There are musical storytellers, and then there are world builders – the rare artists that bridge the gap between an established sense of self, and of unceasing discovery. The place where the real magic happens is so often that middle ground between confidence and self-questioning, an intimidating divide few are willing to cross in a discipline often betrayed by ego, and the insecurity it often hides.
Put simply, Canadian darkwave cult heroes The Birthday Massacre are one of the most consistent acts of the last 25 years. Their commitment to concept is mirrored by the devotion of their audience. A hint of arcane power here, an unflinching acceptance of the sorrow of the human condition there; They operate in a vulnerability beyond the ego, and a prevailing sense of mystery steeped as much in implied menace as in utter whimsy.
Their output covers the entire emotional spectrum, from fearless joy and abandon to unrestrained melancholy (not to mention the occasional murderous rage that bears them their moniker). Ten albums and two EPs form a stellar reputation built on remarkable studio production, transcendent live performance, and an emotional depth that owes as much to restraint as it does to catharsis. Alice In Wonderland, true crime, horror cinema – the influences are plain to hear and see, but the total package is uncompromisingly unique.
In the space between industrial rock and New Wave, there remains an amazing middle ground of depth, clarity and sonic crunch that few have mastered to this extent. TBM’s early albums introduced a sonic landscape laden with shimmering synths and driving guitars, steeped in the overlap of childish innocence and sinister intent. There are truly ethereal moments throughout much of it, frequently tempered by uncomfortable, fragile honesty.
2010’s classic Pins and Needles marked the beginning of an artistic maturity, as a world weary sadness crept into the sense of wonder that defined earlier works. It remains a quintessential breakup record, like a loss of innocence that gave way to the painful truths of age, further expressed over a brilliant decade of work to follow. With Diamonds, released in eerily prescience as we entered a world of lockdowns, isolation and paranoia, they perfectly captured the essence of dark and uncertain times in a way far beyond the usual, more personal nature of past efforts.
Latest album ‘Fascination’ represents a bit of a departure, harkening at times to the sheer abandon of early works. It’s brighter, more direct, with a sense of escapism pervading in a desire to reconnect. At times it’s a flipside to ‘Diamonds’ – there is the recurring motif of fear, but also of joyful defiance of the fear. It sparkles in simplicity, embracing the New Romanticism that inspired TBM’s genesis and defined their early material, in equal parts acknowledging the inner child and the slightly scarred adult, who maybe learned too much.
The group’s symbol, appropriately, is a bunny: It defines a legacy laden with dark, psychedlic explorations down proverbial rabbitholes, rich album artwork full of hidden Easter Eggs, and powerful sonic imagery. Such conceptual totality is usually reserved for prog rock and avant garde metal acts; TBM prove surreal total environments can be built around music that is often infectiously accessible, and technically uncomplicated. The complexity is in the layering, like the devil is in the details.
Other Suggested Listening:
‘Red’, ‘Blue‘, ‘Holiday’ – Violet, 2005
‘Looking Glass‘ – Walking With Strangers, 2007
‘Leaving Tonight’, ‘Alibis’ – Hide and Seek, 2012
‘Diaries’, ‘Superstition’ – Superstition, 2015
‘One‘, ‘All Of Nothing’ – Under Your Spell, 2017
‘Diamonds’, ‘Crush’, ‘Mirrors’ – Diamonds, 2020