Bauhaus Staircase by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark

OMD (Orchestral Manoeuvers in the Dark), masters of quirky electronic pop music, are back with their fourteenth – and rumored final – album, Bauhaus Staircase. Energy from different sources went into creating this album; modern art to recent world events such as the COVID lockdown to Trump to plain old boredom. A surprising amount of ground is covered over the course of these twelve songs.

Inspiration for the album’s title comes from the Oskar Schlemmer painting Bauhaus Stairway.

Bauhaus Stairway by Oskar Schlemmer

The album opens with the title track single, a sort of love letter to the famous German art school that closed down due to the Nazi regime. The intensity in the song is ever-building throughout as singer Andy McClusky expresses open-heartedness while decrying fascism at the same time. This is followed by Anthropocene, which follows the effect of human existence upon the Earth, set to an uptempo dance beat.

Newer songs are intermixed with older tracks that have been finally realized and the remnants of OMD’s older days can be spotted on tracks – new or old – such as Look At You Now and Where We Started.

Veruschka is another single from the album and a slow jam ear worm with moving, thought-provoking lyrics such as:

Columbine and fool Pierrot
A hopeless case, another four hundred blows
Story lines and old postcards
A swansong madness, Sunset Boulevard

Slow Train is a sexy fun ride in the style of Goldfrapp and has a hard-to-resist party vibe to it.

Healing is another slow jam and a solid closer.

McClusky has stated that he would be satisfied if this were the final OMD album. If this is the case, we can feel comforted that OMD has closed out their career on a strong note .

SWANS w/Norman Westberg live at the Lodge Room, Los Angeles, CA, 09/09/2023

For over 30 years, I have been waiting for the opportunity to see SWANS live. Seriously.

My mind reflects to my days as a teenaged music geek working at my college radio station. That day when a copy of Holy Money was produced, we put it on to listen to on our studio monitors. Very loudly. It gave me a headache, but, oh, what delicious pain.

While I should have seen them live last year, such was not to be. Thanks, COVID.

As you can imagine, I was on a mission this time around. So, with taking time off work and a two-hour drive to Los Angeles, I was finally going to have the experience I’d longed for since college.

In a way, seeing SWANS live now worked out even better than I thought. SWANS are currently on tour to support their 19th studio release, The Beggar. And while I’m not as fully immersed in the new material as I should be, I looked forward to having some surprises over the course of the night.

The gig took place at the Lodge Room, a repurposed Masonic hall that had no visible signage from the street, not far from Figueroa Street. My friends and I almost walked past the entrance as it was only accessible on our side of the building from the alley.

After traversing some treacherous stairs and purchasing a seven dollar coke, we entered the main hall where SWANS alumnus Norman Westberg was already onstage.

Since leaving the band, Westberg has developed a one-man ambient performance that creates textured sound that sort of hangs in the air. Melodic elements blend in and out of the sound that at times has a rhythmic quality. As we arrived, Westberg was already performing and the hall was already nearly full. Everyone seemed transfixed with the strangely accessible wall of sound Westberg projected into an otherwise ghostly silent hall.

Now, I had been warned that SWANS is not a band that panders to the crowd with fan favorites. So I had no idea what to expect. It turns out that the set was all selections from The Beggar, which was fine with me. Talk about a crash course on their new material.

I had just enough time to go outside for a smoke before the band took the stage.

Slowly, oh so slowly, the band built an ever-increasing cacophony; both in volume and intensity. A few minor tech glitches were sorted out quickly as the stage crew were on top of their game.

The crowd remained hushed throughout the show, as if in a trance. The occasional vocal jump scare from Michael Gira would draw a wowed response from this surprisingly young audience.

Musically, the expected impenetrable wall of sound was ever-present. Earplugs were definitely my friend this night.

Newer SWANS material shows signs that they have not abandoned their industrial ties. Atonal sounds came from out of nowhere, especially towards the climax of the show. The folk-flavored pulsating rhythms of new material harkens back to their Children of God days.

The half dozen songs performed over the 80-minute performance went a long way to reinforce the legacy of SWANS as unpredictable and dangerous as ever. New fans were clearly satisfied, as was this college radio music geek.

Nitzer Ebb Live at The Music Box, San Diego, California, 09/02/2023

“Forty Bloody Years” was how it read on the ad for Nitzer Ebb’s forty-year retrospective tour. How time flies. I still remember seeing the video for Control, I’m Here for the first time on MTV’s 120 Minutes and thinking that I have seen the future. Well, the future has come and gone and here we are, four decades later.

All Photos: Patrick Dickson

The Music Box itself is a somewhat upscale venue; with two balconies overlooking the main dance floor and stage. Video monitors on each level allow for ease of viewing the onstage activity, which is helpful in a space where it’s easy to find yourself too far from the railing to see much of anything.

There were interesting goings-on all around upon entering the venue. For starters, there were the fetish-themed go-go dancers in cages right on the dance floor, as well as the BDSM cosplay performances throughout the night.

The first musical act of the night was NYC’s Normal Bias. This duo offered a tasty buffet of catchy and danceable electronic tunes and was well-received by the crowd. And while they were a palatable opening act, my own impression from the set tells me that the best work of Normal Bias is still ahead of them.

