Review Summary: Shed of the trappings of club sound, A7IE offers up a tainted mix of sterilized, emotionally sadistic EBM.
EBM has always been a genre plagued by repetition, copycats, and a general lack of innovation and creativity. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the harsh EBM/terror EBM/aggrotech/dark electro classifications, where the only separation appears to be the method of vocal distortion, song titles, and lyrical content. The core concept of groups striving for the harsh EBM soundscape has always been a fusion of metal-like aggression with an electronic background, driven by pulsating industrial noise and the distorted screaming of the dead. Yet even aggression becomes a vague and ambiguous concept here, hard to identify and even harder to codify. Given only the ability of distorted vocals and electronic synth to try and produce aggression it should be of no surprise there exists such a huge range of genre labels for the EBM niche.
Into this ever growing maw falls the two person A7IE, a French EBM group trying to carve out a space of their own among the near infinite amount of similar acts. A7IE brings nothing new to the field of (harsh) EBM, sticking to the tried and true formula of programmed drums, industrial synth noise and vocals distorted just enough to make the average metal head wonder if they may be real. Although a standard recipe, A7IE does find some wiggle room, choosing to fall back onto abstract industrial soundscapes rather than rely on catchy and danceable riffs more associated with clubs and raves. This imparts a sterilized feeling on Distress, enabling songs such as Taste of Sorrow to give off very sadistic overtones. When coupled with the harsh vocals, the songs do not assume an aggressive nature as much as throw off any trappings of club music to leave behind an unstable concoction hollow and ready to be imparted with the emotions of the listener.
The very minimal nature of Distress is its power, with each song providing just enough in the way of EBM harshness to allow one to complete the creation by giving a part of oneself to it. The Cage and Messiah are prime examples, filled with lyrics designed to draw one in and get one to release oneself rather than have one enjoy the track for itself. This is not music to dance or rave to; Distress is music to hate to, music to vent to. The Cage’s chorus of “let me be/ let me be / forever a slave / that’s my life” is meant for screaming out loud, meant for destruction, while Messiah enters a realm of sadistic deviousness with the first opening line of “would you like to watch; would you like to see more?” By getting the listener to provide the emotional content of the track, A7IE has provided a different take on the standard of aggression, using the industrialized synth as an empty vessel rather than a delivery device, the harsh vocals a mechanism for release rather than an expected gimmick; it is the emotional investment required which gives Distress is uniqueness among a field competitors offering emotion on a silver platter.
For these positive points however, A7IE’s Distress still inherently remains an EBM album. For newcomers to the genre it is likely not a good starting point, as those not used to the style of music will be hard pressed to find a point of interest among abstract synth, throbbing drums and the harsh screams. Even those more familiar with standard fare EBM might be off put by the more industrial nature of the songs and the lack of ‘danceability’ present. The limited reach of Distress is its weakness, as it takes a listener willing to invest themselves into the music and make it their own. It may be flawed in this regard, but Distress attempts what few other EBM groups have tried: offering a form of (subtle) variation in a long stagnant genre.
Taste of Sorrow