Friday, December 25, 2009

Various - Influence 2.2: A Hardtrance Experience (Original TC Review)

Best Price: $2.24

Hypnotic Records: Cat. # 95452
Released 1995

Track List:
1. Phasis - Welcome (5:52)
2. Phoenixx - The Mongolian Rider (7:48)
3. Analog Communications - Atmospheric Forces
4. Unknown Control - Heaven (6:22)
5. Bionic Crew - Final Entrance (4:35)
6. Retroflex - Family Nightmare (6:26)
7. Monks - Monks Too (6:44)
8. Omnicron - The Bushmen (6:10)
9. Argon X - Little Gamma's Adventure (6:45)
10. Influid - We're Always Behind You (5:40)
11. Influence Megamix V2.0 (8:45)

(2010 Update:
Ugly review. I wouldn't be surprised if I turned away a few folks with this one. To save you the trouble of reading it ever again (even if it's for the first time), check out tracks 2,5,6,9, and 10. They're the good ones.)

IN BRIEF: Hard trance cleans up its act a bit.

Influence Recordings started out quite raw and dark in their releases, which actually helped them gain an edge over the blossoming hard trance and techno sound of the early 90s. By drawing upon industrial themes, many of the Influence artists created some true gems that time still hasn't managed to dilute, if anything because many hard trance acts these days don't delve into the sinister side of music as often anymore (unless they think using the Menacing Voice makes their tracks sinister enough -as if), preferring to let the realm of hardcore handle those themes.

While Influence had a raw beginning, even the artists on the label made use of more refined production equipment as the years went by. This second compilation of Influence tracks brought to us by Hypnotic (bless their hearts for bringing it over to us poor North Americans at a domestic price) gives us an inclining of the changing tides. The first Influence compilation from Cleopatra (Hypnotic had yet to be established as the EDM sub-label of Cleopatra when it was released) was quite gritty and menacing. This one has a little more polish on the production side but that distinctive, menacing Influence sound is still lingering.

Opening track Welcome is brought to us by Norman Feller under his Phasis guise. I've enjoyed many of Feller's works but I have to admit this one doesn't quite measure up to his other releases. The foundation is strong, of course, as the use of energetic rhythms and crisp, quick synth melodies does create a good source of punch. And the use of spacey pads midway through to complement the main leads is a welcome addition. So what's the problem here? Hearing the Menacing Voice intoning "Welcome!" way more than is necessary, especially towards the end when you hear it every eight bars, gets pretty redundant soon. Also, to be honest, the leads used aren't really the best I've heard from Feller. Sure, I can't expect the guy to come up with gold every time but it just sounds like he's going through the motions here. Still, Welcome is a serviceable track to begin the compilation with despite the fact it probably won't turn many heads either.

Fortunately, The Mongolian Rider by Phoenixx brings things up to speed. Starting out rather mellow with pads, bubbly effects and a brief vocal chant that will serve as the basis for most of the melody to follow, the song shifts into high gear a minute later with brisk, driving rhythms and a simple, punchy, fuzzy synth. Layers of percussion are gradually added, eventually bringing the opening themes into the fray. One more added melodic bit to harmonize with the pads and vocal is introduced some three minutes later and this track is well under way. Patches get shuffled around, allowing them to alternate between rhythmic and melodic sections as the pace tends to dictate. Really, the arrangement is quite simple, but that was one of the defining trademarks of these early trance tunes coming out of Germany at the time: infectious melodies using a variety of sound sources looping repeatedly to suck you into your mind. It may be simple but it's still highly effective.

The moody, acidy Atmospheric Forces by Analog Communications is a nice follow-up for about three minutes. After that, you start to realize most of the good ideas were used up in the opening of this track. This turn into mediocrity is mainly chalked up to the weak rhythms. Granted, the kick is effective but the rest of the percussion is quite bland. A shame, considering the moody promise hinted at by the start of the track.

Still, at least some of the elements worked. With Unknown Control's Heaven, almost all of the sounds used really don't mix well. The arrangement of them is fine but limp rhythms, weak leads (that sound very under-produced, I might add) and a silly vocal sample fail to grab your attention and hold it. I suppose this could just be a case of a lack of better equipment, as you can hear some decent ideas lurking in the patterns. It's a shame these guys weren't producing in the Cracked Studio Software era, eh?

If Heaven was an example of good arrangements with weak sounds, then Bionic Crew's Final Entrance is just the opposite. With warbly acid lines, spacey pads, and a simple, effective lead, this track starts out quite promising. Unfortunately, not much is really done with it. This isn't so much a problem of meandering too much (like Atmospheric Forces did) but ending a bit short. Okay, perhaps I've been spoiled by a number of trance tracks of various styles averaging the seven minutes mark and am being a bit selfish. After hearing a pair of weaker tracks, though, I wouldn't mind something that hooks me in instantly to go on for a little longer than just four and a half minutes. Ah, well moving on.

We're halfway through this disc now and that trademark sinister Influence sound has only cropped up sparingly. Family Nightmare by Retroflex aims to fix that with a rude awakening of throbbing gabber beats. I know a number of folk out there can't stand these, so you might as well skip past these next two paragraphs.

Okay, the brave (or foolish, depending on whom you ask) still with me? Good. Now, I'm sure you're wondering what a gabber track is doing on a compilation that clearly claims this is a "hardtrance [sic] experience" on the cover. Fact of the matter is when this was released, folks weren't as nitpicky about genres. Especially since trance was still a relatively new kid on the block, the criteria for what was and wasn't trance was considered quite broad. In general, so long as there was an element of entrancing sounds, you could get away with some very diverse compilations.

