The post-2000 era has been a fruitful one for long-running darkwave project Kirlian Camera. The songwriting and performance partnership of project founder Angelo Bergamini and Elena Alice Fossi is so definitive at this point that it seems strange to consider that their new LP Hologram Moon is only their fifth since Fossi joined the band. Partially that’s a function of how Kirlian Camera have consistently revisited and reinterpreted their early and mid-period catalogue in the last decade and a half, but largely a result of the tremendous power, drama and majesty that Kirlian Camera has come to represent in their field. Odd then that Hologram Moon feels somewhat underwhelming; despite having some wonderful moments worthy of their considerable reputation, there are still more that feel off-kilter or undercooked.
Oftentimes the problem seems to be a lack of new ideas rather than the execution of them. “Kryostar” starts off with a nice thump and a busy sequence of synths, with Elena doing the sort of coy underdelivery that usually presages a big climax. In this case though it never comes, as the song just keeps rolling onwards hampered by a melody that doesn’t ever really take hold. “The Storm” does the torchy synth ballad thing well enough, but never hits the high highs of emotion and release that you might expect. Same for “Traveler’s Testament”, the piano-led closer that seems to be aiming for calm self-reflection, but hasn’t been preceded by anything that might necessitate such deep catharsis. They’re all good plays in theory, but just lacking the oomph that would put them over the top. While hearing a band do what they’re known for doing can be satisfying, a familiarity with the catalogue in this case leaves you wanting for earlier songs that do the same things better.
There are glimpses of Kirlian Camera at their best to be found though. “Polar-IHS” uses the softer strings and other orchestral touches which have held sway on much of the record in tandem with a solidly somber but stomping darkwave foundation. It’s tempting to liken it to Ashbury Heights, but that only underscores how much work Bergamini and Fossi had done in this vein well before Anders got started. The high drama and fury that the best moments of the duo’s last records, Black Summer Choirs and Nightglory are in full effect on “Haunted River”, and it points to just what a powerful project Kirlian Camera is still capable of being. Another of the band’s classic motifs, if not sounds, appears on “I Don’t Sing”. A prime example of the odd hybrid of confession and invective Bergamini often uses to vent spleen, it’s a kiss-off to critics and fair-weather fans set to a simple and oddly sentimental tune. Bewildering and direct to an unsettling degree, “I Don’t Sing” underscores just how damn strange Kirlian can be at points, and that their longstanding reputation owes more than a little to that strangeness.
Hologram Moon could only be said to under-deliver when graded on the very steep curve latter era Kirlian releases have established for the band. It’s well-designed and articulated (the guest vocal spot from Eskil Simonsson of Covenant us nothing if not tasteful), and quite often very pretty. The tunes which feel rote and not quite grandiose enough are ones most darkwave acts would give their eyeteeth for. But, as we’ve tried to communicate in writing and talking about them over the years, Kirlian Camera aren’t most darkwave acts. When glints of their true power come poking through the clouds, Hologram Moon is something to behold, but all too often that glory is obscured.