Gothic Compilation Part XX (Batbeliever/Dark Media)
~reviewed by Uncle Nemesis
At first glance, the title of this album looks like someone decided to do a Public Image Limited. It's as if they remembered how, back in 1986, PiL released an album called 'Album' - and they thought, hmmm, that was a good idea. Let's do the same. We'll call our gothic compilation 'Gothic Compilation'. Hey, post-modern or what!
As a matter of fact, there is a more logical reason for the title. This album is one of an on-going series put together by Gothic magazine of Germany. Of course, calling a goth-scene magazine Gothic isn't exactly subtle in itself, but at least it puts the product bang in line with the target market. Nobody's going to buy Gothic magazine thinking it's devoted to model railways, or football, or stamp collecting - and nobody's going to listen to a CD entitled 'Gothic Compilation' and expect to hear improvised jazz.
So, if not improvised jazz, what do we get? Eighteen tracks, ranging from mainstream-ish metal through to dancefloor friendly synthpop/electro. With, it has to be said, very few deviations from that range. If this album genuinely reflects what's happening to the musical soundtrack of the contemporary goth scene, then it would seem that we're boxing ourselves in - limiting ourselves to a mere handful of very restrictive musical genres. I know that's not true, of course; I know that there are many creative bands out there who are following their own musical visions, their own crazed ideas, and to hell with what the genre rule book says you *should* do. Unfortunately, very little of that is reflected here. If any goth band did actually try a bit of improvised jazz, they probably wouldn't pass the Gothic Magazine Acceptable Genres test. Meanwhile, it seems, any old metal or synthpop outfit is awarded an instant pass. The result is a compilation which, while it has its moments, is disappointingly unadventurous and ultimately rather dull.
But hey, let's give it a listen anyway...
Dronning Maud Land open up the album with 'Alpha Omega', a smoothly-produced slice of portentous metal, layers of synths giving way to a slick, modern-sounding rocker, with one of those deep, commanding, everybody-listen-this-is-very-important vocals. The second track, 'Evergreen' by End Of Green is also an excursion into the metal zone: it kicks off like a vintage Metallica-style 'eadbanger, but morphs into something far more smooth, with chorused vocals and polished production. Very mainstream, very...well, AOR, in a way. It's not until track 3, a stomping version of 'Crackerjack' by those loony industrial pop stars, The Galan Pixs, that we actually get anything which really counts as left-field or alternative. 'Crackerjack' is a manic romp of a song, and although this mix seems to have been created specially to appeal to NIN fans, the jump-up rhythm and ever so slightly camp chorus - 'Can I put my hands on you?' - mean it's still a little gem.
NCOR - a band whose name looks entertainingly like a misprint - weigh in with 'Was ist Wahr', an electro-stomper with a real fist-in-the-air chant for a chorus. It's a bit like a cross between Kraftwerk and the Village People, but it works. Rotersand's 'Merging Oceans' is, I suppose, a pretty straightforward piece of Covenant-influenced futurepop, but the deadpan vocal has an oddly attractive world-weary air (not to mention a truckload of reverb) which makes up for the fact that the music sounds a bit like every other futurepop tune you've ever heard. Then there's a bit of a coup: something new from Front 242. 'Triple X Girlfriend' is very short - one minute twenty seconds - and I suspect it's been deliberately chopped down to ensure we all go out and buy the full-length version when it's released. It's an instrumental, and quite fun in its way, pulsating and bubbling and tumbling along, but I confess I was expecting something a bit less throwaway from the masters of electronic music.
And then I have to fight down a sudden urge to puke, for the next couple of tracks are examples of my least-favourite type of music: the distorted-shout school of industrial dance. Both tunes - 'Anticristanos' by Dulce Liquido and 'What You See Is What You Get' by Hoictan - are,musically, jaunty little synthpop numbers which dutifully recycle all the usual cliches. Even the little synth melodies, dancing around the main rhythm, are present and correct in both. As if to make up for the relatively lightweight, poppy, music, the vocals are the commonplace characterless holler, delivered in the usual aggressive, distorted, hard-bastard shout: 'Waaaagh-aaaagh-haaaghh-hagh-hagh! Aaaarrragh-hagh, a-hagh-hagh!' they go, more or less, in both songs. Ho hum. You don't really need to hear these tracks - you know what they sound like already. Tedious generic tripe, in my view, although I dare say there are fans of this stuff out there who will greet these tunes as if they're absolute masterpieces. They're welcome to 'em, frankly.
Next, Tristesse De La Lune with 'Queen Of The Damned' - and I guess whoever compiled this CD felt that the poor listener would be in need of some soothing stuff after the shouty-shouty boys, for this track is a slice of mellow synthpop with warm female vocals. T.O.Y. keep the mellow mood going, with the relaxed 80s-influenced 'Long Distance Ride'. The two tracks together provide a nice little easy-listening interlude, but you know what? I don't want easy listening, dammit! I want excitement and thrills and cool music which gets me right *there* - and so far, I have to say, this compilation just ain't delivering much in the way of that.
