Sometimes in this line of work, you are given a recording for review and you just don’t connect with it. It’s one of the pitfalls of reviewing music, and if you do it for long enough, it’s an inevitability. It’s difficult, but if you’re in the business of writing record reviews, sometimes you just have to muddle through and make the best of it. I mention this in preamble because what we have with this recording, Sanctimonium by one-man martial industrial/EBM act Epoch is something that falls squarely into that problematic area.
I’m by no means what one would call an aficionado of martial industrial music—by and large it occupies much of the same space as neofolk and harsh noise wall for me in that I find it monstrously tedious and cannot figure out why anyone would want to own multiple examples of it—and am of the general opinion that EBM has long since had its day, so in order for me to really enjoy something that straddles those styles, it would have to be an exceptionally good take on the usual tropes that I find characterize said genres or to transcend them entirely.
As you may have guessed, Sanctimonium fits neither of those best-case-scenarios, being, as it is to my ears, thoroughly sub-mediocre and utterly without appeal.
The things that I would most closely associate with martial industrial music such as a powerful percussive presence, a symphonic approach, and darkness of tone—basically, dark ambient with beats—are all rendered here in incredibly anodyne fashion, and the usual stentorian vocal pronouncements are nonexistent, replaced with a series of sampled political soundbytes layered into the mix at far too low a volume to actually have any kind of impact or clarity. The symphonic aspects are incredibly bland and unfocused, lacking in drama and heft, and additional musical support is provided by the occasional plasticised strum of an acoustic guitar.
Doing some reading around the album and the project in general, I was surprised to read that it allegedly contains ‘raw crunchy metal’ and ‘full-blown beats’, both of which were, to my ears, totally conspicuous by their absence.
Ken Holewczynski, the man who is Epoch, has mentioned Front Line Assembly and Laibach as being influences, and although they would definitely be two bands who have clearly left trace DNA behind in the sound that Epoch creates, it is an incredibly watered-down trace as far as bombast, attack, and forcefulness are concerned. The programmed drums that Holewczynski uses are similar to the tapping of a pencil on a desk next to the metallic thwack of Bill Leeb‘s classic beats, and the symphonic approach betrays the generic presets used to generate them. The only area in which Epoch do their influences any justice is in the area of graphic design, but even then, Holewczynski is only really aping the most obvious typography and militaristic/propaganda-based art of the NSK.
In every way, Epoch lacks depth.
As I mentioned earlier, I generally loathe having to be so negative about an album that is merely unthrilling and generic, but whilst doing my further reading in relation to Epoch I happened across a handful of other reviews that were positively aglow, writing of the power and darkness of Sanctimonium, and giving praise for the cutting political insight shown by Holewczynski in his general approach and choice of samples, which made me go back and re-listen to the album with the intent of possibly reconsidering my take on it. However, upon further listening, I was still monumentally unimpressed, and so my criticism stands.
In the interest of fairness, I even went back and listened to Epoch’s earlier releases in order to attempt to place Sanctimonium in some kind of context and wasn’t terribly surprised to find that the previous releases were actually even less impressive and even more generic than this. It seems that this really is the best that Epoch can manage.
I guess if you’re someone who is compelled to listen to and/or own every single release that claims the title ‘martial industrial’, then you may well find more than I in Epoch to enjoy, but I wouldn’t like to put money on it. I couldn’t even fairly describe it as being generic, so sub-standard is the sound on offer.
01) The Rise
03) Cold Wave Cold War
04) Disciples of Mars
05) All Heil the Chief
06) Information Is Power (NSA Ultra Mix)
07) The Fall