The Frozen Autumn
Is Anybody There? (Pandaimonium)
~review by Stuart Moses
I like electronic music, but like any genre there is good and bad stuff. What elevates Italy’s The Frozen Autumn above many bands in this genre is the fact that singer Diego can actually sing. There are no whispered/growled male vocals of the type that dog many electronic bands. Instead Diego sings with an endearing vulnerability and while he doesn’t have the strongest voice technically, what it lacks in schooling it makes up for in emotional impact. He reminds me of David Sylvian in later-era Japan or a mid-period Phil Oakey. There’s a Clan Of Xymox remix of The Frozen Autumn’s “Ashes” which gives a good shorthand for the sort of path The Frozen Autumn are following. There are enough beats and beeps to keep the dance floor packed, just like recent Clan of Xymox, but there’s enough brooding melancholy for those whose desire for a reaction reaches further than their feet.
So much early 80s synthesiser music was influenced by the fear of imminent destruction by nuclear holocaust. The opening song “Darkness Falls” has a strong feeling of foreboding. It may be that the darkness coming is not a normal nightfall. The lyrics are elliptical, the meaning obscured, but the emotion is strong. There’s an unworldly feeling to this electronic music, but an essential humanity is at its core which makes it easy to connect with. We probably don’t need five minutes of foreboding, as the song doesn’t really progress, but it’s inviting enough not to outstay its welcome.
If the pace was languid for “Darkness Falls” then “Faceless Names” seemed more designed for the dance floor. Images of New Romantics dressed in tartan tea towels fill my mind; a video with outdated special effects of glass breaking and swirls of dry ice. This is not a bad thing. Alienation and paranoia seem core to this song, emotions much more palatable if you can dance to them. Musically I’m reminded of early Duran Duran, when they were still more concerned about being dumped by their girlfriends than standing around singing on yachts.
The Frozen Autumn are a duo. The inlay informs me that the other member is Arianna aka Froxeanne, though the sleeve gives no indication on which social occasions each name is appropriate. She sings on the wonderfully-named “Polar Plateau.” Her voice is glacial, but inviting. This time it seems as if the end of the world comes in the form of frozen armageddon. The wintry theme continues for “Static Cold”. Its early- Depeche Mode washes of synthesiser over synthetic beats means this song will get people dancing. I’m afraid my mind – and feet - wandered before the eight-and-a-half minutes were up though. Suddenly the line: “You know nothing changes” becomes a threat.
The bleakness continues for “Oblivion” with its talk of “hollow figures” and “empty rooms”. Diego is disillusioned with the ‘lies’ that life offers. What might be ennui to him is expressed in a more dynamic way to the listener. Arianna – or is it Froxeanne? - returns to sing “Venetian Blinds”. I’m grateful for the variety she brings. While I empathise with Diego’s melancholy soul, there was a risk of too much repetition becoming a bore. Arianna sings: “We hide behind Venetian Blinds” and I have to wonder what does she hide from? What is out there in the world that frightens her so? There are no answers here, only more feelings of fear and isolation. You can feel the icy desperation as she sings: “Forget the worlds, just hold me tight, just hold me right, don’t say a word.” After six and a half minutes I think we’ve got the idea though.
There’s a blankness to the words on this album. They sound good, but meaning is obfuscated. This is never more the case than on the Arianna-led “Concavo-Convex” which has lines like: “Soils petrify and hold up baroque spirals of thoughts/Calctufa moments to my passing fancies and whims…” I’m none the wiser, but then I’ve learnt not to live my life by song lyrics. There’s almost a science fiction feel to “Citywards” with its repeated use of a breaking-glass sample. Is Arianna seeking to escape a futuristic dystopia or merely a dystopia of contemporary everyday life? A lone violin sound enters the maelstrom but provides no answers.
For a fan of early 80s synthesisers there is much to love about The Frozen Autumn. There is a coldness to the music, perhaps due to the instruments used to create the sounds, but this lack of warmth matches the world view the band project. If there are criticisms to be made then sometimes the songs outstay their welcome and there is a lack of variety over the whole album. Having said that there is a lot to like about this record, the vulnerability of Diego’s voice, the frosty distance of Arianna’s vocals. Just because the world hasn’t ended, doesn’t mean we can’t still dance while in the shadow of the bomb. If such a thing appeals then let The Frozen Autumn be your soundtrack.
The website: http://www.frozenautumn.com/