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Step into the dark side

2008-08-25 16:37
Arno Carstens has been a very, very busy boy this year. Not content with recording his new solo album in Spain, supporting the likes of Suzanne Vega, Paul Weller, Meatloaf and The Police, and playing summer festivals across Europe – V Fest, T in the Park, Isle of Wight - he has also found time to indulge his darker side in a new electronic project called Bhelltower. Clearly, his is a creative impulse that knows no bounds.

Watch the exclusive Bhelltower video:
"Substitute" feat. Cindy Alter (industrial strength broadband)
"Substitute" feat. Cindy Alter (lower-grade broadband)

Listen to full tracks from the new album:
Bhelltower (self-titled album)

What makes Bhelltower so special? Well, it’s dirty, grimy stuff. Black, sharp beats get thrown against the wall to see if they stick - and an almost unrecognisable Carstens adding a touch of depraved soul to the mix. It’s unlike anything we’ve heard from the former Springbok Nude Girls frontman.

Bhelltower is Carstens’ collaboration with Joburg electro producer and DJ Urbatro. Together they have delved into their shared love of misery-loves-company legends such as Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails, gothic heroes Sisters of Mercy, David Bowie and hardcore SA industrialists Battery 9. A bewitched stand-out is a gothified, extreme electronic makeover of that South African classic "Substitute", featuring original Clout vocalist Cindy Alter no less!

On the evidence of Bhelltower, Carstens may eventually become known as a musical chameleon, a la David Bowie, partnering with musicians and producers to help tap into different aspects of his varied and versatile musical personas. As part of the Nudies, he and guitarist/producer Theo Crous were an invincible partnership that resulted in the great success story of South African rock music.

Post-Nudies, Carstens New Porn project saw him find his Sama-winning, soaringly melodic modern rock peak with guitar master Albert Frost and former Urban Creep violinist Brendan Jury. New Porn marked the point at which Carstens went supernova – becoming the poster boy for SA cool – there’s just something magnetic about a tall, square-jawed rock singer that’s hard to ignore and predictably being named the Sexiest Man in SA.

So, could Carstens possibly be casting the sexy image aside, atoning for his celebrity endorsed tabloid dalliances with this distinctly un-pretty Bhelltower project? One listen of their self-titled album could suggest that. This is certainly no attempt to top the radio charts or soundtrack the next luxury car ad.

Bhelltower is aiming for the darker recesses of the modern mind, those parts that only come out at night, when you think no-one is watching, where fear, paranoia, doubt, loneliness and rejection reside. And it will have you in its spell.

Besides the cover of Clout’s "Substitute" there is the energetic spasm of first single "Monsters" featuring rapper Spaceman. "Vampires" immerses itself in an ocean of disparate sounds – from pounding drum and bass to clinical, digitised beats over a warm synth spill. It’s like jumping into a bath of cold water after spending half an hour in a steam room – a shock to the system that turns out to have a thrilling pay-off.

As this post-punk aesthetic wrestles with slivers of 80s new wave, 21st century angst, and the monster under the bed, Bhelltower’s wave of mutilation is the most unexpected, yet intoxicating brew to come from Carstens’ ferociously creative mind.

It’s a bewildering, bewitching album that is primed to reveal its dark heart’s secrets over time. So risk your cat’s life, indulge your curiosity, and dive in head-first.

- Shaheema Barodien

SA rock hero Arno Carstens has an incredibly depraved and sinister side to him. Don’t believe us? Then hear tracks and watch the exclusive video from his macabre new side project – Bhelltower.


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