THAT’S MUSIC BUT IT AIN’T METAL – THE ELECTRONICA CLUSTERFUCK OF 2012: CELLDWELLER, THE LUNA SEQUENCE, AND I WILL NEVER BE THE SAME
(DemiGodRaven reviews not one, not two, but three albums, with lots of music included. Get your ass in a comfortable place and wade in . . .)
It’s been known for quite a while now that I do have a bit of a soft spot for certain brands of electronica music. It’s never been something that I’ve felt a huge need to dig into too deeply, but the surface-level groups that I have found I’ve enjoyed quite a bit. Of course, this spills over into my enjoyment of some of the more violent genres such as Industrial (and I have been listening to Ministry’s Relapse…which is a hot mess. Hopefully I’ll get something going on…that) and the various aggrotech styles, but occasionally I do enjoy walking on the lighter side of things.
Lately I’ve been constantly spinning three different releases, all of them great in their own different ways, and since Islander has given me somewhat of a pulpit, a megaphone, and enough rope to hang myself with, I figured I’d take the opportunity to just make one gargantuan post here so that the more metal of us can easily gloss over it rather than do three posts and basically have you guys screaming for my execution. As such, this motherfucker is going to be long-winded as all hell, so prepare your anuses gentlemen, shit is about to get real.
Celldweller – Live Upon A Blackstar (CD release)
You guys had to have seen this coming from a mile away. There was literally zero chance that I wasn’t going to talk about something that Celldweller was up to if I was going to take up valuable post space for a bunch of electronica discs. Although the Blu-Ray/DVD release of this specific disc has been consistently delayed to the point of being something of a tragic comedy [it will begin shipping on June 12, 2012], the audio version of this album has been available for a little. A little clarification as to why I feel this live album is important enough to write about first.
Back when Klayton announced that he would be doing a new Celldweller live show, he said that his intention was to re-do every song that he had chosen for his live performances, such that newer songs would basically be re-done as electronica tunes and the newer stuff that he had released so far as part of his Wish Upon A Blackstar pre-blitz (which is also due out soon) would see more club-oriented remixes. That way, if you went to a Celldweller live show, it would be like an entirely new experience; you wouldn’t just be going to hear the same songs in a live setting that you had already heard on disc.
After his string of live performances, it was announced that the songs he had re-done would be released in studio format under the tongue-in-cheek title of Cellout EPs. The first one did in fact contain a few remixes, as well as the eventual re-done version of “Goodbye” (for the…sixth time?), but the full Cellout release transformed into something of a remixes compilation of its own, with only a few songs being done by Celldweller. The others were contributions from artists such as Bare, Drivepilot, Josh Money, and J. Scott G. Yes, they were being used in Klayton’s own live DJ performances, but I think what most fans really wanted was to hear the re-done songs from Celldweller’s debut.
That is why I was so excited for Live Upon A Blackstar, because believe it or not, after listening to the disc I can say that there is probably no reason to do a studio release of these specific tracks. The live quality that was captured is good enough that it practically is studio quality, even with the crowd noise and occasional live ad-lib on the vocals.
The live version of “Through The Gates” (which is a pretty simple, yet epic intro track) is actually my favorite version of that specific song now. It contains some dubstep elements without going completely into the slow-paced kick-snare-kick-kick-kick-snare, wait for break in song, forty-five seconds of random bass wobble, repeat ad nauseum, and serves as a perfect intro track. Even watching the just-released preview video of the song, it is hard to not get super-hyped for it.
The crowd noise on this disc is surprisingly minimal even though you can tell they were loud as hell in the show. What is there hits at the right time and makes you feel like you do have a Celldweller live show in your headphones. Considering that so far, his tour dates have taken him to LA and basically ignored the rest of California….for me, this’ll be as good as it is going to get for a little while.
The songs that make their appearances from Wish Upon A Blackstar get two treatments on the disc. Some of them are slightly retouched, and others are mixed together into a more standard club scene, where they interweave with each other with a basic techno backing beat propelling the song along. I’m personally not the biggest fan of this approach, but they work well enough. I’m an old grognard and I think that songs like “So Long Sentiment” and “Eon” are some of the best that Celldweller has ever done, so to hear them mashed together with about half of each song removed is a little bit on the disappointing side. Still good, but I would love to see those songs performed live on their own.
“The Best It’s Gonna Get vs Tainted” works the same way for me, although my opinion of “Best It’s Gonna Get” is a little less glowing. The guitar riff for that specific remix reminds me a whole lot of the guitar part to the reptile fight in the first Mortal Kombat movie. It’s an obscure pull, I know, but I just can’t unhear how familiar it is. “Ursa Minor”, which is an instrumental track from the Soundtrack To The Voices In My Head release gets redone as well, with a lot of sci-fi movie samples and some quotes from Kennedy about space travel. Considering that the song is named after a constellation, that’s none too shocking.
