In Strict Confidence
Minuswelt Musikfabrik/Metropolis Records

Though the band had already existed for two decades at the time of its release, In Strict Confidence’s 2010 LP La Parade Monstrueuse was a creative high point for the German act. The growth of the band from their electro-industrial roots to full on majestic darkwave was easy to track through the lead-up to that LP, with exceptional releases like Holy and Exile Paradise showing off Dennis Ostermann, Jörg Schelte and Stefan Vesper’s growth as producers and songwriters. Disappointingly, the follow-ups to La Parade Monstrueuse have been a case of diminishing returns, with Utopia and The Hardest Heart coming across as good but inessential entries to the catalog. 2018’s Hate2Love doesn’t buck that trend, and despite showcasing In Strict Confidence’s fine studio craft, it feels dull and uninspired.

That’s not to say that In Strict Confidence’s strengths are absent from the album. The band still has a preternatural grasp of how to integrate tasteful synth and drum programming with elements like piano and guitar, and the production (assisted by a variety of studio vets like Hecq’s Ben Lukas Boysen and Rhys Fulber) is uniformly clean and crisp. Dennis Ostermann remains a confident and magnetic vocalist, his gravelly baritone injecting smokey mystery and gravitas when required. The obviousness of those assets, however, throws the album’s major problem into the sharpest of reliefs: what’s lacking on Hate2Love are worthwhile songs.

That issue is doubly frustrating in that so many of these tracks feel like they had the makings of something more memorable. A mid-tempo number like “Used and Abused” has a catchy (if a bit rote) synth riff to set it up, but the chorus’ weakness keeps it from sticking. “Every Start Has Its End” is similar: despite making good use of guitar that calls to mind their Neue Deutsche Härte excursions there’s simply no melody the listener can hold onto. Opener “Flashover” has interesting rhythm programming and pleasing sound design but never shifts gears, ambling between verse and chorus before rolling to a stop. Number after number plays out the same way, with songs not entirely devoid of merit failing to take flight and staying squarely in the realm of serviceable but unspectacular. The high point is pre-release single “Mercy”, whose plodding, funky bassline and wah-wah inflected chorus have some juice, but it’s not so spectacular it can bring the rest of the record up with it.

At some point around the dawn of the century, In Strict Confidence placed their focus on substantive songwriting, leaving behind the programming-driven construction of their early years for music with richer and more affecting ambitions. That was a gambit that paid off for them, but the flip-side is that when the songs are found lacking, no amount of skillful execution can save them. For all the expertise that obviously went in to making Hate2Love, it simply gives the listener too few reasons to revisit it after the first listen.