The Garden of Evil
Gin Devo’s contemporary releases as Vomito Negro has stuck to the path of the harsh-textured and misanthropic EBM that made the project’s name back in the late 80s and early 90s. In contrast to both that work and his last solo LP, 2017’s Electrotheque which specifically focused on classic analogue synth composition, his new record Garden of Evil finds the Belgian producer and vocalist returning to early dark electro sounds, with vintage digital instruments specific to the era. The long-promised album (there are tracks floating around Soundcloud earmarked for the record going back a decade) is intermittently successful in its efforts to conjure that style of music; while there’s no shortage of atmosphere to be found, the long, looping compositions fall short on intensity and feeling.
From a positive standpoint, the actual design and production of Garden of Evil is pleasantly obscure and menacing, befitting the record’s stylistic remit. Big drones and horror movie chimes echo across skittering drums on opener “Dark Frequencies”, Devo delivering his trademark amplified and distorted whisper, with each element positioned to help create a threatening aura. The huge echo of “Momentum” uses reverb as an instrument unto itself, with its disparate pads and sequences defined by the cavernous spaces they move through in the mix, their edges kept disconcertingly indistinct.
The problem with the album becomes apparent fairly quickly however; while these tracks sound great in the abstract, very few of them feel like proper songs in terms of their construction. Sure they have choruses and lyrics and hooks of a sort, but they’re built in service to grooves and basslines rather than any melodic or musical concern. That’s not an issue in and of it itself, except that those loops don’t sustain interest or provide much in the way of dynamism. Tracks often feel aimless, rolling along until they stop: the spacey menace of “Binary Plague” never gets out of first gear, and the squonky lope of “Bitter Tears” plays like two 30 second segments of a song dragged out to six minutes. They aren’t bad to listen to as pure atmospheric exercises, but to be honest it’s hard to want to revisit any individual piece of music on the record on its musical merits.
The one major exception to this is the excellent “Only For Moments”, arguably the best Gin Devo composition since 2011’s Vomito Negro EP Slave Nation. Based around a simple mid-tempo rhythm and synthline, it nails the somber and contemplative aspects that have always been a part of dark electro’s makeup. There’s a genuine sense of dreamy melancholia that emerges from both Devo’s lyrics and delivery and the song’s cloudy pads that connects in a real, purposeful way. It’s major flaw is in how it shines a light on why the other compositions are far less notable: for all the obvious effort put into capturing the specifics of 90s dark electro, Devo largely doesn’t connect with the compelling spirit of the style.