Accession Records (A 117), 2009
The definition of “industrial music” has undergone many changes over the years. Nine Inch Nails was the first exposure for many to the subgenre, but there are many who didn’t consider Trent Reznor’s work to be industrial music at all. The punk-inspired theatrics of Einsturzende Neubaten and Skinny Puppy, among others, eventually seemed to overwhelm the music itself, and the genre itself proved extremely difficult to peg. Beyond that, the music itself became increasingly predictable, losing the experimentation that marked the genre in its early days. Subgenres such as noise, IDM, and synthpop began to influence it as well, as did a level of pretension that bordered on comical, with bands straining to present themes of sci-fi, horror, slasher films, and war that seemed more important than the music.
It would seem – at first, anyway – that the trendily named [:SITD:] typifies this 21st-century post-industrial faux-angst. The titular acronym stands for “shadows in the dark.” They hail from Germany and use German language in their lyrics and song titles. But there’s something going on with their music that separates them from the ranks of pancake makeup- and gas mask-wearing contemporaries.
Francesco D’Angelo, Carsten Jacek, and Thomas Lesczenski are certainly guilty of treading paths already established by others, but they ride the edge of EBM, noise, and synthpop with a sense of reverence. Describing their 2009 album Rot (German for “red,” not the English word for decay) would seem to do little to set them apart: it’s a collection of 4/4 electronic dancefloor hymns with aggressive German and English vocals, and is their fourth such release.
However, Rot is an example of what makes post-industrial EBM such a potentially fulfilling style. The beats are the focus, no doubt, and they’re thick and heavy and pummeling, with little distortion. Wonderfully straightforward, rarely deviating from the martial power of the 4/4 framework, with a relentless mid-tempo speed that I found particularly effective. The lower BPM also allows [:SITD:] to include all sorts of subtle details between the beats, from minimal techno-inspired sequencing, visceral EBM bass keys, and ambient chord-shifting keyboards.
The vocals, which are done by alternating band members, are also free of distortion, and are somewhat restrained, chanting in the classic style of Front 242 or DAF, with none of the screaming often present in the genre. In some cases – “Redemption” and “Destination” – they’re sung with little of the manic self-indulgence of the re-emergent synthpop.
Take “Catharsis,” which is built with a magnetic unwavering beat and a fantastic off-beat bass line, and anthemic German vocals that never overwhelm, but enhance the track’s identity. It’s aggressive, but not overly so, and doesn’t do too much; it’s not trying to overwhelm or impress. It’s classic EBM, but isn’t just pumped-up beats for mindless clubbing; there’s a good amount of creative songwriting on display. “Rot” increases the tempo just a bit, and uses a looped sonar tone to augment the turbo-charged bass-line, techno-ish melody, and driving percussion. The vocals here remind me so much of Massiv in Mensch it’s almost criminal; in fact, Rot sounds very much like a heavier version of MiM’s early work (minus the tongue-in-cheek weirdness) merged with the goth-influenced sensibilities of Project Pitchfork.
Not that Rot is completely free of pretension. The lyrics of “Stigmata of Jesus” and “Zodiac” are pretty cringe-worthy, but those wonderfully cathartic beats and precise programming do help take the edge off. [:SITD:] dabbles with noise on these tracks as well, with very respectable results. I do think, however, that Rot could jettison the vocals and still be exemplary; the near-instrumental “Pride” is proof, with its carefully merged and dramatic chords and piano, all studded by lovely thudding 4/4 magic. However, the introspective lyrics of “Redemption” and the anti-drug “MK Ultra” help redeem the band’s lyric-writing a bit; these guys are no Project Pitchfork in the songwriting department, but they’re a level above their contemporaries, for certain.
Rot is nothing new, but it’s darn good at what it does. It’s the most effective and consistent album in the band’s discography to date, changing things up just enough to keep from becoming repetitive or overwhelming. [:SITD:] wears its influences proudly on its electronic sleeve, and isn’t ashamed of what it is: post-industrial EBM of particularly effective power. For a prime example of what the genre is capable of – as limited as that might be – it doesn’t get much better than this.