Black Nail Cabaret Pen Their ‘Woodland Memoirs’ With Friends, An Arboretum, and Eleven Breaths of Fresh Air

Black Nail Cabaret are a dream of a modern dark synthpop act, and exhibit A would have to be their 2020 album Gods Verging on Sanity. Their danceable tracks are worthy of any dancefloor, where their more sultry numbers are worthy of happenings after the club. The record soars with swaying songs like “No Gold” and “Private Religion,” while the lead single “My Casual God” is one of the most intimate, stripped down tracks in a genre that runs the risk of throwing too much seasoning into a single pot. The Hungarian duo of singer Emese Arvai-Illes and producer/multi-instrumentalist Krisztian Arvai know how to make darkness, sadomasochism, and even abject hatred sound incredible. 

For their semi-live album Woodland Memoirs, the duo added three musicians to make a full band experience. Guitarist Tamás Számvéber, saxophone player Márton Barják (ex-CsizmáSKAndúr), and drummer Péter Laskay help Emese and Krisztian reimagine eleven songs from their catalog, reaching from their 2012 debut album Emerald City to the aforementioned Gods Verging on Sanity. Recorded among the elements within the Agostyan Arboretum in the band’s native Tatabanya, Hungary, while combining elements of jazz, hard rock, and lounge music with the band’s dark pop sound, every song gets a fresh coat of paint, with nearly every new version working just as well, if not better than, the original article.

There are two songs which stick out as the ones which get the most dramatic facelifts, those being “Veronica” and “Bete Noire.” The former goes from a flirty, synthpop tale about forbidden love into a sleazy, sax-laden number with a driving guitar line and Emese hitting some uncharacteristically high notes. The latter, one of the band’s best-known songs, takes the pulsating beat of the original and turns it into a slow, crawling Sabbathian monolith with some of Számvéber’s best guitar work on the whole project. The urgency of the studio version is swapped out for an unease and an untapped power on this version, and it makes for one of the stronger improvements on this record.

The video for “Veronica,” shot by Richard Besenczi.

The one problem spot for me was “My Casual God.” Maybe it’s an issue of sentimentalism, as that’s the song that got me hooked on BNC, but this new version of such a calculating coldwave track is a completely different song, save for the melody, and in that change something deep in the core of the song is lost. Redoing this song under the circumstances which Woodland Memoirs was a big swing, and I wouldn’t call it a total miss, but I’m not exactly at this version’s mercy like I was the original’s. 

Part remix album, part live album, completely swinging for the fences, Woodland Memoirs is for the fans. I personally hope that the idea of a backing band is one that lasts beyond this project, as it created a unique listening experience, especially when taken for the full eleven-track ride front to back. The limited edition artbook is something to behold as well, with gorgeous photography by Dora Hrisztu-Pazonyi that frankly makes me sad there isn’t a full recording being released, only the snippets put out by the band and their label on YouTube. Even then, while I wouldn’t recommend this for the uninitiated or newer fans of the band, this is a captivating listen who like their dark pop with a bit of jazz thrown in, to say nothing of the helpings of hard rock throughout.

Woodland Memoirs is available now via Dependent Records.

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