Well, this is just plain odd. Given that so many of their peers have reconvened in the past decade or so (Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, The March Violets, still waiting on you, Comsat Angels) the prospect of a new Danse Society record was pleasant if not altogether unexpected news. What couldn’t be expected was just how far removed from, well, absolutely anything the band had done previously Change Of Skin sits. To quote Wayne Campbell, it’s not just a clever name.
The Danse Society always did cleave far closer to goth’s swirlier elements than most of their post-punk brethren – they shared far more in common with Ausgang than Gang Of Four, for example – but even by the standard of the original incarnation’s most indulgent moments, Change Of Skin is gothy. Super gothy. Coffin-shaped flasks and girls with cheap silver jewelry calling themselves Akasha on newsgroups gothy. It’d be easy to pin that on the replacement of original vocalist Steve Rawlings with new singer Maethelyiah (Maethelyiah?), but according to the band most of these songs had been recorded by the time Rawlings bailed on this reunion project.
It’s not just the swapping out of Rawlings’ gulping, frantic vocals for Maethelyiah’s (seriously, Maethelyiah?) siren’s wail that make this record such a shocker. The guitars call mid-period Christian Death to mind, keyboards chug along with the bass providing the sort of slinky foundation which is darkwave’s bread and butter. Tropes from that genre abound, even working in that its frequent dalliances with trip-hop beats and lounge vibes (Collide already do a bang-up job of sounding like Collide, thank you very much). Much of the record sounds like the sort of late 90s material one might find in, say, “VTM: Bloodlines” or a Masters Of Horror episode. Fer cryin’ out loud, it even uses the old-enough-to-drink-in-England Abaddon font on the cover on a straight-up Switchblade Symphony tip!
Those actively searching for some traces of the classic Danse Society sound will be able to find a few. “Slowfire” and the guitar lead on “Homelands” sound a bit like the original model, and the drums often still roll along at a good post-punk clip when Maethelyiah’s vocals aren’t mixed front and center. Said vocals remain the showcase, however, which again is why it beggars belief that Maethelyiah only dropped in at the end of the sessions. Her vocals are powerful and well suited to the material (though she does strain things a bit on the title track and “Black Dream”) and by the standards of the territory which The Danse Society have plainly ensconced themselves within, that material is good.
I don’t want to sound as though I’m slagging Change Of Skin for being such a radical departure from the band’s previous work or for being so forthright in its gothiness, it’s just that those two topics, coupled with the overshadowing presence of a new vocalist, make me wonder if releasing this record under a different band name would have given it a better chance to be heard free of preconceptions. Let’s not be coy – bands are well aware that they’re invoking the legacy of their back catalogs in the minds of fans and critics when they reconvene under their original name. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but if that name is “chrysanthemum” you have to expect some head-scratching.
As a modern goth record, Change Of Skin is perfectly decent. As a reunion LP released under the Danse Society name, it’s utterly bizarre.