Much light is made of the ridiculous and infinitely specific genre configurations one can achieve with a bit of creative abbreviation and hyphenation, but from time to time these Frankenstein styles can provide a sapling sub-genre with enough evocative energy to take root. Take the hastily conjured ‘hellektro’ and ‘aggrotech’. While I was familiar with the usual style splices (anything with a post- or nu- prefix earning special suspicion), many years ago these two runts spoke volumes to me in my search for the hardest, scariest electronic music my teenage self could find. Evocative and descriptive, there was so much potential in those names and the connotations were just right. Needless to say, hearing that Alfa Matrix were prepped to release a project labelled as ‘terror EBM’ (one of aggrotech’s tamer synonyms) set off a twinge of eager nostalgia.
Arguably, the rusty-voiced aggrotech bands such as Suicide Commando, early :Wumpscut:, and Hocico were merely amping up the 80s EBM blueprint like a box-load of black-market stim-packs, but the familiarity didn’t detract from the thrill of hearing young, energetic bands hurtle forward with this already uncompromising sound. Floodgates prised open, a wave of chainsaw-throated electronic bands crashed onto dance-floors with 90s trance leads and hardtek beats drowning a lot of the originality and, eventually, interest in the style. Some survived, some evolved, and a few trickled back down the drain through which they’d first bubbled.
Now, Venal Flesh offer up a fresh take on the style. The D.C. three-piece’s debut full-length, Worshiping at the Altar of Artifice, works under no pretensions from the opening track onward; this is distorted, pacey and melodic dance-floor punishment, replete with breath-stealing kicks and hooky lyrics. As a stock formula, it serves the band well as an opening salvo and crops up a number of times throughout, such as on ‘Curette’, ‘Emulgent Disfigurement’, and ‘Perdition’, forming a recognisable and reliable backbone of solidly accessible tracks.
Happily, not every track is a basic club scorcher as the band show their real strength (and, I suspect, potential for longevity) in their more mid-paced and melodically complex tracks. Take the surprisingly lilting electronica of ‘Black Prism’—an early relief and refreshment which allows the group to show that they’re here for more than club fodder while providing one of their most insidiously infecting melodies. Other tracks, especially in the second half, proffer a recognisably (almost nostalgic) 90s EBM/electronica sound, really indulging in the evocative juxtaposition of doleful choral synths against a relentlessly marching back beat. This is science-fiction funk: bleak and furious but never too far from its rhythmic mission statement. At best, it evokes the heavy atmospherics of Hard Wired-era Front Line Assembly or the dystopian dreamworlds of Future Sound of London circa Accelerator/Lifeforms; at worst, they remind you of how deft an art those bands made of sampling and how this can only exist in their shadow.
Nonetheless, the overall effect is stunning. Melodies err on the right-side of insistent without straying into nagging or bland, lyrics emerge out of the acid-blast vocals just enough to add bite to the beats and dynamics are managed well, respite and relief being granted at strategic points throughout. For example, just as the late-album sag approaches, Venal Flesh wisely throw in the hauntingly robust ‘Needles’—a glacial New Beat monster which lifts the final section of Worshiping at the Altar of Artifice before disinterest can set in.
For those of you who grew tired of the narrow-minded formula aggrotech/terror EBM/hellektro/torture-funk (that last one’s mine) settled into after such a promising start won’t find anything necessarily new here other than a refreshed style ably executed by a younger generation—a generation with the benefit of hindsight, who’ve cleared the wreckage and salvaged the staid and tired into something enjoyable again.
01) Cortege of Impure Flesh
02) Grotesque (Self-Portrait)
03) Emulgent Disfigurement
06) Servant of the Scalpel
08) A Fire Infolding Itself
09) Perdition (Feat. Lexincrypt)
10) The Black Prism