“The Lucky One”, which has become something of a Celldweller theme song, is played straight-forward and is about as awesome as it is on the studio release. You get the bonus of crowd interaction for that track, and it is used to close out one specific section of the show (although the CD does contain two more songs, the re-done “Switchback” and “I Believe You”…more on that in a bit), so you get the whole everyone-being-super-excited to give that closing song some extra energy bonus.
“Louder Than Words” is actually done in what sounds like the 1984 mix. The 1984 mix was something that was included as part of the deluxe Chapter 1 and it basically has louder synths and bass parts brought to the forefront, so that it sounds more like a nu-wave song. It works okay, but it occurs to me that I have heard “Louder Than Words” a lot in the lead-up to both this and the Wish Upon A Blackstar disc, so even a dancified version of that song isn’t completely safe from some burnout.
Being somewhat of a longtime fan, the main highlight for me is in fact the re-done versions of the older songs. There’s been close to a half million remixes of these songs, but there’s something special about the main artist getting his grubby hands on them again, and that made me really excited. Some of the songs, like “Symbiont” and “Fadeaway”, take the main motifs of the song and extend them, so that they almost take up the whole track. If you’re like me and you’re a fan of the “I’m my one and only friend/I am my worst enemy” stanza from “Fadeaway”, you won’t hear it here, but the newer version of the song hits so hard. It actually seems to stop for a false ending before coming back with some really loud drums that are somewhat like being punched in the chest.
“Symbiont” becomes something of a segue live, playing repeatedly with the erasable/expendable bit of the song over some constant bass rumbling. It takes a pretty miserable song to begin with and makes it very atmospheric. “Frozen” remains catchy and danceable as all hell. If you’ve been following Celldweller, this’ll be your millionth listen of that song. Still works. “Own Little World” is probably the most stepped-out of the bunch, although one of the reasons I really like Klayton’s work has been because his songs aren’t based on just one gimmick. Yes, there’s dubstep in this song, but it isn’t the only element. It quickly becomes a breakbeat rock song to close things out.
“Switchback” has become something of an epic. I’ve included a video of that, from a BlankTV premiere. The song has been played to death, but this live remix is really good. Same goes for “I Believe You”, which despite the heavier electronica leanings is actually still very familiar.
So whilst I wait for the video version of said release, this live album has been a fantastic holdover. I only pre-ordered the blu-ray in April, so I can’t imagine that pain some of the really early adopters have gone through. I’m sure if it gets delayed again, one of the Fixt guys will probably e-mail us his pinky finger as atonement, because the delays have gotten a little silly. When you have an excellent live disc like this that could turn tons of people into fans, it really helps to have a live video out for it. But if anything, the wait has just increased my anticipation for it.
It’s nice to finally hear these new songs after listening to those excellent Atlanta and Moscow bootlegs that some people have captured since Celldweller started performing live again. Those were good, but damn it’s nice to finally have the mix audio. Live Upon A Blackstar is a great live album and worthy of purchase. If you can wait a bit, I’d recommend just getting the blu-ray/dvd with a physical disc as well. If you can’t, the Mp3 download at the Fixt store has been cheap, so it’s worth looking into. Anyway, on with with the rest of my clusterfuck of reviews.
The Luna Sequence – This Is Bloodlust
The Luna Sequence is actually a project that I came across thanks to the group whose music I’m reviewing below this one. I Will Never Be The Same hosted a remix contest for their song “Worldless”, which came off of that group’s release Standby. One of the entrants was The Luna Sequence, a one-lady project based out of Springfield, Missouri (according to her Twitter account), and her version of that song absolutely killed it. Of course, I would later discover she also killed it when she took on Sybreed’s song “Doomsday Party”, so to say that The Luna Sequence has always been somewhat prominent in the background of my current musical listenings is an understatement.
Thanks to Last.fm, I wound up hearing a majority of her material under that name through the recommendations tab and found myself enjoying it. However, I did fall out of the loop with this project and thus didn’t know that a new release is on the way. Now, imagine my surprise when I get an e-mail (and I’m paraphrasing here) announcing that there was a new disc called This Is Bloodlust and it aimed to be the heaviest release so far, adding driving guitars and blastbeats into the mix of electronica. Given my general curiosity of, “How the hell did they do that?”, of course I was going to give it a listen. It turned out to be pretty damn good, too.
