Diva X Machina
by Kelly B. Ashkettle
I’ve been waiting for a compilation like this. Two of my favorite genres of music are ethereal and industrial.
The former has long been dominated by female voices, while the latter has traditionally been the domain of male aggression. Industrial bands with female singers are learning how to blend these two extremes to create a balance of fragility and strength, and I’ve been attempting to track them down religiously. COP records just made it a whole lot easier.
The reigning king and queen of industrial-meets-ethereal is Collide. Karin’s vocals match an opera singer’s for clarity and purity, contrasting with the electronic accompaniment of her partner, Statik. His harsh soundscapes take on an ominous tinge on “Beneath the Skin,” one of the better tracks from the duo’s recent debut.
“Queen of Heaven” opens both the Razor Skyline‘s debut album and this compilation, and it’s the strongest offering on either one. It begins with Karen Kardell lilting in medieval style above pulsing drums and minimal keyboards, and it ends with her yelling, full-voiced and melodically, among crashing synthesized beats.
Some of the lesser-known bands that provide stand-out tracks are Coptic Rain, Hexedene, and Android Lust. Elvis’ “Devil in Disguise” was just begging to be remade as an industrial song, and Coptic Rain execute it deftly. Female vocals are the perfect way to complete this fresh take on the king’s classic, and there’s just enough anger in them to make things interesting.
Hexedene’s “Turn” has the most driving beat of the songs in this collection, and their singer’s silvery tones offset it perfectly, while Android Lust deliver deeper, more impassioned vocals above a rhythm that’s less frenzied than insistent.
Some of the songs here cannot properly be termed industrial. Although Sunshine Blind, for example, are hard-edged, they’re a rock band, characterized by a guitar-driven sound and Caroline Blind’s strong, full, alto. “Regodless” is one of the more powerful tracks from their 1995 debut. Thrive and Attrition are even less industrial, falling squarely in the realm of ethereal rock.
And of course, some of the songs here simply do not work. The vocals on Attrition’s “I Am” sound stilted, though not as stilted as the vocals on Fading Colours‘ “Spring.” Their diva hails from Poland, and her accent is obtrusive and her phrasing unnatural.
In contrast, Belgium’s AiBoFoRcEn capitalize on their singer’s accent by punctuating the beat of “The Shepherd’s Deathline” with her singsong cadence, while the American singer for Randolph’s Grin uses her voice well but sings cheesy lyrics like “I hold the whip for ecstasy” to describe an S&M scene.
With 16 tracks, however, this collection offers a wide array of well-honed female voices above songs that have balls. Battery, Deathride 69, Regenerator, Venus Walk, and Waiting for God all help round out the album with style and skill.
It’s great to see women exhibiting their own form of strength in a genre that has long been lacking it. Now, who’s volunteering to produce a compilation of male-fronted ethereal bands… hmmm?