The Rearview Mirror: 009: Cubanate – Brutalism

I can’t remember whatsoever when I first heard Cubanate. It was in my early teens, and was either Body Burn or Oxyacetalene first. And then lots more Oxyacetalene, as it was everywhere for a time. I do remember picking up the single for Joy in the rather awesome Badlands record shop in Huddersfield, though. You know, back when every reasonable-sized town had at least one great record shop, maybe even two. For a while Huddersfield didn’t even have an HMV (it’s re-opened since, in a smaller unit).

Whatever the detail, I’ve been listening to Cubanate for a long time. Their recorded material – at least their four albums – covers just six years, 1993 through to 1998, and the band were done for the first time after their final show in 1999.

That final show. It’s one of my few vivid memories of my time in London, and as far as I can remember, it was the only time I saw Cubanate. It was a show at the LA2 in December 1999, and indeed was my last show in London before I dropped out of Uni just after Christmas and headed back north. Supported by scene stalwarts Leechwoman (in their full, scrap metal-pummelling fury) and a-then-new-band VNV Nation (“this’ll never catch on” as everyone else around us goes nuts), Cubanate still put in a heck of a show.

After that, a belting track React To It snuck out on Cryonica Tanz V.2 in 2002 (seriously – it deserves far better than to have been forgotten), and then all went truly quiet as planned fifth album Search Engine wasn’t completed as the band split.

An aborted attempt at a reformation first came in 2011 (from which one song, the tepid We Are Crowd, surfaced on an Alfa-Matrix compilation, and all kinds of rumours swirled around about a potential Front 242 support (which eventually fell to Nachtmahr in London, which was not a popular booking judging on the crowd reaction). Phil Barry subsequently picked up the baton with Be My Enemy, where the links to his old band were obvious, but Phil was wise enough to add other elements to the sound. Marc Heal, after some years of silence online – and indeed years away from music, then began to reappear, with a few solo demos and also some hugely entertaining stories from his Cubanate days on a blog.

Things kicked into life properly in 2015. Marc Heal released his first new music under his solo name (MC Lord of the Flies), in a split EP with the similarly returning (Raymond Watts, of course), and during an interview with Marc Heal on this site it was revealed that Cubanate were finally, actually reforming, with a “retrospective” album to come.

Which took us onto 2016. I made my third visit to Cold Waves in Chicago, and Cubanate’s first live show in seventeen years absolutely destroyed. Forty minutes of bulldozing, relentless industrial, and it was like they’d never been away, and following that, Marc released The Hum, an exceptional solo album that felt some distance from Cubanate at points.

We’ve had to wait a bit longer for the promised album. But, then, for such a long overdue retrospective, really, what was an extra few months? They were one of the more forward-looking industrial bands of the nineties, a band whose sound only really started being acknowledged as an influence by a new generation of bands years after their prime years, and so maybe, actually, this is the right time after all, now everyone else has caught up.

One thing to warn, though. Brutalism is not a complete overview. It is a fourteen track compilation that only covers the first three albums, as licensing issues with TVT sadly meant that final album Interference doesn’t feature here at all. Notably, though, all tracks have been fully remastered, and the difference is eye-opening in many cases.

Setting it up chronologically is an interesting move, too (five from Antimatter, then four from Cyberia, five from Barbarossa), as the material gets harder, heavier and louder through the album – and leaves the monstrous dancefloor slayer Oxyacetalene at the mid-point.

The stuff from Antimatter is where the band for the most part were still finding their way. Body Burn, mind, remains a brutal dancefloor track and is easily the pick of the songs from the album, while the jagged charge and *rush* of Kill or Cure was quite a surprise to hear at Cold Waves last year (and sounded immense) and it does something similar here. But otherwise the songs have very much techno-influenced structures – but with an awful lot going on with dense mixes all round – with Junky, for example, having just one refrain repeated ad infinitum while the hammering beat builds to an admittedly exciting climax.

The change in style that Cyberia ushered in is obvious from the first twenty seconds of Hatesong. The arrangements are sleeker, and the songs vastly more direct – less is more, if you will. Which, of course, brings us to Oxyacetalene.

The remaster gives this four minutes of dancefloor dynamite the extra kick that we never knew it needed, and rams home also that this song is so, so simple. Four elements make it – that synth hook, Marc’s howled vocals, that mule-kick of a beat, and Phil’s processed guitar. Really, that’s pretty much all this song is made from, and it is so well constructed that it sounds initially that there is so much more going on.

And while Skeletal is breathless in pacing, Industry perhaps most benefits from the remastering job, the low-end on it sounding absolutely fearsome as it flashes past at fuck-knows-what BPM. Try and mosh to this and the only result will be whiplash in the morning, that’s for sure.

By the time of Barbarossa a couple of years later, the band – in part at least thanks to the success of Oxyacetalene – had to deal with higher expectations for their third album, and in hindsight there is no doubt that they delivered.

The bellowing fury of this album is something to behold. It is an extraordinarily aggressive, in-your-face album, and the title track (with it’s hook of “Let’s…GO TO WAR“) sets up what is to come nicely. Vortech I rips in even faster and louder than I remember it, and the tribal drums and ripping guitars of Why Are You Here almost suggest an Adam Ant influence that I’d never noticed before.

The last two tracks, though, are nearly worth the album alone, in my view. Joy, with an unusual drum pattern and stepped build that sees the chorus hit like a chestburster when it is played loud enough (no, really, go back to the volume control and turn it up louder), was the lead single for the album and still one of my favourite Cubanate songs twenty years on, while closer Lord of the Flies offers what is pretty much the first quiet moment on the entire album.

Really. Thirteen songs up to this point, and it is a relentless, punishing listen – in other words exactly as it should be. This last track – the title of course lending itself to Marc Heal’s solo alter-ego at points – is eight minutes of boiling, vein-popping rage, that was a surprising and brilliant opener to their Cold Waves show (and hopefully will be this time ’round in London, too).

Without anything from Interference included, of course, this couldn’t ever be called a full career overview – particularly as that album saw them take in new influences like drum’n’bass (the rampaging opener It, for a start) and finding a whole new level of aggression in their sound. But, that said, the three albums covered here do a great job of showing the progression of the band, and how they honed their sound and never got totally locked in to just hammering out multiple versions of Oxyacetalene – something other bands failed to do, getting locked into the shadow of their one hit.

That said, performing music as aggressive as this is draining, and perhaps it was no surprise that the band effectively burned themselves out, and needed time away.

Having moved on, and had time to do other things – in and out of music – the time seems right for Cubanate now to revisit their past. Live they proved themselves in forty minutes that it was worth the wait, and now eight months on, the return to the music they created on record was also worth doing.

An excellent retrospective of a band that is well worth rediscovering.

Brutalism is released on 05-May, and play Glasgow on 28-April, London on 30-April, and Terminus: Impact in Calgary at the end of July

2 thoughts on “The Rearview Mirror: 009: Cubanate – Brutalism

    1. Blimey, Fourth Wave! I spent so much of my teenage money in both. Fourth Wave, though, was always fun trying to ask the staff anything, as the usual techno they were playing was so loud, they couldn’t often hear you!

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