~reviewed by Basim. [Rhymes w/ Possum]
Gosh, for a scene that prides itself in being creative, Goth sure seems to ride trends often. Yesterdayís Nosferatu, Rosetta Stone and The Wake are todayís VNV, Apop and Covenant. Whether it be Sister clones, or by-the-numbers EBM, what succeeds in our scene is almost always formulaic. For this very reason, Virginiaís Bella Morte sticks out like a sore thumb among the current heap of bands today. While fellow Americans Cruxshadows seem to have taken up a decidedly Eurocentric sound drawn from a fairly limited -cynics would say reserved- list of influences (VNV, Apop), Bella Morte has done the exact opposite. There is no doubt this is an American band whose sound takes cues from a wide range of influences Ė many of which, Iím happy to report, have no association with the Goth/Industrial scene whatsoever!
The opener, "Regret", turned out to be my favorite song in their set at the Boston gig they played last June. It had this killer energy to it that can only be described as ROCK. Opening with a simple synth part, itís pretty hard to imagine how intense the music gets. Alongside, Andy rants:
Where has the warmth within your voice gone?And before you can come up with an answer, some growling bass begins to bubble under that seemingly simple synth part, creating the substance of what will be a colossal juggernaut poised to plow through anything that comes in its way.
Years will pass and youíll remember,The first thing you notice about the lyrics is that theyíre a lot more personal than Bella Morteís previous material. This is totally a break up song, and along with it is this dormant resentment thatís just seconds from having to explode! In a move demonstrating good song craftsmanship, the Bella Bois have written the chorus with this airy faerie ambience to it: The vocals are drenched with lush reverb, and the guitar wails in the background with the warmth of a humpback whale. This lack of grounding adds to the tinderbox of suppressed negativity, and before you can say Ďresolutioní, this sharp snare pierces through the atmosphere and the vocals get a hell of a lot angrier:
Beneath the days there lies indifference,Well close one sad eye folks, this guys pissed! The lyrics are some of the best Iíve read by Andy, and the music seems to get grittier and grittier. Itís a showstopper live, and if itís pushed right (by fans, DJs) itíll realize itís own cross over potential.
Next up is "Logic", which seems to be the antithesis of "Regret" in terms of tone and depth. "Regret"s brooding burned us from the inside, while Logic has no gripes standing up and standing out as just a fun, silly zombie song! Itís got these big arena rock drums and HUGE guitars. Iíve reached a conclusion; this is the song that should have been in Reanimator. Thereís nothing Iíd like to see more than Herbert West killing and reanimating crippled kittens to the sound of this track. The music has got this horror industrial feel to it, and the vocal melody really carries the sentiments well. I urge you to download it from their mp3.com site and make opinions of your own.
Moving on, here comes the lyrical prequal to "Regret" (notice how everything ties into that song?), "Whispers". To me, this is one of the most interesting tracks on the whole album. It centers on Andyís vocal part and Gopalís descending bass line. Like any song that has a descending bass line as its focal point, this could really shine as an acoustic ballad. Not that it doesnít shine as is, because the song is gorgeous, and with lyrics like "Sleep another hour, dear just close your eyes // For time is fading quickly from outside", it succeeds making the girls blush. Gee, thanks for keeping every girl I ever dated distracted Ė Jerks! What I find really endearing about the song is that more then any other on the album, this piece reminds of material from Remains. Itís romantic, the song showcases great dynamics and interaction between real instruments (the synths are only there to add intonated fuzz), and the overall feel has the story-by-the-fire-side warmth to it that permeates their best work.
By the next track, itís clear to me that Iím going to remember this album for times to come. While on previous releases BM kept all bases covered by having songs that fit into established caricatures of subgenres (goth rock song, synthpop song, death rock song), on The Quiet itís clear that theyíve kept all bases covered by having songs of varying tone and meaning. This is a far more respectable and mature approach to song writing, and it serves for something more interesting to listen to. "First Light" is as fickle as it is decisive. The drum programming really shines, and I love the way it complements the quirky synth perfectly: the beat is constant to the point of redundancy, and layered over it are these synth lines that never seem to settle on a phrase for too long. Itís a sonic contradiction that fits together like puzzle pieces. Then crunchy guitars add a sort of polish and Ďswingí to the song. It swings like a solid jazz standard, but instead of being fluid and human, we have something that operates in quick thrusts and sudden jerks. I wonder whether they planned the song to come out this way, or whether some wandered by mistake and the song found them.
