The debate between what constitutes the difference between a Neue Deutsche Härte band and an industrial metal band is a fascinating one. In fact, that debate is so passionate and hotly contested in certain pockets of the internet, it’s recommended reading perhaps along side this piece. For anyone not versed on their musical history, in its crudest definition, Neue Deutsche Härte tends to describe any German metal band, that sings almost exclusively in German and follows a musical template akin to Rammstein and Oomph! as the foundation of their sound. The label itself could be argued to be a product of its time, grouping the sounds of the emerging bands in the late 90’s/early 00’s with a media umbrella term, but its use is still insisted upon by not only German bands, but recent international ones too, inspired by the enduring legacy of those bands. Where Johnny Deathshadow enters this conversation, acknowledging that their vocals are predominantly in English, is that they are a German industrial band, with similar electronic flourishes to the genre’s progenitors, yet are not considered a Neue Deutsche Härte band despite Umbra et Imago being allowed a pass, carrying on their larger gothic roots and undertone in tandem. Start a petition if you must. Joking aside, and whatever your opinion on this argument is, it is this rich cultural phenomenon that Johnny Deathshadow both carries on, and sheds itself of, creating their own enticing sonic universe that wider Europe is starting to take notice of.
Though the band’s roots actually lay more in the Misfits and horrorpunk covers of pop songs, earning them the moniker of the ‘Hollywood Death Cult’, a decision mid-decade to incorporate larger industrial elements into their compositions, caused the band’s popularity to erupt in their native Germany. Bleed With Me, their first full-length album adorning gothic industrial metal was a huge success, swiftly taking them overseas in the process, but while the album was excellent overall, their vision still seemed somewhat in utero, and restrained. Three years later, that worry is completely eradicated. D.R.E.A.M. is a seminal work, refining a tremendous formula, but scaling the production to a grandiose stage that benefits vastly, and reintroducing elements of their punk and hardcore backgrounds to electric effect. Sugar Like Salt pips many of the album’s highlights as D.R.E.A.M’s finest moment, and showcases why this band could slowly take over the world.
A muscular synth arpeggio throbs and winds at the inset, with strokes of strings and distorted thumps programmed, lurking within reaching distance behind, prodding at the nerves of its listener but also cranking energy levels to a feverous intensity. As the drum sequence beats its last, live drums pounding a mesmerising groove ,and the heavy chugging of down-tuned guitar, mimicking that of an engine, break forth with the synth, a stampede of a rhythm that will fuel metalheads and dancers alike. Monotone vocals shortly strip out the guitar, a hint of malice gleaming in every syllable recited from the morose prose, yet it carries a certain infectiousness that you visualise crowds repeating. No sooner you absorb those biting words, a brief blasting of relentless, hell-for-leather hardcore style beats suddenly smacks you in the head, ferocious growls scratching at your eardrums, this unforseen display of attitude neatly opening up for the chorus vocal melody that bursts as a wave of elation. Reminiscent of Candyass-era Orgy hooks, this is an earworm with such a latch, you’ll be fighting it for days for a release, and D.R.E.A.M. is absolutely infested with them. Interplaying perhaps as the titular sugar like salt, this sweet-stung moment in a realm of obsidian cynicism brings out the best in the track’s often energetic dynamics. Tailor made for fetish clubs and mosh pits, Johnny Deathshadow’s crossover appeal has scarcely begun to be realised, with a unique appearance and a fearsome live and recorded repetoire in tow, these gentlemen have a scene firmly in the palm of their hands, and it’s only a matter of time before they put the squeeze on it.
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