VNV Nation – Empires (1999 album)

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Introduction: I’ve spent a significant amount of time as of late introducing new artists as of late, from the ever edgy Celldweller, to the oppositely optimistic Scatman John to the simpler cinematics of Varien. I mean, yes there was a review thrown in there as well, but I review and THYX so often that it’s hardly worth noting my return. However, when it comes to VNV Nation, this is only my second review, the first of which was overly reliant on using samples from old war movies and seemingly glorifying war, which I have some mixed feelings on. This album takes the whole idea of VNV Nation and twists it into an entirely different direction. Still focused on Victory Not Vengence, this album takes an internal looks on the struggles of trying to find order in such a chaotic world, which is definitely an idea I like exploring.


So I guess I’ll go ahead and explore it.




VNV Nation – Firstlight (5.25): Firstlight is a fairly average introduction song with very little to talk about. There’s really only a couple things to this song. First off, we have the trippy glitched out synth that sounds like a drum that’s been pitched up way too high for its own good. And secondly, we have a couple of layers of strengths providing some nice smooth ambience to this song, setting the mood for the rest of the album. And while the strings are always welcome (even if they’re a bit too simplistic), I’m not all that thrilled about those pitched up drums. They just don’t seem all that special or interesting to listen to. Not horrible. But not any good either.


Perhaps if this song took some time to develop more and added in some lyrics, I’d enjoy it a lot more.


Yeah, that’d be neat.


VNV Nation – Kingdom (6.75): Within the first few seconds, this song sounds quite similar to a lot of the war songs from the first album I reviewed of VNV Nation. A slight bit of strings followed by some samples of metal clashing as if some gate is being unlocked. But that’s all there is sampled. No communications or interrogations depicting the glorious horror that is war. Just a simple clashing accompanying some strings. And outside of a harsh snare here and there, this intro has no effect on the rest of the song, which is a bit more vocal than previous VNV Nation. Good. As VNV Nation progresses, the music only becomes more and more vocal and I enjoy it more and more each time as the message continually begins to match the mantra that Victory not Vengeance.


However, we’re not there quite yet, this simply synthed song still has a bit of an extra edge to it. Much of the song is spent depicting a world of chaos in which all values and ideals worth standing for are constantly thrown down and cast to the side, resigning those who live in this world to nihilism and hopeless ness. Repeatedly the song questions whether anyone can be saved from this chaos


But those are the verses. The chorus is a bit more hopeful, concentrating more on the dream of making a heaven within this world. A place where we can escape the chaos and find peace together. Think of this album as a compromise between the last few albums I’ve reviewed. It’s got a bit of the pessimism and edge that spread throughout Celldweller’s album. It does hint a little bit at a dream of a utopia which served as a main them in Scatman’s debut album. And like my recent chapter of, there is hope of changing from the one negative view of the world to the more positive world from Scatman’s dreams


Overall, this compromise results in a bit of a more realistic worldview, one that still focuses more on victory as we must strive to take this kingdom for ourselves. We can rise above the chaos even when all seems impossible. Even when all seems lost…


VNV Nation – Rubicon (7): Now, most of the songs on this album don’t exactly stand out musically, so I’ll probably be spending a bit more time on the lyrical analysis rather than the music for most of the songs, but I do want to point out this song’s music for a brief second. This song’s melodies have such a good upbeat vibe that stands out a bit more than most of the other songs on the album. Yes, it still follows a lot of the VNV Nation tropes for the majority of the song: very little development, plenty of heavy emphasis on the drums, especially in some portions, but I feel the melody is a significant enough of a part of my enjoyment of this song that I felt it was worth mentioning.


However, the true focus for this and a good two thirds of the other songs on this album is the lyrical content. Rubicon, much like the famous Revolutionary War river of American History, is about crossing a point in one’s life that cannot be uncrossed, leaving behind a past that cannot be returned to, awakening to a world that cannot be unseen. It’s a half-song about despair, once again taking on the darker flipside of VNV Nation’s namesake, vengeance. There’s a resignation to the helpless wandering as the darkness seems quite impossible to escape, tearing the singer apart as he longs for an end to the suffering that has taken over his life. This song, does have a small bit of hope, begging for a light to be shown so that he can escape the darkness, but for now, he resigns to the fact that his end is approaching.


VNV Nation – Saviour (6): Well… Saviour doesn’t really have the twinges of pessimism that was hinted in the last couple of songs. It doesn’t have the optimism either. It’s an instrumental track again. However, I feel like, this one is significantly better than the intro. No overly harsh drums, no pitched-up drums, just a standard solid 4 on 4 drumbeat. Well, there’s some other instruments in there too, a simple melody, some occasional strings and an arpeggiated bassline that really serves as the main star of the show in my book, but unfortunately, there isn’t all that much variety to enjoy with these instruments. The song definitely has some good potential, but I never feel lit truly embraces it.


