Friday, May 22, 2009

Zrbo Reviews: VNV Nation's Reformation 01

Well here it is, Herr Zrbo has finally decided to go the review route, starting with the latest release by his favorite band VNV Nation, Reformation 01. For those readers unfamiliar with the band (I presume that's all of you), VNV Nation began life in the early nineties as a music project of Ronan Harris, an Irishman with a penchant for smoking excessively and drinking large amounts of whiskey. By 1995 Mark Jackson, a rather tall Brit, had joined and together they managed to dig up enough money for one day of recording at a studio. Thus was born VNVs first album Advance & Follow. After a few more years and some touring, the released their second album Praise the Fallen, followed a year later by the masterpiece Empires, followed by three albums since (Futureperfect, Matter + Form, and Judgement).

For those still wondering "what the hell does VNV stand for?" the short answer is "Victory not Vengeance" meaning, ahem, "one should strive to achieve, not sit in bitter regret." The band is basically Ronan's, with Mark mainly just a drummer (sorry Mark!). VNV are also the only band I know which have, what is essentially, a mission statement, which I won't repeat here as it's rather long and pretentious and ultimately meaningless for this review, follow the link if you're interested.

Reformation 01 is a limited edition three disc set of live tracks, b-sides and unreleased material, and a live DVD, all packaged in a very nice embossed boxset. It's seriously the nicest CD packaging of all the albums I own. Included inside is a booklet with notes by Ronan on several of the older albums and on the three new unreleased tracks. As a long time fan it's very nice to have some commentary on VNVs work written by them. It definitely gave me a few "aha, so that's what the hell that song means" moments.

Getting to the material, the first disc of live tracks is a bit of a mixed bag. Most of the songs are from the last two albums, which is good as VNV desperately needed another offering as their last (and first) release of live material Pastperfect was so long ago. Unfortunately, the audio quality of some of the tracks can be terrible at times. Well, let's be honest, it's really Ronan's voice that sounds awful at times. On the live version of Illusion off of 2007s Judgement Ronan's voice sounds like he smoked an entire pack of cigarettes while he had a bad cold before heading onstage. Granted, Ronan has never had a truly fabulous singing voice - the genre lends itself well to guttural shouts - but VNV Nation are known for elevating the lyrical content of the genre (as the PopMatters review says "making Ronan Harris the poet laureate of England would not, in my opinion, be overdoing it").

Still, overall it does give a good impression of VNVs energetic live performances, another thing they're known for, but I would probably recommend the Pastperfect DVD as a better introduction to their live sound. There are a couple of good moments though, such as at the beginning of Procession when Ronan yells at the top of his lungs "C'mon you fuckers! Move your asses, let's go!" and during the introduction to the FDR mix of Honour (which begins with FDR's Chautauqua "I hate war" speech) where Ronan says "And now some words from Franlin Delano Roosevelt" pronouncing Roosevelt in his Irish brogue like 'Rew-se-velt'.

The second disc includes the remixes, b-sides, and unreleased material. The remixes are all great, except, as a die hard fan, I already had most of them. Still, it's a good collection overall, though if Ronan decided to include obscure remixes of Chrome I don't know why he didn't just include all of them (I'm looking at you 'Soman RX longer' remix). Ok, yes, a bit nit picky, but as a fan it leaves me scratching my head.

Also included are some of the tracks Ronan did for the completely unsucessful film The Gene Generation (I think it ended up straight to DVD). VNV Nation has always used lots of orchestral music in their recordings, and over the last few years Ronan has expressed much interest in scoring for films, but with the last album Judgement he really started going over the top. The final song from that album, As it Fades, sounded like something from Lord of the Rings. This disc includes As it Fades (2nd movement) and it just straight up sounds like the elves are coming out of the woods, complete with ethereal female vocals. Seriously, Ronan, go talk to Peter Jackson cause you've got a bit of a problem.

The real meat of the second disc are the three previously unreleased tracks, Still Waters, Suffer, and Precipice. These are hands down some of the best music to come from VNV in the last 8 years. Unfortunately, as Ronan notes in the... notes, these songs reflect a direction he wanted to steer VNV away from, and they formed the basis for "an album that never was". I find this complete baloney as these songs sound straight up like they would easily fit anywhere in the last two albums. I'm not really sure what the hell he's talking about. Oh well, they're quite excellent and are worth the price of admission alone.

The third disc is the live DVD. I don't have much to say about it. Though some of the fun from the live shows comes off here, you really need to see them live to really appreciate their live act (I guess the same could be said of any artist). The production is nice and all, and, if you allow me a moment of shallowness, it's nice to see some better looking people in the audience (in the Pastperfect DVD there were these two really out-of-place looking gap-toothed fellows dead center front row who were just extremely annoying to look at every time the camera showed the audience).

Overall it's a very nice package, and for $20 it's easily worth the money. It's just a shame that some of the audio couldn't have been better, and maybe the second disc could have used a bit more of a theme (say, all the remixes of songs from one particular album). As this release is titled Reformation 01 I'm sure we'll see an 02 later down the line. Until then, hot on the heels of this release is their next album Of Faith, Power, and Glory which releases next month, with a tour right after (San Fran June 29th at the Grand Ballroom). I'll be there.

1 comment:

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