The title track is next up, and with the exception of Ďliving deadí, is the first of a long string of gothic dirges that are bound to perk up your day! It opens with ambience, and a funereal bass thump every measure. Thereís some really pretty mandolin-like guitar strumming in the back ground, and in the foreground Andy paints, in delightful Bella Morte fashion, a tale of Love and Loss:
And this silence is her life,Pretty soon the music picks up, and the bass begins to anchor everything in place. Itís as rhythmic as it is melodic, and the way it acts like a bridge between the warmth in Andyís voice and the frosty electronics is a testament to that. You can almost see the spoken words smolder as gray mist before you in the cold. Itís a powerful song, though it does noticeably loose a lot of punch in its recorded state. Itís not three dimensional enough. Maybe raising the volumes at the end of each guitar phrase with some sort of volume pedal like effect would breath more life into it. Something to vary up the dynamics is in order and it wont come from layering, which is what theyíve already done. They need to add more room between the peaks and divots in the sound: something to give the illusion of sound dissipating in a concert hall. Really tactful reverb on staccato sounds, not unlike what they did in the beginning with the mandolin Ė style strumming on guitar would really help. More sounds in that vein. I hope the band finds that helpful J
Armed to shred up all the atmosphere created by The Quiet is the death rockín Living Dead. The lyrics are camp and the music is hard. Some of the guitar phrasing behind the vocals sounds really Ďmetal.í
Itís the way theyíre arpegiated, Iíve realized, and it sounds strikingly similar to ĎNumber of the beastí era Maiden. Itís also got a Maiden-esque upbeat vibe to it, minus the dramatic vocals. Itís a tune thatíll definitely appeal to those of you into harder death rock, like fans of 45Grave. Feeding off the energy created by "Living Dead" is "Echoes", which has one of the most well crafted choruses on the album. Itís a fast paced synth number with some guitar bite to it: thereís actually shredding going on behind everything. Itís like the bastard child of new wave and shred metal; itís cross genre 80s nostalgia Ė if there is such a thing! Well, there is now, and Iíd like to hear more.
The next song is yet another ballad, and it stands out as the most depressing track on the album. This is as dirge like as they come. It also shows off Andyís crooning and vocal talents. The guitars start off as smooth and Cure-like until the end, where it beings to writhe and scrape against its surroundings with its really rough, distortion edges. The song is called "Hope Again", and its my suspicion that Bella Morte was commissioned by Prozac to produce it, in hopes to get more people prescribed. They seem to have succeeded, as Andy bellows at the end:
And his words are the rain,The song seems to be about over coming apathy when logic and reason have killed your heart. Uh... Yea. Eeyore must have been one of Andyís early role models. All things considered, this is a strong track, sounding like My Dying Brideís "The Angel and The Dark River" remixed by Trent Reznor.
Speaking of interesting mixes, "I Follow" sounds like two parts vintage Bella Morte mixed with one part Run DMC! Itís easily my favorite track on the album, as it has the most infectious drum loop out all thirteen tracks. Thereís this great groove established by drums, bass and guitar that makes way for a distorted industrial part every now and then. Also, while the song is the most experimental, it happens to have the most memorable break on the entire album! A little more than three minutes into it everything goes silent save for the guitar and a few electronics. Then it all EXPLODES: Loud synth, huge drums, colossal electronics and the best vocal line in the whole album:
Watch the grayLike a character in a Walpole story, it succeeds in being both triumphant and morose. Itís completely different sounding but distinctly Bella Morte. The songís a success, and must be heard in order to succeed.
Always is the last ballad on the disc, and itís somber but also 80s. Itís lavender, and hot pink. Itís Eeyore in legwarmers. The lyrics and vocals really propel the song:
Careless words were spent,By the end of the song, the bass is playing these really odd figures in a high register, and the vocals begin to get really dramatic. The electronics are layered nicely, the voice is strong and the bass adds this nice Ďgallopí to the music.
