[7 February 2014]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Like its predecessor, Metal Dance 2 presents a wide, globe-spanning selection of harder-edged electronic music from the 1980s. It also suffers from the same shortcomings as its predecessor. British DJ Trevor Jackson has again dug up some true obscurities and mixed these with tracks by some more recognizable names. But Metal Dance 2 also sacrifices quality for scope and breadth. It presents a lot of different artists, sounds, and aspects of what can loosely be called early “industrial” music. But it’s not the best of anything.
You can go into an antique shop and find many curios that are old and truly rare. But being old and rare does not automatically make for a collector’s item, or even something you might want to pay a few bucks for. Too much of Metal Dance 2 has that same feel. It’s old and sometimes unique, but those traits only add up to a dated, musty sound that you might want to window shop but would be hard-pressed to take home.
Sometimes the most obvious answer is the best one. If you take Occam’s razor to the complex, often obscure history of early electronica and “industrial” music, you’ll find the most obvious names really did make the best music. Some of those names are featured on the two-disc, 27-track Metal Dance 2, but not enough of them. When they do appear, they’re not represented with their best music. Skinny Puppy’s “Deadlines” captures the band’s trademark snarling synths, punishing drum machines, and Nivek Ogre’s rhythmic sneering. It’s not exactly one of Skinny Puppy’s classics, though. For many folks, Ministry are the defining industrial act, and they were one of few to find a degree of mainstream success. Again, though, the extended remix of “Over the Shoulder”, with its jackhammer drums and Al Jourgensen’s tongue-in-cheek falsetto, is solid but neither outstanding nor definitive.
The genius of German synth group Propaganda was their ability to combine primal industrial noise with sophisticated pop melodies. Sadly, that alchemy does not come across on the mostly-instrumental, sax-laced remix of “Frozen Faces”. Most grossly misrepresented are classic Belgian act Front 242. A dull, repetitive mix of “Body 2 Body” conveys little of the cleverness, menace, or catchiness the band were known for. The problem with these selections may be that in trying to feature more obscure works, Jackson has done everyone a disservice by sacrificing quality and creating an incomplete picture. Or, possibly, Jackson and his label simply could not license these bands’ true classics, some of which appeared on major labels.
With the “big names” failing to deliver, you hope Metal Dance 2 can at least offer some interesting material from less well-known acts. On those terms, it’s still a mixed bag. “Driving Blind” from Throbbing Gristle veterans Chris & Cosey is kinetic and edgy. Psyche’s “The Saint Became A Lush” takes the idea behind John Carpenter’s anxious Halloween theme and adds the requisite pulsing synth-bass, big drums, and ominous synths. Tracks like the Mile High Club’s “Walking Backwards” and Neon’s “Lobotomy” demonstrate how industrial and “electronic body music” were influencing synth pop and what would soon become “techno”, and vice-versa.
The clutch of experimental tracks from European acts like Esplendor Geometrico, Conrad Schnitzler, and Plus Instruments mostly fall flat. They range from somewhat interesting to laughably dated and intolerable, and often sound like they snuck in from a Krautrock compilation. One rarity is “Riot Squad” from Vice Versa, an early version of the pop band ABC. Disappointingly, it’s a straight rip off of either Cabaret Voltaire or the Normal. Speaking of omissions, of course some are expected. But Cabaret Voltaire, Throbbing Gristle, who are credited with coining the term “industrial”, Einstürzende Neubauten, DAF, and other key names are all missing. This wouldn’t be such a big deal if their places were taken by better material.
“Industrial”, “New Wave”, and “EBM” are all fairly vague, broad terms. Like the first volume, Metal Dance 2 is a nice primer on the signature sounds of these kinds of music. But for the best of the music itself, you would be better off with many of the artist or label-specific compilations that are around. All in all, the best, most interesting thing on Metal Dance 2 is “Babies”, a b-side from the British pop act Godley & Creme, who have little to do with anything Metal Dance 2 is ostensibly about. That shouldn’t happen.