Johan van Roy has been honing his craft for decades. 50 years old upon the release of his ninth studio album, he shows no sign of stopping, and his bitter, bleak worldview seems more entrenched than ever. The album opens with incongruous liturgical chanting before sampled cries of pain and fear take over and a sinister melody line starts up. The vocals are more distorted and incomprehensible than ever, and the track's churning EBM rhythm is more in line with the old-school sound of his early work than the techno/trance style of his early 21st century albums. It soon becomes apparent that van Roy has opted for pure heaviness over fast tempos, gradually adding in thick synth lines, hammering beats, and more and more elements that build up to a suffocating Wall of Sound. An early highlight is "Too Far Gone," sounding like a dark, diseased cousin of '80s electro pop. The single "The Pain That You Like," featuring van Roy's old scene-mate Jean-Luc de Meyer
(of Front 242
), is one of the most immediate tracks. Featuring a brief return to four-on-the-floor rhythm and a spooky, snaking synth line at its heart, it has "club hit" written all over it. "Enjoy the pleasure, enjoy the pain/These are the rules of my game," goes the refrain, making it clear that it's business as usual in van Roy's world. Insistent, hypnotic, and supremely creepy, "Poison Tree" is at the heart of the album: "What's killing me/Is killing you," van Roy rasps. "The Devil," with its German-language lyrics, is another example of the massive, almost symphonic sound he's been able to deliver since signing to Out of Line, which massively increased his studio budget. "Schiz(o)topia" is another of the album's best tracks and features van Roy actually singing for once, though his voice is smothered in effects as usual. "Take the knife and twist it in," he croons, a curiously beautiful melody belying a dark lyric decrying the hypocrisy of society and humanity in general. Closer "We Are Transitory" has an epic, filmic sound; shorn of its vocals it could be the soundtrack of an action sequence from a sci-fi horror movie. This is a fine album that delivers in spades for van Roy's fans. While many artists "front-load" the record with all the best songs at the beginning, this release actually seems to get better as it goes on. Lovers of Suicide Commando
's more dancefloor-focused material may feel slightly let down, but none should be disappointed by the overall content. Van Roy might have slowed down, but this album plainly shows that the rage is still there.