Having been diving headlong into the squelchy, acid-soaked outskirts of EBM for nearly two decades, first in the latter part of The Pain Machinery’s catalog, then with his solo Celldöd project, the thudding, tweaky pulse of opening number “På Alla Sätt” on Anders Karlsson’s new Pandoras Ask EP should come as no surprise. But despite that and the classic EBM swing of follow up track “Nytt Namn” which is a strong reminder of the longstanding legacy of EBM in Sweden to which Karlsson has been no small contributor, there’s a decidedly wounded and uneasy air about the whole affair. That shouldn’t be too much of a surprise; Celldöd was created in name and in practise as a direct comment on Karlsson’s struggle with cancer, after all. That air remains throughout Pandoras Ask‘s brief run-time, from the strained, clenched vocals on the Neue Deutsche Welle-tinged “Ge Upp” to the disquieting key of the bass programming in the closing title track, as if a spider were stretching its legs towards the furthest minor key it could reach with every note.
If you’ve become familiar with Alen Skanner’s work via compilation appearances remixes (like the barnburning version of Zanias’ “Simulation” from last year), the sound of Intruder should be instantly recognizable. The Spanish producer’s trademark sound lands squarely in the zone occupied equally by late stage new beat, the harder strains of NRG and good old fashioned EBM; “Narcotic Influence” and “Tekno Syndrome” are both equally good touchstones. It’s a sound that lives and dies by how hard the 16th note basslines rock and how cleanly the percussion lands, an understanding Skanner has clearly internalized and applied across the EP’s 4 tracks. It’s to use orch hits for a big hook as he does on “Armed Police”, but any question of their effectiveness is wiped away by the track’s descending progression and in-the-pocket rhythm programming. The title track makes further use of the vocoded vocal hooks that have become something of a trademark for Skanner, and while they grab the ear with their retro-charm, the song has a sneaky amount of funk thanks to some effective use of swing and the delay-based groove of its bassline. While the 90’s techno vibes are strong throughout, there’s something especially gratifying in hearing how well Skanner has absorbed that school of production’s lessons; check the syncopation of the twin leads on “Total Recall”, or the use of atonal progressions to give “Mechnical Nightmare” a menace that matches its warped metallic pad effects. An all killer release from a producer who has seized on something we were missing, whether we collectively were aware of it or not.