Delerium – Spheres II

Reviewing early Delerium is always a bit of a challenge. Prior to Silence, the vast majority of their work was dark, spacious, instrumental, a little industrial, and very different indeed from everything that came after.

Morphology is a case in point – among the long pad swells and growling acid bass line are periodic industrial beats and obscure spoken word samples, and just generally nine and a half minutes of musical space. It isn’t beautiful, exactly, but it is very good.

What’s interesting, in a way, is how similar it is to the later material, though. The big change was the addition of vocalists – firstly just on a couple of tracks with Semantic Spaces (released an astonishing two weeks earlier), and by Karma (1997) and Poem (2001) on pretty much every track. But other than that, the sounds and style on Spheres II is actually very similar.

It’s easy to forget that Delerium was, for those first five years, pretty much just a side project of the much more successful industrial, almost electro-metal act Front Line Assembly. By the end of 1994, Bill Leeb and Rhys Fulber already had eight albums to their name under that moniker – but they had also released as many albums again as Delerium, and were showing no sign of slowing.

Lacking the vocals, though, makes this all seem a bit more lacking in direction. Transhumanist is driven by a slow, churning acid bass line. You can see how this outlet for broader, longer, tracks would have appealed to Leeb and Fulber, and so the change that came next is all the odder, in a way.

Having started out with two albums in 1989, one in 1990, another two plus a huge EP / mini-album in 1991, they were already pretty prolific right from the start. Oddly, they had then disappeared for three years, one assumes working hard on writing and recording what would become Spheres (February 1994) and Spheres II (September 1994). Then in the meantime, they also recorded Semantic Spaces (August 1994), which added their first vocalist and paved the way for Karma, and ultimately the mega-hit Silence.

That would be, for anybody, a pretty odd release schedule, and quite why they didn’t decide to hold Semantic Spaces back a few months is a bit of a mystery to me. You can only assume that they decided they liked the new direction better, and decided to rush-release the remaining old stuff before launching in too deeply. But either way, I think it’s safe to see Spheres II as the closing piece of that early era – even if it actually appeared a little after the new one started.

Shockwave is an oddly titled piece – you want it to be huge and explosive, but it’s a gentle, tentative, and drifting piece with weird glitchy vocal samples and hard stereo mixing.Four minutes or so in, it grows into a beautiful, pad-filled, glitchy analogue piece. Some of Delerium‘s early material is so vague that it’s pretty much inaccessible to most listeners, but this is an exception.

It never really stops being pleasant, though – Dimensional Space, one of the shortest tracks on here, clocking in at a mere five and a half minutes, is broad, expansive, and populated mainly by pads. It’s almost orchestral in the way it plays out, although I’m not sure quite how this would play out if an orchestra tried to repeat it.

Hypoxia is great – probably my favourite track on here, actually – it has a wonderfully analogue eighties feel at times, with plinky plonky sounds and softer, less industrial sounding drums. It grows into a huge, Blue Monday-esque choral pad. It’s brilliant – in fact, the only thing I’d change would be the name – as I understand it, hypoxia is a state of panic and anxiety caused by oxygen deficiency. That’s an industrial title – this track feels neither panicked nor anxious to me.

Otherworld is the shortest track in here, although still nearly makes five minutes. It’s a sweet, rippling synth piece, with simple but pleasant chords played by pads, and oddly reverberating chimes. And finally comes In Four Dimensions, which starts with an almost ticking clock, before oddly growing into a weird, Amazonian piece, sampling heavily from Recoil‘s debut 1+2 EP. It’s long – so long, actually, that it’s hard to really enjoy over its full twelve and a half minute duration. It has moments that lift it, such as the rippling synth arpeggio half way through, but it’s not, on the whole, the most exciting closing track ever.

To describe Spheres II as the best of Delerium‘s early material would be a leap for me, as I simply don’t know the rest of it well enough. It does feel more like a compilation than a decisively sequenced album, which lends credence to the idea that it might have been a rushed release. It is mature, though, and well produced – this, to me, is the sound of a duo who know what they’re doing and are comfortable with their sound, but are just in a bit of a hurry to get it out of the way so they can move onto something else.

You’ll struggle to find it new, but second hand copies of Spheres II are widely available.

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.

Artist of the Week – Delerium

As you probably know by now, a long time ago, I had a radio show, on which I had a weekly Artist of the Week feature. For some reason I never threw away my notes, and they’re vaguely fun to look back on and see what was going on in 2004-ish. The major downside is that they’re not especially accurate – sorry about that.

This week’s Artist of the Week is one of my personal favourite groups, but remain something of a mystery to most music fans. In the UK, they are known almost exclusively for one song, a song which has impressively spent over a year on the Top 200 charts. And they are… Delerium. Now, I warn you the story gets rather complicated, so I will be glossing over large parts of it in the interest of everybody’s sanity!

Originally formed in 1987, they have gone through numerous lineup changes, and now consist of canadian Germans Bill Leeb and Rhys Fulber. They work simultaneously on the Delerium project and also release as Front Line Assembly. Rhys has a side-project called Conjure One, he’s about to release his second solo album; and Bill works as producer to numerous groups as well as making music of his own elsewhere.

But back to the Delerium story. After several years making low-key ambient albums, they parted with their original record company in the early 1990s. They signed to Nettwerk; and released Semantic Spaces. The following year, they put out Karma, which across the world would become their best selling album, Including numerous minor hits such as the original version of their biggest hit: Silence.

Over the following three years, they slowly started notching up hits in the UK, and at the end of 2000 Silence was reissued, propelled to the top of the charts by Airscape and Tiesto remixes. The subsequent album Poem was a minor hit, and also managed a couple of hit singles, followed by a remix album and compilations of their early material.

Their most recent album Chimera came out in 2003, and in many ways is one of their best to date, and following further minor hit singles, they remixed Silence at the end of last year, to promote their best of album. It’s a bit of an odd collection but it includes most of their better tracks, so is definitely an essential purchase…