REVIEW: Serious Black – “Barbican”

By Mike Ventarola

Chain Border

BarbicanSerious Black is a musical project created by Steve Mecca. Rather than sit around waiting for one of the indie labels to take notice of the band, Mecca formed his own label, Dante’s Landlord. Essentially Serious Black is the only artist on this label, however with fate pointed in the right direction and a continuation of music this enchanting, that may all change within the very near future. Mecca’s music also caught the attention of the folks at PBS. The title track, Barbican” was used for a television documentary about a disaster in upstate New York entitled The Flood of ’35. Additional media work is sure to follow in due time.

Frequently, a CD boasts about containing a little of something for everyone. More often than not, the emphasis is on “little” and less on something substantial. However, Serious Black does indeed provide a bit of something for everyone and does so with flawless track sequencing. It is unthinkable, much less a disservice, to force this recording into just a single genre category. The entirety of the disc crafts music within the goth, industrial, synthpop, and future wave genres. Clearly this CD is the one that all of your friends can agree upon listening to repeatedly without getting bored quickly. They may not like all of the tracks because of the varied genres, but they will come to respect the wonderful workmanship that went into all of these recordings. Regardless of the genre that a particular track falls into, the songs are made with precision and skill, providing a body of work that is a joy to experience.

Initially when I first put this CD into the player The Gathering Storm slithered from my speakers like a dark ambient piece. The initial sounds were those indicative of work from artists such as Midnight Syndicate, Zoar, or even A Murder of Angels. The intro was delightfully dark and spooky, causing me to assume that I was in for a thrill ride of rather eclectic and haunting sounds for the entirety of the project. Just as the macabre feelings began to overtake the mind, percussion started to froth from underneath and then switch up the headset. This track veered into an interestingly goth/industrial hybrid that is at once danceable yet macabre enough for the goth purists out there as well. Needless to say, based on the strength of this first track, it was essential to sit up and pay careful attention. It became evident that this CD from an unknown artist might actually be one of those diamonds in the proverbial haystack.

The Prowler went down a synthpop avenue similar to the likes of VNV Nation, Covenant and any number of other popular dance bands out there at the moment. However, it also made sure to utilize measured doses of dark notes and tones to convey a gloomy sound. The vocal rendition is good and similar in strength to many of the New Wave bands of the 80’s, only updated for a modern sound for the new dark electronic era. It would be inconceivable for any DJ to ignore this track.

Voices In My Head is an odd type of hybrid which incorporates EBM, synthpop, dashes of industrial and elements of trancey ambience for the higher notes. The track is given a work over with sung vocals in addition to vocals that are malevolently whispered in a subtle reverb. Ironically, the track is dark enough for the underground, but contains just enough elements to also make it radio friendly for mass consumption. Discipline delves into the context of ominously murky notes and sound bytes of sampled dialogue. The vocals convey a bit of controlled apathy, rounding out a kinky outing of fetish styled music. Fetish clubs would be foolish not to have this track incorporated in their nightly playlist.

The Garden Of Earthly Delights is a cover track from a bygone era and the only track not fully written by Mecca. Here, the lyric credit goes to Joe Byrd & Dorothy Moskowitz. Although it is a cover track, admittedly, it is unfamiliar to this reviewer. Mecca takes this track towards a very futuristic type of bounce that incorporates some of the early electronic sound effects from the 80’s, tosses in a bit of Giorgio Moroder essences and creates yet another hybrid. The female vocals for this particular track are from Qortni. From the CD notes, it seems this young lady made a heck of a trip to provide the vocal tracking for this song. Sadly, the lyrics are a bit redundant and do not showcase her vocals to the best possible effect. It seems as though a bit of the passion is missing from this one, but considering the lyrics the fault doesn’t lie with either Mecca or Qortni as they did the best that they could with it under the circumstances. Nevertheless, if you aren’t sitting around just listening to this disc, this track would work on the dance floor without a problem.

Barbican brings us back to the same type of dark, spooky ambience that was emphasized during the intro of the first song on this disc. It is clearly the dead of night and all of the fun from the preceding bouncier tracks have become a memory. Graeme Revell, the musician most noted for his morose soundtrack work for films such as The Crow, The Craft, et. al. seems to have inspired this work to some degree. It is heavy on atmosphere yet also has the ability to bring a dead sensibility to life. The track pours vividly bleak color hues with each sound that one would be hard pressed not to find themselves envisioning a myriad of images for the cinema of their imagination.

