“Show me what you’re made of,” croons SINE’s main member Rona Rougeheart, atop a slow-burn minimal (but not “minimal wave”) beat. I found myself returning to this sentiment a bunch of times throughout the duration of MANTIS 1, the latest EP from SINE. “Attack”, the title of the opener, rides a single synth riff throughout its duration; it’s a cool riff, admittedly, and the swung house-music claps do much to keep the dancefloor alive. If there’s anything that ties together the whole EP, it’s mood; this slow burn tempo persists throughout much of the EP .”Future Whores” is a definite vibe switch from the opener, feeling more open, almost like a distorted version of a William Orbit track (and I mean that as praise.) Buzzsaw guitars sit comfortably next to fuzzy monosynths; “Until” explores a mellower vibe, with more of a rocky, dynamic feel.
“Blurred” is my personal favorite from the album; Mark Pistel’s glitchy, dirty industrial hip hop suits Rona’s vampy monotone very well, and I’d love to hear further collaboration from the two of them. “Control” closes out the EP with a retro 90’s-goth type track helmed by Curse Mackey (that checks out!), switching from roaring rock to noise to the familiar slow-burn dancefloor fare, sometimes with a whiplash change. The highs? This a VERY well produced EP, and both the mix and the sound choices work very well together. Sean Beavan, Mark Pistel, Curse Mackey and Charles Godfrey strike admirably similar vibes, which can be difficult when working with multiple producers. As for the lows, there’s never a moment where a track lets loose, where the energy and tension breaks into a big release; this may or may not be by design. Because of this, there’s the danger of a song feeling half formed. That being said, there’s always the next one to grow into your sound – and there’s a great deal of potential on display with SINE.
In 2019 at the beginning of my goth renaissance UK producer Pete Burns released the album “Damage” in response to the trauma he was experiencing over the passing of his mother. He wrote the lyrics and music to each song while bringing in a different up and coming vocalist for every track. The result was a magical instant classic which became my top albums of the year for this review page. Damage was so far ahead of the game in what would become the new standard for both collaborative possibilities as well as a defining new tone in goth/post punk.
All songs written by Pete Burns except The Necklace – words by Johan Lange, music by Pete Burns
Backing Vocals by Lynsey Burns Concept and Artwork by Pete Burns Vocals, Guitars, Bass, Synths and Programming by Pete Burns Produced, Mixed and Mastered by Pete Burns at The Shelter
Fast forward to 2021 when Pete collaborated with one of the great guitar wizard of the modern Post Punk era Karl Morten Dahl of Antipole for “A Haunted Place“. A textural sonic painting where Pete took the helm of his own vocal duties. A flash negative exposed shadow dance. A beautiful departure with a focus on tone and abstraction.
Welcome to present day. Kill Shelter releases their third album Asylum, and the world has started to catch on to the soft-spoken genius setting the standard for this new wave. Featuring a slew of the biggest names of the scene: Stephan Netschio ( Beborn Beton) , Valentina Veil (VV & the Void), Karl Morten Dahl (Antipole) , Emanuel Åström (Agent Side Grinder) Alessandro Belluccio (Ash Code), William Faith (The Bellwether Syndicate), Ronny Moorings (Clan of Xymox). An impressive list of talent and experience which speaks to the respect Pete has catered as a producer and song writer. This album tackles an even darker theme of trauma and the most shocking pain of the human experience. Casting a light through a wide range of vocal prisms. The completion of a journey started just after Damage in 2019 and meticulously refined over four years.
One of the powerful aspects of Damage was how it used the vehicle of a record to expose new listeners to collaborators with projects that all demand attention. I found several new bands that helped bridge my way into the modern Darkscene. Previous to creating Damage, Pete partnered on a blog with Christian Schaefer called (Rule of Three) to discover cutting edge bands and share them with the world. I am going to explore some of these standout tracks and the singers with the compilation feel this album has.
In this Place: Featuring Beborn Beton – Singer Stephan Netschio of the German darksynth band has a voice that coasts the perfect line between grit and ice. Unnerving tension meets guitar percussion that staggers and ripples. I love the way it builds and expands without increasing in volume or speed. A masterclass in emotional impact with subtle elements.
Queen of Hearts (Feat: Valentina Veil) – Domestic violence is a difficult topic to address. Clashing fronts of synth and percussion is given gravitas by Valentina‘s overlapping vocal performance. A disassociated wispy dream with retro energy of Projekt Records. The entwined guitar lines feel like two rippling ropes shaken in alternate succession by someone working out. The spoken word section delivered in another tone solidify the duality of concept. Valentina was meant to be on Damage, it is so fitting she finally makes an appearance on a Kill Shelter album.
Buried Deep (Feat: Antipole) – This track could have been on “First and Last and Always” with it’s bottom of the well bass resonance and shadow ripple guitar leads. In that vein Pete summons a cyborg Eldrich delivery both haunting and frozen as it faces a heavy weight too much to bare.