VNV Nation – Fragments (6.25): On the surface level, Fragments is the harshest song on the album. The drumbeat and the swelling bassline together to drown out all that is calm in this track, creating a loud blaring and violent drive synonymous with many of the war inspired songs from the last album. The snare is especially prominent and distorted scratching away at anything smooth that this song has to offer. It’s a bit of a shame as I quite enjoy some of the less harsh elements of this track. The arps have a decent range to them, sometimes a bit heavier than the average arp, but it’s still silky smooth in comparison to the lesser drumbeat and bassline. However, because of the harshness from the overwhelming bassline and snare, I end up being a bit disappointed by the music this song has to offer. There’s a small light influence from a choir that appears sparsely in the song, but it’s too minimal to truly change my opinion.


Yet, while the music is incredibly harsh, the message displayed by the song is surprisingly uplifting. Despite its rough exterior, this song houses a theme of a bright future. All great things that we fight for in the present will echo on forever into the future. And so, the great ideals of humanity will never truly die, even if they seem to be choked out by various societal flaws.


I’m just not sure why this song has to be so forceful about it.


VNV Nation – Distant (Rubicon II) (8.75): And now, for something much calmer and much more soothing in tone. Distant, the sequel to Rubicon (subtly hinted at with Rubicon II in parentheses), is almost entirely made of strings, with only Ronan’s voice breaking through. Like its predecessor, Distant focuses on life after the point of no return. The despair from the first of these two songs has bled over to its sequel. But this time, the slow somber strings bring in a strange sense of peace to the despair. Where the first Rubicon focused a heavy lot on struggling to find a way back to the past, Distant takes a breath and searches internally to the deepest depths of one who’s crossed the Rubicon. The broken soul that remains adrift in the vast sea of reality.


When you cross the Rubicon, you may not cross back. Distant focuses on that realization as the singer watches all that he has known fade away. And as he lets this new distant fate settle in, darker emotions arise from within. Vengeance is one of them. A deep sense of loneliness and rage take hold as one submits to the chaos. They become a near inescapable prison that tricks you into thinking that any sign of redemption or hope must be an illusion. It is a tragically toxic state of mind to find one’s self in. One that I find myself in from time to time, much as I try to deny it.


While I do typically enjoy VNV Nation for the more inspiring type of song. This one hits quite close to home, well illustrating the deepest darkest moments of loneliness, all with a beautiful somber tone.


VNV nation – Standing (8): Standing serves to be the most memorable song on this album, though that may be because, thanks to another album I’ll review later, there are two other versions of this song. Due to this, I’ve heard this set of lyrics thrice as many as most other VNV Nation songs while shuffling my all too large music library (Though Solitary from the last VNV Nation album I reviewed still has it beat with four different versions). The original Standing serves as an intermediate between the utterly calming Still mix and the harsher Motion mix that’s more akin to what you’d find off of Praise the Fallen. It has both a solid drive with more energy than Still, but also retains the sweeping chords that bring out the true beauty of the song.


But for now, it doesn’t matter what other versions of this song exist. All that matters is this version, which serves as one of my favorite songs off of Empires.


Like the two Rubicon songs in this album, Standing is about the awakening of a soul and gaining a brand-new perspective of the world. However, unlike the Rubicons, Standing’s stance on this life-changing moment is infinitely more positive. Rubicon and Distant, repeatedly mourned over the inability to retread their steps back towards the peace once known. Standing, however, cuts off the past and looks to the future. Instead of drowning in the sea of chaos, we now stand still in the waters, allowing a fuller view of the world around us.


This moment of clarity, when we take a breath and try and observe the world without drowning in it, is the focus of the song. The past doesn’t matter anymore, and for a brief while, the future is also irrelevant. You and the universe as it is this very moment are all that matters. It’s a vast world filled with unfamiliarity and confusion. It’s a world where, at times, victory seems implausible, though that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth fighting for. And as complicated and overwhelming as the world may become, it’s important to keep in mind what truly matters.


All that matters right now is that moment of peace.


VNV nation – Legion (8): But I can’t promise that peace will last. In fact, there’s an almost certainty that this moment of peace and clarity that we try to hold onto so dearly will slip from our fingers time and time again.


