Saturday, 23 March 2013

PULL THE STRINGS TIGHTER

Band: SOLID GREY
Title: Pull The Strings Tighter
Format: Professionally issued CD on the Runenstein Records label (Germany) in 2012, cat ref RRCD01. Tracks were recorded in 2010 and mastered in 2011 at Luftschutzkerker in Switzerland. Solid Grey is formed of Hugin (music), Bart Piette of Dead Man's Hill (vocals/lyrics), with additional lyrics from Inga Whitehouse.
Edition: 500 unnumbered copies

Track Listing:
01. Shadow Song
02. Beautiful Night
03. Scary Night
04. And You Mean Nothing To Me
05. Autumn
06. So Alone
07. Strange Puppets
08. Solid Grey
09. Fade To Grey (hidden track)

Jack Skellington, Pumpkin King of Halloween Town and cover star of this CD, neatly identifies one startling issue with this release in the lyrics to one of his own songs: "What's this? What's this? There's something very wrong. What's this? There are people singing songs..."

You see, what we have on this debut release from Solid Grey are ... well, songs! Traditional ones, with verses and choruses and everything. Not really what we've come to expect from our Austrian ambient noise hero, given his penchant for 45 minute epics and other unearthly delights, so what gives? Who, in fact, is pulling whose strings tighter...?

Let us take a step back in time to investigate further. The realisation of the Solid Grey project came in January 2010, when Hugin and Bart Piette (simply referred to as Piette here and best known for his work in Dead Man's Hill, who you will recall had the split release "Dead:Meat" with Hrossharsgrani in 2010) got together to lay down some songs in the Gothic/New Wave style. The band's describe their sound as 'loneliness in a depression', citing musical influences including The Mission, Fields of the Nephilim and The Cure, and certainly within the 9 songs on offer there are plenty of recognisable influences and nuances being worn on sleeves.

It comes as little surprise to seasoned followers of Hugin's music to witness a foray into the Gothic and New Wave genres: in recent years his eclectic taste in music can be seen spread across various projects, from the neo-classical (latter-day Elisabetha) to EPM/electronica (Ceremony Of Innocence), from ambient (Uruk Hai) to Percht-Folk (Hrefnesholt), let alone the early days of Viking Metal and Vampyric radio dramas!  Hells bells, visitors to Castle Nazgul have even been nonplussed to hear Hugin's venture into children's lullabies as his special one-off piece for junior Nazgul echoed around the young maniac's grim bedchamber.

But let us consider for a moment: what is Gothic rock precisely? The consensus arguement that it is a musical sub-genre of post-punk that formed during the late 1970s. Gothic rock bands grew from the strong ties they had to the English punk rock and emerging post-punk scenes, with bands such as Joy Division, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Bauhaus, and The Cure are often seen as the forerunners of the genre. 

Gothic rock itself was defined as a separate movement during the early 1980's largely due to the significant stylistic divergences of the movement; Gothic rock, as opposed to punk, combines dark, often keyboard-heavy music with introspective and dark lyrics. Gothic rock then gave rise to a broader subculture that included clubs, fashion and numerous publications.  


Standard musical fixtures of Gothic rock include scything guitar patterns, high-pitched Joy Division bass-lines that often usurped the melodic with dirge-like or hypnotically tribal beats. Siouxsie and the Banshees tended to utilise the 'flanging' guitar effect, producing a brittle, cold and harsh sound that contrasted with their psychedelic rock predecessors, whilst on percussion several acts used drum machines to under-stress the back beat in the rhythm. Gothic rock creates a dark atmosphere by drawing influence from the drones used by proto-punk group The Velvet Underground, and many Goth singers are influenced by the "deep and dramatic" vocal timbre of David Bowie, albeit singing at even lower pitches.

All of which is incredibly relevant as virtually everything written above appears at some point as a musical element within this album's songs, with some classic 80s New Wave influences thrown in for good measure. Piette's vocals are very low in timbre, and whilst conveying an atmosphere of melancholic despair (that's what you get for living in Belgium!) they are prone to fall into a one-dimensional monotone at times, leaving the listener wanting to hear a counter melody or some contrasting balance within the songs. The Sisters of Mercy got around this problem by employing a female vocalist juxtaposing Andrew Eldritch's dramatic intonations, and an occasional blast of something similar here wouldn't go amiss. 

The vocals work better on some songs - 'So Alone' - than others, at at their best come across as a strangely appealing amalgamation of Depeche Mode's Dave Gahan and Andy McCluskey of OMD. And before you start writing emails to Nazgul on the lines of OMD being a 'pop band', take a listen to their song 'Romance of the Telescope' from "Dazzle Ships" as a point of reference. You do need to work at the songs on "Pull The Strings Tighter" in order to appreciate their subtle differences, and it's well worth the effort to do so as there are some promising ideas under the surface of their debut. 

One hopes that the time it has taken to find a label to actually issue the album from its date of recording (approximately two years - so well done, Runenstein Records for stepping into the breech) won't put the guys off from having a second stab.

As noted, the music contains a myriad of influences from around the scene, which the sceptic might see as thrusting a hand into the bag marked "Gothic song styles and effects" to sprinkle a little authenticity over the affair, but to Nazgul it largely conveys the impression that these guys are simply fans of the genre and wanted to pay homage to the various bands they enjoy. Jangly guitar parts? Check. Piano solo? Check. Mysterious keyboards and deep, gloomy moods? Check and mate. 

But let's be frank, if you like many of the bands that once strode the planet - the likes of Dead Can Dance, Nosferatu, Skeletal Family, Sexgang Children, Inkubus Sukkubus and the splendidly named Clan of Xymox to name but a few - then you'll enjoy what's on offer here.


Incidentally, the hidden extra song- a cover of Visage's 'Fade To Grey' - is great fun, and features an impressive change of style on the chorus from Midge Ure's "aaaaah, we fade to grey" to a far more animalistic "AGGGHHHHH we fade to grey"! And in today's piece of trivia in honour of the nationalities of our two band members, Nazgul was interested to learn the original Visage single from 1980 - often called the first New Romantic single - peaked at 3 and 4 in the Austrian and Belgian charts respectively.

The hours spent listening to this release ushered in many happy flashbacks to Nazgul's misspent youth, where his sister's old Bauhaus and Spear of Destiny records came banging through the bedroom walls at regular intervals and many hours were idly passed reading gig reviews in Kerrang! of Goth bands at the Town and Country Club in London, where the photographs strongly suggested that half the local cemetery were propped up against the stage and had been dusted down with a light coating of flour.

Sadly, this album seems to have been lost to the world at large, as there is virtually nothing about it online save at the label's website and on the band's MySpace page (itself not updated since June 2011) or on Bandcamp. The latter is helpful though, in as far as you can play the 'So Alone' song and see what you make of it, and Nazgul would urge you to do so. And if you have the requisite 9 or so Euros available, you could head off to Runenstein to buy a copy of the album.

A few additional snippets of information to finish. The album's title comes from part of the lyrics in the song 'Strange Puppets' ("and the Puppet Master says, 'pull the strings tighter...'") whilst the evocative artwork comes from the talented pen of Chris Huber. Inga Whitehouse, credited with many of the lyrics on this release, is a good friend of Hugin's, also based in the UK as it happens, doubtless in a castle of her own. So there's no excuse: wade through your old profusion of black velvets, lace, fishnets and leather tinged with scarlet or purple, pull on those tightly laced corsets, gloves, precarious stilettos and silver occult jewellery, cram a Stetson on your barnet and head out to town. 

And that's just the men....

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.