VNV Nation is Ronan Harris (electronics, lyrics, vocals) and Mark Jackson (drums). It all began back around 1990 in London, England when Ronan formed the band originally releasing electronic dance and soundtrack pieces. But the history that most fans are concerned about began around 1994 when the album Advance and Follow was released. While this debut album was a nice piece of work, it wasn't really until the sophomore album Praise The Fallen was released in 1998 that their popularity really picked up. After that they had several successful singles and the very successful Empires album released in 1999. And the rest... as they say, is history.
VNV in the band's name stands for "Victory Not Vengeance", meaning that we should strive to achieve rather than sit idly by in bitter regret. The music has been coined as "Future Pop", which can only be explained as a mixture of EBM and very powerful synthpop. Ronan's droning vocals express deep feelings with the simplistic, yet powerful synth layers and frequent use of dancefloor beats. They've managed to capture fans of Industrial, Synthpop and Gothic music genres with this combination.
With the large discography this band has, you can count on hearing something in a club or radio somewhere quite often. The Gothic Paradise club mix is no exception, you can always hear plenty of selections from the past and present here.
Resonance - Review
This album has been a long-time coming and looked forward to by me with great anticipation. When I heard the concept I was intrigued and curious as to what would be the end result. Visions of something similar to what I've seen with Metallica backed by an orchestra while still performing their heavy-hitting pieces, or in probably more similar to style to what my expectations were was something like Deine Lakaien's work with an orchestra they did. While the latter wasn't too far off, the final result wasn't exactly what I expected. What is present is a full orchestra performing pieces from this band in mostly a soft and slow style, nothing really bombastic or with any kind of fast-paced rhythm. Rather with a very classical approach, something a bit unexpected and probably not how I would have approached it personally. In a way that's part of the beauty of this album, is that it is unique and especially for this group, completely different than expected.
Track selection I'm sure was probably the next biggest decision beyond final overall style used in the music. I think the selection reflects well what one might expect based on attending concerts and selections used as well as what pieces would fit well with the music. The album starts off with "Nova" which is a nice match for this style as the original is fairly laid-back at least at first as it slowly builds to a majestic mid-tempo piece. With the orchestra backing the track instead, the vocals take dominant forefront while the back orchestra slowly moves the piece along. As we move along through the album we're greeted with pieces like "Legion", "Solitary", "Standing" and "Beloved" which come out strong and powerful with the backing orchestra. Sometimes interlaced with piano, other times introducing just a touch of percussion to provide emphasis, or other times bringing on the heavier brass or cello to provide a great backdrop to the emotion-filled, otherwise brooding pieces.
They chose a nice cross-section of pieces for this album, the afore-mentioned club classics I think were expected for sure while the inclusion of newer, more uplifting pieces provide a great variety to the album. Hard-core fans may draw more of a contrast between the originals and what's presented here, but if you listen to the album without drawing that contrast, it all flows well together from one piece to another regardless of the historical placement of the original track. This creates a great homogenous feel to the album despite the band's long and varied history as you go back from album to album and hear the gradual change in style we've seen. Overall it becomes a great opus, a great masterpiece that despite the drastic difference in style from original pieces, fits perfectly in our collection of great music.
Transnational - Review
This album marks a great new chapter in the band's history as we see the band continue to grow and change ever so slightly. Spanning ten epic new tracks, we're presented with a solid album to add to our collection, greeted by uplifting lyrics, melodic vocals all buoyed up by the pounding, driving trance-laiden future pop styles.
The album slowly builds with the pulsating synths of "Generator" which immediately fades and and builds into the upbeat piece "Everything". At first it seems that gone are the days of the dark and heavy brooding of times past as we're bounced along on this pop-laiden piece with the melodic vocals and lyrics full of hope and positive energy. Many may see this as a bad thing, but as the lyrics invoke the imagery of "it seems darkest before the light" so too has the music of this band built a contrast in moods and styles through their history as well as on this single album. Almost immediately we're launched into the slightly heavier "Primary" though still emanating that uplifting melodic nature to the music and vocals. The music gets darker and edgier as we move along with the heavier piece "Retaliate". As we drift through these heavier pieces, fans of the older tracks from this band may enjoy the edge and heavy trance sound a bit more, but for me I prefer the melodic approach while still grounded in the heavy, emotional moods of the darker electronics.
VNV Nation. This brings us to the down-tempo finale of "Teleconnect 2", similar to "Teleconnect 1", the album is slowly brought to a close through dripping hope-filled emotion.
Automatic - Review
As this group's fame spreads throughout the world amongst a broader fanbase, each new album is more and more eagerly awaited. This was definitely no exception as people were talking about it and listening to samples weeks and months before it was released. Their upbeat sound and uplifting lyrics and content seems to resonate with more and more people, garnering more and more fans as each new album pleases most old fans and critics as well.
