Red Lokust – the duo of Jim Semonik and Lee Lauer – certainly presented an auspicious debut with 2016’s The Repercussions of Shedding Your Skin. The band’s sound is chockful of the sort of searing, scorching synth leads, robust layers of arpeggios, crunchy bass tones, and hard-hitting dance beats that defined Lauer’s previous work in Aslan Faction, topped off by Semonik’s breathy, incendiary vocals. So, after four years, does the pair’s sophomore effort live up to the high standard that their collective histories would demand? Well… in some regards, Whom the Gods Wish to Ruin, They First Drive Mad does this and perhaps even improves upon the formulas the band established for itself; the production is tighter, though no less appropriately gritty for this brand of distorted and infernal electro/EBM. The bass tones are particularly muscular, as are the beats with whiplash snares and guttural kicks that from start-to-finish demand congregation on the dancefloor. What is especially striking are some of the more airy moments, like the complementary choirs and ethereal pads that adorn tracks like “2AM,” “Madman,” and “Letters From Grindcore,” all of which add a nightmarish and even melodic quality, like on the latter track, which is quite welcome amid the frantic howls and scathing atmospheres. The offbeat progression of squelching bass with some scratchy guitar-esque sounds and a striking synth lead in the chorus of “Madman” pretty much guarantees the song’s status as a definitive single for the record, but it must be said that by the time we get to “The Way Back,” the album starts to lose some steam as the monotony of the arrangements starts kicks in; such straightforwardness is not an unusual characteristic for this abrasive style and is sure to appeal to its niche audience, but one would’ve hoped for a bit more variety in tempo and ambience. Even in the concluding remixes by Inertia and 7th Victim, both of which do well to reinterpret the sonic templates of the original tracks, the repetition is inescapable. Of course, that’s not the point of an album with such a Lovecraftian title as Semonik’s lyrics are equally direct in such a way that one can’t question their earnestness. With such lines as “I need something for the pain,” “Tearing apart my fragile mind / I need a doctor to give me a sign,” and “Do they know what’s best for me? / All they know is conformity,” this writer can’t help but be reminded of the earlier pharmaceutical diatribes of Cyanotic’s first two albums. Most notable is “I’m Not Here (Omnipresent)” as one has to wonder if the lyrics are referring to the fractured state of relationships in the age of social media – everyone being in constant contact, yet more distanced than ever, both physically and emotionally. The fact that even as Semonik rages in the overdriven whisper/scream mania of the genre, the emotive sincerity of a lyric like “I’m sorry I was never there for you” still manages to shine through is quite compelling. Whom the Gods Wish to Ruin, They First Drive Mad is an effective second outing for Red Lokust, and it’s clear that Lauer and Semonik’s approach has been refined and strengthened from what we heard on the previous record, while at the same time, the adherence to the same throwback harsh EBM sound is a touch disappointing. As such, it’s not a better album, but at least it’s not worse either.