We Had a Carnival
I sometime worry about I Die: You Die being perceived as snobby because we ignore so much of what comes out within the confines of Our Thing, at least insofar as our coverage is concerned. We like to be pretty boutique in what we write about, and although there are some pragmatic concerns at play in those decisions (the short version: we like to keep album reviews in house, and we’d rather listen to and cover stuff we think is good or interesting than stuff that isn’t our cup of tea), that does mean we probably miss out on a lot of good, or at least fun records. Thankfully the magic of domestic re-releases occasionally offers us a chance to amend a few of our oversights, harsh EBM act Sleetgrout’s We Had a Carnival being the current case in point.
At first blush the club-ready mixture of big leads, pumping bass and processed vocals in which the Russian project trades isn’t necessarily something I would have been drawn to or even been able to pick out of a line-up. What made my ears perk up was Sleetgrout’s capacity for setting up big hooks, pushing them hard and then bailing out before they have a chance to get stale. It’s a simple enough formula, but it makes songs like opener “Get Rid of This Life” work; at three and a half minutes it makes a strong opening bid with sparsely programmed bass on the verse, hits the first chorus in under a minute and is over after a few cycles and structural variations. And it’s catchy, that great intangible that can sell pretty much any song and exists beyond the sum of what gets bounced down to tape at the end of recording.
If I’m being critical I can pick at things like the omnipresence of supersaw sounds, or the overuse of side-chain compression to create that pumping bass sound, but what would be the point? It’s like picking at a black metal record for having muddy guitar tone or a rap LP for using the amen break. Variation from accepted standards are welcome when they pop up (the playful chiptune-esque sounds on “Dance Like Joke” for example) but it’s mostly kept in a specific wheelhouse, one that Sleetgrout have tricked out to maximum efficiency. The title track is an absolute banger, reminding me of A Violent Emotion era Aesthetic Perfection with its siren-sounding lead and galloping bassline, a mode that gets repeated with varying degrees of success on the appropriately titled “Results” and the tweaky “Stay”. I could probably do without the nods to hardstyle on “Hell”, but whatever, it’s late in the record and my reserves of goodwill are still reasonably high by the time I get to it.
There’s a glut of music comparable to We Had a Carnival being released in the industrial market, and to be frank very little of it is worth the effort it takes to listen; there has to be a limit to how many warmed over knock-offs of old Funker Vogt and Suicide Commando songs even the least discerning fan of harsh EBM is willing to tolerate. Given the low bar for entry it may be damning Sleetgrout with faint praise to say that if there’s way to do this style well they have it on lock, but that’s exactly how I feel about it. Not every one of the songs is an instant classic, but a sizeable portion of the LP has solid club appeal and would be fun to dance to. Sometimes, in some genres, that’s good enough.