Family Nightmare makes use of those spacey voice notes that was quite dominate in a lot of early German trance. With a brisk, ominous melody striking in time to the fast, throbbing beats, this track is quite fun actually. A sped-up vocal sample gets thrown in at various points; although I can't quite figure out what it says (animation chips?) it certainly fits the tone of this track. Other fun items of note: a harpsichord-like sound replaces the spacey voice notes at one point, giving the track a tongue-in-cheek epic feeling; as was a common gabber cliché, the song pitches down right to a crawl towards the end before pitching back up to even faster speeds to climax out; the additional "Let's go!" vocal samples are nice little bursts of nitro at the end of rhythmic pauses. Really, the only glaring problem with this track is the use of some sort of low Atari bleeping sound that doesn't always sync up with the rhythm; it can really throw one's attention off and wasn't really needed in my opinion. And, I suppose, this being gabber it isn't going to become a classic track anytime soon, plus I highly doubt this particular track will change the mind of gabber's detractors. Still, it's a rollicking good time so their loss.

If you’re just joining us now after skipping past the last track (sorry if you missed the fun) this track by Monks may put you off yet again. Monks Too is hardly trancey at all. In fact, this is pretty much a fast techno track, and a rather boring one at that. Aside from a fun bit of bass and a tiny bit of experimental sounds that don't get nearly intuitive enough, there's nothing of real interest here. The feeble attempt at any kind of melody with laughable bell tones is just pathetic. Sorry if I just sound harsh here but this track is barely worthy of a being filler. I suppose it is a respite from the intensity of Family Nightmare but surely there was something better in the Influence back catalog that Hypnotic could have used.

I've already covered what goes on with Omnicron's The Bushmen in a previous review so I'll just mention it still fails to raise above the role of filler even after following a track that doesn't even accomplish that. Moving on.

I suppose you're wondering if there is anything worth keeping on this disc by this point now. Aside from a couple decent tracks, there hasn't been much that has really catapulted this compilation to the rating I gave, has there? Well, it seems Hypnotic saved the best for the last.

Little Gamma's Adventure by Argon X is one of those old trance tracks that I absolutely adore. Using a little whispering, echoing effect to start out, it begins dropping in pitch every few bars, bringing out some actual melody. As rhythms are progressively added, you start to realize this is actual the main lead and, once it settles into a much lower pitch, the guttural sounds are quite menacing. It's an ingenious method of introducing a hook but things get better.

As soon as the track seems well under way, a brief breakdown gives way to some paranoid bells and benign synth pads, completely changing the dynamic of this song. Once the main lead is brought back in, it creates a perfect contrast of yin and yang. The aggressive lead taps into your primal senses while the gentle pads tingle those warm emotions nestled inside. If I may be so bold to say it, Little Gamma's Adventure tells an effective little good vs. evil story, with the malignant beginning, leading to the benign second stanza before the two clash midway through. And, while the aggressive lead gets more intense following this confrontation, it is eventually pushed aside by the melodic elements to finish the song off as a pleasant little piano melody plays to finish off, hinting that good does triumph over evil. Not to be outdone, however, a brief return of that menacing riff pokes its head at the very end, leaving an air of uncertainty as the song finishes.

If Little Gamma's Adventure was a clashing of good and evil, Influid's We're Always Behind You dispenses with any notion of hope right off the bat. Produced by one of the early trance powerhouse teams of Ralph Fritsch and Detlef Hastik (best known for their work as Komakino), it sounds like they rip the ominous voices that was in the soundtrack to the Demi Moore movie The Seventh Sign and utilized them to great effect. This creates an incredibly gothic atmosphere as you can picture the thick beats bouncing off the cold granite of giant, cavernous cathedral halls. A creepy vocal sample whispers, "He's here; A finger-touch away. He's always behind you." as brief, intense drum rolls (one thousand bpm, methinks) grind in the background. Not really too interested in being too danceable, We're Always Behind You is quite content to take many pauses to envelope you within its sinister environment. You can literally feel yourself being consumed in murkiness with a good sound system. Adding to the menace is a creepy little melody introduced midway through, something that can have one nervously looking over their shoulder should they let their imagination drift to this foreboding track. It's certain to be a hit with every graver (gothic raver) who comes across it.
The last track here is a megamix of assorted Influence hits. Of course, a megamix tends to only be as good as the tracks you are familiar with, relying more on trainspotting moments than anything else. Fortunately, I'm familiar with a large number of these so I quite enjoy it. To give this megamix an extra edge, however, producer Vernon Baur (whom was a partner with Talla 2XLC for a while, actually) throws in a huge assortment of battle tool samples and frenetic beats to keep this sucker in high gear. At some points the kicks are flying everywhere with mayhem as the backing song grooves along. It can get quite hectic but it's fun nonetheless. As for what's included on this megamix, let's see if I can put my trainspotter abilities to their test: Marble Cybos' I'd Rather Get Fucked By A Vibrator, Influid's We're Always Behind You (a bit funny hearing it again so soon, but it's such a good track I don't mind), Vene's Pain, The Postman's Elysium, two I'm not sure of, Phasis' Moonwalk, Reel X's Feels Good, and The Abeyance's Unit 99. Hmm seven out of nine isn't bad.

All in all, this release as a whole seems to be quite typical of most Hypnotic compilations: some great tracks, some decent tracks, and a few forgettable fillers. Of course, the ones worth having do make up for some of the drudge you have to sift through in this case so, if you are interested in some older trance, give it a go. I just wish Hypnotic could have trimmed the fat a little better when compiling this. I'm sure there had to be more in the Influence catalogue that could have made this an excellent compilation.

Score: 7/10

Argon X - Little Gamma's Adventure
Influid - We're Always Behind You

Written by Sykonee. Originally published 2005 for© All rights reserved.

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