Robotzen: ‘The Violence Factors In’
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Omnibus Collective Records, May 2005
Five of Five Stars
Here is a band that is honestly trying to push the envelope and expand some paradigms, to use a couple of corporate-world chestnuts.
Forcibly but stylishly evolving themselves forward from ‘Trip-Hop’ to ‘Digital-Crash’, a genre all their own, Robotzen toils in dark solitude. There are many musicians, many bands ‘out there’ who attempt to defy classfication in the struggle to avoid the stifling confinement and potential exclusivity (and limited sales) of Classification. (Note the capital.)
Format radio heralded the beginnings of this scourge as Rock’n’Roll began noticeably evolving in discernible divergent directions. Neil Young raged against the music industry’s then-new ‘Classic Rock’ sub-genre label in his brief ‘New Wave/Swing’ experimentation period; he feared many people might not listen to his music if they thought everyone else at a show would stare them down if they weren’t wearing faded plaid and denim.
The desire to create original music was an ironic motivator in the destructive ‘90’s and 20-oughts trend in mixing numerous genres together, creating a marching army of bland, faceless pop bands and artists. ‘No Doubt’ comes to mind as a prime example.
Like ELO taking inspiration from the Beatles in the ‘70’s, but not aping and raping them as did Oasis in the ‘90’s, Robotzen takes inspiration from plenty of sources. Yet, as honest musicians in search of expression and not sales, they become rare creators in a field of rock’n’roll not well-known for an ethic of originality: electronica.
Instead of selective mixing and matching, Robotzen simply come to the forge as they are, their influences in their hearts and not on a production pallette, and they create. As in their first release, ‘Alice Meets the Caterpillar’, the result is raw, technological and yet visceral, love-it-or-hate-it Truth.
This writer happens to love it.
‘The Violence Factors In’ is true to the vulnerable, raw emotive style of the first CD, but takes the style to a harder, grittier edge. On this outing, the band comes to the show, gets out of the bus and leaves the victims sticking to the bumper. We peel them off and eat them as we pick out the harsh realities from the lyrics.
Before the reader assumes we’re busking protest music ala Rage Against the Machine, fear not. There is no pretense nor oblique agenda-mongering in Robotzen. They just play and say what’s on their minds, and it all comes out 100% organic Rock’n’Roll, with the electronic heart pumping like an invasive alien technology that has found its home.
The music retains the deep, ecclectic urband soundscape of the first CD and builds the style through natural creative evolution. Steve Robot and Sue Zen really are home-growing their own evil creature here. this is best-exemplified by the disturbingly brooding yet aggresive ‘Born by Blood’.
The band finally gives us their theme song with ‘The Robotzen’. It’s heavy, riffy, gothy, punky all at once, with a touch of the Sisters of Mercy to lend some heritage to the style. This is also one of the more ‘traditionally’ structured songs on the album.
I find it useful to make a comparison in creative directions (and origins) here:
Robotzen has never made a secret of its hard-rock, metal-inspired guitar influence. Steve Robot weilds his guitar quite handily and would have no problem inserting himself into a similarly-accomplished heavy metal outfit. (Listen to the wildly shredding solo in ‘Said the Girl’.) Yet, he approaches his musical creativity with no apparent prejudice, not leaning in favor of any god in his personal musical pantheon. Everything blends without losing its flavor. Unlike all the major-label acts practicing their shitty mix’n’match and poisoning us with their blandness, Robotzen gives us a varied diet that’s healthy and fun to consume.
A band that has tried to incorporate more modern (read: electronic) influences into its souind, and has failed despite its legendary status, is Judas Priest.
With mixed success on the pop-tinged ‘Turbo’ album back in their ‘80’s heyday, Priest melded guitar with guitar synths. The effect produced some hits but it didn’t go down well with longstanding fans, for example myself. As of this writing, I still refuse to own a copy of ‘Turbo’ or ‘Bring the Hammer Down’ because of the brazen pop direction of these albums.
Yet, I bought and have enjoyed (unlike many other Priest fans) ‘Demolition’, which several years ago received a severe panning from fans and the Metal press alike for its liberal use of electronics such as guitar synths. Still, I find some gems on it, and I wonder if it is merely because of the era in which it was produced. I’m more severe in my old-schoolness than MOST traditional metalheads, and yet I enjoy ‘Demolition’; however aside from me, very few do.
To the point: Why did Judas Priest fail to diversify its style, despite two solid attempts and all the musical talent in the world? They are, after all, godz of Metal.
Perhaps it takes a wandering heart to do what Robotzen does. Django Reinhardt, the Belgian gypsy jazz guitarist pioneer who overcame a crippling handicap and went on to inspire countless great musicians, including Metal founder Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath!), changed the face of jazz from all the way over in Europe. He poured his gypsy heart, soul and muse into his jazz and swing and came out golden. He bore no favor to any of his muses: he simply made music from his heart with all of them at once.
This is the gift of Steve Robot of Robotzen: whatever legacy he may leave in his work, he is this sort of musician.
Sue Zen’s gift it to provide a passionate voice that gives character and intimacy to this music that I have only seen happen in one other place: Black Sabbath with the young Ozzy Osbourne.
In all, this is a stronger offering with stronger tracks. The first is great for laying foundations, but this one is FRUITION.
Let me say it all again simply in ‘critic-ese’: “This is a MATURE sophomore release.”
I take credit for suggesting to Steve in email that he include the two excellent bonus tracks: awesome remixes of two great tracks from ‘...Caterpillar’, ‘A Certain Irony’ and ‘Black Swan’. Remixes are useful in giving the listener a fresh perspective when the artist takes the opportunity to truly re-express his ideas. These two re-examinations are true gems.
Grab this CD from CDbaby.com or the band’s or label’s site, but grab it. this time they’re on Omnibus Collective Records and we’ve got a nice digipak with delightfully disturbing artwork bearing the face of Death. Gotta love that.
Last note: I’m a recent Mac convert, and this album was distilled with the power of Mac G4 laptops. This album should make you join the Cult of Mac if nothing else has yet.