SKYND Bring Another Powerful Track Out Of Their Dark Place with “Bianca Devins”

True crime is a fascinating media phenomenon. Exploration of the most heinous crimes committed by the lowest of society is something not just left to the investigators, detectives, or forensic investigators anymore. Hell, it was the amateur sleuthing of Michelle McNamara that helped name, arrest, and convict the Golden State Killer just a couple of years ago. For some, this visit to the darkest recesses of the human condition is a respite, a moment to breathe against the more general and pedestrian horrors of this life.

SKYND have made their bones upon the true crime wave of popularity, dating all the way back to their first track “Elisa Lam” in 2018. Sonically speaking, the band is electro-industrial at its core, with elements of darkwave, nu metal, and shock rock. The amount of research that the English band puts into each track is nothing short of a labor of love, even when the crime committed had anything but love involved. Such is the case for their most recent effort, “Bianca Devins.”

The titular social media personality was murdered on July 14, 2019, at the age of just seventeen years old. Her killer, who I will not name here, intended to make the crime a murder-suicide, but was unsuccessful in the latter half, and was charged with second-degree murder. Disturbingly enough, the killer posted a photo of the deed to Devins’ Discord server, with the caption “sorry fuckers, you’re going to have to find somebody else to orbit.” Jealous and callous, and would be sentenced in March 2021 to 25 years to life in prison for the murder. 

Bianca’s death led to the creation of Bianca’s Law, which would compulse larger social media networks to have protocols in place for removing real-life violent content from said platforms. It would also introduce charges for those who knowingly disseminated images of violent crimes with the intention of harassment or of glorification.

From the first refrain of “damn, my neck hurts,” this song has stayed with me. This is a powerful composition, a perfect realization of SKYND’s mission. The band does not mean to glorify these crimes, but to honor the victims and remind one another that the monsters aren’t that far removed from us. The music video is a visual feast, using Devins’ love of anime to create a visual representation of her that appears throughout the video. SKYND’s own makeup, switching out her usual blonde ponytail for a lavender one, with eyes drawn over her own, is a striking appearance for the enigmatic and commanding frontwoman, the eyes especially paying tribute to Bianca’s love of anime and pink.

The work of SKYND may not be for everyone, and that is fine. Those who are able to explore the band’s catalog and the various themes touched on in each case and song will find a connection with what the band describes as The Dark Place, and perhaps learn something about themselves in the process. As the band puts it in the description of the track: 

“He took Bianca’s life because he couldn’t stand that she wanted to live her life the way she did. He took that away from her.

People then posted this horrific photo of her, not even knowing her name. They just shared it, not fully knowing what happened. That’s why it was very important to me to write about her, to put her name out there once again, and put her in the spotlight.”

To learn more about Bianca’s Law, read about it here. Check out the music video for “Bianca Devins” below, and stream/purchase the track on Bandcamp in the widget below the video.

Author’s Note: all images were taken from the music video.

Rave the Reqviem’s “Ex-Eden” Soars Above The Slaughter

Since their eponymous 2014 debut album, the symphonic electro-metalheads Rave the Reqviem have shaken up the world. Their blend of grand orchestral passages, industrial rhythms and beats, and detuned metal riffage has made for a full, sweeping listening experience, with heavenly hits like “Holy Homicide,” “Crack the Sky,” and “Fvck the Vniverse.” Over the last year, the band has put out five singles, nearly half of the upcoming eleven theses to be unleashed, and now we have it, the band’s fifth studio album, Ex-Eden. While the predecessor, 2020’s Stigmata Itch, may be the strongest of the band’s career, this record, shifting more of the focus to The Sister Superior and her soaring vocal range, is nothing to sneeze at, making the nearly three-year wait between records worth it.

