ARKAM ASYLUM - PRESS ARCHIVE
We were big on urban dystopias in the nineties. It's strange to think that we were all convinced we'd be living in a society where the corporations were in charge and would prosecute limited wars to enhance shareholder value, spotty-oik computer geeks would be the new elite, surveillance would be part of daily life and Big Black would be revered as the house band of the disaffected.
Well, close, but no cigar. Computer geeks are working at McJobs and wittering about it in a thousand weblogs, surveillance is prime-time entertainment and the disaffected are either lining up to take part in parody-culture or singing along to (c)rap-rock about how terrible it is to be a suburban jock when mom won't drive you to the mall. Which leaves Arkam Asylum's paranoid cyberpunk rantings either ignored as the jabberings of a cider-guzzling tramp outside Kentish Town station, or they are the prophets of a stealth-apocalypse that Global Corporare Headquarters preferred you didn't think about.
If there were a remake of Antonioni's Blow Up, if not the canonical documentary of Swinging London, Arkam would be the band playing in the club of zombified punters. Only this crowd would be a saucer-eyed mob with woolly dreads and Camden cyberwear, staring mystified as the band rolled around the stage and contorted themselves into a righteous frenzy... And wondering what on earth a 'Modern panther' was.
Anyway. Music. The first couple of times I viewed this lot I thought 'Bash St. Kids form an Extreme Noise Terror tribute band and play all the songs backwards for a laugh.' Then there was the announcement from the stage: "We'll sound a bit odd tonight. We threw the bass-player out of the car on the way here for being a wanker." I think on some of the tracks on this CD, they channeled the uneasy spirit of Sputnik-era Tony James, locked it in a biscuit tin and then pummeled it flat with 6lb lump hammers. The drum-machine usually sounds like Big Black, which is absolutely no bad thing at all. Sometimes the guitar reminds me of The Fall gone more rockabilly than usual, at other times it sounds like a terrible accident in a robot factory that manufactures brass cats in a variety of unfortunate sizes.
The songs have names like Panther Modern, The Video Dead, Skinjob and Smartbomb - which shows that the man in charge of the lyrics more than likely has copies of both Burning Chrome and the Mirrorshades cyberpunk anthology. All of these things are bolted together in a seemingly careless manner, but there is a purposeful momentum to the ugly lurching and spitting. Fine stuff.
RUNNING WITH SCISSORS
Not terribly hot on the heels of an interview, we have what turned out to be the last Arkam Asylum album. Actually, the various Arkam bits have disinterestedly followed one another like corporation dustcarts in the mating season.
The larval stage of the dustcart is the wheelybin. The parent dustcart visits each of the larvae regularly where they are turned and fussed over by the attendant worker drones. After several years, the wheelybins climb to the top of lamp-posts where they are carried aloft by seagulls and deposited at the back of scrapyards up and down the land. Several months later, the outer case of the wheelybin splits open to reveal a milkfloat, which trundles off to harden its carapace in the early sunlight. As the years pass and it matures, the milkfloat casts off its old skins, progressing through small side-loading refuse wagon, small and large recycling truck (at which point it attracts its first worker drones) before becoming a fully-grown dustcart.
Anyway. Arkam. On this album they appear to have progressed in a direction best described as 'unlikely.' Not that this is a collection of bangin' speed-garage floorfillers – though it would be more than a little entertaining to write the review as if it were. They've just got... Slower. While the first CD sounded like a speeding tourette's sufferer lobbing bricks through a greenhouse at a pile of wavy tin, this one's a little more...measured. One can actually make out what's going on without danger of drowning in a tide of bile and spittle.
Sometimes, anyway. Sometimes it sounds like Discharge or (the legendary) Throwing Bricks At Coppers lurching around in a short-wave wireless museum. Sometimes it sounds like a darkcore drill&bass accompaniment to a partly political broadcast by the Democratic Ruthless Bastards. $laves and Whores manages to sound an awful lot like late-model LFO or Autechre played on guitars, floor-sander and Rolf Harris's wobbleboard. Very fine indeed. McFuck hammers together a Casio home organ playing very quickly indeed and a pile of annoying ringtones, then videotapes them drunkenly shouting "WAP WAP WAP WAP WAP WAP WAP FUCKING WAP" at passing kebab vans.
Actually, if I think about it for any longer than thirty seconds, I can't help being reminded of Sigue Sigue Sputnik. The parts are all there – semi-random obsession with consumer/trash culture (though rather than celebrate the thing, this lot are pulling the legs off and giving it brass wheels), lumps of anime and cyber/urban dystopia dropped in like super-dense ingots of Potential Future... Only the guitar's a lot less rubbish.
