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Varicella - Dead Is Better [review]
Katarzyna Draconina Górnisiewicz | Detailed or mini-review submissions: song, EP/album | Suggest an artist
Varicella - Dead Is Better (album review) |Machine Man Records, 2018|

1. Where Does Evil Live, 2. We Belong Dead, 3. Obey, 4. All Hail, 5. Obsessed with Flesh (Fuck Slave), 6. Beautified Death, 7. A Pause for Reflection, 8. Mindfucked, 9. The Sound of Four, 10. Burn My Eyes (featuring Otto Kinzel), 11. (silence), 12. (silence), 13. Die Down Here (Where The Monsters Are)

The band is the brainchild of Chris Bollinger, the founder of Machine Man Records (vocals, programming, samples) and Chris Pasquarelli (guitar and bass). Established in Philadelphia in 2008, it aims to bring back the sound of "good old" industrial metal known from the 90s albums of Ministry, Godflesh, Skrew, KMFDM, Skinny Puppy, Marilyn Manson, and Pitchshifter, amongst other classics of that era. It has taken over 6 years for the duo to complete their debut album. Dead Is Better brings 13 songs of which 2 are silent connectors between full-sized tracks.

The intro ("Where Does Evil Live") is an instrumental track, giving listeners a taste of the music pervading the entire album. Reverberated, rhythmic sounds are mixed with obsessive guitar tunes and interlaced with movie samples - a well known technique in industrial music. The next track, "We Belong Dead" includes vocals with a very cool, demonic voice effect which was used in the music of Godflesh and Skrew but is not unknown to black metal either. The guitar riffs are often graded and sound enjoyable if you are into the genre. The band has no drummer, so all the beats are pre-programmed and mechanical.

"Obey" sounds much more aggressive and should satisfy fans of both metal and industrial. The guitars are densely packed, swirling and stinging like a swarm of pissed off wasps throughout the entire track. Jumpy, devilish vocals spice up the instrumental cues again.
In the beginning, "All Hail" offers the fun of listening to the music on alternating channels. Then it definitely borrows from Rammstein with their marching, anthem-like rhythm and choruses but also the harshness and simplicity of Godflesh. It's definitely inducive towards slow headbanging as well!

There's a very cool sample technique utilized in "Obsessed with Flesh (Fuck Slave)" at the beginning, followed by a machinery of guitars, bass, drum-beats, and distorted vocals. It's this famous 'heavy industry' music which many industrial metal fans are yearning to hear again. Repetitive arrangements are interlaced with movie samples just like in Ministry's music. In fact, Al Jourgensen’s band sounds a bit stuck with their new albums lately, so Varicella could steal quite a few fans from Ministry, easily. The following track ("Beautified Death") is deeply rooted in early ritualistic black metal productions and is additionally mixed with buzzing industrial tunes. The guitar arrangements are catchy, sometimes complex and dominating. I enjoyed this track the most of all the ones on the album.

"A Pause for Reflection" allows for taking a 7 minute-long breath before the next flood of rough sounds. If the previous tracks stayed away from sounding melodious or nostalgic, then this one completely changes the album theme. Its poetic, slow but still rhythmic atmosphere includes a bit of an experimental approach as well.

What could one expect seeing a song titled "Mindfucked"? The music explains itself. Layered arrangements are based on the bass and low tuned, multiplied guitar lines repeating and rising up from the underground like an army of golems, ready to storm the surface life. Aggressive, heavy, and powerful, very memorable after the first listening, so I'm rooting for it as the second best track on the album.

"The Sound of Four" begins with intense hammering, followed by entertaining drumming. Yet the overall sound of the song is more goth than industrial, thanks to sentimental guitar riffs. Distorted vocals are just an addition to the track yet it feels well-balanced this way. Then "Burn My Eyes" is almost a 'tribute to Skrew' thanks to its slow, heavy rhythm guitars mixed with programmed beats, a soloing guitar and demonic, masterful vocals. The song is quite an earworm and would benefit from an artistic video single - as I'm imagining it - full of fire and lava in the darkness, heat, hellish theatrical scenery, and matching outfits. My personal 3rd best on the album.

Tracks 11 and 12th are silent, five seconds long breaks, leading up to the last song. "Die Down Here (Where The Monsters Are)" is characterized by a running tempo and a tense atmosphere of horror. The song is somewhat experimental as it's missing a typical rock or metal compositional structure - there aren't any verses or choruses present, just mad arrangements based on a quick repetitive guitar riff and lots of movie samples sewn in between the cues.

It’s worth noting that a few guest musicians participated in making this album. Tim Chandler played bass on tracks 1, 4, 5 and synth on tracks 2 and 8. Otto Kinzel can be heard on guitar and bass on "Burn My Eyes". Michael Haggerty (Krebs) created vocal samples for "Obey". Additional backing vocals on "All Hail" are provided by Gunns Mahoney, while Glen Mitchell (Isolated Antagonist) with Ghoulie Julie took care of the gang vocals in "Mindfucked". Unfortunately, the band has no live drummer, but their music is desperately calling for incorporating such an additional musician. I hope a new band member will join the duo sometime in the near future to replace the beat blueprints with real, organic, and fiery performances.

If you're already an industrial music fan looking for new bands of the scene, you should consider your money well spent on this release (either a CD or digital download). Varicella is also a good segway for newcomers to tap into the 90s bands for a clear idea of the sound that the industrial subculture carried back then.

(Reviewer: Katarzyna 'NINa' Górnisiewicz, Fabryka Industrial Rock & Metal Encyclopedia, July 31st, 2018. Proofreading: Mike 'Vesper' Dziewoński)

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