Monday, January 31, 2011

Album Review: Skullduggery - "You Are Here (Nowhere)" (2009)

You Are Here. (Nowhere) (2009)

You Are Here (Nowhere)

Industrial music. As a fan of old Wax Trax/Play It Again Sam shit, Industrial Records releases, and miscellaneous stuff that's mostly older, industrial music is a bit hard to find good new stuff for. The mightiest groups of old are fading away, if not gone completely. Godflesh is long dead. KMFDM is stuck in a rut which is full of stagnant ideas. Ministry is quite literally a ghost of its former self, recording boring covers and doing perfunctory remix albums years after the group's official disbandment (the albums immediately preceding not being up to snuff either.) NIN and Skinny Puppy are still good but who the hell knows when or if we're going to get anything else from them. Swans are still awesome but they've moved entirely outside the scope of industrial music in their new incarnation. And with the death of Sleazy, we probably won't be seeing any new Throbbing Gristle (which is a pity, because I actually think their 2007 comeback record was one of the best things they've ever done.)

Many of the newer bands are just imitations of any combination of the above bands, bringing little new to the table. It always seems to be either missing-the-point NIN-lite alt-rock-with-synths-and-samples, or Ministry wannabes thinking they can take that sound and make it radio-friendly, or bands doing the club-beats-and-horror-samples-and-laryngitis-vocals like :wumpscut: or old Skinny Puppy or about a million other projects from beforehand, just without any direction or anything to make them stand out, and IMO oftentimes with a hollow sound (again, big fan of the 80's sequencers.) It's a sad state of affairs. So of course I was cautious with my optimism for Skullduggery. I see now that this was unnecessary.

What we have here is a very evocative and fulfilling sound, grafted into a varied and well-made album. There are more sounds and influences than the average electro-industrial album at play here. Of course there's some of the requisite growling like Nivek Ogre and barking commandingly like Bill Leeb, but I don't mind it because Jayme Bass has a good voice for it (ironically, I like his version better than the real Bill Leeb's voice.) Bass has a surprisingly good vocal range, which is even better. There's some standard EBM type stuff here (though quite good) though most of those tracks go through diverse sounds and textures to make them stand apart from one another. Some tracks even delve into Warp Records IDM type stuff with an industrial tinge, not unlike, for example, Download. The album has a nice balance of destructive noise and purdy melody, which is not a bad thing, screw what tr00 rivetheads have to say. I think the important thing here is that you can hear a lot of probable influences here, but it takes those elements and then ventures outwards to build its own thing rather than lying under those influences, legs atrophied, and doing nothing but suckling at their teat, like a lot of bands (of any genre) tend to do. In that sense, Skullduggery is a success already, and this is only the first proper album.

The record is has a very rich and deep sound that conjures up imagery of dystopian cyberpunk hell in a way seemingly more natural and easy than most bands of this type. You can probably tell where I was going with this by now, but I legitimately like this more than a lot of stuff from 'famous' bands in the same style like Velvet Acid Christ, Front Line Assembly and Combichrist. It seems to have more effort and talent and soul in it than many of the more popular contemporaries within the genre. It's a real shame that Skullduggery is as little-known as it is while the alternative press and rivetheads around the world cream their deepest black little underwear every time another complacent piece of product falls out of Bill Leeb or Sascha Konietzko's butt. Bass has something special here. I can't wait to see what he does with it next... if there's any justice, then someday he will be held up as a motherfucking hero to spooky evil electro-industrial music for lifting a drowning genre out of the lake, pumping some air into its deflated lungs, and reapplying its eyeliner.