Things speed up a bit with the next track, but 'Vampyre' by Inside is not the Gothick rock anthem you might expect from the title. It's a fast, slick, burst of dancefloor synthpopping, with some weirdly high-pitched female vocals which nearly frightened the life out of me when they suddenly burst into my headphones. There are also some hilariously overdone male vocals which proclaim: 'I'm your vampyre, vampyre, I'm your VAMPYRE!' like the vocalist has just had his first lesson in Being Scary. It's utter cheese, of course, and hilariously camp, although I'm not at all sure if Inside actually mean the song to be funny. In the end, though, I think The Beautiful Deadly Children do this stuff better, and at least they knowingly play it for laughs.
And then, a surprise. A gritty, low-slung bassline breaks the mood, and a weird, freaked-out, almost punkabilly song cranks up - it's Murder At The Registry, crash-landing on the album with 'Cupido'. This song is very welcome change from the near-constant stream of synthpoppers, aggressive industrial-disco boys, and metal men which have dominated this compilation so far. The song is a good 'un, flailing around like Andi Sex Gang at a tupperware party, and I'm suddenly seized with a strong temptation to ditch this review and just go and play the Murder At The Registry album for the fun of it. But no, duty wins. I shall continue. Besides, given the obvious trend on this compilation to place supposedly similar musical styles together, the following track might be interesting...
And, er, it is. Casual (a name which would most certainly NOT work for a band of this type in the UK!) give us 'En Nom Del Peix'. It's all based around a frantically jangling guitar which, as the song unwinds, is joined by another, this one slamming out the powerchords. Meanwhile the vocalist does a strange cross between Peter Murphy and Dani Filth, one minute giving it the ol' glam-goth holler, the next minute going into a death metal scream. It all comes over as an illogical cross between Bauhaus and Black Sabbath, and....yes, it's interesting. I'm not sure whether I'd call it *good*, mind, but I think I can certainly go as far as 'interesting'!
Then a live track: Schandmaul with 'Walpurgisnacht'. I've never heard of this band in my life before, but their style is instantly familiar in that they're doing that folk-metal thing, which, I've discovered, is big news in Germany these days. Yes, there go the bagpipes, there's the fiddle jigging away. And there are the great crashing guitar chords. The song is structured more or less like a traditional reel, and this stuff is still enough of a novelty to me for it to be entertaining - I mean, heavy metal guitars playing folk melodies, there's a certain incongruous charm there, for sure. But the fact that so many of these bands seem to be operating from the same basic blueprint means that I suspect I'd become rather bored with this genre if I investigated it in any more detail. It's fun to visit this music once in a while, but you wouldn't want to surround yourself with it full-time.
Darkseed follow with 'Where Will I Go', and we're back in the metal playground. The guitar crashes in like a bulldozer, but it's essentially workaday stuff. There are many, many bands doing this kind of thing these days, and Darkseed are just faces in the crowd as far as I'm concerned. Neon Dream are next, with, uh, 'Neon Dream'. With a title like that I'd expected some sort of Gary Numan thing, but nope, we're still in the metal area. Ho Hum. Scream Silence then give us 'Morphosis', and, please God no, it's a metal track AGAIN! OK, so it's got a nice little piano motif running through the song, but that cannot disguise the fact that this is yet another metal track, and fricken' pomp-metal at that. Go away!
The final track on the album is 'Herz' by Milar Mar. Not, as I'd assumed at first glance, a tribute song to their favourite car rental company, but a rather neat, mostly-acoustic atmospheric number, with a minimal drumbeat and a string section providing a nice counterpoint to the restrained female vocals. A welcome change from all those metal-men and their power-riffing.
And that's yer lot. Heavy going at times, I don't mind admitting, but I got through it.
I realise, of course, that this is just one of many compilations released on a regular basis by Gothic magazine, so it would be churlish for me to dismiss the entire project on the basis of just one album. Perhaps, over time, as the collection builds up, a broader picture of what's *really* going on in the multi-headed world of goth-scene music will emerge. But this particular album seems absurdly over-keen to reduce the music down to a few handy genres - here's some metal, here's some synthpop. Here's a bit of industrial dance, and here are a couple of deathrocky-type tracks, just to keep the mohawk brigade happy. Here's a token bagpipes 'n' fiddles folk-metal band - and to end the album, what the hell, let's shove on an ethereal track, how about that? Hey presto, one gothic compilation. All genres featured, all bases covered.
Except it's just not as simple as that. There is so much music out there which *doesn't* fit into these neat genres, these tidy little boxes - but it seems Gothic magazine doesn't want to go there, out into the wild lands. If it doesn't fit into a neat genre-box, it doesn't get past the door - and it certainly doesn't get onto the album. I get the impression that if they ever tried to get their heads round, say, Psychophile, for instance, their brains would probably explode. A band which doesn't fit any of the carefully prepared goth-scene genre-slots? Not metal, not synthpop? Not anything except themselves? No, sorry, does not compute! Can't cope! Overload!
In the end, this compilation seems like an exercise in target-marketing, an album designed by a committee with a view to building up the customer-base of Gothic magazine in certain carefully defined areas. As a snapshot of the musical soundrack of the goth scene, it is, unfortunately, an opportunity wasted. There's more out there than this. Much more.
Gothic Magazine website - not updated with
current info at time of writing. Still carries info about the magazine
and CD previous to this one!
Dark Media website - information about
Gothic magazine and related German scene stuff. Not updated since 2001!