voices of masada - another day-

Voices of Masada
Another Day
Strobelight Records
gothic rock
Date of review
10 November
Stuart Moses

The nights draw in. The sky is endless grey. The world turns to ice. Everything dies. This is why I need music more than ever in Autumn. Everything seems so bleak, with the hope that comes with Spring so very far away. I need something to help me through this difficult time. Thank the Gods for Voices of Masada's second album.
For a band playing in a genre supposedly so obsessed with death, gothic rockers Voices of Masada have made an album about what it means to be alive. Literally, in the case of the opening song "Alive". Some moody keyboards set the scene. The drum machine enters at a gallop. Words come out of singer Sinbad's mouth. This is the first album where, for the most part, they are his own. He steps up to the plate - and is not found wanting. For someone who regularly comes across as bitter and twisted in public forums such as LiveJournal, his lyrics show a more humane caring aspect of his nature. Yet it is the hope he shows in such words: "This world is alive/And no matter what they say/This is your world that you shape today" that is most engaging. He is a self determinist that refuses to hand over the responsibility to others. "Don'’t pray. It's the coward's path to self-deceit." Goth regularly tackles religion as a subject, yet rarely with such maturity.

Enormous drums - the sort Dead Can Dance might once have used - herald "Uncertain", soon to be followed by more traditional Voices of Masada sounds. Already the band show a new found confidence and depth of song-writing, the lack of which hampered their debut album. This song showcases Rob's twin-guitar attack, the filigreed finger-picking over the deeper rumbling. It worked for Fields of the Nephilim, though as they had two guitars to produce this sound, it must mean that Rob is playing with himself. Three minutes in, the guitar and bass synchronise for some unexpected Metallica-Lite style riffing.

Fears that a formula might be setting in is swiftly dispelled by the bass introduction to "Walk Away", a throbbing which will drive the whole song. It takes a certain amount of guts to give a song the same name as one from The Sisters of Mercy's First and Last and Always, but credit is due to the band for choosing a more everyday phrase than "Some Kind of Stranger." This song is so good that it banishes the memory of The Sisters' version - at least while it is playing. In this song Sinbad plays the role of the tortured Romantic, a role which suits him well and that he will return to throughout this album.

In the past Voices of Masada have plodded when they should have soared. This is still sometimes a problem. The galloping "Wondering" does its best to take to take flight, though it doesn't quite achieve lift-off. It's another tale of a relationship gone wrong. While the question: "Did I say too much this time?" is hardly an original one, it neatly mirrors a common experience. An instrumental section, which starts at a much more measured pace than the main section, would have been an excellent way to bring the song to an end. That's one fault the Voices of Masada have failed to rectify. Sometimes a song that would be effective at three minutes, starts to bore after five. "Wondering" lasts five minutes, 25 seconds. You can draw your own conclusions.

"Looking Back" is skittery in parts, as if the band had drunk too much coffee before recording it. Yet it is saved by the chorus, as Sinbad sings: 'Take my hand and kiss me now/I feel time slip from my grasp.' There's a vulnerability that is attractive. The desire to 'Stop the clock' and to 'Turn back the years' is a well worn trope of music, but who hasn't felt this desire?

The torrents of gothic rock guitar that briefly surface in "Reflections" take Voices of Masada in the direction of bands such as Funhouse or The Mission. The double tracking of Sinbad's vocals, with guitarist Rob's, works well - and should be pursued more.

"Taken" is the nearest Voices of Masada get to a ballad on this album. Rob's FX-laden guitars summon spectres of The Cure. I'd like to see them develop this atmospheric side of the band. The tension is palpable - I'm expecting the song to explode so I can admire its apocalyptic glory. Danny's bass has the intensity of Fields of the Nephilim's Tony Pettitt. The detonation never comes but the pace picks up, with particularly effective keyboards - adding flavour to the narrative. If you're going to write songs longer than five minutes this is how you should do it.

"Never Again" starts slowly, allowing the emotional intensity to build. It's another tale of a doomed relationship. As is often the case with Voices of Masada the words are decent enough, yet only achieve transcendence when married to the music: 'And though for a time we were there/It slipped away in our fear.'

Much as Voices of Masada saved the best for last on their debut album - the beautiful and affecting "Shine" - the band repeat the formula here. Yet this time they have hit upon the innovative idea of making the last two songs brilliant. Though not billed as such, "Years" and "Another Day" work well as two halves of a story. Voices of Masada are so much more engaging when discussing mortality, as they do here, than failed relationships.

The lyrics of "Years" are open to interpretation - and as one never able to resist an open door here is my reading. 'It's so long, so many years/And then I saw that you were here' seems to be the experience of someone on their deathbed. Separated for years, only death can bring about a (brief) reunion. I think these experiences are the flip side to the story detailed in "Another Day" perhaps? "Is this the end? I just don't know. Perhaps there are a few things I can do before I go?" sings Sinbad in "Years". Only by talking about death can we be reminded of the importance of life. Yet there is a twist in the tail, as the last gasp before going into the eternal night, the dying one says: "You're not so perfect after all/Just an image ... built to fall." Would self delusion last until a last breath? Is this one last moment of bitter spite? Or an all too late realisation of the fallibility of us all?

The death takes place - and the narrator changes for "Another Day". The funereal synthesisers hint at things to come. The contrast between the life-changing events and mundane nature of everyday life that doesn't have the decency to stop just because your world has fallen apart is explored in the following lyric: 'It seemed like any ordinary day/It rained until the clouds passed away'. There may even be an element of black humour in the last part of that phrase. Is the bereaved speaking the truth though, when he asks: 'And I wonder if I'll miss you in the days that follow these/'Coz it seems that there are few things worth remembering.' Or is there anger mixed with the grief? The intensity of the song hints at this interpretation. Suddenly the everyday nature of the title ("Another Day") makes perfect sense. It belies the sentiment in the climax. There's guilt mixed in there too: 'I only wish that I'd wept then, for just one moment.' The self-centredness - which in other circumstances would sound unattractive - here sounds perfectly acceptable.

It's easy to take Voices of Masada for granted. Every time I see them live I am suddenly reminded how much I like them. I still don't feel they have achieved their full potential. They are a consistently good group, with moments of greatness. With the release of Another Day the ratio of greatness has tipped further in their favour. Sometimes the words are a little ordinary, yet they achieve greatness as part of a song. "Alive" and "Uncertain" are as good as any alternative bands have produced in recent years.

Meanwhile the intensity of songs like "Years" and "Another Day" remind me why I write about music. These songs need to be heard - and I want to do what little I can to tell people about the way they make me feel. It doesn't matter whether these feelings are happy or sad - though strangely these songs manage to do both. The important thing is that songs like these make us feel as much as we can. It is the only way to know we are truly alive.