No More Alive Than You Deserve
Complete Control Productions, 2011
My ignorance of Severe Illusion previous to this release initially caused me to hang my head in shame. How had a band this awesome, playing exactly the sort of sound I wish I heard more of, stayed completely off my radar, even after having been together for a decade? Regardless of the answer, I decided to focus on the positive: EBM can still pleasantly surprise and unsettle me after all these years, and deliver up thick slabs of unremitting beats and noise.
Severe Illusion have no, um, illusions of crossover success. There are no “big bouncy hooks” or “irresistible club anthems” on this, the Swedish duo’s fourth LP. Arrangements are minimal, scraping and ugly, but always as precise as a surgeon’s knife. Icy synth leads crawl through blasted rhythms and glass-throated vocals. While No More Alive‘s stripped-down, raw approach and use of repetitive, almost trance-like basslines might look on paper like a perfect example of old-school or anhalt EBM, that’s really not how it plays out; you won’t find any 242 or DAF worship here (not that there’s anything wrong with that). While beats are a central concern, Severe Illusion use them to explore colder, darker territory; classic Klinik and Vomito Negro records are better touchstones. This is furtive, anxious music.
Thematically, it’s misanthropic stuff delivered with dry cynicism (their previous LP cover depicted an ape with a pistol and shotgun and was tellingly titled Shortcut To Civilization) and measured disdain, rather than screaming outrage, for contemporary First World life. Democratic representation, civil society and the benevolence of nation states are all farces and grist for Severe Illusion’s mill. Samples from conspiracy nuts and the always recognizable Werner Herzog, along with one of the most subtle Monty Python references I’ve ever encountered in pop culture help bolster up the atmosphere. (For some reason the excellent post-apocalyptic short “Connected” also comes to mind.)
Records this cold and immured from contemporary dancefloor trends aren’t for everyone (though DJs worth their salt should be able to find a place for cuts like “Try Harder” and “Dirt”); you’ll know within a minute or two of any track from No More Alive whether or not it’s your cup of tea. The good news is that those who have a yen for legitimately bleak EBM possessing a real sense of danger, contempt and violence (unlike the ridiculous B-horror and Z-production levels to which the majority of aggrotech has sunk) have an absolute gem on their hands. Severe Illusion have released one of the most singular and welcome EBM records I’ve heard in a long while, and have made a strong, steely case for consideration in year-end best-of lists.