Then there's Special Victims Unit, which stars like the banjo bit from Deliverance before going on to quote at length from Wilhem Reich and/or Bill Burroughs while odd noises race square wheelbarrows past 'The assassination of JFK considered as a downhill motor race.'
Overall, a faint smell of fried onions.
More pounding industrial from the Wasp Factory herd, Arkam Asylum producing a wider, more scattered noisecore than ELR, tinges of underground drum and bass lapping at the senses. It is the electronica side of the equation which is strongest here on Running With Scisors; though to begin with the pounding synths and distortions of "Get Some" are a footnote in the library of the true industrialist. By cut four "Let's Go! 2 The Lego" it's standard issue drum and bass for a note or two, yet don't think every d&b cut herein is mediocre. The very next shot "Umbilicus Urbis", even at only 33 seconds long is a great tribute to the weapons of mass deception debacle our allies in the UK are in bed with, presenting a great lead into a truly depressing and wired remake of "You Spin Me Round", one of the better I recall and definitely not the soundtrack for x night at the shelly. Don't fret though boys and girls, 'cause Arkam Asylum show they can throw the life line to the revolution while burning the dance floor on "$laves & Whores", their special heart felt ode to the western world.
(Stuart A Hamilton, MetalUK)
I assume that the name is spelt differently for Batman related copyright reasons, but the asylum part is very apposite. For those of us new to the whole notion of electropunk or cyberpunk (for it is the law that a new genre must be invented daily), then the name Atari Teenage Riot will probably be the one to strike a chord and spark a nod of recognition. And here we have Arkam Asylum with the follow up to the appalingly named "Learn To Love Your Cancer".
Like ATR, Arkam Asylum know how to make a bloody, violent racket. And they do it very, very well. Bug, Amon Zero and Miette's Brainchild (for so they are named) know their way around a beat and a sample. Opening track "Get Some" is an instant blast of blast beats and monstrous guitar riffs, allied to a repetitive chant. It's a format, but it's a good one.
Elsewhere, you get "Nerve", a more conventional punk track, an absolutely awesome cover version of the Liverpudlian transexual national anthem, Dead or Alive's "You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)" which is transformed into a militaristic march, "Special Victims Unit", hopefully a peaen to the fabulous Law & Order spin off, but bearing in mind it's instrumental electronic experimental banjo assault, I doubt it and the surprising closing number, "Claustrophobe", all lo-fi acoustica.
It's all a bit mad, makes little sense, but it's furiously compulsive. They are a lot better at the mindless gabba than they are at introspection (whatever did happen to Johnny Violent?), and ought to stick to the sleazier end of their repertoire, "Slaves & Whores" and "Nd4sp" being particularly fine templates.
(Simon Pachubatinath, Kaleidoscope)
This energetic three-piece deliver another dose of blistering cyberpunk with their sophomore effort 'Running With Scissors'. Not long after putting this CD on I realised how much I missed the furious, white-hot noise of Atari Teenage Riot as Asylum meld the cheeky gabba beats and stupidly fast punk guitars in a similar way. Vocalist Amon Zero thankfully doesn't follow ATR's throat-sheering slogan barking and is actually quite the consummate frontman with a deadly arsenal of shrieks and sneers. I would've liked to seen some songs stretched out past 2 minutes as some tracks have the potential to grow beyond the short-sharp-burst format as this lends the whole album a stop-start pace that lacks flow. However, all this is forgiven for the absolutely storming cover version of Dead or Alive's 'You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)'. I first heard this version during a Lee Chaos DJ set and believe me, it's guaranteed to get dancefloors rocking.
(Dave Madden, Splendid)
Everyone has a few guilty pleasures tucked away that we'll share if our arms are twisted a bit, but do you have any that you wouldn't divulge with a naked Delta Burke pinning your arms and forcing you to scream "uncle"? These are bands you've loved for years, yet never fully comprehended why the hell you dig them, nor really dared to compare notes with friends to see if they could solve the mystery. Arkam Asylum is fast making my list, and I'm beginning to see a pattern here. This band falls into the same category as some of my other favorite closet-skeletons (Lords of Acid, Sigue Sigue Sputnik, Atari Teenage Riot, KMFDM) in their approach to mixing rock n' roll with electronica (the kids call this "cyberpunk"), sex with religion and government with complete anarchist mayhem. What else would you expect from guys named Bug, Angel and Zero?
