The Red King
posted on 10/2006 By:
Now here’s an interesting little record, and one that surprised me a bit. Not really sure what I was expecting from Somniferum, but it wasn’t this…whatever this is. The second effort from Johann Bran Cleereman’s (don’t let the name fool you, he’s from Oregon) The Red King is an oddly appealing amalgam of electronic styles. At times the material recalls electro-sleazemongers My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult (“Khemicameliana” being the most striking example), but in general there are elements of darkwave, neoclassical and industrial stylings and goth dramatics to be found. Minor comparisons can also be made to--opposites along the cred continuum, though they are--Marilyn Manson (the dark and freaky Antichrist Superstar version, not the glam, prosthetic breast one), and industrial overlords Skinny Puppy. The former reference comes from the creaking spoken vocal style, the latter from The Red King’s usage of moody synth accents that sustain morosely in incongruence with the structure and melody line. And of course, there’re a lot of synths. And that’s a good thing. These songs are built on double decker layers of key and synth lines and ambience, and the prevailing rule is the busier the better—more is more.
Somniferum kicks off with what could be its strongest argument, the thirteen-minute title track. The song’s loping middle eastern rhythm and snake charming melodies, when juxtaposed with eerie ambience and layered, pained vocals give the song a down-the-rabbit-hole, deep and wide surreal lushness of an opium dream--which it turns out, is perfectly appropriate for its subject matter. Exotic, disarming, and epic. Cleereman’s not what you would call a gifted vocalist, but he turns in a varied performance that calls upon a breathy spoken approach, the darker Manson-like croak, clean melodies, and a less common full-throated delivery. This bait and switch tactic does well to maintain tension and a sense of drama (both which are key to this effort), but there’s a chance that some of these styles will be found to become a little grating. The voice tends to play a supporting role, which usually works best. The stretches that rely on longer passages of vocals, usually more hook oriented clean work (parts of “Someday” and “Cross Over”) tend to be repetitive and less convincing in general. The exception that proves the rule is “Soma Incidius”, which features vocals prominently, both sung (well, sorta) and spoken. The Skinny Puppy-esque synth lines float darkly around Cleereman’s croaking vocals, and are intermittently joined by well-placed dialogue samples and stretches of jangly percussive programming. Things switch up a bit towards the end of the album, first with the stripped down, introspective anguish of “Broken Promise”, then with “Drip Line”, an ambient instrumental that would be excellent if it were three minutes, rather than ten times that long. That’s right, half an hour of a maddeningly repetitive plinking tone pattern supported by occasional waves of supporting noise. Only made it through that track once—not the best way to cap the album. But think of it as a bonus track. At seventy-four minutes, Somniferum has more than enough content, and like its mind-altering namesake and subject matter, may be more habit-forming than it first appears.
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