Review Summary: 'One step forward and two steps back' has never been a more appropriate way to describe a 16Volt release.
16Volt should be better than they are, but they just can’t seem to get their formula right. The band started as a straight-up industrial act, but they really hit their stride when they started to incorporate a post punk aesthetic that instantly caused their sound to become much more organic and powerful. The issue is that they didn’t stop there. Almost since the moment they established their core sound, they have been trying to figure out the best way to make it more accessible without abandoning their roots. The band have actually been fairly successful at executing this goal, but they have always struggled with the mellower songs. In fact, Beating Dead Horses
is the first album in the band’s career where they seem comfortable with writing these subtler songs, but they’ve also taken it too far. Beating Dead Horses
is full of songs that lack the band’s typical energy levels and even the best aren’t good enough to carry the entire album while marginalizing their traditional strengths.
This problem won’t be apparent at first, because the album actually begins with its three strongest tracks; songs that work because they utilize the band’s strengths. Those strengths are, and always have been, the band’s ability to mix dirty riffs and rhythmic industrialized percussion with well-built hooks and appealing electronics. The album begins with the title track; a song that hits all the right buttons with its use of pounding beats, gritty, yet accessible riffs and a strong chorus that manages to be catchy despite being comprised of distorted shouts. The third track, “Fight or Flight”, takes the punk attitude even further by pushing the aggressive edge and upping the energy levels with a solid hardcore beat. Unfortunately, this level of energy is brief as the raucous industrial punk gives way to a mellower direction after only three tracks. The main problem on this album, however, isn’t the quality of the mellower songs (most aren’t bad, actually), it’s that there are so many of them.
After three tracks of vintage 16Volt, Beating Dead Horses
spends its remaining time focused on mid-tempo songs that, at best, fail to make much of an impact when taken as a whole. These ‘at best’ songs really aren’t that bad on their own, but their impact is stifled by their sheer number and a handful of duds. Songs such as “Burn” are built on infectious beats and melodic electro influences that rely on the guitar riffs almost solely as a secondary instrument, and it works pretty well. The problem is that these songs still aren’t to a point where they can carry an album, and yet they dominate this one. This issue is exacerbated by the fact that there are still a few duds interspersed throughout the album as well. These subpar songs tend to be very lethargic and repetitious which causes them to bog down quickly. The overall effect is that the remaining nine tracks gradually descend into a rut that the album never really recovers from.
It’s a shame that 16Volt didn’t stick with the ideas that made the first three songs so compelling. The band’s blend of post punk and accessible industrial has always been second-to-none when done well, and these first three songs are proof of that. In fact, even if they had opted to include a few of the better subdued tracks, the album would have still been great because they’re definitely getting better at them. The problem is that there are a handful of these slower songs that fall totally flat and the other similar songs, while better, just don’t have the ability to help the album recover. You have to credit 16Volt for their persistence because their mellower songs are much better, but Beating Dead Horses
proves that the band still aren’t good or consistent enough to try to release an entire album of them.