"Get Some" begins with the requisite Japanese girl sample that quickly changes to a scientist explaining the effects of hallucinogens. It's a cliché that's forgiven once the hyperactive beats and lightning-quick guitars begin. Zero squeals the chorus ("get some, get some, get some / get, get, get, get, get, get, get") over a wall of distortion and perky synth lines, recalling some of the earlier, more rowdy Nine Inch Nails tracks (i.e. Big Man With a Gun", "Gave Up"). The pace lightens while the mood darkens on "Ground Zero", a house-like track with preacher-style shouted vocals about assassination, "ich ben der Über Mensch", kamikaze attacks and the bitter chorus, "Ground Zero never taught me nothing / I'm a hero don't you know / don't you tell me 'no blood for oil'." After a short burst of feedback mixed with a kitschy atom bomb-sounding bass drum pattern, "Nerve" kicks into gear, combining a punky, organic rhythm section with strains of honest creepiness (see Portrait of an American Family) as Zero accuses, "You stand a silent vigil alone under the desert / the cities bleed malignant bile." "Let's Go! 2 the Lego" will ruffle the hairs on your neck with ticking microtonal synths, while thick bass lines and skinny beats push the dual vocals far left and right, moaning and pleading like a rat in a trap. A cover of Dead or Alive's "You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)" maniacally stomps along during the chorus, shouts during the bridges and even makes room for a quick jungle break. The experimental instrumental "McFuck" spins vague distractions -- then a gabber beat grabs you by the collar and has its way with you while blippy samples and cut-up guitars flick the back of your ears.
The unnerving first half of "Special Victims Unit" should make an appearance on the special edition of the Deliverance soundtrack -- substitute aliens for hillbillies -- but picks up in the middle with vocoded speeches about photosynthesis. As for song titles like "Drinkers ov Thee Heavy Fluid", "Nd4spd" and "Gundam High" -- you should now have some idea what to expect.
Arkam Asylum have the ability to (a) walk the line of class and trash, taking the best of both worlds and crafting something that somehow makes more sense, and (b) boldly push their universe in your face until you relent and accept that, yes, the vocals are completely ridiculous and the Cannibal Corpse-meets-Orbital shtick is silly, but it's definitely starting to grow on you...
(Brett VanPut, Transcending the Mundane)
British cyber punks Arkam Asylum follow up their landmark debut (Learn to Love Your Cancer) with this even more belligerent sophomore release. Often compared to Atari Teenage Riot, Ultraviolence, and old Ministry; Arkam Asylum prove to be more dynamic than any of the electronic masters. The trio of Zero (vocals), Angel (guitars), and Bug (keyboards) developed a reputation for putting on intense and chaotic live shows, reminding people of the late seventies, early eighties punk movement.
Running With Scissors opens with the in your face "Get Some," then settle into their traditional punk meets electronics sound on "Ground Zero" and "Nerve." "You Spin Me Round" (Dead Or Alive) gets a busier, heavier updated sound. "Slaves and Whores" is definitely reminscent of old Ministry, while "McFuck" is an experimental electronic extravaganza. "Gundam High" has the heavy guitars but Zero's vocals are more like the British pop stars of the early eighties. Running With Scissors is a nice substitute for the straight forward, non challenging rock punk is usually known for. The electronic elements work here, especially with Zero's charismatic presence.
English glamdustrial freakshow Arkam Asylum offer up a very entertaining selection of creepy drug-disco and metal-powered electro-dance tracks here. Man, I figured Dead or Alive’s glittery 80’s dance-hit “You Spin Me Round” was wrecked forever by nu-metal dreadlock jocks Dope, but AA have managed to kidnap it back and slather it in lipstick and slap it around like a gleefully kinky serial killer here. Their own compositions are more fractured affairs, full of hard-hitting razor riffs, funky breaks, and head-spinning samples. It’s kinda like “Twitch” era Ministry, really, deftly edited and aggro in all the right places. Actually trying to dance to this might be a nightmare, as great squalls of industro-noise suddenly collapse into quiet, droning synth passages, and I’m pretty sure it’d drive a schizophrenic right off the edge- lotsa ‘talking in the grid’ going on just below the surface, ya know- but it’s a pretty great record, like watching 14 TVs at once, and all of ‘em have something cool on. With, maybe, cars crashing outside. And wolves howling in the distance. And a serial killer whispering in your ear. You get the idea.
