New Wave Of Fear
True-schoolers need not fear: the title of Horror Vacui’s third record doesn’t portend a pivot to softer synth melodies and pastel croon vocals. Nope, Italy’s crusty deathrock troops are keeping things right in their wheelhouse (wheelcrypt?) with New Wave Of Fear: smoky guitars still hang above churning drums while Koppa bellows like a wounded animal. It’s a formula which has worked well for the five piece since 2012, and having reached the near Platonic ideal of the intersection of goth and punk, there’s no reason to alter it drastically.
The few distinctions between their latest effort and In Darkness You Will Feel Alright and Return Of The Empire are subtle: there’s perhaps a bit more reverb on the guitar lines and vocals, and the second wave goth rock genome the group have always kept in the mix is perhaps somewhat sublimated, taking a secondary role to the more blustery and swaggering brand of deathrock with which Horror Vacui ally themselves. Perhaps more significant is the shift away from explicitly political lyrics to a more insular and lamenting tone; the social realities giving rise to the anguish spelled out literally could perhaps be inferred, but that seems a stretch. A rare exception to the bleak mood is “Forward”, which takes a page from peace punk revivalists like Spectres both melodically and philosophically.
Musically, deathrock is sometimes torn betwixt its desire for atmosphere and the lure of speedy punk breakdowns. It’s a tension bands have been toying with since at least TSOL, and at times Horror Vacui’s reach exceeds their grasp: the abrupt tempo changes in “Behind” are (I think) meant to underscore the tune’s pathos but just end up causing havoc. Thankfully, things finish off with a great one two punch which cinches that aforementioned binary. Penultimate number “Don’t Dance With Me” is an insistent groover set with caustic solipsism, which segues perfectly into the miserable waltz of “Upside Down”.
Three albums in, Horror Vacui know their audience, know their sound, and know how to deliver the latter to the former. Deathrock may be something of a formalist exercise so many years after its inception, but with craftspeople as skilled as Horror Vacui taking it up it’s very hard to complain about that.