Review of MALVS
By Ed Shorrock
Golden Apes is a band which is defined by its indefinability.
Ever since the release of Stigmata 3:am this Berlin based band have defied the music industry’s desire to put easy-to-market labels on bands. That is an unusual but welcome talent to have in this day and age. There is only one word which really gets to the heart of Golden Apes and that is ‘dark’. Unremitting, light absorbing darkness, both instrumentally and vocally. However, it is the latter – the vocalist’s tone and delivery – which really give bands from the dark music scene their characteristic edge. They can either make or break a band’s sound.
When Verity, the fourth track from the album, was released in late August, I knew we were in for something special. Golden Apes do not do anything by halves. What they have produced here is a thirteen track work of art lasting over an hour. It should carry warning signs at the beginning because you won’t be the same person when you come out the other side. It is a complex listen which needs to be approached with reverence and respect.
Peer Lebrecht’s vocals on MALVS drench the whole album in a deep, dark mournfulness which makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. It is a distinctiveness which is carried the whole way through the album. Peer delivers the lyrics, which have their characteristic surreal nature, in such a way as to make you not want to enter his world. The mind which comes up with lyrics such as “there’s something deep inside me that feels like a thorn / there’s something deep inside that bites and burns” has been to far darker places than most…… The beauty of the lyrics is that there are so many ways of interpreting them and no doubt each listener will overlay their own life’s matrix of experiences.
And so to the music.
Cedars Of Salt has a hypnotic but simple rhythm which sets up the song for Peer to come in after two minutes of introduction. The dark opening repeats throughout the track and is overlaid by sympathetic guitar work which bring out the best in the lyrics and the tempo of the bass line.
Ignorance has a more upbeat feel, if that is possible, for a Golden Apes song. The bass takes front and centre. There is a beautiful crescendo moment to the vocals when Peer rips through the line “when a truth will fade away” which takes the song to a higher level. It is one of the more accessible tracks.
Taking the tempo down Halving Moons does have a Cure-like feel to it with soft guitars and gentle synth work. A nice counterpoint to what is to come as it lulls the listener into what will become a false sense of security. Track placement on an album is an art so that it all comes together as a piece rather than just a collection of songs. Not many bands pay enough attention to this. Golden Apes do.
Verity. What can I say? The opening of the track has an attacking riff of stunning simplicity which appears later on too. Drums and bass then come together to build the layers of this outstanding song. No wonder it appeared on a recent compilation of incredible goth tracks. The vocals on this are Peer at his best – a mournful melancholy with an almost sneering disregard for the words. “….this verity is cutting me / and it’s sounding like a lash….”. The guitar work near the end replicates the lash referred to in the lyrics as does the ending, which finishes the track in much the same way as it started – abruptly.
Drown. The title of the track sums up the tenor of the music. A slower number, the highlight of one which is the way in which ”I will drown in you” is delivered, but if truth be told, the only way this is possible is due to the musicianship which underpins the playing.
Grinding Mills changes up a gear with a more rock-like approach blending a number of styles from the past.
Missing unashamedly opens up with synth which is then joined by echoing guitars and a staccato drum pattern. Golden Apes’ use of synth is to be admired. While many in the traditional goth world are not so keen, used in the right places they can enhance the music to great effect. It also underscores the versatility of the band. The melody in the vocals are sublime and appear to reflect a bitter sweet relationship: “I’m frightened by the light you shed / I’ll praise the day when you drop dead”. The additional female vocals in this track complement Peer’s dark tones wonderfully. One of my favorites from the album.
Occam’s Razor. The principle that in explaining a thing no more assumptions should be made than are necessary. In other words, simplicity is better. The track is one of the more basic ones but does not suffer because of it. It conveys an intensity which is difficult to explain – almost an anger seeping through the instruments and certainly through the words “that’s why I crave you / that why I burn”.
Correlation starts with a brighter acoustic guitar and develops into a more ethereal feel. It is short and feels like a pause in proceedings before the next offering.
Shadowplay kicks off with a slow deadening drumbeat before the familiar strains of Peer’s voice take over and take us on the next step of the journey where he hands over to the rest of the band before taking back the reins. Half way through this song and at the end is what I take to be a chorus and it is delightfully constructed (”we are shadowplay”), but given Golden Apes songs do not have traditional structures it cannot rightly be described as such.
Malady starts off with light guitar but then explodes, without warning, with all the band joining in. It is a contrast to the usual layering of dark textures we have come to expect from Golden Apes. It has a deep, booming resonance which does settle down into a more traditional pattern. The lyrics follow a familiar pattern of dark themes of introspection, pain and, what seems to me, to be of broken trust.
And so to close with Sermon in the Vale. You’ll need to listen to the album to hear what it sounds like. You will like it. Trust me.
At the outset of this review I said that Golden Apes was a band which is defined by it’s indefinability. It is more than that – it is a band which has a depth to it which is quite unique but which needs close attention. It isn’t goth ‘n’ roll. It isn’t dark wave. It isn’t any of those labels. It’s just dark.