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Estimated reading time: 8 minutes, 20 seconds. Contains 1669 words. There was a time when a Schwarz Stein reunion would have been at the top of my music wish list. The late 2000s were drawing to an end and I was still very much immersed in their eschatological vision of digital decadence, a dream of liberation and redemption with the technopolitan paradise awaiting. With their first two albums, 2003’s New vogue children and 2004’s Artificial Hallucination, Kaya and Hora established their very own, unique sound, not only as an electronic act in the visual kei space, but also within electronic music in general, fusing beat-driven, danceable EBM with tinges of trance, synthpop, industrial and chanson. Their conceptual and lyrical focus on themes and dualisms of oftentimes biblical proportions (entrapment vs. salvation, earthly dystopia vs. transcendent utopia, freedom vs. sin etc.) and allusions to hedonism and sexual liberation as an antidote to the paralysis of totalitarian social order give Schwarz Stein a distinct gothic edge which resounds in their music in an obvious yet elegant way. Accompanying even more upbeat tracks is an almost omnipresent melancholia, lingering in the timbre of reverberating keyboard strokes and gaining momentum in the lyrics and vocal delivery. Kaya’s singing voice has always struck me as exceptionally powerful yet composed, while retaining fragility, warmth as well as emotional depth and nuance throughout its entire range. He croons with such clarity and smoothness, his lower register seems more like the dark hues of a bright color while his midrange is forceful and voluminous, at times erupting into a subtle, wistful vibrato. Even his highs stand out to a certain degree – they sound youthful, open and bright while thinning out only in falsetto. Similar to their sound and overall design philosophy as a band, Schwarz Stein’s visual aesthetic revolves around the juxtaposition of visceral darkness and playful sensuality. The foundation of their style is a mixture of BDSM fashion and gothic glitz, which in and of itself would be anything but revolutionary and was actually quite the cliché couture of early 2000s visual kei. But Schwarz Stein put a unique spin on their makeup, costumes, props and stage design by incorporating an iconography and visual aesthetic that is unmistakably inspired by H.R. Giger. On a superficial level, it might seem gimmicky. But Giger’s transhumanism actually translates in a very meaningful way into Schwarz Stein’s world, where the non-human part, the intrusive, dehumanizing element resounds not only in their musical concept as a purely digital act but also in themes like estrangement, solitude, corruption and slavery to an unfree system. Interestingly, this clear vision of their style had already been established during their Rudolf Steiner demo days and (unsurprisingly) became a little less prominent during their prime under music and fashion label owner Mana. In 2006, two years after their initial disbandment and subsequent pursuit of solo careers, Kaya and Hora came out with a onetime collaborative session album titled another cell. While it was a solid release, especially for Kaya lending INNER UNIVERSE and FROZEN PAST his voice, it suffered from lower production value and a creeping disconnect in the duo’s collaboration; a first foreshadowing of what the future would hold. When Recurrence of Hallucination dropped in celebration of Schwarz Stein’s 10th anniversary, the sense of foreboding left behind by another cell turned into sobering reality. Even though the 2011 mini-album was released under the Schwarz Stein name, it feels even more like an on the side cash grab. It consists of three slightly remixed and somehow less exciting versions of tracks from Hora’s solo work, one new, albeit sub-par composition and an instrumental intro, which ironically trumps the rest of the EP. The whole thing sounds anemic and detached. And I don’t even so much take issue with its shortcomings in the engineering and production department; the switch to Kaya’s label トロイメライ (Traumerei) surely came with budgetary constraints. It’s the blatant decline in songwriting and compositional quality and the obvious lack of effort put into the project I find so deeply disappointing that not even nostalgia suffices to compensate for it. After their official reunion in 2014 and a handful of hit-and-miss singles, Schwarz Stein finally announced a proper new mini-album titled Immortal Verses and scheduled to release in September of 2018. The track list and cover art looked promising at first, calling to mind their trademark mix of gothic kitsch, dystopic gloom and stoic sensuality. In a lot of ways, however, Immortal Verses completely fails to correct course. In fact, it seems entirely ignorant of any shortcomings or failures in the first place and instead reiterates in an even more opportunistic way the exact creative principles which not only spoiled its predecessor but also threaten to water down their entire legacy. The main problem boils down to the songwriting and composition. As a solo artist, Hora has always been frustratingly impervious to any kind of innovation when it comes to his sound. It wouldn’t even be much of an overstatement to say that he’s been making the same three songs for thirteen years now – there’s the abrasive industrial banger, the spacy club anthem and the ambient mood piece. Even his sound palette hardly changed in over a decade which makes his albums altogether feel like weary and unfocused attempts at amplifying the slowly fading echo of his accomplishments from times past. Unfortunately, this is exactly what plagues Schwarz Stein’s post-reunion material. There’s very little in the way of original ideas. Instead, songwriting and composition seem to be largely governed by a self-referential process of copy & paste and an aggravating compulsion to check the same old