As I've listened to this album numerous times now, it just grows on me more and more as I try to take it all apart, disect it and then put it all back together to fully understand appreciate the full concept. With a theme based on the dreams of early 20th century visionaries, each track builds on that, lamenting things lost yet building hope for a better future, all coupled together with fun, energetic and emotionally captivating music. As usual, the album starts off with a short intro, a mix of static, bleeps (my wife calls annoying) and soft piano and subtle synths. The album kicks into gear with the upbeat, driving electro-pop sound on "Space & Time". The dynamic mix of driving beats, layers of melodic synths with Ronan's vocals bring the music to life on this and other similar pieces. We're graced with several pieces of this style, a sort of lighter mix of melodic synthpop and electro-pop, losing the heavier monotone sound of days passed with the exception of the heavy, harsher driving piece "Control". Long-time fans will possibly relate more with this track for the rivethead-filled dancefloors, similar to the style of "Chrome" or "Epicentre". Each track is a new masterpiece, whether it has vocals or not, is fit for the dancefloor or more for the somber, dark corners of thought.
Picking out favorites has definitely been a challenge. Though I've been a fan since the very early days since Praise the Fallen, I can understand how certain tracks will most likely please older audiences, while the dominant mix of more dynamic, lighter electro-pop styles probably appeal to the younger, broader audience. I personally enjoy the latter styles on this album despite my time as a fan of this band. I think the dynamic nature of "Space & Time" and "Resolution" are stellar, they're very moving, infusing some of the long-time techno trance sounds with the melodic synthpop styles that provide a great backdrop for the solid vocals. About halfway through the album "Streamline" kicks in with similar styles, with a little harder edge coupled with the swooshing synths it really creates a fun, dance-friendly piece. The energy from this piece (and others similar in nature) helps to drive the deeper meaning of the song into the listener's soul, so you can feel it as much as hear it. I couldn't by-pass "Gratitude" which follows directly in similar style and expresses what I think is a sentiment that would carry this world so much farther, if all shared and showed just a little more gratitude. This leads us on to "Nova" which starts off slowly, with somber synths and no percussion, slowly moving and slowly building and building to a dramatic, inspirational and bombastic climax with layer upon layer of various electronics over a moving, mid-tempo beat for an unforgettable ballad. This brings us seemlessly to the required trance-ridden instrumental piece that exists on each album (at least one), and this one is really great, there are few instrumentals that speak to the soul like this selection does through the sweeping, somber synths all draped over a solid, fast-paced beat. Dropping off for the finale to the album, we're finally presented with "Radio", which starts off a slowly, similar to "Nova" and previous favorite "Beloved". Spanning nearly eight minutes, we're presented with an emotionally captivating piece through thought-provoking lyrics, portrayed through solid vocals and held aloft, broadcast to the world on the wings of driving, pulsating electronic loops, providing a dynamic, breathtaking landscape of beautiful, powerful music that speaks to the soul.
In the end we covered nearly every piece on the album, and I believe most listeners will share the same sentiment, this album is excellent, it has many elements from the past while they continue build on solid, positive, uplifting themes portrayed through music you can really enjoy.
Of Faith, Power and Glory - Review
Keeping in step with their rigorous schedule of releasing a new album about every two years, we now have their latest work. With each new album we anticipate what new material will be presented, will it be dark and edgy? or have a melodic synthpop flavor? Will it be personal and emotional, or layered with political and social concerns? A little bit of all of the above seems to be the appropriate response for this new disc as it really has some great new material, yet there is no mistaking that this is VNV Nation.
The overall format of the album is right in line with past productions. It starts off with a cool intro, several dance-friendly pieces with heavy beats and layered synth loops with somber vocals, the inclusion of a couple of instrumental trance or techno tracks and the occasional mid or down-tempo track and then wrapping it all up in grand fashion. "Pro Victoria" is a great piece to start off the album, sounding like a piece out of an epic movie soundtrack with heavy kettle and military drums with bombastic brass leading up to a definite favorite in "Sentinal". This piece kicks in the moving beats and layered synths powered by a heavy bass and solid rhythm providing the backdrop for Ronan's pleading vocals. "Tomorrow Never Comes" pours on the heavy trance-laiden electronics and brings out the melodic synthpop style for another favorite from this disc and one to broaden the fan-base for sure. And they just keep pouring it on with these dance-friendly, melodic electro-pop pieces as "The Great Divide" keeps it moving for one stellar piece after another.