Pleasure Seekers guides us back towards the more upbeat electronic sounds. However, it gently guides us at first during the intro portion without slamming us over the head. This is important to note, particularly after the previous track that took the mood and the feeling down a number of notches. Since the listener’s headset was quelled to some degree, it was essential to have an intro that segued the mood with the right proportion of sound in the mix. Just as this track approached the 52 second mark we are brought from that hypnotic feeling and thrust into an industrial, synthpop and techno hybrid.

Days of Future Past is the only other track with a guest vocalist. Here, Rich La Vere delivers his interpretation, and seemingly is the only one credited with vocals. However, during the chorus we hear a number of other vocals, though no other vocal credits are provided on the CD sleeve for this track. After hearing the wonderful range of the artist Christopher, I no longer wonder if a male vocalist can hit ranges from the deepest bass to the highest soprano. However, it is a track that might make one wonder if it is all La Vere or an oversight of other vocalist credits. Regardless of that, the track is gloriously steeped in elements of Medieval/Renaissance/Neo Folk style music. For this type of sound, La Vere, works it with the sentiment of a minstrel, bringing to mind bands such as Unto Ashes or The Soil Bleeds Black.

Invincible Force of the Power Source fulminates and bubbles at the intro and then thrusts us into a bevy of heavy hitting electronic dance sound. The vocals are driven through a vocoder, adding an element of sci-fi futurism and causing us to think that electricity has indeed become a living and thinking entity. One Life opens with a bit of airy macabre movement that seems to herald the oncoming of the spirit world. We then are provided with percussive elements which fuse marvelously with the ominous sentiments. The ingenious thing about this track is that Mecca married electronic music with goth/goth rock and succeeded where few have been able to. It would work flawlessly in either an industrial/EBM type of club just as well as the more somber goth clubs. Waste ‘Em With My Crossbow is the bonus track of the disc. Imagine rock and roll meeting the Playstation mentality. Since it veers towards more conventional rock and roll, it’s placement here at the end and as a bonus was a wise move. The song doesn’t take itself too seriously, though it does demonstrate that Mecca is able to do ANY style of work he chooses and make it work.

Since part of a reviewers responsibility is concern with the preservation of the consumer’s dollar, the task is to inform the reader if they should spend money on this CD or not. The only negative comment about the entire project was the lack of lyrics on the CD booklet. However, they are readily available online at the band/label website, which is listed below. As hard to believe as it may be, many folks are still without Internet access so it creates a disservice and penalizes potential fans who are technologically challenged. Minor points, but something to be mindful of in the future.

When all is said and done, Serious Black demonstrates a phenomenal range of talent. Mecca’s ability to cross the boundaries of many genres while keeping them fresh, new and uniquely original without having to resort to ripping off someone else’s style and sound is a testament to this artist’s uncanny ability. This particular disc provides underground dance music as well as the somber and sedate sounds that some of us in the goth world have come to love during our solitary morbid reveries. Depending on the extent and variety of one’s musical taste, the whole thing may work for you or you may find a few tracks more appealing than others. Regardless of the genre that you support, do note that they are all here and all given a fresh workover but still kept remarkably dark and yet approachable to a larger population. While many of the tracks readily work within the parameters of college radio, Internet radio as well as a club setting, it is also conducive for home listening privately or among friends.

A major bonus is the fact that his vocals are quite good. Mecca demonstrates that he can skillfully sing within a variety of genre styles, which his contemporaries would be hard pressed to emulate. Since he does admirably well with his own voice, having guest vocalists isn’t an essential component for his musical endeavors. Mecca also gets extra points for his conscientiousness regarding the artwork as well as the track sequencing. The simplicity of the cover design seems to subliminally pull us in. Once we start to play the music, we are moved from genre hybrid to atmospherics in the span of a breath and without missing a beat.

The exceptional attention to all of the details do not go unnoticed from this side of the desk, though many may not even realize some of the minor things described above. This was a labor of love created by a highly skillful musician/vocalist. One can only hope that the parent label, Dante’s Landlord, succeeds in selling truckloads of these discs because it is work that should be heard and enjoyed by everyone within the underground. The real question is how a label such as Metropolis let this one get away.

Quite frankly, it has been a long time since a relatively unknown artist had me fall in love with their work within seconds upon hearing the opening track. I do hope that readers of this review take this music seriously, as it is a fine addition to your musical library. When all that poppy, glittery, goth-disco stuff starts to wear off its ability to interest your ears, Serious Black will hopefully still be going strong. For the sake of the consumer’s dollar, it is a delight and privilege to highly recommend and strongly encourage purchasing Barbican for your music collection. There simply is nothing else like it on the market!

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Contact Information:
Post: Dante’s Landlord, PO Box 3144, Elmira, NY, 14905, USA
Phone: (607) 732-6106

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