The Necklace (Feat: Agent Side Grinder) – Swedish synthrock darlings with dance club scintillation and unique vocal tone/cadence that I could always pick out of the lineup. ASG vocals always feel like chorus vocals, but I have no reason to confirm. The same spotlight production that sounds on another level. This track has a switchblade danger to it’s tone that stands the hairs on my arm up.
Feed The Fire (Feat: Ash Code) – The shooting star Italian Darkwave band that has become a scene force in record time preparing is for a tour of Central and South America collaborated on this sleazy shadow disco track. Explosive rising synth spell strikes and particle accelerator guitars. The vocals capture the effortless cool dynamic Ash Code are famous for. Another heart wrenching concept done with razor sharp execution.
Cover Me (Feat: The Bellwether Syndicate) – If you were to ask me who gives off the most live rockstar energy in the modern darkscene, the answer is William Faith. This is another true club jam that will send folks charging to the floor. William‘s vocals are sheer romantic goth perfection. The lyrics are a darker poetry which helps form the complexity of meaning. William is a legend and Pete gave him an Aston Martin as a vehicle to drive to the front of the club and shine.
All Of This (Feat: Clan of Xymox) – To say Ronny Morning was a definitive voice in the scene is a vast understatement. One of the inventers of darksynth post punk. This jam is a charging quartet of apocalyptic horses. A culmination of dark tides eroding an unforgiving shore. The progressive time changes and subtitle phrasing are a work of genius and emotional impact that hits you when you least expect it.
Overall: Kill Shelter has done it again. Creating a personal emotional journey through post-traumatic stress with expert production and collaborative vocal performances that shine a light on some of the top singers in the scene. I can’t wait to release and rare upcoming interview on the Sounds and Shadows youtube page. We dig deeply into the process and feelings of one of the most important artists the modern era. When we speak to future musicians who are in the know about what influenced them in our time. Kill Shelter will be the Joy Division like name that trend setters were appreciating in the present.
The power of a fierce front woman of a darker bent is a sight to see and a joy to hear. To be able to see two in one night, backed by amazing bandmates, is a rare treat. That’s what occurred at Crucible, in Madison, WI, on a recent spring night in April 2022. Pixel Grip and Patriarchy dueled it out with full sets, supported by the lovely Previsions.
From the moment Patriarchy’s Actually Huizenga stepped on to the stage, a huge American flag hanging upside down behind her and bandmates, something very special began. Actually’s stage presence is incredibly self-assured… she exudes the sensual confidence of a prowling cat surveying its prey. Actually and her bandmates, The Drummer and The Guitarist, presented a collection of delicious fever dream songs focusing around their album, Asking for It, which was co-written by Actually and Andrew Neams of 3Teeth.
Their sound is a mad trip through heavy darkwave industrial melodies led by industrial drumming and guitar riffs. At the helm is Actually, a once wailing then airily purring siren with a gorgeous mezzo soprano voice that gives her full control over the room.
Actually clearly doesn’t suffer fools… and her lyrics show a woman fed up with the system and the dehumanizing moments we are still forced to navigate as women, and human beings, in the 21st century. Their set was sexy, knowing, while carried by a refreshingly feminist bent harnessing the anger and frustration of women who exist, struggle, and flourish within and despite of the basic tragedies of our world. Songs like the titular Asking for It and Sweet Piece of Meat showcase all the dark sexual energy one could ask for. The song, Don’t Fuck the Drummer, was a moment of great fun. The following videos, clips from Sweet Piece of Meat and new single, Lockjaw, show the capture the energy of the Patriarchy experience.
Headlining were Pixel Grip, a fast-rising trio from Chicago. The band is made up of Rita Lukea on vocals, Tyler Ommen on drums, and Jonathon Freund on keys. A vocal improvisationalist, Rita commands a voice so uniquely beautiful it is hard to think of exactly how to describe it. Having been classically trained, Rita takes her voice in and out of tones and characters with extreme confidence, all the while presenting a playful, at times even jazz-scatting, flair. This was the second visit to Crucible to support their second album, Arena, since the reopening of venues began in summer of 2021. They describe their style as a collection of “avant pop, EBM, and minimal wave” (pixelgrip.com). The various genres melt together beautifully and, just like the previous year’s visit, made the crowd extremely eager to get their bodies moving.
Rita is a powerhouse onstage, cutting a commanding figure while expressing a muted rage couched in cool tension. This was especially true on Alphapussy, a royal reclaiming of femme power. She works the stage with an expressive knowing that embraces all the weirdos convening to escape the realities of the world. They know that she, and Pixel Grip, will tell it like it is.
Pixel Grip kept the bodies moving with massive club hits like Demon Chaser and Soft Peaks, as well as the powerfully touching Double Vision. Few bands today can produce such incredible club ragers and delicate ballads on the same album. But then few bands are Pixel Grip.
If you are lucky enough to have either band come to do a show anywhere vaguely near you, get tickets immediately. Neither band should ever be missed.
