Thursday, July 2, 2009

Zrbo Reviews: VNV Nation's Of Faith, Power and Glory

VNV Nation's newest offering Of Faith, Power and Glory is a near perfect summation of everything the band is and where it's headed. This is reflected in the opening and closing songs of the album which showcase this neatly - the former the perfect industrial-dance anthem VNV is known for, the latter equally anthemic but sounding like nothing the band has done before.

Not only are these two songs expertly placed, but the entire pacing of the album is wonderfully executed. As is typical of a VNV release, the album opens with an instrumental (or near-instrumental) prelude which sets the tone for the album. 1999's Empires opened with the sparse "Firstlight", Futureperfect opened with the multi-lingual "Foreword", Judgement with the serene "Prelude". Of Faith, Power and Glory begins with warlike "Pro Victoria", which begins with what sounds like literal drums of war and gradually turns into something almost tribal, like some sort of military-brigade drum circle.

This sets the stage for the previously mentioned first song, "Sentinel". This song is a fantastic dance number, with Ronan Harris conjuring up one of the most catchy, memorable, anthemic, and ever-so VNV sounding choruses of his career. That Ronan is still able to produce such infectious lyrics this far into the band's career is a testament to his skills. It's surely as memorable as the best anything New Order ever did - it's that good.

This is followed up by "Tomorrow Never Comes", another dancy number with a Giorgio Moroder-like synth line running through it (as they played the song in San Francisco recently Ronan yelled out "A little disco never hurt anyone!").

Next up is "The Great Divide". An aptly titled track, as it is sure to divide some longtime fans. The song shows just how far the band has come in it's sound. With a guitar synth running through it with an almost pop-like sound, the song seems far removed from VNV Nation's earlier dark, industrial sound. What reluctant fans should be mindful of however is that VNV has always had a strain of pop running through their music, and it is that slight pop edge that has been the key to their success. While earlier songs such as Standing, Darkangel, and the band's signature industrial club anthem Honour may have contained dark, ominous lyrics, there was always a strong melody in the background that differentiated VNV's work from other industrial-dance stalwarts such as Das Ich and Wumpscut. "The Great Divide" is the natural evolution of that sound.

The band allows us to catch our breath for a moment with the somber "Ghost", a slow, brooding piece. While perhaps not as memorable as the preceding tracks, the song fits nicely into the album's pacing, allowing us a moment of rest before being hit with "Art of Conflict". The only track on the album that retains any glimpse of VNV's industrial roots, "Art of Conflict" contains some hard beats mixed with a good dose of trance with Ronan reciting lines from Sun Tzu's Art of War. Some of these quotes have certainly been chosen by Ronan as commentary on our modern times, in particular with the line "There is no instance of a nation benefitting from prolonged warfare" perhaps the most telling. This track also serves as a nice middle bridge for the album, taking us into the second half.

"In Defiance" is the band's most radio friendly song to date. Clocking in at under four minutes, and with the chorus kicking in less than one, the song uses more guitar synth to create an energetic pop-rock song.

Fitting nicely into the flow of the album is "Verum Aeternus", the album's most experimental track. With a beat that doesn't kick in for a few minutes and with Ronan's vocals buried deep in the mix, the song begins as a dreamy reminiscence and transitions into a mid-tempo piece with Ronan's vocals pushed perhaps a bit too deep behind the music so as to make them nearly indecipherable at times.

This leads us towards the end of the album, with the track "From my hands" bringing things back down once more. A unique song featuring only Ronan and a piano (and some strings hidden in the background), the arrangement and the overall sound of this piece are wonderfully executed. The only thing lacking is that perhaps the lyrics, or more specifically the sentiment of the lyrics, are a bit weak. Ronan sings to an unspecified "you", lamenting the fact that he must leave. Unfortunately it's not made clear to whom he's talking. Perhaps he's leaving a significant other, maybe a good friend, maybe someone on their deathbed, or is this a goodbye to the fans? The words are vague enough that it's not ever made clear. Regardless, the piece works and sets the album up for the big finisher.

"Where There is Light" builds the energy back up one more time, turning into one of the album's, and perhaps the band's, best songs. With an almost "Where the streets have no name" beginning, the song explodes into a pure power-pop confection, powered by a driving beat and more guitar synth. In some of his most evocative lyrics, Ronan sings his praises of mankind, the Earth-as-carousel, and his general hope that in the end we'll all make it work somehow. It's nearly a summation of everything VNV Nation is and has become. Then, just as you think you know where the song is headed, Ronan drops everything out, back to him and a piano, and builds it back up into something that I can only describe as majestic.

Of Faith, Power, and Glory is VNV Nation's most technically proficient album. With each new release Ronan Harris not only expands on the group's sound, but shows that he still has a good ear turned to the club scene. Not a single bleep, bloop, or synth seems misplaced, and the album flows from song to song naturally. While some fans who've followed the band from their industrial debut will undoubtedly be turned off, they should recognize that VNV Nation's strength comes from their ability to meld industrial anthems with catchy hooks and emotive lyrics. If this were the band's final album it would act as a perfect denouement to the band's motto that "One should strive to achieve, rather than sit in bitter regret." 5/5 Zrbo points.


Little Earl said...

"Zrbo points"? What in the hell are "Zrbo points"?

Herr Zrbo said...

They're what you collect on the back of cereal boxes.

Anonymous said...

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Thank you so much...
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