Wednesday, 3 March 2010
Vernian Process, Behold The Machine (2009)
To begin with some good things about this album. First of all, it’s free to download, from the band's website, which can’t be bad. The cover design is rather fine (don't you think?), and the concept—a properly Steampunky snfal Goth-rock—is a winning one. And again: several members of the band can really play their instruments. The drummer is good, although s/he needs either a better drumkit or else a producer capable of mixing the percussion in properly. The guitars are well played, and whoever’s in charge of the synthesiser manages some interesting effects. But the lead vocalist has a grating, moaning, warbly-uncertain sort of voice, and he's not helped in his self-appointed task by the fact that whenever the melody line goes up, particularly if it leaps a sizeable interval, he slips sometimes as much as a semitone off key. (On ‘I Am The Sea’ he’s painfully off-key almost all the way through.) I suspect he knows he can’t really sing, because he frequently slips into that fallback for bad singers, chanty! overemphatic! declamation! And there’s only so far the band can go to give life to a whole series of musical clichés: minor key triplets, overegged doominess, clanking sound effects in the background, musical quotation from Bach’s ‘Toccata and Fugue’, earnest spoken interludes (‘to hell with it all!’ ‘we fight for a cause that we know is right’) that want to be intense but come off as risible. The lyrics are mostly dreadful (‘It’s a new dark age’ ‘Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide!’ ‘There’s no hope in our hearts’) with occasional touches of more interesting, or promising (‘1857 forever changed my life …’) And tracks 11-13 sound like they were recorded by a completely different band: middle-of-the-road bobbins.
Overall, and though it's not entirely without promise, in the end it’s pretty watery stuff. On the other hand the insertion of that middle-class-youth-piano standby Joplin’s ‘Maple Leaf Rag’, though incongruous, is rather good. And the last track, the multi-part 'The Maiden Flight' is not bad at all, despite opening with intersecting piano lines rather after the manner of 'Lick My Love Pump'.