Finnish duo Lola Kumtus emerged from a background of tense and sweaty electronics, with early releases sitting in the same intersection of minimal synth and synthpunk which has been explored by classic acts like Crash Course In Science and Snowy Red as well our own sorely missed Animal Bodies. But bit by bit some rhythmic swing has been added, swapping some of the staccato pogo of their earlier work for smoother, more hypnotic grooves, along with a focus on the thick and rubbery texture of the band’s bass programming. In short, we’re talking about a tilt towards EBM, but as new LP Pharmakos shows, the band aren’t interested in rehashing the trappings of that genre for the sake of retro cachet.
The still relatively anonymous duo (going simply by XX and XY) aren’t beating about the bush with Pharmakos. At a lean eight tracks and sub-30 minute run-time, it’s not a record that wears out its welcome, and more importantly each track leaves an impression. Stripped down arrangements of programmed bass and drums take up just about the entirety of the instrumentation, with terse and strained vocals essentially never having to fight or vie with extraneous programming or melodies in the mix. There’s enough jump and punch to the house-like jack of “The Shape Of Men” and chopped-up density in the tightly-gated pulses of “Cosmic Sweat” to carry those compositions without needing to overcomplicate things.
While it’d be possible to reach for points of comparison in Lola Kumtus doubling-down on EBM (a little bit of Ebb in the lyrical sloganeering, a bit of Jäger 90 in their minimalism), more than enough of the band’s own furtive, manic synthpunk energy is preserved through that transition that Pharmakos never sounds like it’s chasing after a certain mode or model of classic EBM. Instead, those rhythms and sounds (many of which will be immediately discernible to anyone who’s spent time with the genre) are being pulled into Lola Kumtus’ world and warped along the way.
Bookended by ambient/experimental tracks comprised of pings and drones, Pharmakos isn’t trying to maintain the broader, physical intensity we normally associate EBM with, especially minimal EBM of a somewhat throwback cast. It’s a forthright and energetic record, but one that isn’t going to pander. Trad EBM fans will likely find a lot to like here, so long as they’re willing to meet the band halfway.