Blurb: Leæther Strip returns to EBM with a foray in the classic sound that launched a genre. Is this return to form a triumph for Claus Larsen or is it too little, too late?
Leæther Strip is the brainchild of Claus Larsen who helped to pioneer the EBM genre in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Larsen’s influence is far reaching and has spawned dozens of imitators and knockoffs while providing fertile ground for the rise of a plethora of other artists. Larsen called it quits in the late ‘90s, but returned in the mid-2000s with a sound that departed from the “classic” Strip sound. Now, Leæther Strip returns with all the precision, care, and craftsmanship that you’d expect from a David Bowie or Brian Eno. Age has refined the tools that Larsen uses to create EBM soundscapes while exorcising his demons.
Spæctator kicks off with “Obligate,” a track that sounds like 20 years ago, a lost demo from the Self-Inflicted sessions, and it’s pretty terrific. The light sweeping synth and catchy hooks are a stroll through familiar territory for Larsen and listener alike. Larsen’s need for vocal distortion has severally lessened with age, leaving a gruff growl to take prominence and clear over the layers of music. While “Obligate” is topical and political, “White as Chalk” is incredibly personal. Musically, it’s classic Leæther Strip as you’d expect, but lyrically, it strays into territories that almost make the listener feel uncomfortable; yet, the brilliance of it lies in its candor and honesty. Larsen addresses feelings that are scarcely talked about in music and does so with a flourish that covers a broad spectrum of emotions. “Filling the Graves” kicks off with a heavy beat, which immediately brings to mind Gary Glitter’s “Rock N’ Roll,” but that’s quickly overtaken as a grinding synth kicks in and Larsen’s voice breaks the trance. The song is catchy, danceable, and feels like a throwback to “Fit for Flogging” in some ways. Is the song itself breaking new ground in any way? Probably not. Is it still a blast to listen to? Absolutely.
“Down” slows down and offers up a taste of Larsen’s dark side, showcasing Larsen’s grizzled voice once again and offering a pounding, moody experience. “Down” features a drumbeat that conjures to mind images of stomping boots and black clothing, smoke, and gyrations. This song is one of the strongest on the album and it likely wouldn’t be apparent on first listen, but after revisiting the track a few times, it seems appropriate for clubs. Shifting further down in tempo, the album’s title track is a slow, melancholy journey through Strip’s past. While the track is enjoyable, it’s easily outshined by the tracks already on offer and the record still has five tracks to go. That said, “Spæctator” fills a role in the album by addressing a dark, brooding mood that has threatened to surface in every track; in a way, the track is cathartic for these undertones and brings them to the forefront. “So Beautiful” immediately shifts into a higher gear and returns to a danceable Strip sound. While “Spæctator” felt a bit low, once paired with “So Beautiful,” it immediately becomes apparent that Larsen wrote an album instead of a loose collection of songs/singles. When paired, both tracks become much more prominent, and “So Beautiful” has great programming that is all at once familiar while offering a new take on classic elements.
“Victorious” has a heavy beat with an intermittent fuzzy, synth sound and a sweeping background. Musically, there’s a ton of complexity on offer and comparing “Victorious” to early Strip work feels like comparing an amateur to a master craftsman. It’s fitting that a song titled “Victorious” would be the track where Larsen demonstrates why he still reigns in a genre filled with imitators, which makes the transition into “Same Old Shit” all the more apropos. A pulse pounding synth that harkens back to Solitary Confinement, Larsen retreads the “Same Old Shit” with new vigor and takes aim at the stale, recycled formula that’s been used in the EBM genre for 20 years, while simultaneously having a tongue-in-cheek jab at himself. “Pigz” is another solid track that calls something like “Fit for Flogging” to mind. A kicking beat and rhythmic loop urges the listener to movement. “Pigz” also highlights Larsen’s expert use of samples, for throughout the record, they’re well placed and avoid being gimmicky or coming across as contrived. “Luc Van Acker” features a quick tempo and samples about blowjobs while featuring some early ‘80s synth work and lyrics about sex. The track is dirty, frantic, and feels like an inside joke that the listener isn’t privy to. The song’s merits run the risk of being overshadowed by the feeling of exclusion; that said, the track remains catchy and enjoyable just as the entire album has been, but this certainly seems like a second-to-last track and the album might have been better served ending differently.
Overall, the album offers a classic Strip but passed through the fingers of a master. Larsen’s techniques are well refined and show all the hallmarks of an experienced maestro while remaining true to the original tones of Leæther Strip’s electronic audio assault that vaulted Larsen to a godhead status in the EBM scene. This album is a welcome return to form for Larsen and should be the album that fans who may not have heard Leæther Strip for several years return to. The entire album feels complete and can be played start to finish without skipping a track. It’s refreshing to listen to an album in this manner and partake in the shifting of themes and experiencing how certain tracks are paired or clumped together. Spæctator will make a fine addition to the catalog of dust covered and well worn Strip albums of old while being a solid, strong release on its own.
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Storming the Base CD
Storming the Base Vinyl
Brian McLelland (BMcLelland)