The manner in which forgotten or neglected subgenres are revived by later groups is an odd paradox in itself. After all, what were once experimental and avant-garde approaches are necessarily rendered formulaic and ultimately fixed in time. Not unlike a spell, a specific set of techniques (rituals, if you will) that are executed in the proper way produce a desired invocation: in the case of Paradox Obscur, the sonic atmosphere and spirit of the late-seventies French synthesiser scene. For authenticity, hardware synths and drum machines are an essential part—one Paradox Obscur wear with pride. For purity of form, one would want to keep it simple and avoid clutter, using sparse tools that barely range from drums to melodic and bass synths. That’s not to suggest that there’s anything as formally staid as a rule-book to the style, but it’s perhaps fair to say that erring too far from these conventions means a departure from coldwave territory altogether.
With many genres—black metal comes to mind—this conservatism is its very lifeblood and the measure of a recording’s success can be the extent to which they master or challenge these confines, working with or transcending limitations. The danger, naturally, is that mindless adherence can result in uninteresting imitation—little more than a collage of tribute.
Happily, this Greek duo manoeuvre coldwave’s spartan parts into interesting new shapes which betray the influence of later, more ethereal goth acts (broadly, Cocteau Twins et al). Notably, vocalist Kriistal Ann shimmers darkly, reminiscent of a more morbid Gina X (imagine ‘No G.D.M.’ with Dracula as the titular ‘Great Dark Man’), with her insistent yet spectral presence gracing each track (even when not the lead). Crucial to the coldwave formula, her accent (Greek, rather than the typical French/Belgian) is a joy to listen to as she trills and intones fretfully, each exotic phoneme only bolstering the overall atmosphere.
Opening track ‘Conviction’ is the best example of Ann’s quietly tortured delivery and is instrumental in seducing the listener early. The synths on this track hover like fog over the more eighties-styled drum machine—a gloomy séance which is well-placed as later tracks rely on more conventional synth-pop sounds, albeit never rising above eerily hypnotic in tone. Sonic signifiers bring to mind everyone from early Human League (strident synths on ‘Broken Lies’) to the skeletal EBM of Front 242 (detached rhythms on ‘Detonation’ and ‘Creatures’), but never go so far as to sound over-familiar or lifted. This is Paradox Obscur’s best trick: incontestably coldwave yet wisely blending forward in time by using sounds derived from those genres further down the family tree.
Overall, Paradox Obscur pull off a neat, smouldering victory of overtly nocturnal electronic pop, using the confines of the style to give skeletal form to their mysterious, magic-tinged songs. Lyrics are indulgently gothic—an endearing strength, where simple yet evocative vocabulary pairs beautifully with the stridently haunting vocals. If the listener harbours (understandable) reservations about the coldwave / cold electronics tag, put them to one side and let Paradox Obscur convince you otherwise with their individual charms.
02) Broken Lies
03) Cold November
04) Words without Voices
07) Dirty Parades
09) Grieving Days