Label: Metropolis Records
I have to admit, I really hated Defiance. I figured A23 wouldn't come back from that. Contempt had been interesting, but a bit too un-compelling, and I adored Failure as an album perfectly balanced in its usage of accessibility and intelligence. It may have skirted the edge of being a little too rave-y, but Failure was a magnificent achievement. So I was excited to hear Defiance, an excitement that quickly turned to unhappiness when songs like "Drive" left me extremely displeased. It had all of the pop touches of Failure, but without the spirit, the accessibility, or the joy. It seemed a bit stale and stagnant. No song stood out as anything I'd want to sing along with or even listen to again.
Skimming the album a week ago, I still found myself feeling the same, even after the year and a half since I last listened to it. I was sure that Storm too would be well-written but, ultimately, unsatisfying. I'm glad that I was proven wrong.
Storm is a perfect balance of older Contempt-era ideas combined with the sound of Failure. It manages to skirt the edge of poppiness, all the while maintaining a very dark edge that hasn't been exhibited so well in A23's music in some time. The usage of tone, combined with the atmospheric pacing of the songs, is superb and you're left feeling that this is the album that should have come out 2 years ago. This is the real spiritual successor to Failure, driven with a deep passion and an emotional depth that is absolutely necessary to have a connection between musician and listener.
"Complacent" is a perfect example of this, a track that actually uses the music and vocal tone to illicit an emotion in the listener. Tom Shear has gone back to writing songs that make you fumble for the booklet as you're listening to them, because you have to know the lyrics. It's a song that you hear one time and know that you'll memorize. In addition, the sounds chosen are much more varied and interesting than previously. The sound design stands ahead of its competitors in its willingness to combine aspects usually not found in the typically light EBM that they traffic in with sounds and drones that remind me moreso of the rock edge of industrial, which EBM usually stays as far away from as possible. This album is actually a marked improvement on the highlights of Failure, as it rids itself of many of the cliches of the genre in favor of setting the perfect balance of pop and dark electronics, something the more dancey Failure couldn't necessarily do in the correct proportion. In addition, it delivers a consistency throughout that is stunning in its ability to be both so good in each individual song and not so repetitive as to make the listener feel like they're witnessing songs being built from a single formula.
Storm makes the perfect coupling of 80's synthpop with a dark industrial sheen, as beautifully complex and well-layered as one could hope for out an A23 album. It revives my faith in the band to deliver music that I can connect with, now and in the future.