Delerium – Faces, Forms and Illusions

Three decades ago this week, Delerium released their debut album Faces, Forms and Illusions. It would take nearly ten albums and ten years before Sarah McLachlan would suddenly propel them to the upper reaches of the charts outside of Canada, but many of the elements that made them popular were already audible on their debut release.

Two years earlier, Canadian duo Bill Leeb and Rhys Fulber had formed two-thirds of the dark industrial trio Front Line Assembly, and by 1989, they were already two cassettes and four albums into their career. Faces, Forms and Illusions

It opens with Monuments of Deceit, with a dark, punchy, industrial bass line that reminds me of the early material from Alan Wilder‘s Recoil

Mecca

Less respectful, it seems to me, is their use of one of the images of Thich Quang Duc‘s self-immolation for the cover image. It’s a stirring and shocking image reduced to yellow and black, and while it may have served an artistic purpose at the time in somehow reflecting the artists’ vision for the album, it’s hard not to see it as a little crass.

The music is, in general, surprisingly mature for a duo who were still in their early twenties, but it’s a little difficult to tell whether they were trying to convey a particular spirit of self-sacrifice and Eastern theology, whether it was just slightly misguided mysticism, or whether they were channelling something else entirely. The other images in the release don’t really clarify this, and the track titles seem to suggest they may not have had a clear vision in mind at the time.

But put all of that aside, and concentrate more on the music, and there’s a good album here – Inside the Chamber is a good, longer track; and Sword of Islam is haunting and dark. Then the second half of the album opens with the atmospheric New Dawn, never really breaking from the core sound of this album, but bringing the mood lower still.

Certain Trust breaks that mould, though, with a rippling arpeggio part that must have sounded dated very soon after its original release – the digital synthesisers of the late 1980s didn’t stay fashionable for very long. There are some nice vocal melodies on this track and well-placed chimes, but the drumming seems a bit half-hearted. It’s probably the best track on this half of the album, though.

Hidden Mask, curiously hidden from later versions of this album, is good too, as for the first time on this album the beats drop away, and give way to broad, sweeping pads, and warbling vocals. Then we’re on to Strangeways, a slightly dull but confusing track punctuated by synthesised machine gun fire that suggests that maybe this album wasn’t just about confused mysticism after all. It’s strange though – the riots at the prison of the same name wouldn’t happen until the following year, and would be unlikely to be well known to Canadians anyway. It’s difficult to know exactly what they’re channelling here.

Intriguing typographical errors and spelling mistakes seem to have always been a part of Front Line Assembly and Delerium‘s career, as the CD adds bonus track Subvert/Wired Archives/Sieg of Atrocity. Clocking in at just under twenty minutes, it’s an ambitious track to challenge the listener, and it does offer some nice new synth melodies, particularly during the first part. It’s an interesting enough additional track that you probably wouldn’t want to end up missing it by owning the vinyl version, anyway.

Faces, Forms and Illusions is raw, the sound of a duo who haven’t fully worked out what they’re doing yet, but there’s plenty to enjoy here, particularly for those who like Delerium‘s later work. It might be best avoided if you don’t, though.

Unfortunately Faces, Forms and Illusions no longer seems to be widely available, either in its original form (yellow sleeve) or its later reissue.

Recoil – Unsound Methods

Two decades ago this week saw the release of the third studio release from Alan Wilder‘s Recoil project, Unsound Methods. Whereas 1992’s Bloodline and its predecessors 1+2 (1986) and Hydrology (1987) had been primarily side-steps for Wilder, allowing him to explore different directions than he could with Depeche Mode, by 1997 he was now a solo artist in his own right, and this album came just months after his former bandmates’ comeback with Ultra.

It opens with Incubus, on which Francis Ford Coppola gets a writing credit thanks to a sample from Apocalypse Now. Vocals come from Nitzer Ebb‘s singer Douglas McCarthy, giving it a grimy quality which the preceding album had only hinted at.

Lead single Drifting is next, probably the most commercial of any of the tracks on here. It’s a bluesy, beatsy piece, with a brilliant vocal from Siobhan Lynch, and it serves as good preparation for the next track, the filthy, angry Luscious Apparatus. Narrated by the late poet and writer Maggie Estep, it’s a fascinatingly angst-ridden story of love and hate that fits the mood of this album perfectly.

Stalker is next, another collaboration with Douglas McCarthy, which is every bit as dirty as the title might lead you to expect. It was later released as a double a-side single with Missing Piece. Then comes the bleakly midwestern Red River Cargo, a huge piece of experimental semi-electronic blues rock which might actually be one of the best tracks on here.

Next is Control Freak, returning to earlier collaborator Estep for a slightly less successful but entirely enjoyable exploration, before we get the other half of that second single, Missing Piece. As with the first single, Siobhan Lynch appears to deliver the vocals on possibly the most laid back track on the whole album. It’s not particularly slow, but notably less angry than anything we’ve heard before now, and that’s pretty welcome by now.

By this point in the album you should pretty much have an idea of how it works, and be in the right mood to enjoy it, but it’s winding down already – Last Breath may not be the last track, but it is the penultimate. The tempo seems to be dropping too – this track still has the blues flavour (or perhaps flavor?) that previous tracks have brought us, but it’s also fairly relaxed now.

Finally we get Shunt, another dark and this time particularly rail-themed track that closes the album over the course of seven minutes or so. It’s an entirely appropriate ending to this curiously middle American album.

Unsound Methods is understated, challenging, experimental, and ultimately an excellent departure for Alan Wilder. Like many, I’d have been happier if he’d stayed to help shape Depeche Mode over the years that followed, but I’m also glad that we have Recoil to keep us challenged.

You can still find Unsound Methods at all major retailers.