It looks as if they were all wrong. For years, critics of all sorts have assumed that punk could not, and would not mix up with the likes of those who thought that the light at the end of the tunnel is a truck coming in their direction. I mean, the nihilist stance of bands such as The Sex Pistols and Discharge, their “new luddism,” aimed at destroying and denying progress for the lack of an acceptable alternative, undeniably struck a chord in the goth camp. But, if destruction would act as a unifier, the means to achieve it were indeed on the opposite ends of the spectrum. The passive, almost fatalistic melancholy of goth clashed (sometimes in more that one way) with the actively destructive attitude of punk. Could we ever imagine that a synthesis would have been possible? Not until 45 Grave and deathrock came about in the early 1980s. Fast-forward to 2012 and what we find is a band that combines Joy Division, Christian Death and Refused. The good news is that it does it terribly well. The bad news? Well, this time there isn’t any. Simply because a band that tries to add something to the menu can’t fail. And if it does it with such angst and power, then it means that there’s still hope for angry music in this world.
Cold in Berlin is a London-based four piece, which despite their obvious influences, should not be taken for granted. If their previous album – Give Me Walls – was an aggressive, although rather naïve attempt to attract a crowd of impressionable kids, the new album displays a mature effort to sound dated through a contemporary aesthetics. The reworking is visible, almost tangible and it hits the listener as soon as the opener “Take Control” fills the speakers. Its pace is slow, albeit intimidating and daunting; the arrangement is simple but effective, while the general feel is that of belligerence and anticipation. The screams which haunted “Give me walls” have developed into a solemn, almost theatrical statement of intent whose monotonous intonation reaches an annoying pitch reminiscent of Interpol, and therefore Joy Division.
But it takes less that five minutes for the atmosphere to change; as soon as we enter “…and the Darkness Bangs” the mood gets darker, the grey area between fiction and drama turns as black as the grainy shadows on the related video [Embedded below. – AMG]. And, as the going gets tough, the guitar takes centre stage to supply a perfect melody for the perfect vocals. Singer Maya (or My) has got what it takes and a bit more than that. Her voice scratches the harmony in an effortless attempt to derange songs like “Roll on in” or “Brick by Brick” from what would have been perfectly acceptable for any Swans and Shellac fan, into death anthems to be muttered with anger.
The same applies to the lovely “The Visionary”: a track whose martial feel takes us straight back to neo-folk experiments such as H.E.R.R.’s The Fall of Constantinople or Nihil Novi Sub Sole. The genre is different but the outcome is similar. If we want (if we’re really interested in it that is) punk, then we can find it in the bland, innocuous “Love Is Shame”. But the darkness always bangs twice, they say, so we’re back into the gloom as soon as “John” and “Whisper” grace us with a bass which screams ‘new wave’ all along.
Carved in the English underground, Cold in Berlin’s craft is drenched with doom and cinematic references without easily falling into the occasional clichés. While we can forgive them for subjecting us to yet another inverted cross on the cover, their music is doubtless derivative, although in an original way. The album falls short of providing groundbreaking material, but trafficking with vintage elements without emulating obvious stereotypes is an achievement in itself. The medium is obsolete but the outcome is modern… in its own vintage way.