‘Brutalism’ is a brand-new compilation album by the British band Cubanate. It covers the years 1992 to 1996 and features 14 songs from their first three albums, including remastered versions of singles such as ‘Oxyacetylene’, ‘Body Burn’ and ‘Joy’.
At their peak, Cubanate’s techno-rock crossover was controversial and influential, with their importance still resonating today. They were one of the few UK bands tagged as ‘Industrial’ to cross over to a mainstream audience and were regular fixtures in publications as diverse as Kerrang! and Melody Maker (receiving several Single of the Week accolades in both), as well as on MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball. They also toured with stalwarts such as Front 242, Gary Numan, The Sisters of Mercy and Front Line Assembly. The band later signed to the seminal Wax Trax! Imprint in the USA and their songs have appeared in film, TV and game soundtracks. But, with the demise of their European label Dynamica in 2000, Cubanate’s early work has long been out of print. It’s time for a reassessment.
Cubanate was formed in the summer of 1992 as a four piece centred around the duo of Marc Heal (vocals) and Phil Barry (guitar). Their early sound fused the rhythms of the then nascent techno scene with the lo-fi grunge rock sound emanating from the US . Although the band later became adopted by Goth audiences, early Cubanate were more influenced by Joey Beltram, Baby Ford and Nirvana.
Marc Heal comments: “Listening back to these old tracks and hearing them remastered I’m pleased and surprised how fresh they sound. We had so little time to record them, it was all done on the fly. These days, with EDM now big corporate business, it’s easy to forget how wild and anarchic that early techno scene was. Anything went. One thing to remember was that it was only ten or twelve years after punk. If you had been a 16-year-old punk in 1978, you were still barely in your late 20’s when all these mad raves were happening so a lot of people who were a bit older in the scene were people who had been punks and still carried that spirit.”
As for the ‘industrial goth/rock’ tag that was so de rigeur by the mid-90’s, he continues:
“The whole ‘industrial’ scene was different in 1992. It was just before fetish became mainstream. Before Torture Garden and all those places, Industrial clubs were the only places you could go if you wanted to wear PVC or clingfilm. But I also think Cubanate could never have happened without the destruction of that awful 80’s rockist thing by the Seattle bands. They made rock dirty and experimental again and for a while everything was blurred and up in the air. So, although we were grateful that Cubanate got taken up by Goth audiences, in a way it distorted the way that the band developed.”
Summarising ‘Brutalism’, Heal concludes: ”The nature of being experimental is that sometimes experiments don’t work. On ‘Brutalism’ you get the moments where it all seemed to come together.”
Opening with ‘Autonomy’ (as this album is presented in chronological order) from ‘Antimatter’ with its 90’s beats, which became is club classic. The guitar riffs slice through the electronic beats, with Marc’s sharp and versatile vocal style to counter balance the intensity. The song feels as fresh today, as it was when it was originally released. Their mix of rock, electro beats and the overall industrial vein is a timeless sound, which blends beautifully with today Industrial resurgence. The cybergoth scene maybe be pretty dead, but the industrialists are growing in force thanks to bands like 3Teeth, Youth Code and the continued work of such godfathers as Ministry, Skinny Puppy and NIN.
‘Junky’ given its inception in the heights of the 90’s rave scene, is a song that had some intimate meaning. With raves and drugs almost going hand in hand back then, it is a product of its time. The simple lyrics were straight to the point, mixed with an infectious groove of guitars (think 90’s Ministry) and synths. A pleasure to enjoy, whole getting those dancing shoes (chunky platform trainers) on and enjoy those beats! An absolute classic from my clubbing days was ‘Kill or Cure’, the reversible style of the lyrics made it a memorable song. It could totally mess with your mind, with its playfulness with words. The steady beats and infectious grooves, left a lasting impression on me.
‘Body Burn’ is probably one of Cubanate’s best known songs from the 90’s, it got a lot of strong air play from radios like Kiss fm. The fantastic mix of industrial beats, grinding guitars and screaming lyrics, cemented it for people. The mid song strip down, left it raw for a quick return to the guitars and screams. Continuing with ‘Angeldust’ which could be another drug infused song? With its typical 90’s beats and sound mix, which people could compare to the Prodigy. It has moments that really remind me of the ‘The Hackers’ soundtrack, in that it has that strong mix of guitar and electronic beats that makes it nostalgic for me. With lyrics like ‘I love you. I hate you’ I find it an infectious song. Continuing with ‘Hatesong’ with its steady beats throughout, mixed with some awesome guitar riffs. Makes it a meaty number, that progresses to a slightly slower pace.
As we step into the album ‘Cyberia’ when get the classic track ‘Oxyacetylene’ with the line ‘I’m going to break you, I’m going make you pay’. The guitar riffs are strong amongst the synth effects, which are a mash of thunderous beats and electronic samples. It is a real standout track for me. ‘Skeletal’ has a range of vocal distortions, that carry well over the beats. It is a real techno industrial cross over of a song, given its heavy attitude. ‘Industry’ brings with it an instrumental of fast beats and crunching guitars. The electronic drum beats saturate the song, as its fast tempo will have you either banging your head or scrambling to get your feet moving fast enough.
The album ‘Barbarossa’ took Cubanate into more of a metal direction, steeping away from their techno roots. This was a natural progression that work with the music of the time, given that techno was becoming quiet. ‘Barbarossa’ is a blending of heavy beats and drums, bringing a strong raw guitar edge sound to the band. The faint vocals soon strip through the music, which is layers of guitars and beats that become a powerhouse of noise. ‘Vortech I’ in comparison is simple with its steady beats and execution, creating a lot of textures in sound.
‘Why Are You Here?’ has a nice steady hypnotic beat, almost something you might hear in a Marilyn Manson song of old. The drumming and electronic beats are graced with soft vocals, as the guitar riffs keep the pace like we are marching. The pace is toned down by ‘Joy’ with its lights hearted beat, that makes it an easy song to access. The more traditional rock beats and guitar, are a far cry from the Cubanate more Industrial electronic foundations. This is not a bad thing, it shows a band that knows how to experiment and evolve. Ending with ‘Lord of the Flies’; a harmony of voices and dance beats break in. Creating an effective mix of synths and beats, which counter balances well with vocals.
Cubanate are a pioneering band, they had a sound and nurtured it to maturity. Coming back after such a break, is like breath of fresh air. I am excited for the possibilities that may follow, with new influences and progression in instruments to see what will be next for the band.