One of the more familiar aspects of The Luna Sequence’s recent work has been the choice of a keyboard/synth (not exactly sure what is being used) that sounds like bells being played. It has really been what has made a lot of her work so instantly identifiable for me — when the melody usually kicks in, and it sounds like bells ringing out each note. Across the bit of work that I’ve heard, this seems to be the real key to a lot of The Luna Sequence’s music at the moment, and there are no compromises made to the music to make them fit in. That means that if the song is going to be crushingly heavy, chances are the melody will be played with those same keys, and they become the theme that ties together each one of her albums.
This Is Bloodlust is no different, even as the songs get heavy. It creates a sort of weird partition in the music, in that some songs will be heavy as all hell, even sounding like backing tracks (or pre-pro demos for a full band, considering this is a one person project) for a death metal band, yet when the melody kicks in, the song calms down some. The songs written around those keys seem to work a little better, but that doesn’t mean the heavier, “blastbeats fused with electronica” stuff that was hinted at is a failure.
In fact, those are the songs on the album that had me really excited. Some of the tracks are so good I would love to actually hear a band perform them, with the aforementioned key lead played on a guitar. There are some straightforward thrashy riffs, and some real grinders on this disc. They really do hint at a ton of potential, and whilst they are good listens on their own, this is one of those times when I find myself wishing to hear them on actual instruments as opposed to rendered through various computer programs. It’s one of those times when the constraints of being a newer solo project do tend to become evident.
Songs like “Parallels” and “Bullet From A Bigots Gun” are great right now, but man, I keep finding myself thinking about how incredible they would be if performed by a band. Other songs on this release tend to be a bit more standard on the electronica side of things, at least to an untrained ear like mine, but that doesn’t mean they don’t hold value. Some of them are great background songs, but they have tended to fade in my memory. Not to write them off, because even these stick out. Opening track “Sanctuary In Dying Light” is catchy as all hell and it is one of the songs I do keep going back to quite a bit, though the promise of the more metal songs is what keeps me listening.
This Is Bloodlust is a quick, painless listen that contains some catchy-as-hell melodies and, even given the constraints of being performed by an artist plus a computer, some heavy-as-hell material. It really does hint at a ton of a potential for fuller songs. It has been one of those CDs that constantly hijacks my listening time. Even when I just leave my music player on shuffle, I still find myself going to This Is Bloodlust anyway if I land on even one song from the CD. I recommend at least checking out a few of the songs, and you can actually do so by hitting up her Bandcamp page for an eight-song sampler that contains two songs from each TLS release done so far.
I Will Never Be The Same – Tornadoes
I Will Never Be The Same are a last.fm discovery of mine, surprisingly enough. I was sitting around one day working on a review for a different disc, with last.fm running in the background when I heard what I deem to be the best goddamn version (other than the original version) of the song “Cry Little Sister” that I’ve ever heard. Some of you probably recognize the song from The Lost Boys (and the irredeemably shitty versions that have followed with each subsequent release), but the one done by I Will Never Be The Same was enough to make me try and find out more about this group and their debut release Standby.
Standby turned out to be a pretty good release, from the beginnings of a solo project by an artist named Josh Atchley. He would later find other musicians and begin I Will Never Be The Same. Josh has a good singing voice for this style of music, and it fits incredibly well with the moody, spacey sounding, synth-bass-reliant works on Standby. About a quarter of the disc was up-tempo and the rest of it fell in line with stuff like the songs “Eyes Turning Black” and “Set Your World On Fire”. Of course, it closed with the cover of “Cry Little Sister”, which has been available as a free download on its own over at last.fm for a little while now. However, Standby came out in 2009, and I was discovering it in the ass end of 2010.
2012 rolls around and I Will Never The Same returns, this time with an album that is almost perfectly encapsulated by it’s album art, Tornadoes. That pixelated tornado lends so much credence to the electronic side of this band, as well as hinting at the fact that this is a disc that isn’t as nice or as spacey sounding as Standby was. From the beginning of the album you can tell that Tornadoes is a bit darker sounding in comparison to Standby, as even the title of the intro track (“As My Heart Explodes”) suggests.
The drum production on this song also has a hefty echo, something Nine Inch Nails used a lot as well, making it sound as if the drums were recorded in a massive empty room. It lends a bit of a trashy sound to what would otherwise come off as a perfect, sterile electronics disc. Much of Tornadoes is like this. In fact, it is a much more rock-oriented album than its predecessor and plays into that with its moodier atmosphere and lyrics. Nothing upbeat like “Worldless” is to be found here. This is one of those discs you put on when you just feel like stewing in your own anger for a little bit.
