In these times of demands for instant musical gratification, and single track downloads apparently supplanting the album, success sometimes comes to those bands that demand more than just a fleeting listen. Austria’s Mind.In.A.Box are one such band.
After four albums, three of which were a linked story about a dystopian future, and then an album that harked back to 80s computer games and retro technology, they finally decided to take their intricate, obsessively produced music onstage…and against all the odds, the results were utterly remarkable. Stepping outside the box marked “industrial live show” that is normally banks of synths and a vocalist, they reworked songs with a rock band setup, and then keyboards…and those ultra-treated vocals.
And as more people saw them live, interest in a band who had before been something of a well-kept secret suddenly exploded into the open. They were the talk of two festivals I attended last year, will likely be the talk of another next week, and all this while keeping the deep emotional core of their music intact.
Which brings us to the new album. Like previous albums, this makes no concessions whatsoever to those who want immediacy. This is an album to listen to repeatedly, to let it get under your skin and for it not to let go. Which is, perhaps, an excuse as to why this review has taken over two months to form since the album arrived. There was no way that a full review of an album this detailed, and this elegant, could possibly have been done justice earlier.
Like the recent tour, the album begins with the elegant ballad Remember, where the vocals get a rare dose of power (usually so restrained), and the influence of the live show really comes through, with the song actually sounding like it was created for a band from the start. Things become more…well, MIAB, with Cause and Effect, a lengthy, spacey, pounding epic that seems to keep something in reserve, never quite unleashing it’s full power like you keep expecting.
Transition is where the new arc of the story really becomes clear, as character Black enters an empty location, with no people, no music, and the song is appropriately sparse, full of the band’s trademark vocal treatments, and builds to an anguished climax that is really quite haunting. For those who just want five minutes of listening, that one track that they can dance to – sadly, some might consider all that is necessary – Doubt may just about fit the bill. But then, pounding club beats have never exactly been MIAB’s thing, and why should they? They have proven an ability to do it in the past (just check the astounding club remixes of What Used To Be from a few years back), mind…but here they don’t concentrate on it too long, and quickly head off in other directions.
It is a good thing they do, too – seeing as Control is one of the finest songs MIAB have ever released. It was by far the best track on the first listen through to the album, and the chorus got stuck in my head damned quickly. A glorious, glittering ballad that unfolds a little like Crossroads highlight Stalkers, before the vocal melodies hit you with an emotional punch like that from Fear…and I get this feeling that this song will sound utterly amazing live.
Fragments kinda suits its title, being, for a fair proportion of it, something of a throwback to the icy cold electronics of the first album Lost Alone, where titular elements fight their way out of the speakers, before everything finally coalesces into an angry, frightened whole. Unknown (a track that, amusingly, fails to scrobble due to it’s title) is this albums trip into synthpop, loaded with vocodered vocals and a quite astonishing key change that simply bathes the latter part of the track in a glorious, bright light, and sounds utterly wonderful.
It has to be said that after this point, the album perhaps tails off a little, the sheer emotional energy that powers what has come before perhaps being drained away, song by song. So while Not Afraid is something of a defiant, soaring ballad, Second Reality kinda coasts along, as if finally defeated by the weight of the task. Sanctuary rouses things one last time, with thumping breakdowns and more heavily-treated vocals, before finally fading into the darkness.
Time and again we say “band x sound like no-one else”, but with MIAB, we really mean it. The rare band that have carved a totally unique niche for themselves, that after a good few years and a few solid releases, are finally beginning to gain the recognition that they deserved all the long. Exquisite songcraft, electronic compositions far more intricate and thoughtful than any of their supposed peers, and this yet another MIAB album to cherish.