The opening track “(0)485” simply must be their new walk-on song for live concerts, with the slow build and chanted vocals. Before long, the dam breaks and brings Hell with it on “Doombreaker,” with The Prophet employing his screams to great effect before The Sister Superior takes the chorus straight to the heavens. It’s a great way to start the album proper, as what better way to begin the service of The Church ov RTR than by blasting the doors off their hinges? 

“Anti-Savior,” conversely, is a mid-tempo, sludgy number, and sludgy is not a term I would typically assign to a song by Rave the Reqviem. But the blues-inspired riffing in the verses is mechanically clean, while stylistically grimy. The Castlevania-esque bridge sounds like it may be sung by The Mother Superior, whose grandeur and aura are always welcome.

“Ofelia” is the kind of song to put bounce into the mosh pit, as one red-capped frontman of yesteryear once said. It’s energetic electro metal, with chugging riffs and sing-along choruses. Following it is the mega-single “How to Hate Again,” featuring Jake E. of Cyrha and formerly of Amaranthe lending his vocal talents. Between this song and its predecessor, you have two radio-ready singles that would go a long way to get the band some much-deserved attention on, say, an Octane or a Liquid Metal… just putting that out in the Universe, or Vniverse, as it were.

“God, Demon, Machine” is a swaggering, swaying beast of a song, with another great chorus that begs to be sung along to. I thought Stigmata Itch was hooky, but this album is full of them. The orchestral passages bring the pomp and circumstances, but all fall before the vocal prowess of The Sister Superior, who relies on the middle of her vocal range to play this particular wheel of fortune. 

Just as “Riptide” did on the previous record, “Zero Solace” sounds like something that could open a shonen anime, something with big action set pieces and grand adventure. The song finds itself somewhere between blistering power metal a la Sonata Arctica and early 2000s Eurodance with the frenetic synth lines. While it plays with new tools, “Edge of Eden” goes back to basics, with an offbeat drum riff and The Prophet’s signature automaton vocals. Even when The Sister Superior tags in for the chorus, things still sound like classic RTR, as if the band refuses to forget where they came from and what has brought them the success they’ve had in the last decade as a group. This one is for the OGs.

“REQVIEM_05” is completely out of left field as far as the band is concerned. For one, they almost never play in C, never mind that they sound positively massive, even more so than usual. The organ passages add that gothic gravitas, the electronics make it retro-futuristic, and the chorus is sweeping and captivating. It’s a big swing to take, but they’re better for having done so. 

“Exit Babylon” brings things back to familiar territory, with a jaunty organ section to settle us back in from the cathedral cacophony that the previous song gave us. The organ line becomes a synth line in future pre-verse sections, and will soon lodge itself into the listener’s ear for the remainder of their day. The album’s closer “Angry All The Time” sounds like something that belongs in a soundtrack of either BioShock or some other retro-futurist media, with the lyrics doing anything but matching the tone of the music. Might as well send the crowd home happy with a smile and a chuckle as this benediction warps into a radio play from Hell for about 15 seconds before sending the congregation on their merry way.

The band have found new life and a new groove with The Sister Superior at the helm, and Ex-Eden is further proof of just that. Five records and a decade in, this band could be so much bigger, and if they keep crafting albums like this, it can’t be long before the Church of RTR can properly go global.
Ex-Eden is out now via Out of Line Music.

White Zombie’s ‘La Sexorcisto’ as a Breakthrough Record and a Sign of Things to Come

The music of Robert Bartleh Cummings, better known as Rob Zombie, has become some of the most memeworthy material in the rock and metal world. That said, I’d make the case that his work with his previous band White Zombie is far easier to lampoon. In these times, particularly in the late Eighties and early Nineties, the band’s sound was more groove-oriented, riding the thrash-laden wave of bands like Pantera, Prong, and Sepultura. Rather than get political or outright aggressive, the work of White Zombie was a throwback to B-movies, schlock, and exploitation of all sorts.

