Under Your Spell, by The Birthday Massacre
Suggested by Noli-Rose Nikitaki
Some seventy-five albums ago, I reviewed Violet, by The Birthday Massacre.
In that review, I talked on the band’s affinity for purple, the strength of Sarah Chibi Taylor’s vocals, the sweeping electronica that elevated proceedings, and the band’s tendency to experiment with genre and form a little too readily. Not bad for just over five hundred words. With Violet being a 2004 release, and Under Your Spell a 2017 album, have The Birthday Massacre travelled a fresh road or are they still mired in the jangly gothic swamp?
Let’s take the previous points step by step.
First, it seems that the band have not moved past their purple passion. This cover sees a purple skeleton awash with purple flames kissing another purple skeleton with purple bunny ears. So, on theme, on brand, on point. Score one for The Birthday Massacre.
Second, it’s safe to say that Sarah Chibi Taylor’s voice has not been dulled by the passage of time. She’s still as assured as ever. But things aren’t all rosy, as we’ll cover in point four.
Third, where does this album stand on sweeping electronica? I’m more than happy to report that the band have embraced this affectation with vigour. The opening track One has some splendid synth work, quite delicate and evocative of the Eighties but with a throbbing undercurrent. Under Your Spell has a similar feel, with an almost underwater intro leading into a grand stuttering bass that has keytar written all over it. In fact, it’s safe to say that, like the Force, the electronica is strong in this one. Later songs lean a little harder into the metallic musics, but there’s an omnipresent electronic hum rippling throughout, like a melodious fridge in the background, or an arpeggiated hoover.
And fourth, do The Birthday Massacre still skip gaily through the genre garden? Well… sort of. They certainly don’t betray their electronic and symphonic goth roots, but on Under Your Spell there’s a clearer sense of cohesion than on the equally polished but slightly more charming Violet. On Violet, there were Metal songs and Industrial songs and Synth songs, each with a pop veneer. In Under Your Spell, it’s almost the mirror. It feels like a collection of Pop songs that have a Metal veneer, an Industrial veneer, a Synth veneer, and so on. It’s a subtle difference, likely springing for the band’s growing confidence and refinement of their signature style. I’m in no way saying it’s a hindrance. It’s just… different. And in taking this direction, I feel Chibi’s voice is pigeonholed a little, restrained in its pop shell and unable to truly break free and hit her previous heights.
For standout song, I’ve plumped for Counterpane, as it has the most direct and heaviest sound on the whole album. It’s closely matched against others, of course, with both Unkind and All of Nothing successfully pushing my buttons.
Under Your Spell gets 6/10. It feels a fine and matured shift for The Birthday Massacre from their earlier work, yet I do feel that, by reigning in their more eclectic urges, they’ve watered down their appeal by focussing on their core sound over all else.