The Birthday Massacre offer up a selection of old demos and unreleased studio tracks from their pre-TBM days as ‘Imagica’. It’s a mixed bag to be honest and serves as proof that the band have come a long way and vastly improved over the years.
The older demo tracks are raw and in most cases painful to listen to, especially the strained, slightly out of tune vocals. The more recent unreleased tracks are much more pleasing to the ear and really capture the essence of the ‘New Retro Wave’ genre that has seen a surge in popularity lately. The modern production mixed with the vintage synth sounds work perfectly with Chibi’s stylistically pop-centric vocals.
The first highlight song on the album has to be opening track ‘Over’, with a gritty guitar line and soaring lead synth. Whilst the verse features a monotonous, gloomy vocal tone, the chorus invokes an almost Kate Bush-like spirit. The instrumental break two thirds in creates suspense with an eerie, haunting vibe.
The album lulls for a few songs before peaking my interest again with ‘Nothing And Nowhere’. It’s a down-tempo number and cuts in with a Gary Numan-esque intro. Again, there is a distinct 80s-meets-90s retro feel with the sugary-sweet vintage synth sounds and lo-fi percussion.
‘Play Dead’ is a synth-heavy ballad, with a clean, reverberated lead guitar straight out of the early 90s Goth & Indie. The signature bitter-sweet vibe is present here and the lyrical escapism is very fitting. It’s simply a great down-tempo track to lose yourself in.
Next up is the infectious cover of Madonna’s ‘Open Your Heart’, which stays relatively faithful to the original, yet with all the enhancements of modern production it elevates the presence of the percussive and synth sections. It’s also slightly grimier, with fuzzy guitar distortion replacing the original’s lighter, clean electric guitar.
I only wish that the album finished on ‘From Out Of Nowhere’ as this highlight track is personally the perfect, energetic closing song. Unfortunately, having ‘Dead’ close this album just leaves me feeling a little flat, with it’s tuneless half-sung, half-spoken vocal style, backed by a simplistic, punk-tinged dirge.
Whilst this release has enough tracks to make a purchase worthwhile and it does serve as a nostalgic trip back through their pre-Birthday Massacre days as Imagica, it’s not an easy listen as a whole album. The band of ‘now’ have come along way since the band of ‘back then’ and Imagica is proof of how much they have improved and developed their sound over the years, but I can’t help but feel that the handful of quality songs have been let down by a selection of below-average tracks.
Rather than retain the original recordings, I would have opted to re-record the songs, staying as true as possible to the original version yet improving them in areas that lack the finesse that we know the band possesses. It feels like a missed opportunity to do these originals justice, rather than release them in a raw, unpolished state.
Where this album does shine, it shines bright. The songs I’ve highlighted above should definitely take pride and place next to their recent, highly accomplished work and I’d hope that they will pick some of them to play live on their upcoming UK tour later this year.