They say that moaning isn’t an instrument, but three decades later, he’s still using such samples, so…

While the band’s sound originated more in noise and punk rock, it was on their third album, 1992’s La Sexorcisto: Devil Music, Vol. 1 where things turned more towards groove and, to a lesser extent, industrial metal. The latter wouldn’t be the modus operandi of the band until 1995’s Astro-Creep 2000, but bits and pieces of what would allow Rob Zombie to make a career singing about the Munsters’ family vehicle and the apparent copulation of all of those around him in flying saucers can be found far, far back.

The opening sounds of “Welcome to Planet Motherfucker / Psychoholic Slag” sound like a warp-speed trip to Hell before we’re left in a synth-laden abyss. The guitars kick in, the band follows, and the groove for this journey is dialed in like a set of coordinates. Rob’s vocal delivery is somewhere between rapped and sung, using as much real estate per line as he can. What follows is a heavy, pocketed vibe that is easy to dance to or bang one’s head to, something that we can still say about Zombie’s music all these years later. A brief interlude with radio commercials and dial tuning gives way to “Thunder Kiss ‘65,” one of the simplest and best riffs in the metal world. Behind “Smoke on the Water” and “Paranoid,” it’s one of those riffs one first learns when learning guitar, and why wouldn’t it be? It’s a foot-stomping, gravel-singing good time jam-packed with samples and swagger.

As if that wasn’t enough, we get spoiled with one of the best road songs there’s ever been, “Black Sunshine,” featuring narration from punk godfather Iggy Pop. I remember it from Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock, some may remember it from its feature on Beavis and Butt-head, but if you don’t remember it all, do yourself a favor and play it back. It’s in this track where we get that griminess that turns things ever so slightly towards the industrial beats which Zombie’s music would later enjoy, but there’s loads of groove and gusto to be had here. “Soul-Crusher” is, by contrast, very guitar-driven and takes things back to their noise rock, Make Them Die Slowly days, before things arrive at a thrash-inspired, ride-heavy rhythm. “Cosmic Monsters Inc.” doubles down on the thrash influence, with loads of palm muted riffing and an airtight rhythm section. 

While yes, every metal band ever has been touched by Black Sabbath, “Spiderbaby (Yeah-Yeah-Yeah)” does so more than just about anything, particularly in the bridge found just after the three minute mark. The drum fills, the riffing, it all feels like it was lifted from Osbourne-era Sabbath, and if you’re going to imitate anyone, go for the gold and go for the godfathers. The clean guitars which open “I Am Legend” are a departure from what we’ve heard so far, but before long, the monolithic riffing returns, as do the solos that so many in the Nineties say were killed off by grunge. Clearly White Zombie missed that memo, as we get another shred of shred from Jay Yuenger to take this track home with the classic big rock ending.

Another “Knuckle Duster” interlude gives way to “Thrust!” and the title more than advertises what the song brings. It’s full speed ahead, bouncing and banging with the classic White Zombie sound that we’ve taken the first half of the record to establish. We even get a sample from the zombie film that started it all, Night of the Living Dead, and while that seems like an odd choice for a song called “Thrust!”… fuck it, it’s about zombies, we’ll allow it. A third interlude called “One Big Crunch” gives way to the thumping drums of “Grindhouse A Go-Go,” with a stop and go main riff that begs for an air guitar accompaniment or pantomime. 

“Starface” is still very much a rock and roll song, but damn if this one doesn’t have the most dance and disco influence, from the guitar playing to the drum techniques used by Ivan de Prume. This one leans more groove than metal, but it’s still plenty heavy. The near-seven-minute closer “Warp Asylum,” however, is another Sabbathian nod full of big riffs, big drums, and a doom and gloom feel, the “slag” part of the titular psychoholic slag. It’s a big, gnarly crescendo, a summation of everything that brought us this far, and everything that will take White Zombie, and in particular Rob Zombie, into the future for decades to come.