Legion, like Standing, has three different versions and so it has also appeared in the general VNV Nation shuffle more often than other songs (though Standing and its alternate versions did stand out a bit more to me by simply being a better song). This original version, once again, takes a medium route between the ever so calming Anachron version and the slightly more intense Janus Version. Though this time around, it’s leaning a bit more towards upbeat Janus. It’s just a slight bit harsher with its drumbeat and extra focus on the basslines, though it doesn’t come anywhere near the harsher songs seen in the first half of the album. The background choir is a nice touch that keeps the song well grounded in the calmer half of the album.


Lyrically, Legion sounds to be a continuation of Standing, though this one is less about breaking free from the turmoil of the far side of the Rubicon and more about the fear of returning to the chaos. After experiencing the clarity of Standing and desperately trying to hold onto that feeling, it only becomes more painful when the peace begins to fade away. And so, Legion is about desperately trying to cling onto that feeling. It’s about the fear of the unknown as you close your eyes and drift away from that point of clarity.


VNV Nation – Darkangel (6.5): There’s a calm sense of darkness to Darkangel (Darkangel is dark, who could have guessed?). It does have a slightly tumultuous drive compared to the rest of the latter half of Empires, which makes it stick out a bit sorely in comparison to the resto the stellar half of this album. Admittedly the darker drive in the song doesn’t match the first half of the album either but there still is a slightly more violent feeling here. Perhaps it has to do with the lyrical content. Thematically, there is some continuation of the fall alluded to in Legion, but this song has very little in common with Arclight, the next song on the album, making it a confusing penultimate song. But I’m getting ahead of myself.


What are these lyrics that take the turmoil of Legion and delve deeper into the struggle between peace and chaos? Well it’s apparent from the beginning, that peace is gone. There is no more peace in this moment and trying to hold onto it any longer will only result in suffering. Now, for the most part, this does work as a good message. True peace, in my experience, is never permanent. Sometimes, you have to move forward into the chaotic unknown in order to reach towards that peaceful future.


But this song doesn’t quite depict the best way to go about it. There’s no positive active drive to replace the sorrow. It’s just passive drifting through life, once again resigning to the chaos. There’s such a focus on scorn and a desire for war really implies that this song is leaning to a more vengeful solution. And the never-ending darkened skies envisioned in the future is a bit too nihilistic for my current tastes. There’s simply no hope to be found in this song.


Then again, perhaps this song is merely setting up a redemptive finale.


VNV Nation – Arclight (8.25): Arclight concludes this album with a callback to the beginning, the instrumental introduction that I didn’t quite care for very much with those pitch-crazy drums. And while instrumentally, the first half of this song is exactly the same. Thankfully, it does pick up after that midway point with a new solid drumbeat (with no unpleasant pitch shifts) and an arp.


And there are also lyrics.


This album has been a mixture of darkness and light, with the last song threatening to return to the deep depths of chaos and uncertainty. Arclight however brings us back to a hopeful state of mind. While certainty is almost certainly destined to elude us throughout our time on this Earth, there is still peace in the future if we strive for it. Leave behind all that chains you down in hopeless sorrow and embrace the future. And while you can’t be certain of everything in this world, you should at least be certain of yourself.


Peace is out there. And with it, contentment.


Conclusion: Empires is a massive improvement over the last VNV Nation album. It’s first half is a bit pessimistic, but the rest of the album more than makes up for it by once again finding peace in the chaos for a brief moment and looking towards the future, dedicating one’s life to rediscovering that peace. The instrumental songs do flop slightly and I could really do without Saviours especially, though I find that Firstlight is somewhat necessary to allow Arclight to have its full impact (even though I consider Firstlight to be the lesser of the two instrumentals).


Final Score: (7/10)

Infected Mushroom – The Gathering (1999 Album)


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Foreword: Oh dear, the cover art for this album is a slight bit more risqué than I remember what with the thorny bosom and the upskirt mushroom with a phallic stem… What a lovely first impression I’ve made on you all… Well, this was the initial impression Infected Mushroom made to the world and they’re currently at the top of my favorite artists of all time, so hopefully this initial impression of myself has a similar effect, though perhaps becoming your favorite music reviewing hobbyist is getting a bit ahead of myself. I am, after all, only getting started. And for my first review, I’d like to start, fittingly at the beginning of one of my favorite artists of all time.


Infected Mushroom – Release Me (7.5/10): Release Me is a great opening track to The Gathering for multiple reasons. I feel it does a good job of introducing the dark and somewhat ominous tone that resonates throughout this album. This tone wouldn’t last the entire Infected Mushroom discography, and I will admit that I prefer their last decade or so a bit more, but it is still a well-done introduction. Also, the fact that the front song of their first release is literally titled “Release Me” is rather amusing, regardless of whether it was intentional or coincidental.


