When titans do battle: A23 vs VNV


21. Apr. 2007, 4:47

So I've been playing the new VNV Nation and the new Assemblage 23 albums non-stop and in the end I don't think the two are comparable enough to have a firm winner. Aesthetically, they are both very well produced and better than the majority of the projects in the scene. Both of these albums solidify the trademark sound of each project while expanding the scope of it. A prime example of this in the new VNV Nation is the track Descent.

Descent is a stylistic blend of Carbon, Strata, and Second Skin (Spoken) with startlingly apocalyptic imagery that describes organized religions effect on the populous. With lines like "These faithful in lines that number thousands / bring perdition throughout the land" and "..in the abandonment of reason / and our delivery into hell" simply work numbers on the listeners mind. The new Assemblage 23 has a new song with a similar theme called Ghosts that while musically is very good, lyrically falls short of the high standard Tom Shear has set with his lyrics.

Ghosts is, in spite of its soggy lyrics, a highlight from the new album, Meta. The bass line is a focal point on the track, and with good reason. It is a good example of the innovative new elements Shear is trying to implement. Another song, Madman's Dream, is a good example of the new music techniques and vocal deliveries Tom is experimenting with. Though the song is very good in the musical sense (Tom adds a bass guitar to his sonic arsenal!), it is perhaps the most blatantly political song Assemblage 23 has ever come out with. Until now, Assemblage 23 had a very nice phenomenological feel about its lyrics, requiring the listener to interpret them as their experiences allowed. This song leaves little room for that. But Meta is not without its inspirational moments.

Sorry, Meta's equivalent to Storm's Ground with a dash of You Haven't Earned It gives warning to those of us out there who love to hate, and take comfort in misery. The line "...if you're not careful the world is going to pass you by" is Tom's honest advice about what bitterness will obtain. All in all, Sorry seems to mainly be just a technical exercise for Shear as it isn't exactly ground breaking in style or poetics. Perhaps the best part in this song is the closing synth solo that sounds like a panning robot voice with a nice filter sweep. VNV Nation is guilty of a very similar offense.

The Farthest Star is probably the most uninspired track on Judgement which actually makes it fit perfectly after the intro. It has virtually everything wrong with it in terms of being a 'new' song. This track sounds like it could have been a b-side from Matter + Form because it is produced in a way that mirrors Arena or Perpetual. Further, not only are the lyrics incredibly hokey, but the delivery makes them all the more difficult to listen to. Lyrically it seems to reinforce Tom Shear's statement that VNV Nation is a closet Christian band and it would be a wise career move to just admit to the fact. I would say shamelessly that it is the worst track on the new album. But 'worst' is a relative term, it is still better than some of the best music ever released by other artists.

The hands down best two tracks on Judgement as Ronan Harris must have anticipated, are Carry You and Nemesis. They both have the fusion of new and old VNV Nation. When Matter + Form was released, upon hearing it, I was left wondering if that was really it. I was concerned that VNV Nation was losing it, after all Futureperfect also seemed to be a step in an unexpected direction that wasn't received as well as Empires. After Judgement came, it became apparent VNV Nation is shaping new styles that take incubating and a time-span that may stretch across albums in order to deliver very well thought out ideas and sounds. That is not to say that Matter + Form shouldn't be taken seriously, but it can be better respected now that it serves as a marker of the progress VNV Nation has made.

Assemblage 23 has made progress too. It was probably a very good idea for Tom to take a year off in 2005 to produce Linear because the techniques he developed can be heard throughout Meta. The first clear example is in Raw at the very end with the synth that plays after the short break. It is airy and reminiscent of a part in Stealth. Also, as mentioned before, Ghosts has a new kind of style that could probably be attributed to Shear's work on Nerve Filter The most surprising track on the new Assemblage 23 is the song Crush. The sample did not leave much of an impression other than typical A23, but the sample was deceptive. Though they do no sound alike, this song is a lot like the track Apart from Storm, the sample didn't work any magic but the song itself turned out to be very, very good.

Overall, neither is better than the other. Both albums show excellent craftsmanship in terms of production. Both albums are generally thoughtful and well-written but guilty of being lyrically and stylistically stale here and there. The VNV Nation album is a better follow up, however, being that it is better than Matter + Form. Meta, on the other hand, does not seem to quite live up to the standards that were set by Storm but comes close none the less.

Both albums are excellent additions to the bands' respective catalogs and will be celebrated by the industrial/ebm/futurepop community for some time to come.


  • Tolone

    I haven't listened to the new A23 yet, so I will refrain from seriously entering this discussion until I do. I will say this though: I have always found Tom Shear to be fairly uninspired myself, (Just my opinion, please don't flog me!) but he never fails to make me laugh! VNV Nation a Christian band? I have never really thought about it in that way, maybe because they aren't overt in the way, say, Mentallo & the Fixer has been throughout the years, but now I think I will have to go back through all their work and listen to their lyrics. :) Damn Tom is clever heh heh..... xoxoxoxo

    21. Apr. 2007, 19:08
  • nosnebulous

    VNV Nation is Christian in a very existential way (ha ha). I think the humanist philosophy in VNV Nation's music is the 'Christian' element that Tom is talking about. I've always been able to pawn off VNV Nation lyrics on my fundamentalist Christian mother, so I know that there is something in the message that coincides with the belief. And as far as Tommy Boy's inspirato goes, besides an overwhelming sense of guilt for his father's suicide, he does seem a bit uninspired. Either he really does blame everyone else for everything or he spends a lot of time talking into a mirror. But it is can not be denied that he has set up a good paradigm for future-pop.

    21. Apr. 2007, 19:52

    I haven't picked up Judgment yet so I cannot comment on it but I felt both VNV and A23 both had weak previous albums. Storm was missing a lot for me and Matter+Form seemed incomplete, like it was tossed together hastily. So far I'm really digging Meta. Some of the songs are growing on me more as I listen. I have to agree about Madman's Dream. I've not pulled out the lyrics sheet but it's pretty clear what he's saying. My two favorite songs so far are Raw and Sorry. I don't dig too deep into musical analytics, I simply don't have the knowledge to do so, but I know what I like. heh

    16. Aug. 2007, 13:26
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