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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Vicious Alliance - "Crushed By The System"

Artist: Vicious Alliance
Album: Crushed By The System EP
Year: 2008
Label: COP International
Genre: Terror EBM / Aggrotech
Website: http://www.theviciousalliance.com, myspace.com/viciousallianceebm

COP international has just signed a wave of terror ebm bands, so let’s see if Vicious Alliance will become the label’s new flagship or simply dead in the water.

Packaging: 7/10
‘Crushed By The System’ is a digital EP (although it is rumored that there will be a very limited number of hardcopies printed), and as such, the packaging is pretty good. All the tracks are fully tagged and named properly. ‘Crushed By The System’ has some of the best (and most fitting) artwork of any industrial album I have seen recently. There is not full album artwork, e.g. if you wanted to print it out and make your own cd, but since there are possibly hardcopies coming out this can be overlooked. With the EP you get a very high quality front and back cover as well as a banner image. If you know anything about Vicious Alliance than you will know they are an old world militant-themed band, and the cover artwork does this concept justice 150%. One cool thing about the digital-only format is that there is no degradation to the quality of glorious design due from physical printing.

Composition: 8.5/10
It’s a somewhat short EP so I’ll go through it tediously track by track:

1. Crushed By The System – the title track wastes no time blasting its way into battle and setting up the path upon which the EP will unfold. It lets you know that you’re in for some brutal clubby terror ebm with intensely melodic passages and beautiful female vocals. “Crushed By The System” is basically straight-forward club-friendly terror ebm that follows the standard distorted male vox verse / female vox chorus, but it still manages to stand out from the other ten million shitty joke terror bands. It’s got some really excellent catchy synths, good driving beats, fantastically relevant samples and top-notch production. There are definitely some parts that I imagine will be just brutal and uplifting live, like when it breaks down and they repeat “crushed by the system”. My real qualm with this track is that the male vocals are seemingly too loud (they cover up some nice instrumentation) and too overly flanged (though fans of agonoize may rejoice), and I think they could benefit from additional compression because the volume sways a bit too much at times. However the female vocals offset the male vocals nicely and are produced very evenly.

2. II Ice Age (2008) – If you have heard Vicious Alliance before than you probably have heard the original version of this track which was a nice blend of Tactical Sekt and God Module, with a bit of VA’s own identity thrown in. Well I was very happy to hear this new version which completely breaks free of the standard terror ebm mold and ditches the obvious influence of outside acts. This track completely blows away 95% of other contemporary EBM. It sounds very original and adds a pleasantly experimental edge to the trademark Vicious Alliance sound. Both the male and female vocals compliment the music perfectly and sit very evenly in the mix. Very driving and catchy.

3. Our Regiment is Departing – Whoa, what the hell is this!? A Terror EBM band is writing something other than a 4 minute, four to the floor club track? This is precisely why I enjoy Vicious Alliance; ‘Our Regiment’ is an excellent little interlude combining uplifting futurepop melodies with samples of the great war. There are some cheesy but totally glorious horns and you can’t help but to shed a tear as you envision your sons marching off to battle. It’s a very strange combination of instrumentation, but they make it work pretty well. It adds depth to the band’s sound as well as bolsters their image of being a militant band. I’m so very glad to finally hear a so called ‘militant’ band make a track that sounds halfway militant.

4. Cannon Fodder – ‘Our Regiment’ slowly fades out and the listener wakes up in the nightmarish trenches of battle surrounded by death and gunfire. Probably my favorite track on the album, Cannon Fodder features some of the most driving and unique terror ebm I have ever heard. The track is very original and again proves that Vicious Alliance has the ability to write songs that actually sound different from one another. Another sing-along chorus that features back and forth male/female combo vocals that, by all logic, should not work, but somehow VA defy all reason and manage to make these two styles compliment and play off each other…not to mention there is some awesome harmonizing of the female vocals on the second go of the chorus. Surprisingly uplifting despite being about getting mowed down on the battle field. The track is too short though, and I wish it was like 8 minutes long.

5. II Ice Age (Die Sektor Remix) – The greatest track of the album hands down. This is the most experimental, diverse terror ebm track ever created and it is damn near flawless. A fucking perfect addition to the EP, and, at least for me, it shows that Vicious Alliance wants to break away from generic banal terror and add some fresh spice to the genre. No text can describe this track, but if you want your mind blown then download this immediately.

6. Where Soldiers Fall – Some may recognize this track from the Extreme Women compilation released this year. This is the first Vicious Alliance track to feature entirely female vocals. The vocals are done well and the song is driving and emotional, with some very fitting samples, but it is probably the most linear on the album. It’s only got 2 or 3 stanzas that repeated over and over throughout the whole track, but the lyrics are pretty good so it could be worse. It’s got a few interesting breakdowns and some piano at the end which kick it up a notch over the usually terrible ebm-with-female-vocals.

