16volt has had a tough go of it. Signed to Mercury/Polygram, the band, headed by programmer and vocalist Eric Powell, was all set to release a major label debut back, SuperCoolNothing, in 1998, but the label was bought out and the band dropped, eventually fighting to release the CD on their own, with little fanfare, in 2000. Listen to that album,and you think, "Yeah, this could've been big; too bad." But it's not until you listen to the band's latest, this year's FullBlackHabit, that you truly realize what a travesty it is that Powell isn't huge by now. This album has it all. For industrial and coldwave fanatics, "Suffering You" is tightly focused rage, Powell snarling and sneering over razor-sharp guitars. "The Defect People" is classically aggressive, hard-hitting and mean. "The Error" is deeper, heavier, full of weighty grooves and guttural choruses, sure to please fans of fellow coldwave stalwarts Acumen Nation. Even more fascinating, though, are the songs that depart from the standard industrial rock themes. The chorus of opening song "I'm Just A Mess" is melodic and distorted, with hints of psychedelia in and amongst the electronic elements. Hear it, and you can't help but come to the conclusion that it should have been 16volt providing the sound of late '90s industrial instead of Filter. "Whisper Cure," despite its thick electronic atmospheres and processed vocals, owes more to Pink Floyd than Ministry, and "Therapy" is bittersweet pop tinged with industrial elements, less about anger than a grudging acceptance of emotional instability. It's a surprisingly bare, heartfelt song, given the overwrought melodramatics and hyperbolic professions of mental illness affected by more mainstream industrial acts like Trent Reznor and Marilyn Manson, and it works precisely because it's so bare. "The End of It All" explores similar themes, this time set to modernist electro beats; with its themes of universal angst, it's a bit like an industrial version of REM's "Everybody Hurts," depressing on the surface but strangely comforting in its assertion that no person's suffering is really unique, no matter how lonely you may feel at the time. It's hardly what you'd expect from one of the founding fathers of coldwave , but it reveals Powell as perhaps the most versatile songwriter in the scene.
Visit Eric Powell and 16volt at www.16volt.com.
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