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Music Review: The Birthday Massacre – Walking With Strangers

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The Birthday Massacre is one of those groups that are difficult to describe, because they fully embrace their particular musical space to the point of obsession. And once you hear it, you can’t help but attribute that sound to them. But it’s not because they’re the first group to ever happen upon their chosen sub-genre or mix of styles, and certainly not because they’ve out-marketed and out-promoted the competition. They just happen to be really good.

You can probably add to or subtract from the following list and still give a fair representation, but The Birthday Massacre suggest something like a grand reunion of goth rock, synth pop, industrial grit, and the rock radio immediacy of some of the better hair bands of the 80s. (And don’t even try to pretend you don’t have a weakness for one of those, because you are a horrible liar and everybody knows it.)

Walking With Strangers is their most recent release, and their second under wide distribution. Underground buzz, resulting from both their ultra-catchy music and their popular live shows, is what has helped them gain a broader audience. And it’s easy to see why from even a cursory listen to either the new record or their previous album, Violet. The songs are amazingly hooky and progress from one standout track to the next. Whichever song is playing at the moment is bound to seem the best one on the album.

Walking With Strangers opens with “Kill The Lights,” which sets the tone for the rest of the record with delicate synths over a bed of churning guitars and bleak lyrics. With “Falling Down,” the opening guitar riff signals that the catchy songs are only beginning. By the time the relentless crunch of “Red Stars” rolls around, you’re wondering if they’re even capable of writing a bad song. After starting the record over at the close of “Movie,” you’ve probably made your decision. The combination of a full band sound buoying the strong yet youthfully sweet vocals of Chibi is gold, covered over with tattoos.

Although the new album doesn’t really deviate much in style from their previous work, that’s pretty much all for the best. It was never broken, and they certainly don’t need to wander around trying to “find their sound” from record to record. It’s been displayed brilliantly in song after song since they’ve started.

Thematically, The Birthday Massacre balance lyrics laced with nihilism with euphorically escapist melodic tendencies. At any given moment one is threatening to take over the other, and you’re never quite sure which way it’s actually leaning. But generally speaking, the quality of the delivery is what wins out, and you helplessly give in to the whole experience. If you end up swaying around while wearing all black and excess mascara, don’t say you weren’t warned.

Another good insight into their sound lies in their chosen graphical style. From their CD packaging to their websites (especially the lush showcase site, Nothing And Nowhere), there is a consistent thread that mashes up Alice In Wonderland with a more macabre dreamworld of lost youth. The whole experience is meant as a desperate escape. And it succeeds.

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About David R Perry