Black Ice Impact (Cryonica)
~reviewed by Uncle Nemesis
It’s quite a surprise to realise that Inertia have been around for ten years now. This is their sixth full-length album, and ninth release overall, if you count singles and EPs. Oddly enough, given their longevity and extensive back catalogue, Inertia still tend to be regarded in many quarters as...well, not really a new band, but certainly as one of the up-and-coming contenders on the electro-industrial scene. Somehow, in all those ten years, Inertia have never quite succeeded in becoming established. I suppose that might be an advantage in some ways - better to be hailed as thrusting new force coming up from the underground rather than simply accepted as part of the music biz furniture. But I’m willing to bet Inertia must regard the success of their one-time UK electro scene contemporaries such as Mesh (who I saw as a very green band back in 1995, playing a gig with Inertia to an audience of about 25 people!) and VNV Nation with a somewhat jaundiced eye. How come Inertia themselves have never been able to grab a slice of that kind of big-league action?
The answer, perhaps, lies in the music. Inertia have never been in the business of creating the kind of smoothly accessible synthpop tunes with overwrought cod-emotional vocals which, in the late 1990s, became more or less the standard blueprint for what we used to call ‘industrial’. Inertia follow their own musical path, which takes in a certain amount of assertive stomping and hollering and mashed-up electronics, but always retains that essential feel that human beings are involved - and incorporates enough catchy hooks and choruses to prove that somewhere underneath it all there’s a genuine pop sensibilty at work. What’s more, Inertia have an endearing tendency to go off on all manner of unusual tangents: they’ll sometimes spice their recordings with surreal interludes that have nothing to do with what the cyberkidz want, and everything to do with what’s inside the band’s own heads.
All this, of course, has meant that in ten years of making music, Inertia have never actually been fashionable. That makes them an intriguing band, and might even be an advantage in some ways - after all, if you’ve never been in fashion, you can’t go out of fashion. But it does mean that Inertia have tended to become the eternal support band, forever stuck at that frustrating level just below the break-through point. I don’t know if this album will be the one to make the big leap for ‘em, because by and large it’s Inertia-business as usual. There’s good stuff here, from hardcore stompers to full-on electro groovers, and a few moments of out-on-a-limb quirkiness to boot. Long-standing Inertia fans will surely dig it, but in essential respects this is simply an album of Reza, Alexys, and new member Andrew Trail doing their thing, and to hell with how it fits in with ‘the scene’.
Let’s take a quick stomp around the hard stuff to begin with. This album contains several tracks which one could describe as ‘traditional Inertia’ - that trademark blam-and-crack beat, those bubbling electronics, and Reza’s agonized chant barking out the words over the top. Black Ice Impact itself starts off like vintage Yello, as the synth-sequences burble away like an engine. Then the beat hits, and Reza lets rip with his distorted chant, and all of a sudden we could only be listening to Inertia. Now, I’m no fan of the distorted-vocal style: it removes all character from the vocalist’s voice, and, in any case, everybody’s doing it these days, which strikes me as a fine reason *not* to do it. But Inertia nevertheless seem to retain an individual sound, even if the voice at the front of the mix is the standard industrial crackle. ‘Slow Motion’ is, paradoxically, a fairly fast song, with an assertive beat and little fills and effects packing out the rhythm. Very funky, in a way. And here comes Reza’s rapped-out vocal, hitting every syllable like a hammer on a nail - it’s effective, but I found myself waiting for a little melody to come in, a small counterpoint to the beats, beats, beats. However, one of the first things you learn about Inertia is that they have no truck with melodies when they’re in their max-industrial mode. ‘Blank Stare’, ‘Hypno-Suck’ and ‘Slider’ pretty much follow the formula, although ‘Slider’ sees the distortion backed off somewhat, and a more realistic drum sound coming in. ‘Truth Or Lies’ is as near to a ballad as Inertia ever get - certainly, it’s a distinctly more subtle experience, with Reza’s vocal allowed to come through naturally. So far, so good, although in truth there are few surprises on these tracks. This is pretty much exactly what we expect Inertia to sound like, and you’ll already know if you like this stuff or not.
Personally, it’s the tangents and the off-kilter ideas that really grab me, and there are quite a few of them on this album. ‘Seven Sin VII’ (which, oddly enough, comes up as track number eight) has a vocal by Alexys, sashaying over a Glitter Band beat. The song is like a cross between a skipping rhyme and one of those sassy rap numbers Salt ‘n’ Pepa used to do, and it’s an unexpected treat. So, for different reasons, is ‘Hot Hot Hot’, a cover of a Cure song on which Robert Smith’s lugubrious lyrics are given a rough, tough makeover. ‘Hold Your Soul’ showcases Alexys in soul diva mode - ooh, there’s a neat bit of R ‘n’ B bump ‘n’ grind going on here. I’m sure Inertia could sell this one to Beyonce when she gets around to making her next album. Then there’s ‘Shakalaka Baby’, Inertia’s excursion into Bollywood, and it’s a delight, with the band demonstrating a sure touch on a slice of Bhangra-influenced electropop that’s a million miles away from the standard moves of the industrial scene.
And there’s a video, for ‘No Defect’, a track which originally appeared on Inertia’s previous album. Just to create some confusion, the video-does not feature in the track listing on the inlay card - in fact, if it wasn’t for a couple of references in the small print you wouldn’t know there were any visuals on this album at all unless you happened to play the CD on your computer, in which case the video unexpectedly appears. Possibly it was included as an afterthought, or maybe it’s an extra track for the promo editions of the album only, which would explain why full info and credits are not given. The footage shows the band playing mock-live amid a dusty, sun-blasted cityscape, the kind of uncompromising urban environment for which Inertia’s music makes a fine soundtrack. There are a few festish-y role-playing sequences, in which Alexys gets to do her full-on babe number at us, and even a rather amusingly cliched moment where the band are filmed in slow motion, walking along in a line for no apparent reason. Hmmm - isn’t that one of Tim Pope’s signature gimmicks? I’m sure I saw something like that in a Banshees video, circa 1986.
But the video does illustrate one of Inertia’s great strengths, which doesn’t necessarily come across on their recordings. They’re a very visual band, with a presence and a style which is at least half their appeal. Live, they’re a whirlwind of sound and vision, and it occurs to me that a useful next step for the band might be to put out a DVD of live footage, so that potential fans who haven’t quite been convinced so far can get a taste of the full Inertia experience. But for now, this album does the business. Inertia might be the perennial outsiders of the electro-industrial world, anti-fashion mavericks resolutely doing their own thing, but it’s good to have ‘em around.
The website: http://www.inertia.gs
Reviewed by Uncle Nemesis: http://www.nemesis.to