Wednesday 18 March 2020

Crematory - Unbroken (2020)

Country: Germany
Style: Industrial Metal
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 6 Mar 2020
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I haven't listened to enough industrial metal but it's a subgenre that needs to grab me to work and I struggled with this one a lot. Crematory have been around since 1991 and this is their fifteenth studio album so they certainly don't sit around getting bored. "Music is an addiction, my first love and my religion," they sing on the title track, which opens the album. It's clearly autobiographical, as the "29 years and still alive" line vouches.

However, their sound has evolved a great deal since they began. Rather than simply changing, like so many bands do, they've added new genres into their core sound and never really got rid of the old ones. That's both successful and, well, not so successful for me, because there are bits that I like here and bits that ended up just annoying me.

They started out as a death metal band, a genre that's most obvious nowadays in the lead vocals of Gerhard Stass. He's oddly high in the mix, the backing music feeling a little subdued behind him, which is odd for industrial. The reason for that is probably because they've ended up close to the NDH sound of bands like Oomph! and Rammstein, who thrive on their vocal hooks.

From death metal, they grew into gothic metal and that's very obvious in the first few tracks. The title track has very little goth to it, but Awaits Me adds a lot, not least an accompanying clean vocal from Connie Andreszka, and Rise and Fall brings even more of that into play. There's also a melancholy piano that sits behind songs like Rise and Fall and leads its melody. I like these songs the most here and wonder about how the band sounded during their gothic metal years.

The biggest problem for me is that I started to enjoy the accompanying vocal a lot more than the lead. Stass sounds best for me when the music behind him is most aggressive and when he doesn't try to underline his growling. Behind the Wall is surely the best example of both, a hard driving industrial track with a good hook, a memorable chorus and a lot of electronica backing both, even a guitar solo that sounds like Rolf Munkes is standing on a gantry with sparks launching off his guitar in all directions. The Downfall fits that as well, with a Sisters of Mercy type drive to it.

However, when the music gets less emphatic, Stass seems to want to push his growling style further and it doesn't work for me the way he clearly wants it to. My Dreams Have Died is a great example, because it almost seems like Stass is a death metal fan doing karaoke to a generic industrial song. when Andreszka chimes in, I realised how much I missed him. He didn't need to add his voice to Behind the Wall at all but I was happy when he returned on The Kingdom and especially here.

I wondered about whether he could lead an industrial band on his own because his voice is much more subtle than Stass's: warm and rich but not remotely as dominant as we might expect with industrial; he felt more suited to prog goth. By the time we get to songs like Inside My Heart and Voices, though, I became sold on him as the lead with Stass serving as texture. Like the Tides wraps things up with only his voice and it worked for me.

While Stass's vocals were the biggest problem for me, the album also runs a lot longer than it should. It's a very generous release, with fifteen songs totalling over an hour, and that's before we factor in the bonus disc. It's a lot of music, and all credit to the band for being that generous, but the uninitiated like me are likely to find it too much. There's not really much here that isn't covered definitively in the first eight or nine tracks. The album could have jumped from The Downfall almost to the end and miss out six or seven tracks without losing any of its impact.

I often end my reviews by saying that I want to dive into a band's previous albums. Usually that's because I enjoyed myself enough to just want more. On this occasion, it's to find out how Crematory's sound evolved because I have a feeling I'm going to like them more a few albums ago.

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