There are those among us, and you know who you are, with black capes and PVC corsets moldering in the back of your closets, a single tube of Revlon’s Blackberry lipstick melting in your bathroom cabinet, and a stack of Sisters of Mercy 12-inches in storage. Every so often you dig out the existential electro-goth of your youth and relive the glory days. Well, guess what? You no longer need to delve into the past for the dark thrills.
Late of North Carolina’s swampy environs, Chicago-based Milemarker feature on the cover of their new EP, Satanic Versus, an unsettling close-up of some Anton La Vey-esque character. Things get scarier from there. Their song titles (“The Banner of the Sick,” “Lost the Thoughts but Kept the Skin”) might make you think they’re prog-metal rockists, but the record starts off with a pitch-perfect Fischerspooner pastiche called “Join Our Party,” then spirals downward. The next five tracks put the drums up front in the mix, while the frenzied guitar echoes Pornography-era Cure, and the vocals emerge from a mangled and twisted Vocoder. Yes, Steve Albini was involved.
Milemarker is one of those High Concept bands, so each of their albums has to justify its killer riffs with a sociopolitical theme. The chilly detachment of 2000’s Frigid Forms Sell reportedly commented on sexual commodification, while Anaesthetic (2001) buried the lyrics, liner notes, and photos under the plastic tray of the jewel case in an effort to subvert the listeners’ emotional responses. OK. Eerily timely, Satanic Versus plumbs the schism between fundamentalism and risk, analog and new technology, but these leaps of faith still shake your caboose. In “Idle Hands,” they sound like soul refugees.
At the recent CMJ show at Warsaw, singer-guitarist Dave Laney hurled himself about, whipping his old-skool devil-lock to and fro. Synth mistress Roby Newton and bassist-keyboardist Al Burian managed to violently fling their excellent haircuts, too, without lifting fingers from keys.
Violence and war are internalized by Love Life, a Baltimore quartet clearly influenced by the industrial parks and empty lots of home. Their second album, dramatically titled Here Is Night, Brothers, Here the Birds Burn, evokes the detuned caterwaul of the Birthday Party with an odd saxophone honk bouncing off the melee. Frantic rhythms start and stop off-time, followed by the high-pitched keening of guitars, organs, and a sorrowful violin. “Love Life”—ironic, or what?
The three guys and girl making the racket mold mere instruments into an unholy mess of distortion. Sean Antanaitis’s guitar doesn’t form licks so much as froth at the corners of songs; organ fugues carry most of the melodic weight. Anthony S. Malat’s bass digs furrows, grinding out a rhythm to match David Bergander’s spasmodic drumming. Aiming for the angst-drenched grandiosity of the Swans, they settle for hypnotically atonal bursts of noise. You can dance to it if you sort of flail your arms around and stare at the floor.
Katrina Ford’s bile and spittle, her throaty growling and lusty howling—equal parts Jarboe, Nick Cave, and Lucifer—is Love Life’s signature. Even when she tra-la-las she sounds menacing. On “Good for Nothing,” in a typically bright mood, Ford wails in abject deference to the unnamed angel who defiled her. This is death disco. They’re gonna be huge in Norway.