boxes. It’s formulaic to the point of redundancy. Lotus is a prime example of that. It’s the mini-album’s thematic and narrative climax, the focal point of overall tension building and pacing. By virtue of its placement and function, it tries hard to be loud and spectacular, to emulate the abrasiveness and tonal density of their harsher, more industrial-oriented output. Nothing about it works though. Structurally, it is entirely predictable and musically, much too familiar. What should’ve been an homage, I assume, ends up as an awkward amalgamation of Schwarz Stein’s BIO GENESIS (2003) and Kaya’s Sodomy (2013, music written by Hora). The thumping beat, the ominous synth lines, the nervous, channel-hopping buzz of distorted guitar samples… it’s all there, ready to wreak havoc but the individual elements simply don’t add up to anything meaningful or enjoyable. Lotus misses the mark widely and by recycling old material so bluntly illustrates the duo’s petty refusal to be creative with disheartening clarity. And to add insult to injury, even Hora’s “death voice”, a simple yet somewhat iconic voice distortion effect (cf. CREEPER, 2004), is employed so ham-fistedly here, it degenerates into a meaningless, lackluster gimmick. In short, Lotus is Immortal Verses at its worst: derivative, unimaginative and overstated in all the wrong places. Despite all that, however, there are a few redeeming moments and some genuinely sensible artistry to be found on the mini-album. The lyrics of Immortal Verses tell a short but moving tale of a lost love which has rendered the protagonist broken and immobilized, slowly withering away in deeply solitary, lifeless apathy. The memories both painfully elusive and relentlessly parasitic begin to haunt them in the form a faint, flickering light. The longing for what seems forever lost in time – love, happiness, the feeling of wholeness – is presented as an inescapable dilemma: it’s the sole raison d’être and ultimate martyrdom at the same time. The narrative unfolds over the course of all five tracks and adds a welcome element of cohesion which the music alone oftentimes fails to provide. In some cases, the lyrical themes of isolation, estrangement, solitude and yearning resonate quite beautifully with the instrumentation and vocals. morgue, for instance, does a decent job as an opener with its simmering organs setting a somber mood and the beat building tension in unison with dramatic synth strings. It’s neither loud nor overbearing but a patient moment of exposition, providing a well-rounded backdrop for Kaya’s equally subdued yet poignant vocal performance. Although he’s always been a competent vocalist, his voice sounds more refined and confident than ever. Even in otherwise unremarkable tracks like Immortal Light and Forest of Paralysis, he manages to break the relative flatness of the instrumental and add depth, a third dimension for emotion to resonate within and become tangible. Wachtraum is most noteworthy in that regard. In similar fashion to COCOON (2014), Kaya hums impressively clear, low notes during the verses which transition into an elegant, climactic hook. The tension that has been progressively built during the first three cuts and peaked in Lotus quietly dissolves in these last, satisfying moments of calm reflection and melancholy. And even though they don’t quite reach ethereal quality of tracks like transient (2003) or Emergence of Silence (2004), these quieter moments bring to light little bits and pieces of something I thought Schwarz Stein had lost for good: their identity. I find it difficult to assess Immortal Verses in a broader, more general way that would be commensurate with a conclusion of this review. There’s one reason for that and it’s the sincerest bottom line I can produce. Immortal Verses is an extremely hermetic release – and deliberately so. Neither does it engage in any kind of dialogue with the tropes and trends of contemporary visual kei - be it stylistically or musically - nor does it build upon the duo’s established sound and innovate it. The mini-album’s entire artistic scope and purpose are wholly determined by its relationship to Schwarz Stein’s previous work. Immortal Verses is a sonic soliloquy, a nostalgic stroll down memory lane and as such it explicitly and exclusively caters to a very specific audience: Schwarz Stein’s most devoted, longtime fans. In a perpetual sequence of anachronistic references, the songs try so hard to tie in with the collective memory of a sympathetic fan base that they fail to say anything much but this: contemporary Schwarz Stein is for those who remember. Without that memory, there just isn’t much to enjoy.
a topic posted ShanethVarosa in LyricsA recent passion project of mine once I got my physical copies of both Licht and Dunkelheit was to take the raw kanji and romanize it and then translate it into English. I understand that there have been other romanizations and translations available, however I had noticed several errors in their romanization that lead me to believe most of them were incorrect. In any case, these compilations had severe songs that were never romanized or translated, so here you go! Please, please, if you use these lyrics elsewhere, give me credit? I worked insanely hard on these. THE BEST -LICHT- 1. TESTAMENT 2. RISE TO HEAVEN 3. PROFANE GENE 4. CURRENT 5. LAPIS LAZULI 6. GENUINE -RECURRENCE- 7. TRANSIENT 8. EMERGENCE OF SILENCE 9. FLEETING BEAUTY 10. HYPNOS -LICHT- 11. PREDICT -ROSEN CLARION- 12. PERFECT GARDEN -SK0520MIX- 13. NEW VOGUE CHILDREN 14. LAST HALLUCINATION 15. HAVEN THE BEST -DUNKELHEIT- 1. BLAZING DARKNESS 2. RELEASE ME 3. ADDICTIVE EPICUREAN 4. QUEEN OF DECADENCE 5. LILITH 6. THE ALTERNATION OF GENERATIONS -EXPIRE- 7. CORRODED CAGE 8. FESTER LOVE 9. COCOON -FALLEN- 10. CREEPER 11. SLEEPING MADNESS 12. SYPHILLIS AND DISORDER 13. SUCCUBUS 14. APOCALYPSE -ECLIPSE RING- 15. SIRIUS -DUNKELHEIT-
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