Next up is the punk rocker, "Christina"! Itís got roots in the bouncy Angelic Upstarts/Cockney Rejects side of things with lyrics about seizing the day and living life moment to moment. Itís really pogo worthy, and requires much bouncing to fully appreciate it. When I listen to it, I have to make an effort not to punch a wall! Itís lively pothick gunk, and it deserves to be on play lists on College radio across America. This is spring time/dressing up music. Itís good to listen to while putting your hair up. The lyrics are a real treat, as theyíre one of the few stories on the album that are clear enough to understand on the first listen. Itís a great light-hearted romp that will energize the weariest of hearts.
The next two songs compliment each other: Ember is much like the Xymox-y stuff on Remains/Where Shadows Lie with an updated, harder edge to it. Thereís not much to explain, really. The thirteenth track is called "Wires", and itís an orchestrated symphony of sampled sounds that all bear relevance to death. Itís really morbid, but romantic at the same time. It really sums up what Beautiful Death is all about, and I couldnít think of a more appropriate way to end the album.
My eyes are sunken; My skin is cold.
Bella Morte is
The Death Rock E.P
~reviewed by Basim. [Rhymes w/ Possum]
Wow, listening to this brings back memories of the first time I saw Bella Morte live. I was 18, sick of girls, sick of parents, and really sick of being told what to do by everyone. To make it to the show, I trekked all the way from Cambridge to New York by way of the super shady Chinatown bus circuit... little knowing that the Bella Bois would unveil what was to take its place along side Kommunity FKís Close One Sad Eye as the soundtrack of my angst for times to come. Their set consisted mostly of death rock tracks, much to the entertainment of the mohawk-ed legions up front. The band was energetic and people began to mosh (where else can you see goths mosh besides a Morte show?).
I had a crackily mp3 bootleg then, and though the bit rate could have been better, listening to it succeeded in conjuring up fuzzy memories of Andyís Bollywood-meets-Return of the Living Dead onstage "movements." You see, the first time this was released it was vinyl only. Itís taken them a while, but what I have in my disc player today is their CD reissue complete with two killer bonus tracks! I loved it then and I love it now, I urge you to all get your paws on it ASAP. Itís not to be missed and for those of you unconvinced, hereís the rest of my review:
"Demons" starts off the album with these really 70s guitars: each chord drenches everything in Sabbath-esque sludge that exudes the type of warmth only possible through analogue recording. I really caught myself doing double checks because the only thing missing here is Geezerís tubby bass! About twenty seconds into it Andyís voice pierces the gooey guitars with this vocal melody that seems lifted straight out of the violin passages of Nosferatu:
In their eyes we see the dawn fall to the dayPreviously submerged, this punk rock beast rises out of the sewage of guitars and begins to kick your ass! The drums pick up; the bass locks in and soon everything comes together to create this uncompromising Ďbouncingí machine: You know when youíre listening to your Discman and you canít help but synchronize your steps with the beat? Soon those beats get more jagged, and your steps begin to get jerky. Only moments from then youíve begun Ďgallopingí and you must surrender your physical self to the bouncing machine. Itís that type of bouncing machine: as tyrannical as it is Ďbubbly.í Thereíll come a day when this sort of thing gets played at clubs, but until then life goes on. I guess I just canít be happy today.
In contrast, the next song on the EP deals with much graver subject matter. Between 1923 and 1954 there was a legendary cult magazine called Weird Tales which was known for publishing all sorts of deliciously lurid short stories. Among those was a political anti-war ghost story, in which the ghost of the Unknown Soldier haunts two Senators, who had been arguing about starting a war to protect American Ďinterestsí! It was Henry Kuttnerís "We Are The Dead", and it remains my favorite ghost story of all time. Bella Morteís song, "The Dead", touches on similar themes: The dead have come back to reclaim what was taken from them.
We stand We fight We moveYou can literally see a sea of undead Palestinian children, once killed in crossfire, rise up from the rubble of ruined courtyards and graves ready to lay siege on what once belonged to them. You can see an army of Kurdish children, malformed from Sadamís chemical testing, marching down Pennsylvania Avenue just itching to remind the plump Republicans in office what was promised to them during the Gulf War. Under two minutes, "The Dead" is not only the most concise song on the album, but also the richest in form and substance. It starts with a loud and sharp sounding snare that doesnít let up until the end of the song. The guitars are jagged like buzz saws and the bass adds this depth to the sound and really shines through during the shouted chorus. The vocal delivery reminds me of Specimenís "Sharp Teeth, Pretty Teeth" in the sense that both singerís really stress their consonant sounds as to keep the words clear even though theyíre being fired off a mile-a-minute.