San Diego’s own MATTE BLVCK was next, with an energetic set that was also the only performance of the night to include any non-keyboard based instruments. Members would switch off from electronics, guitar, bass and percussion throughout the set. I personally liked the slower jams that got my foot tapping and were swaying the crowd into dance mode.

Finally, what we’ve all been waiting for… Nitzer Ebb hit the ground running, opening the show with their iconic Control, I’m Here. But something was different this time. Not just because the lineup was simplified to just Bon Harris and Douglas McCarthy, as opposed to the three or four person lineup of shows past. What also made the show unique was the change of arrangement of recognizable classics. The whole performance was a power medley of remixes; an interesting way to breathe fresh life into old favorites and keep the energy level consistent throughout the show; although I felt the energy level was diminished for not having a live drummer this time around.

Douglas McCarthy stalked the stage as he belting out crowd favorites. He seemed to move gingerly about the stage as one banger after another flowed without break or interruption. Bon Harris kept the crowd fired up as he played a little bit of everything from percussion to vocals.

I moved around a few times, trying to find the best vantage point to watch the show. I eventually ended up on the second balcony. And while I still couldn’t see the stage, the video monitors were doing their job. Besides, the second balcony had its own vibe. Since hardly anyone else could see the stage either, most folks on the balcony just rolled with it and the balcony became a separate dance party of its own.

With a one-song encoré, Nitzer Ebb was done. Everyone was appropriately sweaty and danced out by this point, but the party vibe continued out to the street as folks filtered out of the venue.

It sure doesn’t feel like it’s been forty years. But Nitzer Ebb has worn it well and, in my opinion, remain one of the most relevant EBM bands on the scene and continue to lead the charge.

Dehumanized by Black Agent

Seattle’s Black Agent follows up last year’s Industrial Ruination with another strong outing in Dehumanized. And, like before, the band shares its views of the world backed by a sonic potpourri of electronics.

Opening with The World Is A Hell, the listener is immediately sucked into a two-and-a-half minute wall of sound, signaling the beginning of a nine-song decent into Black Agent’s grim and gritty view of the world. Shot Down follows this with its declarative statement:

Dollars explain your
Body count

Singer Jason Pit acknowledges that there’s elements of personal loss that went into this album, more so than Industrial Ruination, which was more of a COVID era social indictment. Songs like Shot Down, Frozen Flowers and Broken Mind address the personal demons of mental illness, addiction and self-harm that many of us face. Modern Mannequins continues this examination:

Pushed out
Strung out
Pain throughout
Pray to the chemicals that she finds

So far, I’ve been examining the lyrical content of Dehumanized, and for good reason. Black Agent never pulls punches in the articulate way they paint an easily relatable picture of the ugliness all around us – both inside and out.

However, I don’t want to overlook the music itself, which grinds and pulsates in ways that really fuel the dark tone of Black Agent’s sound. Saying an industrial band has a “classic, old-school” sound seems kind of funny to me. But fans of such industrial legends as Skinny Puppy will find what they’re looking for in these nine songs.

The appropriately-titled Show’s Over closes out Dehumanized the way it went in: unrelenting and unapologetic.

Those of you who are familiar with Black Agent will be very satisfied with Dehumanized and newcomers will hit the ground running while getting up to speed.

Mutant Menagerie & Grimoire by Seraphim System

Part of Seraphim System’s Bandcamp description states that, “…SER:SYS architect “BL4KJ4K” focused his musical abilities to craft rave tunes that will help you slam your skull into your chest cavity.” If this is what the kids are calling “rave” music these days, I’ve definitely been missing out on something.

With Mutant Menagerie & Grimoire, their newest release, SER:SYS takes us down a dark and desolate path that would scare the living hell out of the glow stick crowd. From the opener, The High Priestess, to a very faithful cover of Slipknot’s Surfacing, SER:SYS clearly lays down the rule that says this North Carolina electro powerhouse ain’t nothing to fuck with.

One of the main things to notice about MM&G is the de-emphasis of melodic elements, focusing instead on uncompromising drums and profound lyrical content. Taking The High Priestess for instance, SER:SYS hits hard right out of gate lyrically and paints a vivid, articulate and somewhat disturbing picture. I’m still digesting such lines as…

“Nothing will ever change
Nothing new is to be expected
This is not what I wanted out of life”

The beat on Mutant Menagerie dips deceptively into drum-and-bass territory before distorted vocals belt out the darkly poetic lines…

“Misshapen and grotesque
Hideous form and flaw
Stitched together and born by lightning
Given existence from the minds of madness
This contagion spreads like disease Infecting any which come too close
Keep my distance and sanity
My mind never writhing with twisted form”

Contrition features Dark Machine Nation and is a sample of SER:SYS’s affinity for dipping into Latin for lyrical content; the other being the track Quid Est Veritas?. GRENDEL and Ratio Strain also make contributions to MM&G as well on You Do Not Recognize the Bodies in the Water and Black Aura respectively.

The title to Guns Don’t Make Goth Music, I Do actually made me chuckle a bit, but as I follow the voiceover listing different gunmakers concluded with the title line, I can’t help but think that this is SER:SYS’s make-art-not-war statement track.

I could go on, but only listening to MM&G for yourself will do true justice to SER:SYS and the unique in-your-face quasi danceable sound they have created.

In conclusion, Mutant Menagerie & Grimoire is a the kind of relentless sonic assault that grabs the listener’s ear and twists hard.