Various Artists
Gothic Magazine Compilation XXII (Batbeliever)
~review by Uncle Nemesis

Fresh in from Germany, a further instalment in Gothic Magazine’s series of various artists compilations. Fifteen tracks by fifteen bands in an impressive digipack, and all tied in stylistically with the magazine itself. A cool exercise in multimedia marketing, for sure - but the album will stand or fall on the music in the end. So, let’s give the CD a whirl and discover whether it does the business.

There’s a vintage electro feel to the first couple of songs on the album.  Wumpscut come over all Chris And Cosey on ‘Your Last Salute’, a minimalist slice of electro with a detatched female vocal that would sound very early-eighties if it were not for the hi-end production. In Strict Confidence generate a lush bed of electronica on ‘Babylon’ over which a stern male voice lectures us severely. And then the mood abruptly changes, as Secret Discovery crash-land with ‘Down’, a towering power-metal anthem complete with ranks of roaring guitars and a massed choir of backing vocalists. If it were not for the lugubrious, downbeat lead vocal you’d almost believe this was Meat Loaf.

Then the musical style is wrenched in yet another direction. For one moment I thought Gothic Magazine had scored a coup and convinced The Cure to contribute a track to their compilation. As it happens, they haven’t - but ‘Ghost’ by Burn sounds so uncannily Cure-like that I was nearly fooled. It wasn’t until the guitars rev up into full-on rockbastard mode that I realise this isn’t The Cure - just a band with an uncanny Robert Smith soundalike on vocals, and enough chutzpah to play up to this fact in the music. It works, but it’s a bit of an exercise in novelty. I don’t know if I could stomach an entire album of Burn’s shameless Cure-isms.

Mandylion’s ‘Per Dominum’ sounds so grand and doom-laden it could’ve come from The Lord Of The Rings. I can imagine this track appearing on the soundtrack album, where it would probably be called ‘The Aftermath Of Battle’ or something. There’s another abrupt stylistic leap into ‘Night In My Hands’ by Sara Noxx, which appears to be some sort of melodramatic goffick love song, all lush keyboards and a danceable synthpop beat. The production is warm and the tune is highly melodic - so much so that the song is half over before I realise, with a distinct sense of being let down, that Sara Noxx herself doesn’t actually *sing*. She simply talks her way through the song like a music student taking an exam in Advanced Anne Clark.

New Concept’s ‘Sky’ is actually an old concept: a slice of easy-listening trancey synthpop, like something Erasure would’ve knocked out in the mid-nineties. ‘Die Andere In Dir’ by Tristesse De La Lune is in a similar vein, inasmuch as it’s a smoothly forgettable synthpop ballad, with a dance beat that sounds like it’s been tacked onto the back of the tune simply because That’s What The Kidz Want. Superikone’s ‘Opiate’ is  a jerky, jittery thing, with a curiously awkward-sounding make voice lecturing us about drugs over electro bloops and squiggles. There’s an idea in there somewhere, but this bizarre attempt to combine William Burroughs and synthpop doesn’t quite work.

I was hoping to be spared yet more synthpop, but ‘Made For You’ by Say Y is more of the same, in that it’s an innoffensive, danceable love song with a sugary female vocal and trite lyrics: ‘I was made for you/Don’t know what to do’. Hmm, I can think of a few suggestions, as it happens, starting with ‘Ditch this feeble, soppy, song and make more interesting music, why don’t you?’

Then things toughen up with ‘Personal Oblivion’ by Mechanical Moth, on which the band weld a synthpoppy chorus to a melodramatic distort-o-stomp.  The chorus is sung by a fairly typical synthpop girlie-voice; the verse is one of those ubiquitous, characterless, distorted chants. The name of the game here is juxtaposition, but the musical elements that are being juxtaposed are, by themselves, fairly standard. No prizes here, alas.  ‘Tumbledown’ by Restricted Area is a mid-tempo electro-dance thing that plays entirely by the rules, and need concern us no further. ‘Evil Song’ by Amduscia is, by contrast, speedfreak-fast, a pell-mell EBM/techno anthem, with, unfortunately, a ‘Waaarrrghaarrrggghhaaarrrgh!’ noise where the vocal should be. I don’t think we need stick around on this one, do you? Next track, please!

Jesus And The Gurus have an intriguing name, and ‘Paint It Black’ is an intriguing track. Yes, it’s a version of that ol’ Rolling Stones standard, and although it’s a cover, the band inject their own wit and style and come up with something rather good. A frantically thrashed acoustic guitar and a clattering rhythm underpin a deep ‘n’ spooky vocal - the overall effect is a bit like Type O Negative larking about on holiday. Fun, and, ironically enough, this cover of a thirty-odd year old song sounds fresher and more inventive than much of the original music here. The very next track provides a neat example of this. ‘Dead Lover’s Blues’ by Astrovamps sounds like it should be good, but the gritty, contemporary, blues grind I was hoping for doesn’t materialise. Instead, the song is a mid-seventies style mainstream rock workout. If this came up on a classic rock radio station, you’d think it was Warren Zevon or someone of that ilk. They’ve got the sound down pat - but, c’mon, it’s not 1973 any more, guys.

The last two tracks on the album take us into what for want of a better expression I shall call ethereal territory. But that catch-all term short changes Unto Ashes, whose ‘I Cover You With Blood’ is an effective, acoustic number. In some respects it’s very trad-folk, but there’s a contemporary feel in there, too. A well-constructed song, and really quite engaging. Chandeen close the album with ‘Drift’, and the song title does not lie. There’s a rhythm moving everything along, but this is very much music for inside your head.

And that’s yer lot. What’s the final verdict? Well, as so frequently with goth-scene compilations, I find myself rather frustrated by the feeling that generic boxes are being dutifully ticked. This particular collection is very much a case in point. To listen to the track selection here, you’d think that goth was principally soundtracked by fairly standard, conventional-sounding metal and synthpop, with only a few variations and deviations along the way. In my book, it’s the variations and the deviations that provide the most interesting music. The most intriguing bands are the mavericks and the rule-breakers, the weirdos and the why-the-hell-not merchants. Very little of that spirit of left-field creativity ever seems to surface on these compilations, and that, I think is a shame. I suppose it’s always easier to trawl in a bunch of metal-bellowers, synthpoppers and industrial-dance chanters to make up the numbers, rather than going all-out to find some bands which do more individualistic stuff; and, of course, there’s a virtual guarantee that an album full of lowest common denominator inoffensiveness will sell better than an album packed with ‘difficult’ music of one sort or another. So, there may be good business reasons for the way goth-scene compilations are put together - but artistically they tend to be a little thin. That’s very much the state of things here. This particular compilation contains some interesting moments, but overall there’s just too much play-safe filler.  The presentation is impressive: the musical selection, alas, lets the side down.

The tunestack:
Wumpscut: Your Last Salute (Air Forge remix)
In Strict Confidence: Babylon
Secret Discovery: Down
Burn: Ghost
Mandylion: Per Dominum
Sara Noxx: Night In My Hands
New Concept: Sky
Tristesse De La Lune: Die Andere In Dir
Superikone: Opiate
Say Y: Made For You
Mechanical Moth: Personal Oblivion
Restricted Area: Tumbledown
Amduscia: Evil Song (Paradise mix)
Jesus & The Gurus: Paint It Black
Astrovamps: Dead Lover's Blues
Unto Ashes: I Cover You With Blood (Mix)
Chandeen: Drift

The Gothic Magazine website:

Reviewed by Uncle Nemesis: