Category: Industrial / Rock / Coldwave
Album: The Negative Space
Blurb: Thus begins the third wave of 16volt, returning from a brief hiatus to once again lay the band’s own distinguishing signature on machine-driven rock.
Having laid 16volt to rest in the summer of 2014, Eric Powell embarked on a new musical crusade with Black December, bringing his style into a new collaborative effort that sought to shed the shackles of the machine-driven rock that had defined him for so long. Sure, the Black December album had the hallmarks of his songwriting style and was not without a fair amount of technology to still give it something of that classic coldwave sound, but in the end, it was perhaps just the break from the norm that Powell needed to give his return to 16volt the right amount of poignancy and power.
The Negative Space marks not only the beginning of 16volt’s third wave, but also the band’s first self-released effort, having departed a long association with Metropolis Records; as such, the album hits hard with a confidence that can only come from years of successfully honing craft and playing to the strengths and signatures that audiences have come to love and expect from 16volt. “The Electric Pope” makes this clear with a pummeling mechanical beat as Powell chants “Light the fire, let it burn,” gradually raising the intensity of guitars and vocals and even infusing a hip-hop vibe that makes the song one hell of an opener. Other songs like “The Hunter” and the anthemic “The Perfect One” resonate with all of the hallmarks of 16volt’s sound, from the caustic guitar riffs to Powell’s abrasive lyrics, topped off by thunderous percussion that skates the edge between mechanical precision and organic vibrancy; both songs, along with the offbeat staccato rhythms, steely bass, and energetic headbanging of the title track are sure to be new favorites at 16volt live shows. The same can be said of “The Internal Paramour,” the subtle harmonies in the chorus being a particularly noteworthy touch that gives the song a much greater melodic appeal past its raucous attitude.
Like Filter, while 16volt has never strayed from infusing an almost pop sensibility, with songs like “The Last Time,” “The Ever Immortal Nurse,” and the almost shoegazing U2-esque “The Greatest Worst Thing Ever” being excellent examples, The Negative Space shows the band willing to tread off the beaten path and experiment with newer modes. Take, for instance, the processional cover of Johnny Cash’s “The Man Comes Around,” the combination of bagpipes and strident acoustic guitar from Spineshank’s Jonny Santos and galloping rhythms, Powell’s voice quietly telling its morose tale amid a lovely piano accompaniment, all evoking a ghostly ballad the likes of which hasn’t been heard before from 16volt. Similarly, while female vocals have appeared on past outings from the band, the striking beat and pianos underscoring Alison Scharf’s saccharine melodies on “The Heavy Dreams” make for a decidedly lush and lovely moment on the album.
With The Negative Space, 16volt frees itself from the confines of the genre the band helped to cultivate and create, delivering an album that is both familiar to the band’s longtime fans and experimental in such a way that many will be taken aback. Never one to withhold the emotional core of his lyrics, Eric Powell shows no signs of allowing either himself or his audience to settle for comfort or convention, which is an admirable trait in any artist, but especially one whose music has for over two decades helped to define an entire subculture. Aided by co-writer and producer Marc Jordan and mastered by Howie Weinberg, the progression from 16volt’s previous sound through the Black December interlude to The Negative Space is both palpable and organic. Those expecting a straightforward one-two punch of vitriol would do well to stick to the “hits” of 16volt’s past, while those willing to dig deeper into the band’s subtler and more musical qualities will find much to enjoy on The Negative Space.