amGod ‘Dreamcatcher’ Box Review

[This article was written at the end of 2010, seven years ago. So much has changed since I wrote this. For one, this was one of my earliest long-form album album reviews and probably my first in the EBM genre. I would write it very differently today. But I cherish this snapshot in time, and I’m very happy with this review today. What was most limiting at the time was that I was using a free blogspot site that had very limited functionality. Hopefully today I can make this a much better and more complete article, complete with images and videos and other media. Also, I love this piece because of my friendship with Dominik van Reich over the years. In an era when MySpace was still the main social site (although dying), I helped Dominik create a new online presence, and it was an exciting time for me to be involved.]

The newest amGod release is Dreamcatcher, released on November 26, 2010 by Alfa-Matrix in a 2-disc version and 3-disc box version. This review is of the Dreamcatcher 3-disc box. The discs are subtitled as follows: Disc 1 is Creeped & Bloody (primarily electronic); Disc 2 is Harsh & Dirty (featuring more use of guitar, in Germany could be referred to as “crossover”); Disc 3 is Slaved & Deeply (Remixes).

Album cover for amGod 'Dreamcatcher'.

Cover for amGod ‘Dreamcatcher’.

AmGod’s 1994 debut Half Rotten and Decayed remains to this day a dark electro masterpiece. Looking back, it’s hard to believe that 16 long years have passed between HR&D and the recently released Dreamcatcher, yet that is precisely what happened. There were a few glimmers of hope along the way. In 2000 Dominik van Reich released the unfinished album Crime! via a sharing site called Virtual Volume. In 2004 Celtic Circle Productions released a boxed set (3 cds, 1 dvd) that included virtually every song and remix of amGod, including the Crime! album. As it turns out the boxed set was unauthorized, and Dominik had nothing to do with its creation.

But Crime! was truly an unfinished album in rough demo form. Really not a single song could be considered to be of HR&D quality, either in terms of songwriting or production, although the album did have its moments. The boxed set was useful for completists, particular since it featured most compilation tracks, but did not feature any new material. For many supporters it seemed as if Dominik van Reich had simply disappeared, and there was little hope of new material. It was a long-running joke on the online forum Side-Line that Dominik was fighting in Afghanistan as a mercenary, or that he was selling sausages on a Chicago street corner, or any number of other theories.

As it turns out Dominik had never left his hometown of Munich and for many years he had been experimenting with different techno projects. He DJ’ed under names such as A.H.H. (amGod’s Hardcore Hell), M-God, and also under the name Dominik van Reich. The music, most of it unreleased in any form, varied from Harcore/Hardtrance to Goa to Electro/Techno. Dominik also did production for other projects. Some of these are still available on YouTube; for example, he co-produced The Citizens of Rave City “God Rave The Queen”, and he produced Tanzdiebe “Fred vom Jupiter”. The Dominik van Reich MySpace page also features a track under the the name D.v.R. called “phosphor 2004 (long version)”.

The reason I bring up Dominik’s forays into techno music is that his experience performing and producing techno music (in all its forms) has unmistakably left an imprint on the amGod sound. This is most apparent on the third track of the Creeped & Bloody disc, “Pain & Desire”. Apart from the warbling synthline, the pounding bass and drums, and the unrelenting hi-hat, the song just seems designed to make you MOVE YOUR ASS. This becomes more apparent as the song progresses, as there are various “breakdowns” that help isolate the bass, drum, and synth tracks. There is a distinct “rave” element to the song, as elements come and go, only to crescendo at times to have all elements work together. Minus the vocals, I could just picture this playing at an early 2000’s rave, the patrons high on Ecstasy and LSD, waving around glow sticks and sucking on pacifiers.

It may seem odd to point out that the new amGod release has techno elements, when EBM/dark electro has been steadily incorporating aspects of techno, particularly trance and the dreaded “Vanguard presets”. There are whole subgenres dedicated to this sound for probably at least five years, such as “hellectro” or “terror EBM”. The difference is that I can listen to a new Suicide Commando track and tell immediately that Johan is not coming from a techno perspective. Without knowing the history of Suicide Commando (which admittedly, I do) I could guess that SC is coming from a minimal dark electro background, and not anything techno-related. Whereas, if I were listening to some of these new amGod tracks I would almost guess that Dominik was coming from a techno background, with just some influences from EBM/dark electro, much like Terence Fixmer, for example.

