Return of the Empire
Hailing from Bologna (Italy) in 2010, the 5-piece combo Horror Vacui released its 2nd full-length album "Return Of The Empire" in October last year, which was available on CD, cassette and digital, as well as on vinyl in the U.S. The European press of the LP by Avant! Records and the band's own imprint Legion Of The Dead will be launched in April 2015, which in turn will be the subject of this review.
Treading on the musical and cultural border that links dark punk with goth, Horror Vacui is one of the most singular additions to the current roster of sinister rock bands. With its debut album "In Darkness You Will Feel Alright" (2012), they already managed to recover what moths had eaten over decades of boring replicas. They merge elements from deathrock, post-punk and gothic rock with a strong personality into songs that keep intact the band’s punk belligerence. In that sense, Horror Vacui recalls the days when groups like Vex, Lords of the New Church, UK Decay or The Dark - just to mention a few - freely moved among those shadowy punk-rooted territories, just before they splitted apart into distinct genres. Saving the obvious distances, Horror Vacui seems to share a common route - from the old-school and towards a darker, more experimental horizon that helps usher in a brand new post-punk/deathrock era - with contemporary bands such as, for instance, Lost Tribe, Bellicose Minds, Agnostic Prey or The Spectres.
With their second long-playing, "Return Of The Empire", the Italians have made a major qualitative leap which, in addition to their successful European and American tours, makes Horror Vacui a leading player in the lo-fi goth realm. Comparing these 8 tracks with their predecessors, there’s a marked improvement in terms of inventiveness, sound production and variety. What is more, this album underscores an subtle shift towards gothic rock in my view. The band’s punk rock virulence still remains undiluted in the fuel mix, as reflected by the assertive, impelling rhythm section, but there’s a further focus on vocals and guitars, which sound much more crafted and melodic - within the raw standards though. We’re talking here about gifted musicians who choose to use their skills to forward an often murky and neglected style.
So that all the songs in this album accurately accommodates the core theme, which is the anguish, frustration and anger inspired by the political puppets in us all - not to speak of the usurers who pull their strings behind the scenes. Thus, you can find skull-charming, rallying cries of the calibre of "Return of the Empire" and "5000", driven by a punchy, perfectly matched trio of bass, drums and riffs. Koppa’s rumbling baritones - erupting into huge, barked choruses - intertwine with the flawless, ringing guitar work whose tune sticks in mind for a scary while. Other tracks such as "The Right Cure" and "Time" have an electrifying (post) punk central beat, consisting of a cluster of percussive bass tones and jagged guitar rhythms that gradually settle into a dark mood. The singer’s growls of despair produce a truly nightmarish effect in conjunction with the chiming, distortion-soaked melodies. For its part, "Light Of Darkness" is a dizzying, dramatic number played at the crossroad among the frenzied rocker energy of Lords of the New Church, the gloomy spell of the early Christian Death and the strong power of Danzig. However, this band is able to surprise us with controlled incursions through more alternative terrains in the footsteps of The Chameleons or The Cure, while sounding 100% Horror Vacui. Such is the case with "'Till The Last Drop", which demonstrates that they easily manages any terrain and speaks well of their ambition. Musically, its excellent bass lines are really worth highlighting. But, above all, what they do best is move us back in time through music to the early dark eighties. In this regard, the pair closing the LP could not be more illustrative. "Opus Tenebris" is built on prominent, bouncing bass grooves in the style of Peter Hook or Simon Gallup, and on the steady drum pace alongside. There’s an exciting alternation between brooding and theatrical voices, searing and jangly chords, being all tempered with the haunting keyboard arrangements and back up female hums. "Desperate Adelia", previously released upon the A-side of the limited U.S. tour 7" of the same title, is the last track included in the European vinyl version. It breaks out an eerie, short intro, continues with some spine-chilling bass and chainsaw style riffs, crashing against imposing drum thrusts - Killing Joke springs to my mind here - and gets into soaring, resinous vocal tunes and great shimmery guitars.
On the basis of all the above, "Return of the Empire" lives up to its title. Horror Vacui regains the bygone grandeur of sinister rock from a honest D.I.Y. instinct.
Review by Billyphobia