(Keith Elcombe, Hard Wired)
Fitting as how the name of the band captures the music on the album. With this release, we really are given an insight into the asylum, and to be honest, it’s not a bad thing. This is a highly varied release, with the musical styles ranging from sombre and morbid (“Let’s go! 2 the Lego”), to outright mental gabba madness (“McFuck”). There’s something on here for everyone (as long as they enjoy seeing roadkill!), hell, there’s even a cover of “You Spin Me Round (like a record baby!)”, which is bloody fantastic – raw, aggressive and in your face! The best version of this track I have ever heard!
Okay, so the main thrust of the album is full on Industrial carnage, but it’s varied enough within this framework to hold your attention – the music is aggressive, and there’s no let up in the frantic onslaught.
Male vocals ride the wave of distorted guitars, psycho-billy loops, break beats, and some evil bass.
But that said, it’s not all thoughtless noise – there’s some passion and commitment here. This comes through in “$laves and whores”, which has a beat that will be in your head for ages after hearing it. This is on my list of all time great Industrial tracks, battling for position alongside the Ultraviolence inspired “McFuck”, which to be honest, would not be out of place on a UV album! It’s frantic and oh so moshable!
Just after the catchy “Gundam High”, comes a twisted instrumental in the form of “Special Victims Unit’ – nice to hear the diversity on offer here – it’s not all rage rage rage… This is echoed in the final track on the album, “Claustrophobe” – an acoustic guitar number, probably more at home on a Counting Crows album it’s that mellow. Nice one lads! I think what makes this album so good is the length of tracks – nothing comes in at much over the 3 minute mark, and this helps keep the pace across the 15 tracks on offer here. While not up there with the likes of Chaos Engine (yet) and other prominent UK Industrial acts, Arkam Asylum have set a good pace here, and if they keep this up, they should climb to the top of the Industrial pile with ease.
This is a top album. Be sure to drop by the Asylum on your way out!
(Suzie Q, Logo)
Looking for a definition of cyber-punk? Start here. Arkam Asylum swaddle their hyperactive, juddering cold-wave electro in the jet black industrial waste of Atari Teenage Riot and Machines Of Loving Grace. Like Ministry in spiked jackboots, ‘Gundam High’ spits locomotive breath on Rammstein and Coil, while ‘Drinkers Of Thee Heavy Fluid’ imagines Super Mario-Land in the hands of The Prodigy. Top of the pops though is the drum ‘n’ electro take on Dead Or Alive’s ‘You Spin Me Round (Like A Record)’ a doublethink Dadaist manifesto that rewrites history in no-one’s image.
Cyber-Punk is such a nebulous term. It has nothing to do with original Punk, because the lyrical matters can be personal and obtuse, rather than statements, and nothing to do with your modern day Punks, who are too polite to create a stir. So it's just Industrial without pomposity, yes? Unlike Industrial from the Old Days, which could be quite savage, most Industrial these days is artistic Rock, taking itself so seriously, and everybody knows that. But a band like Arkam Asylum can still retain humour and vent sensible spleen even when being boiled alive by their own sounds. Everyone should accept these are good things.
A heavy doof burst, lopsided vocals and furious, frantic sounds is their forte, with inventive activity beneath their scalded skin, and as early as 'Ground Zero' they have established serious character within turbulent climes. The clompy Punk stomp of 'Nerve' is very close to the early Goth spirit, and 'Let's Go!' is genuinely unpleasant and unwelcoming, until the pace trebles and we're into Squarepusher/Lamb territory of garbled madness.
I fail to see why they waste our time, or theirs, with noise snippets like 'Umbilicus' or 'Special Victims Unit', which are both total rubbish, or the mildly amusing but effortlessly vacuous 'McFuck', but I suppose it makes sense to them, and at least they're very short. It certainly doesn't help their reputation, any more than the intergalactic gargling championships' version of 'You Spin Me Round', which is rancid.
'Slaves & Whores' keeps breaking off from the power, when it could have been magnificent, and so ends up as early rave fare, 'Drinkers' is weakened by its samples but remains as a glowing torture charade, with fluidity and fine, pained vocals, 'Nd4spd' is like Carter USM gone horribly wrong. 'Gundam High' is mean and surly with chaotic guitars and vocals working in tandem, with rock-hard power and effective colouring, just as the closing 'Claustrophobe' sees our vocalist shaken, stirred and tossed high above a festering pit of noise, kept viscous by its seething beat.
Just as I have never been able to fully enjoy the spluttering of Chaos Engine, so I find the majority of Arkam Asylum's work draws you further in for squeamishly close inspection. They should consider dropping the merely precocious frivolity because they have it in them to create something special and this, a wonderful album, should be a vital stepping-stone on the way to something amazing.