I feel like I go through the motions every year, repeating the same diatribe, but this time, there is a minor change of circumstances, and even a little bit of excitement. After all, who knows what can happen next in this crazy time we live in? As the site, and ourselves by extension, enter a new decade, one that hopefully that leads to plenty of promise, and one that can only dismay us from the gradual doomsday scenario that the planet seems to be sliding into of late, we glance back one final time into the 2010s (the tenties?) and upon the last year’s worth of music. Compiling this list was somewhat difficult this time around, as I appear to have forgotten more incredible albums than I remember listening to. Even then, to get to the point of narrowing down a contendership of just ten albums, the list was very much disputed the entire time. Alas, the list was finally cemented, and here’s what delights 2019 provided my, and now potentially your, earholes.Continue reading
At the beginning of the working week, and as the final countdown to Halloween, the outskirts of Camden houses Halloweek, a series of gigs and events hosted by curious free house The Unicorn, a mostly modern featured, open planned boozer, with opinionated locals who very clearly voice their disdain for live music as I scrutinise the bar, and a decently sized function space and stage for where tonight’s events would unfold.
I grab a beer, perch upon one of the many stools facing dead opposite the stage, and await tonight’s openers, Prescription Happiness. The inset and outset play out as moments best described as voices inside your head, akin to the Gene Wilder tunnel scene from the original Chocolate Factory film but eerieness switched for overwhelming dread. Initially their sound evaded an immediate touch point, their music oft feeling reminiscent yet totally their own. Half of their set borrowed from modern metal staples, Sempiternal-era Bring Me the Horizon and Slipknot being immediate reference points, but the other half an eyebrow-raising concoction of Korn, Incubus and most solid hard rock bands. However on record, there’s more of a Tokio Hotel comparison and that also becomes evident frequently. Without a shadow of a doubt though, these are boys with thick tones, and their breakdowns are plenty sizeable in stature. Despite a heavy emphasis placed on the screams, the clean vocals impress far more, and draw some emo-esque comparisons into their already head-spinning influence pool. The quartet’s set ends with Quietly Falling, a tremendous groove-laden number that scratches a future radio airplay itch if it hasn’t already. Their half hour elapsed rapidly, undoubtedly heavier than hardcore, yet not quite heavy enough to tussle with the bruisers of metalcore, not that they were trying to.
The beginning of Lady Rage’s set is regrettably missed, after an awkward run-in with the Johnny Deathshadow boys face painting in the gentleman’s water closet, so I hasten to finish my business and make it back to the stage. Very much in the spirit of Halloween, a pumpkin, Beetlejuice, Harley Quinn and whom I believed to be Freddy Krueger, though I’m reliably informed they came dressed as the drummer, unleash a wall of noise that bridges that gap between Hole and The Distillers perfectly. Unmistakeable, ferocious, scuzzy, grunge-soaked, riot grrrl punk, with plenty of melodies to back it up. That’s without mentioning a bass tone with serious clout, and their vocalist, the aptly named Siren Sycho, having terrifying power behind her screams, and being able to maintain such a formidable strength consistently. Their repetoire busts out a cracking cover of Billie Eilish’s Bad Guy too, taking on the form of the Rolling Stones or T-Rex butting heads with Brody Dalle, and that is exactly as good as it sounds. Wholly entertaining enough to watch again, their set includes a guitar-bass duel, a song titled ‘Not Joan Jett,’ and another that ravages social media, while live-streaming their set on Facebook, so while not quite as angry as face value implies, these ladies present themselves just as talented as they are self-depreciating.
While also in the spirit of Halloween, though just their regular stage attire, the misleadingly named Spectral Darkwave stepped up, masks, monocles, and sunglasses upon leather clad vestments, addressing us to what was assumed to be hurtling through the space-time continuum. A name like that, you would expect perhaps some sort of gothic metal influx atop synth. Not even remotely close. Instead, what we get is far more progressive, sludgy, almost straying into doom territory at times from this trio masquerading as Lovecraftian time travellers. Musically, their assault is airlock tight as they dive through dirges often about war and the horrors of mankind, bar the odd track about elephants or the death of a red giant, each track assimilating subtle characteristics of its era or subject matter, a very clever writing touch. They bare some sonic resemblance to Mastodon or even Opeth, with a constant growl dictating their narratives, but interspersed with some light-hearted jibes between songs. It ends up endearing towards the end, something only a British band could accomplish comfortably. Some waves of synth and programmed symphonic brushes do fade in and out, giving a sense of ethereal gloom, but ultimately this spectral entity oozes sludge and a metric tonne at that.
At one point, Johnny Deathshadow introduce themselves as Germany’s most loved party band, before announcing that their next song is about cancer, and that sums up their performance pretty succinctly. Playing London for the first time in their careers, their setlist contained an excellent variety of old and new material, of blistering and nuanced paces while squeezing most of the hits in (Black Clouds, Dark Hearts admittedly a surprising omission). Their stage presence flickers between intimidating and intimate, minor sexual frictions dotted throughout their performance, and their show itself is nothing short of masterful, light choreography alone granting gravitas worthy of a band playing a thousand capacity crowd than a small pub on the fringe of Camden. Red Rain opens aggressively, the chorus of cries offsetting the white hot intensity that rarely lets up the whole show. The skull-faced quartet scorch through four of their best from latest album D.R.E.A.M. which next to Red Rain, include a stripped back yet even more fiery rendition of Legion, and a fittingly melancholy Embers. Paying tribute to their punk roots, Under His Eye ignites with the headbanging crowd as does several of the set’s second half including Bleed With Me fan favourites, the archetypical Neue Deutsche Hart groove of Apocalypse Trigger, and the ground-stomping sway of Shadow, before concluding on the exhilarating Kill The Lights, and they even finish with streamers. Blood red obviously, but such an unexpected delight at the end of a storming set.
Johnny Deathshadow jokingly remarked that the band would be dead in the water had they started in the UK, crediting the trio of bands they had shared the stage with that night, but the Hamburg group played with such passion and zeal, and with the aura of bonafide superstars, the performance felt every part special as they had intended. Poor attendance aside, this industrial metal troupe’s ascent can hopefully be a slow-burner, German gothic circles excluded, as live and on record, they are destined cult heroes in the making and a fearsome sight to experience.
Under His Eye
Kill The Lights
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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