Cabaret Voltaire were in list of bands that first brought me into the world of nascent electronic music. Through releases like Red Mecca and The Crackdown I learnt the language of the mechanical and not only coveted the enormous reel to reels playing loops and background thrum but also crackled along with the monophonic keyboards and abrasive synth-drums. I saw them play at St. Albans City Hall in 1983 (supported by Marc Almond and Jim Foetus) and it was the first time I saw a band who had a continuous soundtrack throughout the show and didn’t announce a single song or, in fact, talk to the audience at all. A revelation.
Now slimmed down to just one founder member, Richard H Kirk, Shadow of Fear had its roots in a solo show Kirk did at the Berlin Atonal festival in 2014 where he says he “…started developing tracks specifically for live performance. Stuff that was quite stripped back and crude. Every time I would visit a new place to perform, I would write something fresh. The mission statement from the off was no nostalgia. Normal rules do not apply. Something for the 21st Century. No old material.”. However, Shadow of Fear retains the DNA of those early albums I had been so blown away by and Kirk used his original equipment to make the album as well as recording it at Western Works, a studio used throughout their career.
From the opening track ‘Be Free’ the years fell away from me and once again I was the wide-eyed youth who could not believe such a soundscape was possible having been brought up on rock and pop diet of guitars and verse-chorus-middle eight. ‘Be Free’ is a terse introduction to 2020 Cabaret Voltaire with an electronic scream and repeated phrases: “Be free”, “the city is falling apart” and “Where is your place in this world?” over the electronic rumba of the drum machine. Being ‘free’ seems ironic in this instance, like opening the cage door for a bird when the cat is sitting licking its lips. ‘The Power of Knowledge’ has a harsh train-like drum pattern and hyper-reverbed vocal lines and, like many of the tracks on this album, has pockets of sounds that fly in and out; sometimes obscured in the mix and, at others, full of warm, crystal clear pops and swells like finding a sweet in a bowl of nails. There’s the treated voice of ‘Night Of The Jackal’, the juddering Orwellian Disco of ‘Microscopic Flesh Fragment’, the positively upbeat menace of ‘Papa Nine Zero Delta United’ (referring to a gun of the same name?) and the urgent pulse of ‘Universal Energy’. Penultimate track ‘Vasto’ is one of the standouts with its slow build to a stomping beat and catchy vocal hook and it would work perfectly as the soundtrack to a modern dance piece and it leaves us with ‘What’s Going On’ to close, a melding of what feels like slowed-down Blaxploitation soundtracks coupled with waves of sound frequencies passing through us.
Cabaret Voltaire can still conjure up a sense of paranoia and, in the wrong hands, the tracks on Shadow of Fear could be employed in a Manchurian Candidate-style experiment through Kirk’s masterful use of repetition, repetition, repetition. Any sense of dread or resigned detachment in the current state of a world full of disruption, disharmony and dejection is captured on the inner-city dub feel, and near-documentary sensibility, that Shadow of Fear conveys and Richard H Kirk has drawn from his electronic legacy to bring us new music that balances on edge of a cutthroat razor. This is a CCTV camera on fire forever.
Review by Paul F Cook