Now at eight and a half minutes long (normal length for an Infected Mushroom song to be fair), this song has a lot of space to fill, hopefully with a variety of patterns, be they basslines or melodies. We, of course, have the psytrance drumbeat driving the song forward from beginning to end. That’s a given on this album and shan’t be mentioned again. Besides that, we have some good guitar riffs in the first half of the song as well as some strings providing the groundwork of the ominous vibe that the duo was likely going for. My personal favorite moment of the song is the slightly calmer section with the strings at the song’s midpoint. The tone at the beginning of this section as well as the harp in the middle just provide a nice bit of flavor that’s always needed in these longer songs.


Lastly, just a quick nod to the namesake of this song, a sample from the alien interrogation scene of Independence Day. Many of the songs on this album feature little clips like that. Independence Day is the only one I’ve seen and while this sample does fit in with the vibe of the song, I don’t really have any further thoughts on it.


Infected Mushroom – The Gathering (6/10): The titular track of the album is a slight step down from Release Me. Not saying it’s a bad song. But it is certainly one of the lesser songs of the album. There’s simply less to offer in my opinion. Yes, it’s still a decent psytrance song with the little distorted splashes of style that one would expect from Infected Mushroom, but very little of the song actually interests me. There’s some decent percussion here and there and I do enjoy the section around the 5-minute mark with what I believe is a marimba, but there’s very little to make this song stand out from the rest.


Even the vocal sample in this case is rather bland, perhaps even detracting from the quality. I would assume that these vocals (which apparently comes from Grand Theft Auto), were not originally recorded at the pitch you are hearing right now. Infected Mushroom likely distorted it to their liking. And while I absolutely adore the way they play with vocals in modern days, this pitch-up is rather uninteresting at best and slightly annoying at worst.


Infected Mushroom – Return to the Shadows (8/10): Return to the Shadows is, in my opinion, the most memorable track from Infected Mushroom’s debut album. Perhaps it’s the ominous ringing synth played at the beginning of the song. Perhaps it’s the percussion that sounds like a clanging of metal accompanied by the yells of men hard at work. Or perhaps it’s how they play with the bassline throughout the song. Every melody that’s played feels like it branches well off of the bassline and it all meshes together quite well. However, the melody that stands out the most is perhaps the one that also differs from the bassline the most. At the six-minute mark, the drums fade out to reveal nice funky pattern of notes that contrast a bit more than usual from the bassline.


And then there’s the sample hailing from Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country: Are you afraid of the future? A common fear, I must say. Or at least, it’s a fear I happen to have. I always find myself wondering exactly what my future has in store for me, but I’m never quite certain if success is awaiting me or if I’m always edging on towards a spiral of failure. And before I ramble on into endless existential mode, perhaps we should move on to the next song…


Infected Mushroom – Blue Muppet (6.25/10): This is one of the lower points of the album to be perfectly honest. Once again, not a bad thing, just not quite as enjoyable as the rest. The main reason for this is that for the first 6 minutes of the song, I really am not hearing anything of note to talk about. Nothing that makes this song stick out to me. Well that is until we get to the sample from what I’d assume to be a favorite movie of the Infected Mushroom duo (it appears two other times on the album), The Island of Dr. Moreau. The sample itself isn’t what improves the song. It’s the guitars that follow that bring the song back to the good quality I’d usually expect from Infected Mushroom.


Infected Mushroom – Psycho (6/10): I remember this being one of the first classic trance Infected Mushroom songs I heard when I first discovered them. This was likely due to the fact that my edgy teenaged mind was as attracted to the title, “Psycho” as it was to the title, “Becoming Insane” (my first Infected Mushroom song overall, but I’ll cover that much later). Oh, who am I kidding. The person I am in my twenties is still incredibly attracted to edgy stuff, perhaps even more so.


Interestingly enough, despite this being the first song I’ve heard in this album, it’s also probably one of the least memorable. Only part of the song that really jogs my memory at all is the screaming of the word, “Psycho.” To count that might be cheating though, as that’s the title of the song. I can see why I don’t remember much of anything else though. While this album is enjoyable to listen to, a lot of the songs sound quite similar except for a few small differences here and there depending on the song. This song doesn’t really have any such differences. There’s some ambiance that sounds like a plethora of sci fi doors opening and closing. Judging from the information I’ve scrounged up from Wikipedia. I’m guessing these sci fi doors samples come from Star Trek: First Contact. The means that the Psycho scream comes from Batman and Robin. As the uncultured swine I am as far as cinema goes, I am unsure what to do with this information.