At this point we get a break in the tempo with "Ghost", but the angst and emotion are still in full force on this slow moving piece with the dark, pulsating deep bass, you can cut through the emotion with a knife and for most readers and fans, the thicker, the better. After a brief break with the trance-laiden, mostly instrumental piece "Art of Conflict", we're right back into the excellent, pounding dance beats of "In Defiance". It's great that they can have so many of these melodic, moving pieces and not have them all sound the same. This piece really pours on the intensity with it's fast pace and standard heavily layered synths backing Ronan's vocals. We really get some great variety on this disc, and at this point it shows well with "Verum Aeternus". With electronics reminiscent of Krafwerk's "Neon Lights" slowly building and fading throughout the first half of the track and giving way to the solid heavy VNV Nation sound for the last half, this becomes a great track with variety in and of itself. The intensity portrayed through the latter half of the track is spellbinding and awe-inspiring.
At this point we're brought to the final two pieces that continue to build on the variety of the album with "From My Hands" which is a beautiful piano piece with a rare, somber performance from Ronan Harris. However, unlike you might expect the album to end with this soft finale potential, instead it just keeps going with "Where There Is Light", leaving us with an upbeat, hopeful piece, building on that solid dance-friendly rhythm we've grown to love over the years. It's a great way to end the album, though it would be hard to go wrong with anything from VNV Nation.
Judgement - Review
2007 has seen a number of great releases already and this one stands out among the others as it seems all VNV Nation release do every few years. Once again there was a lot of anticipation about this album for many fans and the press release paints the band as breaking new boundaries and so on. However, I would like to submit that this is another stellar album that fans can easily add to their collection and easily recognize as VNV Nation.
Like previous releases it's all kicked off with a sort of intro and this one is actually called "Prelude" with an ambient piece leading into my favorite track on the album, the optimistic and powerful, upbeat piece "The Farthest Star". This anthem is one that fans can easily latch onto and hold dear to their hearts for years to come. "Testament" breaks the mold slightly with a sort of indie-sounding guitar-synth strumming away at a fast beat moving the music along and ending by repeating the words "You and me against the world" (with a style and this line - was it influenced by a total shift in style in the latest album from Apoptygma Berzerk?)
Each album has a little bit of trance influence on them and though there is plenty of that with the next couple of tracks, there really are no instrumentals besides the intro and final pieces. "Descent" starts this chapter off with slow pulsating electronics as a back drop to deep, dark spoken word depicting apocalyptic scenes. This gives way to "Momentum" which is the climax of trance-influenced music on this disc, slowly building, adding layers and loops, driving beats and including more minimal vocals, nearly spoken, but droning along with just enough melody to be singing over the trance-laden music. I thought this was a nice touch above and beyond what has been done in the past with these tracks, still powerful, still trancey and moving, but different. This provides the perfect segue to "Nemesis" which is the hardest, driving piece on the album, including a bit of electronics that you might find on the bouncier And One tracks, though I doubt you could deny the signature VNV style with Ronan's solid vocals.
This brings us to the slower, downtempo pieces on this album in the form of "Secluded Spaces". The music on this piece is beautiful, though not really ethereal, it remains an electronic piece in it's totality and it's amazing how Ronan's vocals can become so soft on this piece after coming off so strong and solid on the driving anthems. It's really not something that makes sense, but it works in the end. Slowly building we're given another downtempo piece "Illusion" which is a sort of electronic ballad that you might expect from other artists and it so this came as a bit of a surprise, though I still think it's a good thing. Maybe I'm getting older and so I can enjoy the band getting old and soft the same way I am, hopefully the younger generation can appreciate it and enjoy it as much as I do. This builds up to the final driving piece before the finale of the album in the form of "Carry You". Much like "The Farthest Star", this is an excellent driving synthpop piece with upbeat, hope-filled melodic vocals and synths over a moving beat.
At this point we reach the finale to the album "As It Fades" which is a truly breathtaking piece in it's epic movie soundtrack quality, mixing ethereal beauty with neo-classical imagery, though all synthetic, evoking emotions and images of a haunting siren call. This is truly a fitting ending and something that I've been able to listen to over and over again and remain captivated allowing my imagination to create a fantasy world or moving picture back-drop to the spellbinding music that this last piece is. I have to grant it to these two that they've outdone themselves on this piece and hope for many more, maybe with a guest ethereal or neo-classical vocalist to provide some more texture to it. This ends another excellent album from this group that any fan can pick up with confidence in knowing it will be a rewmarkable addition to their collection.
Matter + Form - Review
For several years I've been a big fan of this powerful blend of EBM, a little bit of Industrial and plenty of synths. Ronan's powerful droning vocals, while sometimes a bit monotonous are always powerful and driving. Despite this initial impression, the truth is that he can sing, which is more than I can say about other related groups who often mask their voices behind various distortions. This isn't a bad thing in the industrial scene, in fact it's often expected, but it's refreshing to hear something different along these lines, especially from a band like this.
