Houston’s premier darkwave act, Asmodeus X, is easily my favorite local band of all time. Back when I was dipping my toes into the city’s goth scene, it was their super-charged appearances at Numbers that powered me. I had more or less assumed that Paul Fredric and company had hung up their Korgs for good when out of the blue they dropped a new album, Dark Ides of Summer, their first in five years. It’s on iTunes and everywhere else right now.
No Asmo album is alike, and that makes it hard to gauge them against each other. Dark Ides is vaguely similar to their last record, The Bright Ones, but there is a definite intensity to it that came completely out of left field. Like a lot of us, Asmo seemed to get a little softer as they got older. Both Bright Ones and Sanctuary were more ethereal and cosmic. There wasn’t much of the intensity that drove Morningstar and Wolf Age. Having spent a fair amount of time with Fredric discussing various occult philosophies over the years I assumed the records reflected his interest in celestial transcendence as opposed to his earlier, more primal attitudes.
Dark Ides is a melding of both those approaches. The title track, featuring Fiddle Witch’s Spike the Percussionist, in particular is pulling no punches. It grabs a listener right away with an iron grip, and comes with the sort of playful malevolence that used to be the hallmark of the band’s brand.
It is still primarily dance music for creatures of the night, though. It’s like Skinny Puppy was freebasing the classic Texas electro-goth sound that dominated at the turn of the century. “Venus in My Sky” is a perfect example. No song the band has ever done has come so close to replicating the perfection that is “Voices of the Fallen.” I would argue it almost does that classic track one better. It’s fuller, more mature. I miss the ghostly synth lies, but I can’t deny the more industrial elements give the songs some real fur on their nuts.
My main complaint on the album is the vocal mixing. Fond as I am of Fredric’s voice, it’s never really been one to cut through the noise. He is a whisperer in darkness, and that’s not a bad thing. Too often, though, on Dark Ides his lyrics are pinned against a wall of sound that feels like he’s telling them to a listener through a hole in the bricks.
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Not always. “Something I Missed” brings him full front to marvelous effect. It’s a fist-pumper that makes me want to break out old boots and get stomping. I’d call it the stand-out gem on the album.
I’m also happy to see some out and out craziness back on the albums. “Other Side of the Portal” featuring Jim Chisholm is a fever dream of a horror lullaby. You feel like scarab beetles are crawling through your brain as you listen to it. It’s funny if you’re out of your mind.
Truth be told, I was always hoping to see Asmo travel in a more acoustic direction as seen on the “Morningstar (Visionary Mix)” and Fredric’s solo neo-folk work. This is definitely not that. It’s the Asmodeus X of old, all beeps and boops and eldritch ideas set to a phat groove. Houston still has one of the best darkwave acts ever, and they haven’t lost their touch.
Dark Ides of Summer is available now.