Saturday, March 17, 2018

VNV Nation Intros Ranked

Each VNV Nation album opens with an intro track, often instrumental but occasionally spoken word, that establishes the theme and mood for that particular album. Often times these intros transition into the first real song on the album, though not always. In anticipation of VNV Nation's first new album in five years, I thought I'd go through and rank VNV Nation's intro songs. I've taken into consideration how well each track helps establish the theme of the album, how well it builds flow or transitions into the next song, and how good the song is in general. We'll start at the bottom and move up from there. Here we go:

10. "Intro" - Matter + Form (2005)

Coming in last on this list but first on the "most appropriately titled for this list" is Matter + Form's "Intro". Even though I've placed it dead last I do kind of like this track. It feels ominous, the sound of something swirling, preparing to let loose. "Intro" doesn't flow into the lead-off song "Chrome" and feels almost perfunctory, like the band knew they needed an intro track and just slapped this one together in an hour. At least it doesn't outlast its welcome, clocking in at a svelte 1:30.

9. "On-Air" - Automatic (2011)

I came very close to ranking this one at the bottom. "On-Air" consists mainly of static old-timey radio noises, a similarly old-timey set of strings, all of which then transitions into some light piano. It certainly fits the tone of the album Automatic, with its Metropolis-like cover art and it's retro-futurist lyrical concepts, but as a song it's just kind of languid and, well, a little boring. Though it transitions into a lovely piano, it doesn't build or establish much energy. It's a shame too, because the album is otherwise one of the band's best.

8. "Anthem" - Advance and Follow (1995)

Some purists will call this sacrilege: "How could he place the first song off VNV's first album so low?!" Well, "Anthem" is a relic of a very young VNV Nation who emerged from a 90s industrial scene where the use of obscure samples was de rigueur. "Anthem" seems to be composed almost entirely of samples from TV, movies, and radio.  The use of air raid sirens near the end is neat, though they would be put to better use in a later intro (see below). I do like "Anthem", and one time I just happened to be watching a documentary when I heard the Laurence Olivier sample used to close out the track which jolted me awake like you wouldn't believe.

7. "Prologue" - The Solitary EP (1998)

"Prologue" is a bit like "Anthem" if that song was stripped of all of its percussion and samples and was left with nothing but the air raid sirens. That's nearly all it is - just a building series of air raid sirens with some backing strings. It evokes the feeling that the end of all wars has come, like Judgement Day is upon us, or, perhaps more modernly, reminds me of 9/11.

6. "Chosen" - Praise the Fallen (1998)

"Chosen" is the first intro on our list that contains actual words. I say words because this track and the other intro track (see below) are spoken word more than songs containing actual sung lyrics. "Chosen" is also remarkable due to it being the only VNV Nation track that doesn't use words penned by the band.

"Chosen" is basically a condensed rendition of the short story "Boule de Suif" by Guy de Maupassant. The track is from VNV's early days, when war as a metaphor was the primary lyrical driver. "Chosen" starts tense, with an unending, almost menacing minor chord. The story, delivered in near monotone, describes the horrors of war in a beautifully grotesque manner (or is it grotesquely beautiful?). I used to have the entire thing memorized. The menace eventually fades as the intro transitions into some strings, and finally some piano. After this tenseness has finally washed away I love how the next song "Joy" begins right out of the gate with that proud exclamation from Schiller's "Ode to Joy".

5. "Firstlight" - Empires (1999)

Now we're getting somewhere. "Firstlight" is the opener from VNV's most celebrated album, Empires. It starts off slowly, almost minimalist, and builds from there. It establishes well the palette of sounds the album uses. The only reason it doesn't rank higher is because this track is repeated at the end of the album where it transitions into a pulsing meditation featuring some of VNV's best lyrics.

4. "Pro Victoria" - Of Faith, Power and Glory (2009)

The most martial sounding intro of the bunch, "Pro Victoria" sounds like a rhythmically synchronized ancient Roman army preparing themselves for war. It also sounds like it owes an awful lot to Purcell's "Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary" (I swear those are the same horns in both songs). This song works well on multiple fronts - it builds in such a way that by the end it's got this hypnotizing, almost tribal rhythm, and it works thematically with its martial rhythm serving as a taste of an album about conflict.

3. "Generator" - Transnational (2013)

The most recent entry into this list, "Generator" has a fantastic construction. The track sounds just like its name - a generator coming to life. Starting with nothing more than an initial hum, listening to the track is like hearing an entire factory slowly come to life. To top it off it glides effortlessly into the song "Everything".

2. "Foreword" - Futureperfect (2002)

This one wins the award for most inspiring intro. "Foreword" captures the idealism that lies at the heart of the band's oeuvre. With a simple spoken word phrase repeated in multiple languages over Elger's "Nimrod", "Foreword" instantly establishes the tone and ideals of 2002's Futureperfect. Then, just as gently as it came in, the track transitions into a kind of sonar or radio beeping (I think it's meant to evoke an old radio transmission) ending with a series of violent crashes that push it into the next track "Epicentre". It's a solid intro.

1. "Prelude" - Judgement (2007)

We've made it to #1, what I consider the best VNV Nation intro. "Prelude" is the complete package, just a beauty to listen to. In 4 minutes and 10 seconds it tells a whole story, almost like a condensed film. It's got a cinematic quality to it, helped in part by Judgement's album cover. A friend once told me when she first put on the album she thought she had slipped a Tangerine Dream disc in instead. I can imagine so many scenes playing out to this track. The first time I heard this I was driving in the mountains and it was the perfect accompaniment to the quiet, untouched landscape. Just a wonderful piece of music.

No comments: