Velvet Acid Christ – one of the most divisive acts in industrial?
Well, that is what many would have you believe, but I don’t think that they really are. Bryan Erickson’s long-running project, now nearing 25 years of activity, have maybe gone through periods of (comparatively) massive popularity, and indeed the opposite, but that is often the case for many bands in our thing as trends come and go.
The thing is, I’ve never been totally sure where VAC fitted in. Industrial, yes, but with, at least in their earlier days, a significant influence from both rave culture, drug use and films, while later on there was more of a goth (read: The Cure) influence for a while, and even acoustic guitars (!).
But in recent times, Erickson has had a renewed energy in the project, with recent material being a return to his best work, and more importantly live shows have been great (a very rare indeed London show the other year was exceptional, and we have an appearance at Infest to come), so a career retrospective appears to be a good move when there is also renewed interest in what he is doing under the VAC moniker.
Rather than a sprawling, multi-CD, overlong compilation, it is instead kept to just fourteen songs, nicely filling seventy-five minutes, and the spread of tracks from albums is a good one, covering from the earliest material (We Have To See We Have To Know from Fate in 1994), all the way up to Bend The Sky from Maldire a couple of years back.
All of it has apparently been remastered for this compilation, although a first few listens haven’t revealed any discernable improvements to what I already have (audiophiles reading this, please tell me if there really is anything I’ve missed). But what is interesting is the choice of versions, although to be fair, Erickson had choice here.
Some songs got released and re-released, and then re-released again (and again and again in some cases) as new technologies came about, presumably, or Erickson simply had a better idea for a track he’d already released – or someone provided a new remix for him. All of these variables are featured here. Phucking Phreak is recycled once again with a guitar-heavy mix at least providing a vaguely new slant on a very familiar song, while Erickson has remixed the evergreen Futile into an umpteenth new version under his Toxic Coma alter-ego (not that there is a lot different to what we already know), and the oldest song on the CD – the swirling, stark atmospheres of We Have To See We Have To Know – also appears in another remix that makes some subtle changes from the original.
What has also changed over the years – and what is made so obvious here – is how reliant on pop-culture samples VAC songs used to be. Consider the songs that were the breakthroughs for VAC in the first place. Phucking Phreak would likely be a fairly plodding track without most of the plot of Se7en featured, while Futile would be a non-descript dancefloor track without Patrick Stewart as the Borg from Star Trek: First Contact. Not to mention the loopy, chaotic fun of Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas that makes Fun With Drugs such a joy.
But then, as we get to the later songs, samples are interestingly all-but-absent. Either getting clearance was harder to come by, or more likely, Erickson realised he had the songwriting chops to be able to work without them – certainly, his best dancefloor track of recent times, Caustic Disco, is simply a blistering industrial barrage, and the remix of it here by fellow hard-industrial acolytes Mindless Faith actually makes it sound even better.
Probably the most controversial period of VAC is covered by the inclusion of two songs. Over a couple of albums, some songs showed a distinct goth leaning, complete with Cure-esque basslines, and acoustic guitars, and didn’t half stand out among the other songs that were more like the VAC we were more familiar with. And aside from being a bit of self-indulgent hero-worship, perhaps, Black Rainbows and Crushed are actually rather impressive songs, and certainly merit their appearance here as evidence of this diversion along the way.
Not everything has aged so well, though. Erickson seems very proud of Slut – the dark, sprawling ballad at the heart of Fun With Knives – and it remarkably opens this compilation. While the vocals are sung by Anna Christine (of long-lost Californian industrial-rock band Luxt), the perhaps a little troubling lyrics were credited to her bandmate Erie Loch, and I’m not convinced this is a particularly empowering song, but I could be wrong – and maybe it’s for others to judge, not me.
Also remarkable, thinking about it, is how much more could have been featured, and what was omitted as a result. Live favourites Decypher and The Dark Inside Me didn’t make the cut, and neither did the exceptional dancefloor pounding of Dial8 (another song to have multiple remixes and versions, and there isn’t a bad one among them), nor the druggy, paranoid nightmares of Velvet Pill.
But this is a good problem to have. I’d much rather if we’re going to have a “best-of”, for it to be for bands that actually have a catalogue to assess. That means we don’t end up with padding by odds-and-sods, dusted off cast-offs as “new songs”, instead actually getting a good overview of a career. And this does a great job of that. Clearly it is Erickson’s view of his own career, and that’s fine – he has been a singular presence for many years, happy to plough his own furrow, and his reward here is to be able to show his work in what he feels his best light.
Granted, not everyone is going to agree with him, but I suspect he’d actually like it that way. Indeed, we need more artists like Erickson. Less concerned with “fashion” in the scene, but instead creating music that people want to hear/consume, and actually connect with people – the seeming legions of still-devoted VAC fans after all these years is a testament to the fact that he must be doing something right still.
For once, a Greatest Hits that is pretty much on-point. Almost all-killer, and well worth your time, to either introduce you to one of the most singular talents in industrial, or to remind you how great it is once again.