7. This Awful Contagion – Probably the most brutal track on the album. Hard-edged Aslan Faction-esque bass, melodic driving synths and Aseptie-like distorted vocals. Again, Vicious Alliance shows their ability to throw in relevant and perfectly-timed samples to add to the atmosphere and brutality of the track. The male vocals sound a bit more like concrete than vocals, and again I think they are mixed too loudly (covering up some cool music I would have liked to hear more clearly) but I suppose it gives the track a bit of a brutal edge. The female vocals are some of the best on the album and mixed very well. Again another good showcase of Vicious Alliance’s ability to vary their sound and style from track to track while retaining a global ‘vicious alliance sound’. It’s got a really, really cool ending, but I find it is a bit too short and I think it could have benefited from an interesting breakdown and another couple minutes of brutality.

8. Where Soldiers Fall (Worms of the Earth remix) – another notable remix is the Worms of the Earth mix of ‘Where Soldiers Fall’. Actually this is my remix so I can’t comment. But in terms of aesthetics it’s very digital sounding with heavy vocoding.

9. Victory Waltz – To me this sounds more like a funeral march than victory waltz, but it’s a cool little closing piece to the album. It’s similar to ‘Our Regiment is Departing’ but this one has canons and a much darker feel to it.

Production: 8/10
Ok so a new band comes out of left field and releases a masterpiece of an EP. Well there has got to be an easy answer lurking behind the scenes, right? Most bands in this genre seem to produce a totally half assed album and then quickly hand it over to someone else to mix and master. So let’s see who saved this album. Soman? Nope. Gotta be X-fusion then right? Hmm, nope. What the fuck, mixed by Elijah S. Arms? Who the hell is that? That’s right, the whole album was mixed by Vicious Alliance with no outside hands to polish it. Being that as it is, the production is damn fucking good for a band with no prior releases.
The music is produced near flawlessly, with all the instruments sitting very well and cleanly in the mix with little (if any) frequency overlap. The melodies punch and there are always a bunch of different layers of stuff going on. Thank god Vicious Alliance actually knows how to write melodies containing more than 3 notes, and harmonies that compliment each other. The drums kick and each hit stands out in the mix. Unlike many terror bands they don’t try to layer 5 distorted snares under the kick (thusly creating a muddy mess of the low end). The beats here are fairly minimal and almost futurepop in their lack of distortion, but the result is a much cleaner mix and therefore much better overall sound. The minimal beat allows the listener to focus on the true spoils of the album which are the melodies and pads. And the non-distorted snares are actually a great choice as they lend a more militant marching-band feel.
The vocals are produced extremely well for a band with no outside help. The female vocals are some of, if not the, best in the entire genre (they are actually SUNG! Imagine that). The male vocals are generally produced well, but I feel like there is a bit too much volume fluxuation that could’ve been ironed out a bit with some additional mastering.
The only other qualm I have about production is that the general level of the album is a bit low, and it would be cool to hear this thing kicked up to max volume, although the trend for terror ebm is to overcompress the fuck out of every track to get the illusion of huge volume and I guess “brutality”, and suffice to say that I would undoubtedly rather have quiet over that.

Artistic Merit: 8.5/10
Without a doubt stands way out among the huge crop of recent terror ebm signings. Vicious Alliance seems to embrace experimentation while so many similar bands shun it.

Flow: 9/10

Strangely, for an album of 5 original songs, 2 interludes, and 2 remixes, ‘Crushed By The System’ flows rather well. The interludes are nice in that they add both to the atmosphere of the EP and to the general Vicious Alliance mythos. All the tracks sound similar enough to exude a Vicious Alliance trademark sound, but they sound different enough to very much have their own identities. The interludes and remixes are well placed to give the album a diverse, yet steady, global flow, without sounding ‘in the way’.

Overall: 8.5/10
If this EP is any indication, prepare to have all of your terror ebm albums rendered irrelevant once the full length drops. I hope Vicious Alliance continues to take the extra steps to make their music passionate and distinctive, as well as to further develop the storyline and thematic qualities of the band itself. All fans of terror, download this immediately. For people who have found themselves irreparably let down by shoddy ebm, give this a try and it might restore your faith a bit.

-dan barrett

1 comment:

Ian said...

I liked this album, but it ended on a bad note for me. I'm not sure if it was just a bad download on my part (never had that happen before) or if it was the result of a corrupted upload to the ITMS itself, but tracks 8 and 9 had a LOT of skipping - to the point of having to remove the songs from my playlists.

Track 8 (Where Soldiers Fall remix) was good until it started skipping.

Track 9 (Victory Waltz) was nothing but 1-beat skips for the entire minute and a half.

I hope the CD becomes available in hardcopy. I'd really like to hear those songs without the annoyance of skips.