Mystic Sounds Twelve (Zillo)
~review by Uncle Nemesis
On our travels through the goth media of Germany, we’ve so far concentrated on the compilation albums released by Gothic Magazine. But Gothic Magazine is not alone. Germany has several magazines covering die schwarze scene - and yes, they are *magazines*, not fanzines - genuine ‘big media’ publications, typically of around 100 pages each issue, readily available in mainstream outlets, and selling in the tens of thousands. But not only do the magazines network the scene in terms of straightforward press coverage: all of them also release regular compilation CDs, both as give-away freebies with the magazines themselves, or as stand-alone releases. This compilation is one of many released by Zillo magazine on their own label. It’s a few months old now, but as I write it’s the latest in Zillo’s ‘Mystic Sounds’ series.
Quite what’s supposed to be so mystic about these sounds is a bit of a mystery, but this compilation does have a reflective, almost downbeat mood for much of its length, only getting a bit of fire in its belly towards the end. I’m not sure if this is a deliberate attempt to give the CD an overall style, or something that just happened by accident - but it does work, and certainly creates the impression that the compilation was put together with something more than a basic intention to gather representatives of every goth sub-genre under the sun in a bid to make the bugger sell.
Crowhead’s ‘Mad Man’ opens the set. It’s a slow-burning thing: a loping, implacable, rhythm and a dry, offhand vocal punctuated by oddly effective little ‘Ah-huh-ha’ asides. Then, as the chorus comes round, it all suddenly builds into a great surge of guitar-fuelled emotion, the vocal taking on an unexpected passion - and then, just as quickly, it drops back to another dry, downbeat verse. I know nothing of Crowhead, but on the evidence of this, they have that tension/resolution thing nailed down. This is a nagging, insistent song which worms its way into your brain, and if the rest of this compilation is half as strong, it’ll be a good ‘un.
Ghosting’s ‘No More Lies’ keeps the mood going, with a violin weaving its way around a nervy electronic rhythm, while the vocalist veers wildly between restraint and control. In Mitra Medusa Inri follow with ‘Estrangement’, a wry, measured song that has a rather nice post-new-wave feel to it. I confess when I saw In Mitra Medusa Inri live last year I came away somewhat lukewarm about the band, but this track makes me think I should check ‘em out again. Good stuff - just the right side of melancholy, like the Psychedelic Furs in monochrome.
The Deep Eynde are featured next, with ‘Transformation’, and I’m surprised to find the track is a precise, controlled, eighties-flavour rocker. Why am I surprised? Because in all the photographs I’ve seen of The Deep Eynde, they’ve been painted red, or dressed up as devils, or in one way or another looking slightly insane. It’s somewhat paradoxical to find that such a bunch of crazies actually make bizarrely sensible, in-control music. Oh, it’s good stuff all right, but I must admit I was expecting something a little more...abandoned.
Nik Page contributes ‘Flashback’, on which the first line is ‘One million roaches crawling through my head’, and I’m left wondering whether that’s a drugs reference or just a bit of general low-life colour. The tune kicks off into a low-slung rocker, like Iggy Pop doing one of his sleazoid, bluesey grinds. Zeraphine arrive in the target area next, but their ‘Flieh mit Mir’ is a four-square rocker that doesn’t really grab me, so we shall move swiftly on. Diva Destruction’s ‘When Trees Would Dance’ sways and stomps like an outer-space Glitter Band glam-thumper, and hot on its heels come The 69 Eyes with ‘Stigma’, sounding curiously left-field for such a bunch of unreconstructed rockers. Oh, I see: it’s a remix. The vocalist still sounds like a cartoon version of Eldritch, but the way the backing music has been chopped up and remade in club-friendly style works rather well, pushing the song in the direction of the kind of rock/dance anthem Billy Idol used to do to great effect.
Lacrimosa are one of my least favourite bands - I find their po-faced pomp-prog supremely smug and irritating - but their contribution to this compilation, ‘Apart’, is a little more palatable than usual, sung as it is by Anne Nurmi alone, without Tilo Wolff’s didactic, emotionless vocals coming anywhere near it.
Lacrimosa’s song seems to indicate some sort of watershed, because from this point on the album changes gear, and becomes rather ‘dancefloor’ for a while. Diorama’s ‘Last Minute’ is a workmanlike slice of electro-dance; there are some nice little electronic stomach noises in the mix, but ultimately the song trundles along without ever quite reaching a destination. The Fair Sex give us ‘Get Out Of My Head’, and there’s a groovy bit of distort-o-guitar in amongst their electronic pulse, but the vocals are too much of a one-note chant to do much for me. And then Das Ich are typically opaque on ‘Sodom And Gomorrah’, a grab-bag of beats and chants and squeaky synths.
The style is abruptly changed again as Autumn Clan arrive with ‘Requiem To The Sun’. Now, we’re in metal territory, and I fear this may well be the point at which I leave the party. Certainly, Autumn Clan’s maudlin slice of retro-metal doesn’t hit the spot for me, I’m afraid. Jack Frost supply ‘It All Means Nothing To Me’, an appropriate title for a sub-Type O slogger which seems frankly pointless from my perspective. And then, a superstar name - well, sort of. Fields Of The Nephilim give us ‘Fallen’, one of the dodgy old demo tracks which were released in lieu of a proper album when Carl ‘underachiever and proud of it’ McCoy mysteriously found himself unable to come up with new material. It’s the usual melodramatic mystical-schmystical nonsense, with a foolishly affected vocal - and rubbish production, of course. Hey, it’s a demo. But even with the massed talents of Jim Steinman, Trevor Horn, Phil Spector and George Martin at the controls I doubt that this hippy-metal mess could be turned into a good song.
Incongruously, after the metal interlude, Assemblage 23 are brought in to round off the album with ‘Cocoon’, which seems to be a cynical, sceptical, drug song. Its downbeat ambience actually works well as a sign-off track, and restores the reflective feel that has run through this album, off and on, since the very first track.
Like all various artists compilations, there’s stuff here that doesn’t quite work for me - but, crucially, there’s much more that does. The apparent attempt to give the album an overall atmosphere, a vibe, does actually work, and there are a few tracks here which definitely nudge me into exploring more of what the bands have to offer. That’s the whole point, of course, and the fact that I feel this way indicates that these compilations, for all their occasional erratic quality control and sometimes uninspired selection of material, are, when all’s said and done, effective.
Zillo website (magazine, festival, parties, releases): http://www.zillo.de
Reviewed by Uncle Nemesis: http://www.nemesis.to