Shock’ especially has an extremely pleasant flow.

In a way, Rammstein and Oomph! marked the boundaries of what the Neue Deutsche Härte genre should be so clearly that it can be seen as quite a limiting genre. That alone is reason enough to praise Eisbrecher, as their relatively poppy, yet still heavy and driven take on the genre is a clear attempt to craft their own sound within the niche. With the lyrics being either rebellious or romantic, Eisbrecher’s sympathetic frontman Alex Wesselsky seems to aim for the heart, which is perfectly accompanied by the strong melodic writings of guitarist and keyboard player Noel Pix and a small army of outside writers.

Taking the old adage that the first strike is deadly, Eisbrecher kicks off ‘Shock’ with what is probably the greatest song they have ever written. ‘Volle Kraft Voraus’ (“full steam ahead”) is a perfect title for an album opener, but what really makes the song a winner is the way it manages to perfectly marry a yearning feeling and the anthemic pride of its brilliant chorus. It is followed by ‘1000 Narben’, another one of the band’s stronger tracks, which has everything in it to please even the most pop-oriented listeners of alternative rock radio stations.

While the level of the first two tracks is never reached again, it is remarkable how consistent ‘Shock’ is. Even the ballads, generally not the forte of NDH bands, are quite good. The deeply sentimental ‘Noch Zu Retten’ and the gorgeously arranged ‘Schlachtbank’, which is somewhat reminiscent of their early masterpiece ‘Leider’, are highlights, as is the more gothic-tinged ‘Rot Wie Die Liebe’. Those who like their German rock heavy will certainly like ‘So Oder So’, ‘Unschuldsengel’, ‘Fehler Machen Leute’ and the particularly Rammstein-esque ‘Himmel, Arsch Und Zwirn’, while ‘Dreizehn’ and the dancey ‘Nachtfieber’ make perfect use of the dynamics between guitars and electronics. The duet ‘Zwischen Uns’ with Swiss singer Mia Aegerter is irresistably catchy.

Although originality is next to impossible for an NDH band, I applaud Eisbrecher for how fresh and recognizable they sound on ‘Shock’. Once you let go of the genre tag, chances are that you will appreciate ‘Shock’ for what it really is: a collection of extremely well-written, impeccably produced rock songs that will refuse to leave your head even if you try. Fans of complexity should look elsewhere, but ‘Shock’ is full of heavy, uncomplicated fun that may end up being surprisingly melodic for those who only know the genre casually.

Recommended tracks: ‘Volle Kraft Voraus’, ‘1000 Narben’, ‘Himmel, Arsch Und Zwirn’

Album of the Week 22-2018: Garbage – Garbage


When I was a kid, Garbage was one of the few modern rock bands on MTV that would not cause me to immediately change the channel. They intrigued me. That was in part because of Shirley Manson’s voice and – I reluctantly admit – appearance, but their music was undeniably atmospheric and unlike anything ever done before or since. It was still modern rock, but it was not as bluntly unmelodic as the nu metal bands that were big at the time, nor was it as self-pitying as American radio rock. And despite the strong productional focus, the songwriting is simply excellent.

More than twenty years later, Garbage’s self-titled debut still holds up. That in itself is a testament to the band’s compositional brilliance. Often in music history, embracing new technology dates a production considerably. Garbage’s practice of incorporating electronic beats and synthetic sounds into the foundation of a rock band still sounds fresh and, surprisingly, in no way dated. This approach combines the best elements of densely layered productions and a live band and the results are often hypnotizing. But it’s not a trick; even the relatively straightforward songs that would have worked with just the band playing still sound convincing.

In the latter category, we find the insanely memorable and borderline self-parody ‘Only Happy When It Rains’. The chord progression is simple, but not predictable, especially with its insistent chorus providing a perfect contrast to its more morose verses. ‘Dog New Tricks’ is another strong electrorocker with a great chorus and a focus on guitars and drums. A majority of the other more straightforward songs are a little more laid-back, including the massive hit singles ‘Stupid Girl’ and ‘Queer’. This approach really suits Manson’s voice, which sounds seductive when it has to, but also occasionally excels in brilliantly suppressed anger.

At other times, ‘Garbage’ proves that spending a lot of time on your production does not necessarily result in overproduction. The darkly brooding ‘As Heaven Is Wide’ probably illustrates this best. Its combination of tribal rhythms, fuzzy bass line and electronically tinged bridge should not work in a rock context, but it does. It is also the best example of Manson’s subdued aggression. The more intimate ‘A Stroke Of Luck’ is less propulsive, but just about as good. It has also been provided a perfect juxtaposition in the shape of the more outspokenly aggressive rocker ‘Vow’, one of the brightest shining gems on ‘Garbage’.

Confusingly, ‘Garbage’ is as much a product of its time as it is timeless. An album like this more or less could only have been thought up in the ninteties, but it was so far ahead of its time that it will probably still sound contemporary ten years from now. That in itself is something that not many artists can claim and will become rarer as more and more musical territory is no longer uncharted. For Garbage, their debut album was so revolutionary, that they had a hard time trying to equal it both in terms of success and overall quality, though they came close several times and are fortunately still artistically relevant to this day.

Recommended tracks: ‘Only Happy When It Rains’, ‘As Heaven Is Wide’, ‘Vow’

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 ‘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’