Silent Servant‘s debut album Negative Fascination depicted a hand holding a switchblade—a none-too-subtle indication of the danger and darkness inherent in the music it contained. Of course Silent Servant, the project of L.A.-based producer Juan Mendez, seems to create soundscapes that only make sense with a sense of comfort removed—when lights of the city start to go dim, the drugs and alcohol haven’t worn off and every figure in the distance feels like a credible threat. Unlike Prurient, whose Dominick Fernow released both Negative Fascination and Mendez’s new album Shadows of Death and Desire through his Hospital Productions imprint, this is music that eschews austerity and visceral primal-scream horror for a more seductive kind of darkness. It’s club music—techno, technically, and EBM in its roots—which makes the darkness an even more subtle, sinister creep.
Shadows of Death and Desire, Mendez’s second full-length, continues in the pulsing, menacing techno vein as its predecessor, yet the beats hit considerably harder. This is a highly physical set of songs, each one driven by an almost manic arpeggio pattern, creepily hallucinatory ambience, occasionally Mendez’s own difficult-to-decipher vocal narratives, and electronic drums that feel all the more violent this time around. It’s exactly what one would expect a techno album released on a noise/industrial album to sound like, which is also what makes it compelling on a deeply unsettling level. First single “Harm in Hand” is utterly chilling, a balance of table-saw drones, synth basslines and distorted mutters—at once “Hot on the Heels of Love” and “Hamburger Lady.” “Loss Response” is more restrained and meditative, or at least it would be if not for the repetitive percussive clatter. There’s more aggressive EBM club stomp in “24 Hours,” a balance of aggression and ethereality in “Glass Veil,” and an almost Godflesh-like thump driving the more spacious “Optimistic Decay.”
Though Shadows of Death and Desire is arguably more of a techno album than anything else, it’s an ornery and thorny one at that, unwilling to meet expectations halfway. Then again, the best techno albums have always been those that leaned toward the sinister, from Porter Ricks’ Biokinetics on up to recent work by Andy Stott or Demdike Stare. Just as beats have been a means toward transcendence, Silent Servant continues to prove that they too can be a vessel for something far more unsettling.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.