2008-08-25 16:19
What most rock fans got to see and hear was the PG-friendly stuff, the towering sing-along choruses, the head-thrashing guitar antics, the assuring feeling that the state of SA music was in very capable hands.

But, oh my, what has Carstens gone and done now? Why is there a gargoyle wearing a hat with rotting flowers on his new CD cover? And then alarm bells really start to ring when the CD starts.

All dubby breakbeats, glitch-techno and some pretty filthy guitars… just what is Bhelltower all about? And why does it sound so freakin' scary?

The Springbok Nude Girls frontman's new sided project has been a two-year long journey, in collaboration with electro producer DJ Urbatro that "represents a series of emotional influences from depraved misery, loneliness and rejection to energetic uplifting simplicity," according to the band. And, boy, does it ever.

Lead single "Monster" featuring Spaceman is a beat-heavy soundtrack to your worst nightmares, recalling The Prodigy at their menacing best, while "Laser Spider" is an industrial stomper that incorporates the synth underswell of The Smiths' "How Soon is Now" for emotional effect.

The track that will have people wracking their brains trying to figure out what’s so familiar about it is "Substitute", the song made famous in the late '70s by South African girl group Clout. Featuring Clout vocalist Cindy Alter, Bhelltower have stripped all the pop sugariness out of the original and instilled it with a sinister edge, making it sound more like a stalker’s manifesto than a love song. It’s dark and dangerous, and thereby also rather sexy.

The second half of the album, however, is less successful as it tries to touch on every goth, industrial and electro hallmark – from freaky, sped-up Johnny Rotten-esque scatting on "Dying to Party" and a lethargic cover of the Phil Collins classic "I Wish it Would Rain Down" – it gets a bit exhausting. Carstens is unrecognisable on most of the tracks, his vocals treated and digitally reworked so that he can sound like anyone else but himself. Is he that keen to hide the musician we’re familiar with?

At 15 tracks, Bhelltower is too long, which makes the enterprise verge on the overwrought. They’ve been listening to all the right artists in crafting this experiment (Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails and Aphex Twin influences are all in abundance) and could provide the link that opens up an entirely new audience to the "difficult" world of gothic, industrial and grime-electro.

- Shaheema Barodien

From nude girls, to new porn, to hell and back, Arno Carstens has always had a pretty dirty persona, only his rock star good looks and nice Afrikaner boy manners made him seem sweet, rather than sleazy.

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