New lineup, new sound, and explosive delivery from Isle of Man shadow croon gothic rock Mark E Moon on Cold Transmission Music. A blazing light of vindication as the title states. The first single Blacklight bursts through a wall with shaking intensity. The drums pound relentlessly as Mark delivers confident sadness tinged with raw fury. Phil is spinning barb wire distortion in precision loops. The black mirror reflection of Shelly Rourke on vocals as contrast Mark’s cavern shaking Eldrichesque power. As the engine roars down an unlit highway this album swerves in tone and style without warning leaving you always on your heels. Mark really throws his soul into the vocal delivery. The tracks are all pure heat and poignant, each under 5 minutes.
I think two main changes stand out in contrast to 2021 release “Old Blood ” 1) the extreme nature of the peaks and valleys in tempo and style. This album runs the spectrum where Old Blood worked to perfect a singular idea. 2) Rourke’s vocals have really found a sharp and resilient force to break the power of Mark’s tide. In particular track 4 Drowning is a gorgeous ballad of imagery that highlights the new sound with strongly defined lines. It shows a passion and maturity of song writing that portrays subtle differences in depth as you sink below ever darker waters. I love the panning synth lines. The background to those glimmering delayed guitars flickering through the pressurizing water.
I rarely get that feeling in the goth scene always driven by nostalgia that someone is ascending with every release. That every new album finds new colors and expression. It makes me wonder where the ceiling for Mark E Moon is. This is hungry music, to revel in, but never to sit comfortably with. It’s an energy that is always stalking over the next hill. Searching for a deeper more visceral pain.
In the past 4 years German based label Cold Transmission has been responsible for amassing and growing some of the greatest talent in the modern darkscene. Andreas and Suzy Herrmann have created a music label experience that feels like family. With a hawk’s eye for talent and a focus on growing creative expression. They have built up an amazing roster of talent around the world. Here in their second compilation to celebrate their releases you can experience some of the best and brightest for one low price. Mastered by the talented Pete Burns of Kill Shelter and featuring artwork of Yvonne Kiel this CD is a who’s who of the modern darkscene. In addition to the amazing music compiled, a portion of the proceeds is donated for humanitarian purposes in Ukraine. I wish I could review every track on this stellar offering, but I will shine a light on a few highlights.
IAMTHESHADOW – On Winter Leaves Embrace – Pedro Code has a once in a lifetime voice. The Portuguese darkwave artist is the flagship of Cold Transmission. An emotive passion sailing a turbulent sea of beauty and melancholy that moves the heart of everyone who hears it.
NIGHT NAIL – Co-Morbid – Our dear friends in Berlin the abstract shadow rock of Night Nail. I love the complex and unique beauty with a focus on emotional impact over hook. Dynamic and courageous changes with interesting instrumentation. Night Nail treads fresh ground like protogoths Bauhaus while creating a style solely their own.
Camlann – I’m Nobody – The ridiculously talented young folk from Indonesia. How I wish that I sounded this way when I was their age. It is sleek, passionate, and overflows with a unique darkness. This band has such a bright future set out before them.
The Ending Nights – A Landscape To Die – Another project of Pedro Code. This a apocalypse death disco offering to sum up the last few years. Precision , Execution, Beauty, Passion, swirling in a violet fog. A transcendent art piece to speak to turbulent times.
PALAIS IDEAL – Age Of Intransigence – Netherlands post prog rockers John Edwards and Richard van Kruysdijk continue to create some of the most dynamic and intelligent science fiction thought rock in the scene. This is music that displays technique and ability while challenging you to higher thought.
MARY – Devouring Me – I genuinely feel this 2020 release from Toronto is one of the most underrated records in recent time. Driving and intense basslines that cast rippling waves is a crystal pool. I love the cadence and timber of the vocals. This feels like 4 clashing brilliant minds carried out by one train of thought. I really hope we get another album from Mary soon.
Mark E Moon – Hearts Keep Bleeding – From the Isle of Man this track is a demo version of the crooning old school goth style of Mark Sayle. Their album Old Blood in 2021 was a true opus for one of the strongest examples of trad goth in the modern age.
DEAD LIGHTS – Plastic Girl – London based sinister synths that recently had a top single on the S & S darkscene charts. It is dance and deadly with captivating vocals that lift your feet off the ground. The type of glamourous dance floor beats that cannot be ignored.
Dead Astronauts – She Haunts Me – Seattle dark synth stars continue to sound years ahead of their time. 2021 album Silhouettes is a memorizing conversation of internal dialog and duet relationship that sends the listener on a journey. I highly recommend that journey.
Death Loves Veronica – Burn – The Texas demon lounge smoky vocal tendrils paint sinister pictures with visceral imagery and stained glass synth walls. The German label supports many American talents and Veronica continues to grow and impress.
I could have easily talked about several more bands here I love. The point is this compilation and this label are offering a gate way into some of the best darkscene music the world has to offer. 38 tracks for 15 dollars is an absolute steal.