Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Album Review: Alien Vampires - "Drag You to Hell"

In the interest of full disclosure, I am very much outside my depth on this one, as my knowledge of this style of music pretty much begins and ends with KMFDM, that collected family of bands and random Youtube videos of some techno goth kids (hilariously) dancing in public places during broad daylight.  Even those bands aren’t quite in the same vein as Alien Vampires, though, so we’re in uncharted territory.  But a man who has no curiosity about what lay beyond the horizon is a man of little ambition and less creativity, so forward we boldly go!

Alien Vampires is part of the vanguard of techno-industrial’s resurrection (which sounds like an epithet for some vague political scare tactic, but isn’t,) and they’ve collaborated far and wide with well-known names to create “Drag You to Hell,” a massive two disc experience that is part cathartic dance hall ritual and part horror-chic revival.  The list of friendly helpers that put their touch on the record is along, but luminaries like Ministry, Mayhem and Sunn O))) are on there, so name-brand musicians think I should give this a shot.  Who am I to say no?

Now, I may be in over my head here, but I think I thought that this would be…more?  The stereotype of music in this vein is that the beat is incessant and uninterrupted, a relentless, meaningfully artificial pounding that is intended to re-pace the heart and numb the senses until only the aural environment is perceptible.  Yet, Alien Vampires hits us with a few changes of pace, beginning with the surprisingly tuneful “You Wish Me Dead Get In Line.”  Now before we get carried away, the ubiquitous thump of techno is forefront in the mix for this and every other song, but it’s not as all-encompassing in some of these early tracks as one might think.  The song has a defined structure with what might amount to breakdowns on other albums with guitar outros and an almost singable chorus.  There’s space here for some real melody to break through on “Drag You to Hell,” even if it is solely characterized by a thin line of additional synth over the manufactured rhythms, as is the case with “She Owns the Nite.”

And then, Bam!  “All the Fakes Must Die.”  Break out the buckled, leather pants, gas masks and colored dreadlock extenders, we’re going dancing!  (Side note: pitched this basic outfit, minus the constricting pants, for my work-league flag football team’s uniforms this year.  Turns out, we don’t own enough gas masks.  Next year!)  This is what I thought I was getting into – a measured cacophony of techno noise, a flurry of digitized distortion slamming along somewhere around the hundred or hundred and fifty beats-per-minute mark.  “All the Fakes Must Die” is a thoroughly mechanical beast, trading heavily in sensory overload.

Yet again though, in continuing the theme, Alien Vampires shows more than one card.  The title track and “Psycho Bitch” immediately follow “All the Fakes…” and now we see not the melodic dimension from the early part of the record, but instead a deeply metal one, steeped in the atmosphere of the halcyon days when the industrial metal had a real face.  The songs are more Combichrist than Fear Factory, more Godhead than Nine Inch Nails, for those looking for an easy reference.  It’s the darkest corner of industrial that we’re hearing, but the music is still well-developed and presented.

And that’s pretty much the story.  The rest of the record fits fairly neatly into that plan, and the second disc is remixes of varying quality depending on personal taste.  There are certainly some silly moments (“Touch,”) but that’s forgivable in the grand scheme and in any event, isn’t totally out of place for an album like this.  I took the challenge and dove headlong into a world I don’t quite get.  For my effort, I came away with a better understanding of what the hell is going on in that world, and I feel pretty good about the experience as a whole.  So, while Alien Vampires may not have jumped to the forefront of my personal library, I admit that I enjoyed what I heard, which I suppose stands to reason that fans of the genre most certainly would as well.

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