"The Fallen" is up next, and with itís classic B movie sound byte (I wonít reveal anything!) it remains the most Misfits-y song on the disc. Itís bouncy and really wears the bands Southern roots on its sleeve: Andy really sings in drawl, yíall! If Leatherface were in a punk rock band Iíd fancy it would sound like this. It has the type of Zombiefied lyrics ("We wander from the grave", "all I see is hunger" "The end is drawing near, the light of day wont save you now") and frequent "woah-oh-ohs" that Danzig would be proud of. Itís a fun track, but as fun as it is there really isnít much to write about it. Itís great fun live.
Now the next track is an epic -often melodramatic- tale of love, betrayal and retribution. Yes folks, this is just like Bollywood. Infact, if Bella Morte ever hold a make-your-own-video contest let it be known that it was my idea to turn this into a tacky/grandiose spectacle of dancing Zombie bois and choreographed ghoulish girls (wearing form fitting midriff shirts Ė in true South Asian style)! I thought of it, Iím entitled to it. "The Fallen" was Southern in delivery and "The Coffin donít want me and She donít either" takes this one step further. This is Southern in content. The vocals are accented, the syntax is a Ďlil off ("Though Iíve been dead but three weeks") and the song is about killing your ex-lover! Ok, so maybe killing your ex-lover isnít distinctly Southern (even I have a dead hooker in my trunk!), but the rest of it is.
This song stands as one of the few new songs that are both pure camp and also inventive at the same time. Some groups like The Serpenteens and Mr. Monster may be fun, but they never really write anything that we havenít heard the Misfits do before. Itís bands like Zombina and The Skeletones along with Bella Morte that know how to take a classic formula and make it their own. Theyíre smart and know how to keep the spirit alive and not get over obsessed with the icons. Isnít that what punk was about? Itís about time the whole scene took the hint and matured into something respectable.
Ah, time for the bonus tracks. "Eyes of the Ghost" begins with this infectious, sugary guitar melody that makes way for this bass and drum gallop that reminds me of the kings of galloping rhythms: Iron Maiden! Iím seeing a pattern in all of their new Death Rock styled music... It all reminds me of Maiden. Iím pretty sure Dickenson roadied for the Clash, which would explain the punkish element in I.Mís early material Ė so hereís my request to the band: I love the music youíre writing now, but donít you think itís about time you went ahead and just covered an Iron Maiden song? Both bands have dramatic vocals, camp lyrics, talented guitar players and galloping rhythms. Any shmuck can tell you Bella Morte takes cues from Xymox on their material off Where Shadows Lie, and Iíd venture to say they take just as many from Maiden during their punk moments. "Eyes of the Ghost" is a wonderful tune, with a great guitar hook and touching lyrics. It stands up there with "The Dead" as the best songs on this EP in my opinion.
The next song is somewhat of a three chord punk song with some really stunning trimmings. Itís called "A Light In The Window" and opens up with these really pretty guitar harmonics. Thereís some foreshadowing going on here as midway through the song the guitar drops out and leaves the bass as the only sonic anchor for songís chord changes. Then the guitar sweeps back in to sprinkle more chirping harmonics over everything. The lyrics are also lush, and more akin to the morose style that appears on The Quiet. The concluding passage is especially powerful:
An ending falls,
This is "just a punk song" like ĎWe Are The Deadí was "just a ghost story." This is something much richer. This is a story that uses punk as a medium to weave a captivating and impressive yarn. Making art that can stand on its own when viewed from multiple angles (lyrical wealth, musical value) is something that the boys in Bella Morte have done since their Remains release. Listening to the Death Rock EP, Iíve witnessed Bella Morte expand upon what they were able to do before by including songs that were political ("The Dead") and bombastic ("The Coffin..."). This is a release well worthy of purchase and I strongly advise all of you to see them play these songs live. Itís really wonderful.
The Death Rock E.P Tracks:
Bella Morte is