Title: Pins and Needles
Artist: The Birthday Massacre
Released: Out Now
Price: $8.99 / £12.47
Produced by: The Birthday Massacre, Dave “Rave” Ogilvie
Composed by: The Birthday Massacre
Music and Vocals by: Chibi (Vocals), Rainbow (Guitar, Synth/Percussion Programming, Vocals), and Michael Falcore (Guitar, Synth/Percussion Programming).
The Birthday Massacre’s blend of flirtatious synthpop and rasping metal is the musical equivalent of chocolate and peanut butter or cinnamon and sugar. Massacre balance the hard and the soft to create something altogether new and exciting. Somehow their third album not only maintains the energy, it attests to the band’s ever evolving maturity and sense of adventure.
A band that releases an album like Violet holds little hope for improvement. The Birthday Massacre’s debut album was a tour de force, a daring enterprise into an unexplored realm of music. That is not to say there are not similar bands. Certainly The Killers, Shiny Toy Guns, and Deadsy have stepped foot into the genre known as synthrock. One may best describe this style of music as 80s revival, a contemporary take on the new romanticism of Duran Duran, Oingo Boingo, Culture Club, and Berlin.
Female-fronted Massacre certainly have many similarities to the bands on that list, only with a sharper and, dare I say, more precise edge. In listening to Violet a word comes to mind: tight. The Birthday Massacre has a focused sound that, if one did not see them perform live, one would suspect as being the mark of a studio only band. That is not the case. The Birthday Massacre are simply that good. Each member of the band is on note. The band’s transition from eerie, dreamy synthpop to raspy, chuggy metal is no exception. The marriage of the fanciful and the angry defines the typical Massacre sound, a sound that sets them far apart from their peers.
Sound is not the only reason for the success of Violet. The album proves that The Birthday Massacre, or at the very least the producer, understood what comprised an album. Violet had structure. Having songs titled Red, Blue, and Violet suggests an overall theme and interconnectedness. These colorful tracks help link other amazing songs such as Video Kid, Play Dead, and Happy Birthday.
Devotion to theme extends to the very image of the band. Whether dressed in striped stockings or black military style jackets, each musician represents the ideal in gothic fashion. Gothicism carries over into the performance with dramatic expression and a riveting stage presence in. Even the keyboardist gives a dynamic performance to the point of lifting the keyboard while playing. Meanwhile, the album art and the merchandise have themes as well. The colors of red, purple, and black in dark, storybook artwork distinguishes a Birthday Massacre album from neighboring CDs. The band’s logo is the rabbit and takes various forms, often depicted with violent images like blood or a skeleton.
Lyrically, The Birthday Massacre hit the targets onto which most bands center their cross-hairs. Angst above all fuels songs about hypocrisy, loss, betrayal, and isolation. As with other great bands, each listener may have a different response, either finding the music inspiring or sombre. The songs are well crafted, capturing the crisp 80s sound of the early days of MTV while occasionally shifting to hard metal choruses. For the most part these shifts are seamless, just an organic extension of the song.
The second album, Walking with Strangers, had not quite the same impact as Violet. With a lot of new bands, the second album suffers because they shot their wad on the first. They had years to perfect the set list and find their voice. As a result the second album often lacks the originality of the first. With The Birthday Massacre’s it is more a case of familiarity. Over the initial shock of this exciting, new sound, the next album offers much of the same. Yet, tracks like Kill the Lights, Red Stars, and Falling Down prove that Massacre can carry their high energy and precise sound from one album to the next. More than this, Walking with Strangers shows a greater maturity an upon repeated listen worms its way into your heart. Many of the tracks soon become favorites.
Pins and Needles, the third studio release from the Canadian band continues this maturation. It opens with In the Dark. Just as Violet loudly announced The Birthday Massacre to the world, In the Dark loudly announces the album. Even greater care is taken to link each track to another, warranting a continuous play. The ending of most tracks introduces the next, much like Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon or ohGr’s Devil in My Details. The overall impression is one of a well constructed concept album.
The light and poppy refrains merged with metal riffs continue, though the time spent on one aspect or the other varies from track to track. Always, Sideways, and Pale have a more synthpop sensibility while Control, Sleepwalking, and the title track will likely get your head banging. Two Hearts and Shallow Grave showcase their signature sound well. There is nothing here to disappoint fans and plenty to appeal to new audiences. This band has fun making music and it shows.
In sum, Pins and Needles marks the latest leap forward in The Birthday Massacre’s musical journey. They continually improve without losing grip with what grounds them as a band. It is rare an artist can be labeled with a definitive sound. It is rarer still for such a band to break through the constrictions of that label. This album proves why The Birthday Massacre made it to Billboard’s Top 200, a rare achievement indeed for a darkwave band.