It’s time, perhaps, to address the cliche of the “difficult second album”. Well, here is the perfect chance, really – the debut by ESA was so good that it is difficult not to be having memories of that in the back of one’s mind when reviewing the new one.
One similarity becomes immediately obvious – again there is a coherent theme. The idea this time addresses the utopian ideal, and what ideas, perhaps, the dark corners of your mind would dredge up to furnish your utopia, as not everything would be perfect and, indeed, pure, would it?
To make this all the more obvious, opening track Dialogue is mainly spoken word with burbling electronics behind them: telling a variant of the Adam and Eve story before the end of the story is ripped apart by a huge guitar chord with continues to ring out as first track proper Your Blood Is My Blood‘s beat begins to pulse away, at which point the rug is pulled away, everything stops for a heartbeat before a complex and hard-hitting rhythm gets going. Just when you think the beat is getting a little monotonous, with the same rhythm, and the same repeated (title) refrain, it takes an about turn and changes emphasis with choral samples and other effects introduced to conclude an extremely effective introduction to the album.
Paradise Inside / Punishment Defined is a pounding rhythmic industrial track, that while not overstaying it’s welcome (one thing notable on this album is that many tracks are not as long as last time!), to start with again appears rather staid and one-dimensional. That is, before the track breaks down and is rebuilt with a chugging guitar riff matching the beat for a few precious seconds before it appears again later in the track – an addition that I suspect comes from the effective live usage of the same instrument, and indeed it would be interesting to see more use of it made in the future.
One of the highlights of the album is the track that was used for promoting the album: Principals Of A Paradisic Resolve – indeed the brutal video of the track is included on the CD too – and shorn of the video the track is still an intense experience. Densely layered, with every possible bit of “space” squeezed out in an apparent quest to make the track as claustrophobic as possible, it is made even more impressive by the appearance of Nikki from pr0metheus buRning in the latter part of the track, who puts in a typically snarling vocal performance.
There are no subtleties in Cursing, either, although again the clever use of guitars helps to add real depth. Things get really interesting with the almost pitch-black calm of Absolute Utero, which brings the BPM count right down, but could hardly be called chill-out by any means. In Lust We Trust is another highlight of the album, it’s swirling effects tighten like a noose around the pounding beats, and then gradually uncoiling before starting again – but it is certainly noticeable that by this point there has been a change in feel of the album. It is only a gradual thing, but it is almost as if the earlier force of the album is slowly being exhausted and new ideas taking their place.
This feel continues with the spacey beats of the title track, where the focus is on Erica from Unter Null‘s equally spacey vocal, and this track is considerably less “dense” than the rest of the album so far – perhaps almost a chance to come up for air. Randomly Selected Drawbacks Of The Human Condition‘s languid, drawn-out feel helps to continue this, although despite the intriguing progress of the track as it evolves (there is no other word) I’m not sure there is a need for it to be a track pushing seven minutes in length.
Intense Deceit And A Thousand Empty Promises edges into view with all electronics apparently drenched in reverb, the kind of track I would expect to come with a glittering lightshow – or alternatively to soundtrack the world as it ends in slow motion. Either way, it would be a hell of a show. The use of the female voice later in the track is beautiful, too.
Equally, You Do Not Belong Here, that closes the album, would fit well as the track that soundtracks the aftermath of the same end of the world. It is for the most part a beatless, epic ambient soundscape that somehow manages to sound both soothing and deeply unsettling at the same time, and in it’s dying seconds the beat that introduced the first track threatens to reappear, before stopping dead.
Apart from a couple of tracks that perhaps go on a little longer than they should, there is not a moment wasted on this album, which is all the more amazing for the fact that this is a second album. The ideas just keep coming, with barely any lazy “resorting to noise-scene stereotypes”. I don’t know how Jamie does it, but I’ll be happy for it to keep on coming.