REVIEW: Switchblade Symphony - "Sinister Nostalgia"

By Mike Ventarola

Chain Border

Sinister NostalgiaWhen Switchblade Symphony officially arrived on the scene with their first release, Serpentine Gallery, in 1995 there was much excitement to the level and depth of where the band would reach in terms of global popularity. Not since the arrival of Sisters of Mercy has one band managed to galvanize the attention of goth and non-goth fans.

Understandably, the band was becoming increasingly popular via word of mouth and DJ rotation across the globe. In order to help pay the bills, it was essential for them to harness a fluid "genre" category in order to have a cross section appeal to cater to the mainstream consumer as well. Most seem to think that popular bands in the underground are rolling in the money, and this just isn't the case, regardless of how popular they appear or how well their sales are.

Sadly, Tina Root and Susan Wallace were also a bit ahead of their time. Eschewing the "goth" tag for their music, ultimately cost them many fans. However by the time they reached their third release, The Three Calamities, with its excessive trip-hop elements, which was only starting to slowly makes its way into the goth consciousness, the young ladies pretty much saw the dilemma of not catering to the tastes of one's core niche market and the resultant backlash.

In hindsight, Switchblade Symphony created a new inroad in the goth world by making dark songs with a more dance friendly beat. Very few bands were infusing anything new to the genre before this, so essentially they were under a closely watched microscope, while keeping up with an exhaustive tour schedule and the even more arduous pressure from their label to keep cranking out CDs. Had they come to us a few years later, they would have been heralded for the geniuses that they are.

In an attempt to breathe new life into the creative aspects of the band, Cleopatra delivered an industrial remix project of their former work. It does help to have not listened to their earlier work for a bit of time before approaching this CD, simply because the styles are that diametrically opposed. Since industrial is crossing over in a large way, having the brilliant talents of these two ladies featured and re-emphasized for a new genre seems almost essential.

Current underground darlings, Apoptygma Berzerk, open the disc with a remix of Sweet, which from the opening clues the listener that heavy percolation is just ahead. The only thing left from the original are the vocals. Other than that, AB simply recreated and showcased this song in an almost loving dance homage that is highly commendable and totally addictive. Dollhouse weaves the elements of the macabre from the original track and marries it with yet another high energy BPM from Razed In Black. Instead of doing the vocal tracks totally head on, they are cut up in parts and inserted in various stanzas, as if in a midnight rave. Dissolve was slowed down to a more percolated dark trip hop by Kevin Haskins of Messy Kevin. This track may not work as effectively on the club floors. However, for at home listening it works well.

Cocoon was mixed by Meegs Rascon with an undeniable veering towards the "noise" genre. For those not into the noise genre, this will seem like a painful assault to the ears; however those with a penchant for something creatively harsh, it should deliver the goods. Clown - Gregory Butler's Mother Mix took the original version, tweaked it to seemingly emphasize the strengths in the track without trying to heavily recreate it. Instead, the track is painted with additional touches that simply bring the track to another level of dark beauty with a more decided goth edge. There are more crunchy guitars to give the overall track a new dimension in macabre rock. Insect was remixed by 6am Eternal, who is a brilliant independent artist in his own right. The track was given additional foreboding electronic touches with an odd sense of dark R&B and noise elements just under the surface at various points.

Dissolve is yet again entered in the remix project, only this time interpreted by Keith Hillebrandt. This version is a bit more akin to the original but given such delicious dark touches that pays excellent homage to the artists as well as the song. Some of the initial things that made this recording the gem remain present, however Hillebrandt expertly reworked it to make it even more decidedly dark by weaving seamless textures. Invisible by Endanger has a more decidedly goth electronic feeling to it, with touches of classical notes, thereby demonstrating that one can put two genres together to make them work brilliantly. This could also work well on a club floor without a hitch in a goth or industrial club.

Rampid, the Shining Mix by Julian Beeston enters with an intro that's decidedly more "damnbient" with sounds that segue into a dark trip hop fluidity. Witches, remixed by Temple of Rain, incorporate layers of background eeriness rather than actually recreating and diverting too far from the original track. This added element of the macabre took this trip hop song and made it just that much more palatable to a goth audience. Naked Birthday remixed by Nine Inch Elvis gave the track a dark funk groove, taking the track through the paces of being a goth friendly track that would also work well in an alternative or industrial club. Cocoon brought the ever delightful Rosetta Stone out of hibernation. As a side note, Rosetta Stone continues to work more on remix projects these days, so one can only hope that at some point they will also come back into the underground fold with another release as they are sorely missed. With this remix, the legendary RS created a trip hop mélange of operatic vocals, gentle electronic layers and just enough touches of the macabre to also make this track more palatable to a cross section of clubs.

Dirty Dog as remixed by another prominent up and coming artist, Enrapture, utilized the delicious guitar twangs from the original, but wove a gentle layer of dark sound and electronic layers between the initial piece. At times, the track is given a slower pause break to allow DJ's to catch their bearings to allow for beat-matching. Wicked was remixed by none other than Susan Wallace, one half of this phenomenal band. Wallace's interpretation is decidedly closer to that which we heard on Serpentine, adding murky pensiveness and introspection that is somewhat seductive and a bit like a shadowy Fleetwood Mac. The only downside to this track is the fact that the vocals were buried and compressed too far under the music. However, the song would work well as an instrumental soundtrack piece in a dark film somewhere.

When all is said and done, many notable names have been influenced or greatly touched by the outpouring from Switchblade Symphony in the short time they were on the horizon. Some of the tracks within this compilation would make a great addition to many dance floors. Other tracks work well for those times when you are home and lost in your own world for a bit. Since Tina Root and Susan Wallace pretty much initiated and integrally influenced the sound change parameters in the goth underground, one can only hope that at some future point they will grace us with another release. In light of the current trend and market, Switchblade Symphony were ahead of themselves, which usually is the case with any work of genius. One of the most hoped for projects that could possibly come from all of this is a full video release from Switchblade Symphony as a visual accompaniment to the wonderful songs we already have. Sadly, there are too few videos of this band, which ultimately robs future generations from being visually stunned by the dynamic presence of these 2 ladies who brought the world new hybrids of music that reached beyond the paradigm of simply "goth."

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