Folks will be most familiar with the singles “Thunder Kiss ‘65” and “Black Sunshine,” but let the rest of the record play and you’re in for an answer to the grunge movement. You want Sabbath? You got it. You want all of the movie references to make Ebert and Roeper blush? Come closer. You want guitar solos? Pilgrim, we will show you some guitar solos. This is an essential record, patient zero for Mr. Zombie and his decades-long reign as the king of grindhouse-inspired grooves and macabre-themed metal.

Stoneburner Comes Back Howling With ‘The Great Filter’ EP

On their last tour, the tagline for the mighty Stoneburner was “industrial music like a goddamn firestorm,” and the live show lived up to that claim. The music of Steven Archer’s tribal-industrial setup Stoneburner is mechanical aggression with a sense of urgency, melodies to make one move their ass, not because they want to, but because they have to because the World Wolf itself is in pursuit. The project’s last album Apex Predator was a statement record, their first as part of a proper label, and now that statement is revisited with The Great Filter, a seven-song EP that isn’t finished kicking the listener’s teeth in, as if the listener is pre-Bloodline Roman Reigns and the music is Braun “I’M NOT FINISHED WITH YOU YET!” Strowman…

Perhaps I got swept up in the pro wrestling analogy, but the point is, The Great Filter, named for Robin Hanson’s potential solution to the Fermi paradox regarding extraterrestrial life, is an assault on the ears in the best ways. 

“Narcissus” kicks off proceedings with a hearty bassline and Stoneburner’s signature layered vocals. It’s a powerful way to open the EP, barreling forward for a four-plus minute opening salvo that flows seamlessly into “Fair and Balanced.” Vocally, Archer is all over the place, with talk-sung, almost rapped verses before the refrain and command of “put your hands up,” almost making this song a spiritual successor to “Sellout” from the Apex Predator album. It’s an anthemic “all hands on deck,” with lyrics talking about the corrupt and warmongering nature of America, with the throughline being that it may be time to wipe the slate clean, as Archer sings in one of the earlier verses.

“Hard Crash Necropolis” feels like a love letter to Nineties electro-industrial, taking things in a dancier direction with elements of noise and a stronger sense of rhythm. Of everything in this EP, this might be the most club-friendly track, while remembering where it came from with the harsher electronic flourishes and features. Things go from dance to destruction with “Corvomancers,” a staccato-laden industrial rocker with loads of reverb and echo, making for a dreamier backdrop for the palm-muted guitars and Archer’s multiple vocal tracks to soar through. This song will definitely make my regular listening playlists before long. 

Spoken word samples and acoustic guitars set “Generation Loss” into motion, haunting and shambling like the shell of its former self the America that Archer sings about has become. Elements of doom metal help to amp up the dread in this song, and while it wouldn’t be the first song I would show someone to introduce them to Stoneburner, it is one that appeals to me as a fan of metal music and of industrial music, as well as of things that lay just left of center. The title track is an abrasive and challenging one, though it would almost certainly get a dance floor going if given the chance, at least until the final third of the nearly five-minute track, in which pianos and different noise samples dominate the conversation until the fade.

The EP goes home on a cover of Psychedelic Furs’ “The Book of Days,” and this nod to the English post-punk group is a faithful one. While the original article has a bit more muddiness and grittiness to it, the Stoneburner rendition features a bit more of a dreamlike quality, a slightly more fantastical feel despite the heavier use of guitars than in the Furs’ version. It makes sense for Archer to give this late-Eighties classic the Stoneburner treatment, and it finishes off this seven-strong sortie that is The Great Filter on a high note.

The original version of the song from Psychedelic Furs’ 1989 album of the same name, for those unfamiliar.

My first introduction to Stoneburner was the Red in Tooth and Claw EP back in 2020, and every release I’ve heard since has only gotten stronger. Steven Archer has been in the music game for decades and is showing no signs of stopping, and we should feel blessed that that is the case. I don’t normally like doing superlatives or “best of the year,” but this is an essential listen, especially for the industrial fan that likes the music to beat back occasionally.

The Great Filter is available now via COP International.

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.