Houses of Heaven : Within/Without

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Houses of Heaven within/without review

On Within/Without, the sophomore album by Oakland darkwave group Houses of Heaven, vocalist Keven Tecon hands the microphone over to a guest singer on two distinct and noteworthy occasions. On “The End of Me,” Douglas McCarthy of EBM progenitors Nitzer Ebb commands his audience like a charismatic cult leader to “follow me to the ends of the world” over a dancefloor pulse far more austere and icy than “Join in the Chant.” And through the fluttery Italo-disco synths of “Deserve,” Boan’s Mariana Saldaña croons of an intoxicatingly romantic fatalism in Spanish—paired with her dynamic presence in a fantastic video, wide-brimmed hat, leather gloves and all. In the former, the group give their black roses to the roots of goth and industrial music, whereas on the latter, they remind us of how far it’s traveled since.

As representatives of goth’s past and present, Houses of Heaven’s choice of ringers offer a glimpse of where the bleeding boundaries of their creeping synth-pop lie. Neither tied to classicist ideas of post-punk and synth-pop nor iconoclasts seeking to tear down its familiar tropes, Houses of Heaven don’t so much reinvent darkwave as continue to flesh out and explore its dimensions and nuances. Building from the chilly, metallic textural sensibility of their debut album Silent Places, Houses of Heaven further hone in on the melodies at the core of their sound on Within/Without, adding a greater sense of depth to what’s already a sleek and seductive surface.

The aesthetic details of Within/Without are artfully crafted and alluring enough all on their own. This is, after all, music that’s meant to be experienced physically—live, in a club, or otherwise—and the sheen of these pulsing EBM bangers would likely compel movement in any context. It’s the tension and low-simmering menace at the core of these ten songs that drive them from merely palpable to visceral, moments like the continuous escalation in intensity on the standout title track or the punishing drumming on “New Decay” provide thrills on the razor’s edge.

Like much of contemporary synth-pop and darkwave, Within/Without is music that’s best experienced at maximum volume on a crowded dancefloor—dress code not necessarily enforced but black is always recommended. But the subtleties that don’t always penetrate the scrum and the sub-bass are the very things that merit repeat listens, be it the steamy, “Closer”-like atmosphere on “The Depths You Hold” or the “wrong but right” guitar that haunts the drum-n-bass-n-goth closer “Sightline.” There’s always another corridor to chase in Houses of Heaven’s world, and another ornate detail to examine between strobe flashes.

Label: felte

Year: 2024

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Houses of Heaven within/without review

Houses of Heaven: Within/Without

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