Formed in 1999 in Canada, The Birthday Massacre have been bubbling away beneath the surface of the mainstream for some years now, their tightly constructed synth rock seemingly the perfect recipe for success, only for the major labels and press outlets to ignore them almost completely. With four albums to their name prior to ‘hide and seek’, as well as a couple of EPs and a live disc, TBM have had plenty of opportunity to hone their sound, and thus this latest effort is a shiny, carefully crafted slice of synth rock that combines elements of Nine Inch Nails, How to destroy angels, Depeche Mode, Tears for fears and T’pau to good effect.
Honestly, listening to the first few bars of ‘leaving tonight’ I questioned if this was going to be a record I’d enjoy, but as the tune developed, the band slowly integrating more and more layers, with Chibi’s beautifully understated vocals flowing over the whole, it was clear that TBM have plenty to offer music fans with an open mind, and the depth of melody woven into the subtly industrial fabric of the music allows the band to appear both tuneful and yet slightly dangerous, as if they could fly off the handle at any moment with no warning. This is most obviously represented in the violent groove of clattering track ‘down’ which juxtaposes some fairly brutal riffs with a verse torn straight from ‘music for the masses’. It’s a trick that works well, and for those who ever wondered what Depeche Mode would sound like if they’d only cut loose off the back of tracks from albums such as ‘Ultra’ then this answers a lot of questions. ‘Play with fire’ is a more breathy track, the music sparse and light, albeit leading to a darker chorus that recalls the arrangements of How To destroy Angels, the stripped down verse allowing plenty of space for Chibi’s voice to shine, the chorus a heavier, thrusting sound that lets the heavily processed guitars add a depth and grit to proceedings. It’s also a stunning track and, like so many other of the songs here, the sound of gently menacing dreams, Chibi’s voice coaxing you always away from the dangers suggested by the steely tones of the music. ‘Need’ is a full-on, eighties-infused workout, with the melody and structure pure Depeche mode, but the question here is not so much as to why TBM have decided this is a good idea, as to why haven’t more acts cottoned on to how successful and addictive this sound can be when done properly, as it most certainly is here.
‘Calling’ is a most interesting track, although conversely my least favourite on the album, mainly because it’s key feature is having borrowed significant parts of its melody from Madonna’s ‘La Isla Bonita’ and subjected it to the full Martin Gore treatment, vintage synth and all, for a track that sounds oddly dated. ‘Alibis’, however, sees all forgiven with its sound very much that of NIN-meets-Linkin-Park-meets-massive-attack for a dark hearted moment with a fine vocal performance and memorable chorus. ‘One promise’ continues in a similar vein, the melody largely carried by the vocals whilst the backing hammers away with dark synth washes and crunchy, processed guitars vying for attention in the mix before ‘in this moment’ drifts into view, all rippling synth lines and hazy percussion. It’s far from original, but it is also heartening to hear the eighties sound revived and updated so carefully by a band who are offering an original take on a well-worn formulae. ‘Cover my eyes’ is a slowed down, introspective beast that recalls gothic mainstays Curve mixed with long-lost-indie-act Dubstar for a song that is deliciously dark, augmenting its electronic beats with live drums for greater depth, and then final track ‘the long way home’ closes this remarkably brief album in similarly dark fashion leaving the listener poised and ready to delve into TBM’s carefully constructed fantasy once more.
No one makes music like this anymore, except perhaps Depeche Mode themselves, and it’s refreshing to hear a band that have adapted the template and made it their own at a time when most pop acts are aiming for the horribly faddy, auto-tune-laden sounds of the X Factor and other such nonsense. This is real pop music, dark, tempting and awash with melody, played by a band who are clearly well-versed in their craft. Whilst most readers of this site will undoubtedly find this far too light for their tastes, those with an open mind and an interest in music beyond the realms of metal will find much indeed to admire in TBM’s carefully constructed pop soundscapes and it is certainly an album that will please fans of ‘Pretty hate machine’-era NIN, Depeche Mode and How to destroy angels. Take a risk and try something different, ‘Hide and seek’ is certainly an album worth exploring.