Infected Mushroom – Montoya Rms (7.5/10): I will not be speaking of any of the samples that appear in this song. For this time around, Infected Mushroom forgoes any vocals and simply takes me and any others who might be listening on a splendid journey over the course of about eight minutes. What makes this song work so well for eight minutes is the amount of variety compared to everything else we’ve heard so far. Yes, each of the songs (except perhaps Psycho) have some bit of flavor that helps differentiate it from other songs on the album, but Montoya Rms goes all out and makes every single moment stand out from the rest. I am unable to truly choose a favorite moment to point out nor do I desire to go over each and every one of these elements one by one. Not only would this be a tedious task, but it might just take away from the enjoyment of this song. Half the fun is wondering exactly where the song will go next and letting every intricacy of every melody flow through your soul. Perhaps I am overselling it a bit, but I would highly recommend listening to it for yourself. One of the best songs this album has to offer.


Infected Mushroom – Tommy The Bat (7.25/10): Of the nine songs on this album, I feel that Tommy The Bat resembles the vibe of modern Infected Mushroom the most. Oh, it’s still drastically different. But there are elements in this song, that Infected Mushroom has played with in similar ways to this very day. The most notable of these elements is certainly the distorted vocals. Yes, I did mention that the titular song of this album had distorted vocals as well. But that was just high pitched talking. Here, Infected Mushroom chops up the vocals (apparently from a song called Tommy The Cat by Primus), spreads them across the song, and adjusts their pitch to create an entirely new melody. Much of the rest of the song is a few steps closer to modern Infected Mushroom as well. A good example would be the bass at the beginning of the song that’s a bit slower paced, focusing on distorting the sound more than playing the notes rapidfire.


The sample which again comes from The Island of Dr. Moreau. states “Please tell them that I am God.” An ominous prideful statement that given the right fire, could spark a theological debate, but I believe that’s too large of a jump in the flow and tone of this review and I’d rather not wander too far into existential territory yet, so perhaps I’ll cut myself short and move on to the next song…


Infected Mushroom – Virtual Voyage (5.75/10): Virtual Voyage is a fantastic song name. I like to go on several virtual voyages myself. Or at least that’s what I like to call them. In reality a better description would be lapses into procrastination on the internet, but eh, it’s something I’m working to overcome. Regardless, Virtual Voyage is unfortunately another run of the mill song with very little to specifically note. I did expect to have a few of these while jumping into this review. Unfortunately, I am not prepared to figure out what to say about such songs. I could very well copy most of what I had said about Psycho. The song simply doesn’t have enough unique about it for me to pick it out among the rest of the songs on this album. In fact, this song is even worse off as it has neither any unique ambiance to it, not does it have any memorable vocal samples of someone screaming “Psycho!” There are some parts that diverge from the pattern here and there. A slight melody graces us with its presence about midway through the song but it’s not particularly memorable as it fades away from my memory as soon as it’s over (and it’s honestly, not the most graceful melody to begin with Overall, this is a relatively average song that could have come from any psytrance artists in the 90s


Infected Mushroom – Over Mode (5.5/10): Over Mode serves as the closing song to The Gathering. I’m honestly not a huge fan of this one. Not only does it not serve its space well with any unique pleasures to make it stand out from the rest of the songs, but there is also something I find a bit bothersome about this one. And unlike The Gathering, which only bothered me with the occasional pitched vocals. This annoyance is a bit more constant. For a good half of Over Mode, I find myself subjected to the sound of something clinking against glass. Almost as if this song is perpetually calling for a toast that never comes unless perhaps this toast is in dedication to there being “no more scientists, no more laboratories, and no more experiments”. Then again if that were the case, then the clinking would stop after this last Dr Moreau sample was voiced. It does not stop. It keeps going. I will admit that there is still a significant amount of time absent of this clinking, but its presence is still quite irritating to say the least and holds this song back.


The rest of the song is relatively decent, not exactly exceptional, but not quite as underwhelming as Psycho or Virtual Voyage either. There’s a fair amount variety to it that allows it to stand out in pleasant ways. The section starting around five and a half minutes into the song with the wavering melodic synth is particularly enjoyable. However, all of this is, again, held back by the clinking, which unfortunately makes it my least favorite song on the album.


Conclusion: Over all, The Gathering is a fair debut album for Infected Mushroom though it is admittedly a mixed bag. For every great song on the album, there’s one I’d consider to a bit more average for one reason or another. Still, the album has aged well enough despite being over two decades old. Over those two decades, Infected Mushroom has changed and grown, transforming their music into something new again and again, and while I may prefer later iterations of their style, it is still an enjoyable experience to come back and look at where it started.


Final Score: (6.5/10)