Regardless, the techno elements are present throughout Creeped & Bloody, particularly on tracks such as “Like A Prayer (Album Version)”, “Massaker” and “Fight! (Album Version)”. However, there are many other styles featured. For example, “Nightmare” features rich analog synthlines and clean vocals, along with a more straightforward beat. The instrumental “Deep Down” reminds of the stifling darkness of Half Rotten & Decayed, perhaps not surprising since this was the first song featured on the amGod website. “On The Hunt” is more reminiscent of vintage yelworC, a song destined for the dancefloor, but with more of a classic EBM edge than many of the other songs. “The End”, which closes out Creeped & Bloody, sounds like a John Carpenter soundtrack outtake (all melancholy and atmosphere), before giving way to thrash metal chaos and backward masking, and then back again.

For old-school amGod fans there are a couple interesting inclusions. “God-Complex (Part 2)” and “CyberChrist 2010” are both remakes of songs off of Crime!, the latter sounding at times like older Front Line Assembly. There is also a 13:36 (!) version of “Stigmata” from HR&D. This version is worth the price of admission alone, as it takes the song in entirely new directions and is really quite remarkable. I guess if I had to, I would describe this remix as “tribal” and add that it is possible to mentally get lost while listening to.

If Creeped & Bloody seems heavily influenced by techno music, the Harsh & Dirty disc seems just as influenced by the electric guitar. Guitars are hardly new to amGod’s music. HR&D featured plenty of death metal riffage, courtesy of Mark Edward Astorian of one-man band Traumatic Voyage. Likewise, countless other EBM/dark electro bands have used electric guitars, oftentimes without even hiring guitarists. For example, older Front Line Assembly and KMFDM albums relied solely on sampling technology for guitar riffs, grabbing riffs from Slayer or Pantera. Which begs the question, what makes amGod in 2010 any different?

In this case, I think the difference comes from the fact that Dominik has previously played in a band setting with both guitarists featured on Harsh & Dirty, Cash and Felipe Leon de la Rosa. Both Cash and de la Rosa are guitarists in Ca$h Inc a Munich-based rock band that Dominik plays keyboards for, see their MySpace page here. This previous experience seems to have paid off, as both guitarists contribute innovative guitar riffs that add entirely new layers to the songs. Mostly, it seems as if all band members have chemistry, which I think is very rare for this type of music, as guitarists are more often than not just hired hands. For this reason, ‘Harsh & Dirty’ is just as much a pleasure to listen to as Creeped & Bloody, although dark electro heads may find issue with the prevalent guitar sound. Standout tracks include “Dreamcatcher”, “Blood On the Wall” and “My Love Is Gone…”

These songs in particular sound like Dominik and the guitarists were working in sync with each other as a cohesive “rock band”, absorbing and expanding on each other’s ideas (like the Doors or similar) and not just layering random death metal riffs over a synthline as is common in this type of music. On the other hand, “Schuldig (Guilty)” is a stomper typical of other guitar-EBM music, such as Front Line Assembly, Rammstein and the like, and it sounds great. Another interesting song is “Cultures”, which seems to incorporate some Native American aesthetic and is the only song featuring vocals by Cash.

Old-school amGod fans will enjoy hearing “Crime! 2010” (remake from Crime! album), which opens with a distorted sample of the famous Clint Eastwood quote from Dirty Harry. With a heavy bassline and a generous helping of thrash metal guitarwork this song truly sounds complete for the first time and makes it possible to appreciate Crime! on a different level. YelworC fans will rejoice over “Soulhunter 2010”, a remake of the yelworC classic. Thankfully, Dominik did not stray dramatically from the original, the main differences between cleaner vocals and some very tasteful guitar additions.

The remix disc Slaved & Deeply takes the box in a different direction due to the diversity of remixers and remix styles. Dominik himself contributes two remixes, “War Trap (Cruelty March)” and “Like A Prayer (Insanity vs. Christianity Mix)”, which is a nice touch. It’s always interesting to hear artists remix their own work. Otherwise, there are remixers from the techno perspective (DJ La Sash & DJ Sandra Gold, DJ Roberto Q. Ingram, Circuitry Man), dark electro (Brain Leisure, Leæther Strip, Kant Kino), oldschool analog EBM (Christian IV E. Machina, who also plays live keyboards for amGod), and others who are less easy to categorize (Experiment Haywire, Diabolic Art, La Magra). It’s one of the most diverse remix discs I’ve listened to and is really a breath of fresh air, given that so many remix discs seem to be full of the same tired names. Standout remixes come from Christian IV E. Machina, Diabolic Art, La Magra, Circuitry Man and Brain Leisure, but really there’s not a bad remix on here, although the Leæther Strip remix is a little underwhelming.

To sum up, the Dreamcatcher box is a must-own. The amGod of 2010 is very different from that of 1994, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. We’ve waited a long time for Dominik’s return, but it was well worth it.

Trivia: The remixer Circuitry Man also goes by the name of Alessandro Geo, or Alexandroid. His project Nova Exprexx had one release in 1994. Alessandro also contributed vocals to the song “Leben – Tod” from HR&D.

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