reflect << rewind
Although next September would mark the 20-year anniversary of Subterfuge's debut release (a 4 track self-titled demo tape), it seems like only yesterday to those of us who got hooked on their sounds. Despite being not much productive, the Australians left their mark in the nineties through a handful of gothic rock anthems that still today remain fresh and relevant. Just when the second wave of the genre was in full swing, they knew how to translate the past into future. True to the legacy of the guitar&machines myths from the eighties, the Melbourne-based trio preserved the trad goth spirit while renewing it through their own prisma, in a similar way as Rosetta Stone (UK) and The Merry Thoughts (Germany) was doing at that time. Other contemporaries followed that path too (instead of embracing metal or industrial doctrines) but only a few of them has withstood the test of time. Subterfuge has succeeded in it and their last full-length CD "reflect << rewind" is testimony of that fact. Released by Strobelight Records in May 31, it offers us an exciting journey through the band's past catalogue which appears refreshed for twenty years. The new album brings together all the Subterfuge's acclaimed songs, demo-tracks, unreleased material, alternative versions and a successful cover version of Rosetta Stone's "Six Before Dawn". If it were not enough, this 16 track gem is completed with a detailed booklet where you can find the band's history in detail.
Clifford Ennis (bass/vocals), well-known in the scene as Ikon's guitarist but also for his involvement in side projects like the great Jerusalem Syndrome (with Chris McCarter from Ikon) or Razorfade (featuring Mark Tansley of Suspiria), founded Subterfuge in the early nineties along with Rick Mullen (guitar) and Brendan Toull (keyboards/vocals). However, it was not until 1994 when they made their name widely known and respected throughout the gothic rock circuits, thanks to the release of the "Darkland Awakening" EP. As it could be not otherwise, the mythical CD is also reviewed in this extensive flashback. More specifically, the album features "Darkland Awakening" and three previously unreleased mixes of "Haborym", "A Prayer for the Kindred" and "Pre-dawn Hours". In particular, the original mini album's title track stands out among the others. Cunningly ensembled, with a perfect balance between atmosphere and dynamism, this song captivates through its depth while remaining catchy. Long, sweeping synth lines and mournful, distant-sounding riffs, provide an emotive ambiance. Bass and drum machines push up the pace, while a repetitive, haunting melody strikes a chord with the listener. Hovering over all, Clifford's low, partly pained voice really drives home the power of this piece. Another crowning moment comes with "Curses", which was included in the past in a pair of gothic samplers: "Dark Eyed in Starry They Were" Vol. 2 (1998) and "Strobelights" Vol. 1 (2004). The bass pokes the song through the haze with taut, nocturne chords while grizzling guitar figures sharp the despairing vocal stylings. Following that groovy pace, even though darker and much more groundbreaking, we find two versions of the band's hit "The Judas in Me": the original and the Scariot Mix, which was part of the "Eternal Chapters" compilation (2003). The frontman's resonant, clear baritone vocals play the leading role in this dancefloor-oriented tragedy. The scenery is a complex network of rattling electronics, lush keyboards, somber synths and computer classic strings passages. Apart from the band's revered songs this album holds three pleasant surprises, all of them previously unreleased. One is "Hand in Hand" is a gothic rock winning number. The song is propelled by frenzy rhythms and jangly, meandering guitars, while twirling synthesizers mantain a certain atmospheric feel. With "Only the Righteous" the pace slows down and the song becomes soaked in melancholy. Clifford's deep wailings emerge from a shimmery, tear-jerker processed background, where solemn bass chords increase yet further the drama. Another one is "The Crystal Sky". Ominous machined noises, icy key sequences and sorrowful, harsh-like vocals provides a mysterious vibe. From time to time, some flanging riffs break the anxiety-inducing soundscape. Four polished demo tracks make up the golden clasp to this exhaustive look back: "Lady of Mistery" (1994), "Jordanna" (1993), "Transgression" (1991) and "The Hard Way" (1998).
"reflect << rewind" provides an exciting and extensive flashback to the Subterfuge's past catalogue. The Australians best understood the nineties' evolutionary leap of gothic rock. They gave continuity to the traditional sounds while modernising them using sophistacated artifacts of their own. Subterfuge has bequeathed to us a collection of danceable, yet atmospheric, refined anthems. Catchy rhythms, winding guitar hooks, vintage synthed envelopings and emotive vocals to delight the nostalgic goths and seduce the neophytes.
Review by Billyphobia