The press release for this album scared me and other fans into thinking we were in for a change, which isn't always good (ie. The Cure from obscure excellent goth-like to (ahem) crappy..). But I should have known better, it's not the first time a press release has been totally misleading and just plain wrong. The music on this album is awesome! Plain and simple, most of the album is really excellent and follows much the same pattern as the previous release. It contains an intro, a couple of hard-hitting dance floor tracks, a little bit of instrumental filler, some smooth and melodic synthpop tracks and a couple of ballads.
Most fans of this band will probably be looking for the hard-hitting dancefloor tracks it contains and "Chrome" really hits the spot. The beats are pounding, the electronics are solid and things really move. "Entropy" is another that follows close behind, although it takes a while to really build into the driving force it becomes.
The album really has a lot of instrumental filler in it, a lot more than previous releases, which for me was a little bit of a disappointment. My thoughts were that with under an hour of music from this band, half of it wouldn't be spent with instrumental filler, unless the band was really trying to target more of a trance audience, which could really be the case.
As with Futureperfect there are a couple of slow ballads on the album as well. "Colours of Rain" and "Endless Skies" are these pieces. The first is just an ambient-like instrumental piece. The latter explores something a little deeper with Ronan's thought-provoking lyrics and vocals blended with slow, pulsating music. For me, the best part about this album, besides the popular track "Chrome" are the excellent smooth and melodic synth tracks. After "Chrome" leaves your heart pounding from the solid beats, you're left listening to the smooth synth loops of "Arena" which builds into a moving and really excellent piece. Along these same lines is "Homeward" which is almost heart-wrenching in it's emotional content and really catchy electronics. And the finale to the album picks up the intensity a bit, but still focuses on the emotional moods and smooth synthpop style in "Perpetual". It builds with a solid dance beat and layered electronics and Ronan's powerful vocals and then gradually fades, bringing the album to a graceful and acceptable end.
While the album has some really great tracks, I wish the moving instrumental pieces had some more great lyrics and vocals like those that are present on the rest of the album. To me it would have brought the album from really good, to really great! Still something that fans should pick up, don't be scared off by the press release of re-inventing EBM and Futurepop.
Pastperfect DVD - Review
This DVD has been a long awaited and highly anticipated release. After several delays we finally have the finished product which is in the form of 2 DVD's with live videos, behind the scenes information and other extras. There isn't a lot I can write about this, because mainly it's a live performance DVD and not much else. But I'll try and break it down a little.
The biggest disappointment for me from the beginning once I knew what was coming on this DVD is the fact that there are no really "videos" on this DVD, just live performances. While it's nice to have this compilation of live performances, I just don't think anything really matches the production of a good music video. Hopefully this will be something that will come in the future. As far as the live performances go, they are well put together featuring several different performances. It's pretty neat to see one shot while they're performing in the rain and the next they're dry with different crowds, but it all comes together cleanly. The sound is very nice, not losing any quality as some live performance recordings do. The light show and other factors also blend well. Another plus is the song selection including many great hits over the past several years and several albums and singles. Highlights include "Darkangel", "Solitary", "Beloved", "Fearless" and many more.
Overall a well-produced DVD. I just think that with 2 DVDs some regular music videos would be included.
Futureperfect - Review
Here is the very long-anticipated new release from this very talented band. With the anticipation building from the two "Genesis" singles and the tour that made it to most of the western world, we're now presented with Futureperfect. And that is what this album has to offer, views, insights, music, emotion and love all put together to a dancey beat at times, to somber music at other times.
I believe that "Foreword" pretty much sums it up in a few phrases in spoken word with some great background music, I almost felt like this should have been something presented at the Olympics or some world-wide event that brings the nations together in unity. The message states: "This is your world, these are your people. You can live for yourself today or help build tomorrow for everyone." And then it is repeated in German and French. There are a few of these somber tracks, although this is the only one with spoken word instead of sung vocals or instrumental. One of these that is very much a highlight on this album for me is "Holding On", with very pleading and emotional vocals with excellent slow-tempo synth music as a backdrop.
But this album isn't all about the somber mood portrayed in these few tracks, but it also includes some powerful dance music. Many people are already familiar with "Genesis" from the singles released earlier. It is definitely one of the great dance tracks on this album. Another great dancefloor track is "Epicentre", once again it all comes together with the powerful synths and Ronan's emotional vocals.
But the greatest moment for me are the two final tracks, "Beloved" and "Airships". Both begin slow, without a beat as they slowly build up to a great, moving finale. But even more so, is the strength, power and emotion portrayed in "Beloved", beginning with an excellently orchestrated synth-string introduction that gives way to a synth loop and the emotional lyrics and vocals. As the track progresses, the emotional power and music all build to an almost overpowering climax. Definitely my favorite track on this album and probably one of the greatest highlights of the year.
This album has a little bit of everything, for the Goth, rivet-head and even a bit of Power Noiz for those into the more experimental stuff. I believe this is definitely one of the top 10 releases for the year and could very well stay that way even with so much of the year left.
Label: Metropolis Records