Tornadoes has a couple of really good hooks in its songs, too. The way a lot of the songs on Tornadoes work is that some very quiet drumming and electronica loop for a bit, with quiet mood-setting bass, and then everything tends to kick off at once. It’s a tad formulaic, but it would be difficult to argue that I Will Never Be The Same aren’t the masters of this style.
Vocally, however, is where much of Tornadoes shines. With many albums, you tend to have one instrument being much more dynamic than the rest and stealing a lot of the limelight. Such is the case with Josh’s voice on this album, because he just kills it through and through. I keep finding myself drifting back to the song “Pushing Objects Through Walls” for that reason. It sounds a bit like any other song I Will Never Be The Same have done, but the whole chorus and the note he hits on “We should RUN” is just great. The fact that they then made the choice to just let it pan between speakers and echo is awesome, too. It’s a song that is almost built for headphones. Another one that works in the same manner is “To Walk Into The Night Alone”, which, with its simple drum loop and bass reliance, actually sounds like the Ghosts material NIN did.
Standby was a great album and Tornadoes is an excellent followup. For a while, I Will Never Be The Same were really quiet, outside of a lot of people looking for the exact song I was, so the fact they decided to pop up again in 2012 has been a pleasant surprise. They’re one of the few electronica-rock bands that I am perfectly okay with writing a six minute song of just quiet drumming and sparse instrumentation, because somehow they’ve mastered the atmosphere that can be provided by that better than bands who have been at it for a long time.
Even though this is a moody disc (a tornado, if you will), it includes plenty of sing-along choruses and the lyrics are good enough that you can find yourself just humming along with them. I know that I Will Never Be The Same have been on the up and up for a bit now, and here is hoping that Tornadoes works out for them in generating a large fan base. Both of their releases so far have been fantastic listens, and this one, like the other two discs I reviewed in this post, has been good enough to consistently pull me away from metal listening for a while now.
You might want to specify that I wrote this before we completely tarnish your cred here, Islander.
I used to have cred? Damn, could you tell me where to find it again? It’s probably wherever that missing sock went to.
Holy fucking shit. I’ve been listening to Celldweller since Circle of Dust/Brainchild. Never thought I would see the band on NCS. Thanks for the review, DemiGodRaven! I only got to see Celldweller once (the band doesn’t come to Denver often), but it was a hell of a show. I cut my hand open on broken glass diving for a drum stick. Bled all over the place, but I got Klayton to sign the stick!
Fadeaway, the original version from the limited EP, has always been a favorite. And of course The Last Firstborn where he combines trance with raging guitars and (some) screaming vocals is one of his best.
Haha, that makes three of us as fans then. Grover (my fellow TNOTB compatriot) has been an early fan like you for a while now. I picked up on the Celldweller project back when his debut came out and he popped up on almost every videogame I owned that year. I’m still pulling for him to tour more because even though his music and liveshows are much closer to a rave now, I would still show up and rock the fuck out.
I’m curious to see if he ever resurrects The Last Firstborn in any form, since it is already a pretty lengthy song. I’d love to see it live if he ever strays close to Sacramento.
Yeah, Klayton’s early stuff like Argyle Park and Circle Of Dust served as my introduction to industrial music, and to some extent, metal. I’m a huge fan.
One wonders why one feels old upon listening to the new versions of Celldweller‘s songs, even though one has been listening only since 2007/2008. Then, one realises that Celldweller came out in 2003 – almost a decade ago.
Nevertheless, the new versions of the songs sound awesome.
Old Man Windbreaker thanks you for the heads up about this release. and unwittingly letting one feel old.
I really dig “Live Upon A Blackstar”. It’s definitely a change from the old versions of most of these songs, but I’m okay with that.
As a side note, I love the synth bit from ‘Refractor 3.2.1’ at the end of the live version of ‘Switchback’. Gave me goosebumps. I wish he’d revisit his Circle Of Dust stuff more.
I was made aware of Celldweller via the Crackdown game and its frankly awesome soundtrack. However, much as I like the riffs, I can’t get into it as much as I would like simply because I think most of the songs are too damn long. What would make an excellent 4 minute song gets stretched out to 6 minutes and beyond, without much development in the song.
The one band I do love from that soundtrack however is Atlas Plug aka Tom Salta who has been promising a new album for about ten years now. 🙁
Could you possibly recommend any bands more like that (assuming you’re familiar with AP)?
Haha, it’s kind of funny. I had to look up Atlas Plug on last.fm and the similar artists are a bunch of stuff I reviewed and mentioned on here.
I do remember the Crackdown soundtrack but never stuck with the game for that long. That was one of those ones that was excellent in concept real early but got boring fast.