Suicide Commando
When Evil Speaks
Out of Line/Metropolis

Johan Van Roy is pretty creatively conservative. For all the dimestore transgression is his lyrics (death, murder, god hates us/is a dick, etc.) he sticks close to what’s been working for him since the massive breakthrough that was 2000’s Mindstrip. And why not? His audience seems content for him to produce upgraded versions of the same minor key oontz exercises every couple of years, complete with slightly better production and a new set of evil movie samples. Aside from the dubious distinction of being the band who has inspired more awful EBM than anyone else (arguably a title shared with the similarly hidebound Hocico) there hasn’t been much that argues for Suicide Commando’s relevance beyond his existing fanbase.

I still check in though, because there was a time when Johan made some pretty fun, dark music. Before aggrotech was in a glimmer in Papa Van Roy’s eye, he was banging out simple, effective body music with a noticeable debt to Dive, but some rough hewn charm of its own. I thought those days were long since passed, washed away in a tide of middle of the road club-oriented records, so imagine my surprise when my attention was drawn to a Youtube video for When Evil Speaks‘ “Repent or Perish”. Sounding for all the world like an updated version of the kind of moody cut that JVR was making circa Construct-Destruct, its punchy staccato lead and whirring rhythm track feel distant from the kind of music Suicide Commando has been plying for more than a decade, a meeting of dark electro’s atmospherics and classic EBM’s deliberately mechanical pacing. Could Johan be looking to reboot his musical evolution and start again from a previously established point in his style? Yes and no…

To clear it up, it’d be a pretty misleading to label When Evil Speaks a return to form and I wouldn’t want to give the impression that it’s a complete rewind to when the project was less staid and shopworn. There is a strong suggestion of that however, and it’s enough to make it notable, at least for those of us who have fond memories of those early SC albums. There are still concessions to harsh club music: “In Guns We Trust”, “Unterwelt”, and the lamentable “Attention Whore” are all fairly undistinguished if efficient for what they are. But it’s the numbers like “Repent or Perish” and “Monster” that actually leave an impression, marrying current standards of production to the simple, effective song structures of the old Suicide Commando. The former song’s use of a twangy synth patch, vocoder and languid pacing summons :Wumpscut: to mind with none of the accumulated negativity that comparison might normally bring, while the rolling drumline of “Cut Bleed Eviscerate” injects what could have been just another 4/4 club banger with a tense, pulsing menace that belies its cookie cutter lyrics.

I suppose in some ways this is a “have your cake and eat it too” sort of album; fans of the current style are unlikely to be put off by the call-backs to early 90s SC, with folks like me who haven’t been fussy about the recent discography get something to chew on. It’s not enough to make When Evil Speaks what I would call a good record, but at the very least it shows some variation from what felt like a pretty rote template in roughly 50% of its tracks. It’s an uneasy compromise of half-measures that aren’t entirely satisfying, neither confirming nor denying a rejuvenation for Suicide Commando. An LP for the iPod era, the songs I like will have some shuffle play divorced from the album proper, while the rest will fade away quickly. Not ideal, but for an artist I was struggling to justify my fading affection for, it’s enough to keep me from total dismissal.