Artist: Stiff Valentine
CD Title: Empire of Illuision
Label: WTII Records
Genre: Industrial-EBM-Hard-Rock-Synth-Pop-Punk (bands own description, but its pretty accurate!)
Release date: November 12th 2013
Self professed “second best band in Canada” (and probably best named, now Strapping Young Lad have disbanded!) Stiff Valentine bring you their forth main release Empire of Illusion.
The collective consists of permanent members “Loud” Chris DeMarcus on Vocals, Programming and Guitar, Kerry “Babz” Peterson on Vocals and Keyboards, Craig “Hollywood” Jensen on Guitar and Galen Waling on Drums, but also boasts past guest input from members of a host of industrial bands such as FLA, 16 Volt and Sounds of Mass Production, to name but a few.
Opener F451 blasts out with a sleazy rock metal groove and quirky, tongue in cheek attitude and wordplay. It is knowingly ironic in its filth, feeling perhaps akin to Turbonegro in this introductory track.
Next up is Iron Heart where we dive suddenly down into growling doom/death metal vocals, not dissimilar to Lamb of God, alternating with smeared make-up post-punk rants in the vein of Murderdolls. We are only two songs in and the band is already showcasing the schizophrenic variety of influences made famous on their previous three releases.
Incorruptible is the first really industrial metal track and is reminiscent of KMFDM or Rammstein’s grin inducing, face melting chuggery. Towards the end of this track we also get just a light dusting of the cyber influences that are to follow.
This leads into Suicide Execute which marks yet another change in direction.It offers a shouty rap-metal nod towards the likes of Biohazard followed up with squeals of epic, distortion-led ethereal floaty moments and the occasional foray into fancy fretwork.
I am the Liquor opens with a nu-metal, pop-punky groove which proceeds into angst, self depreciation and the band’s trademark honesty and humour. This dark and self-referential japery runs throughout the entire album, underpinning some of the more wild trajectories it heads in.
Get Back marks the main turning point in this album. It is probably the track which exhibits the most even balance of the metal and dance strands of the band’s DNA, starting with a trance cyber intro and descending into a riff-driven, creepily gothic male-female whispered to-and-fro.
The electro-industrial influence becomes even more pronounced in the appropriately titled Faith in our Machines, with the band clearly moving away from the moshpit and towards the dancefloor, the beats get more regular and chunky, the stomping boots ethos growing, showing signs of harsh stalwarts Combichrist shouty stamping schtick but then, as if to deliberately dodge certain presumptions, comes. . .
Dirty Boys, which continues in Faith in our Machine’s vein musically but in terms of lyrical content it offers a brutal, withering diatribe against what they perceive as the more shallow, base elements of agrotech (make of that what you will!). The apparent targets of this ire will appear different to different listeners, but it is quite mercilessly satirical, while still recognising the fact that no observer is ever truly divorced from the observed.
Nu Mecha (what are they trying to say with some of these titles?!) marks yet another change in direction, with desolate vocals overlaying beats of grim, marching despair and the sort of epic hopeful-yet-haunting soundscapes reminiscent of Skinny Puppy or Frontline Assembly yearning rising-synth visions.
A Brave New World is the only track which I personally found a little bit messy, the guitar based element of the band’s persona comes back after its brief hiatus,but it feels like there is not quite enough room for the growling, the tech and the riffage, with them seeming to clash rather than merge. Its not a bad track, but it's my least favourite.
This Must be the Place finishes off this bizarre encounter with trancey, spacey club beats and synths, easily energetic yet still suitably dark. Listening to this final track your mind harks back to the cheeky metal groove of the first track. . . and it seems so long ago! You have been on a journey, often it feels like you have listened to a compilation album, some tracks merge the metal and the electro but most feel so different to one another you almost cannot comprehend they were created by the same group!
They exhibit a staggering array of diverse inputs and creativity and throughout this album we have experienced mosh-pit metal mayhem, introspective, ethereal cyber-visions, brutal yet semi-ironic EBM stampfests, an eerie, hissing, graveside duet and sleazy 80s influenced metal groove madness. Whether you feel this wide range of output is a sign of clutter or a lack of coherent direction, or marks the band as exciting, inventive and un-pigeonholable is a decision you will have to make after listening. I personally found the filthily named Stiff Valentine thoroughly enjoyable, and will be investigating all their past releases!
Take a Listen: "Dirty Boys"
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