Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Various - Trance To Planet X: Influence 3.3 (Original TC Review)

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Hypnotic: Cat# CLP 9674-2
Year Of Release: 1996

Track List:
1. Phasis - Visitations (6:33)
2. Wave Shaping Age - World In Trouble (6:45)
3. Omnicron - The Bushmen (6:12)
4. The Dermatologist - Jupiter (Omm To The Stars) (8:56)
5. Analog Communications - Wave Generator (7:40)
6. Morten - Hypnotizing (7:20)
7. Judge S. - Brainstorm (Scatanic Gap) (7:00)
8. Audio Science - Sunstroke (11:39)
9. Cyberjam - Alphaflight (6:46)
10. Artificial Flavor - Deep Noizer (4:56)

(2010 Update:
Endlessly detailed and a drag to read. Why would I go to such excruciating lengths to microscopically recount how each track sounds? Well, this was actually the first sample review I wrote for TranceCritic, mainly as one to show other writers exactly what kind of format we were shooting for -specifically of an average 6/10 release. Plus, we were actually wanting to go this heavily detailed method, which was just stupid in hindsight; live and learn. Kudos to you if you can make it through all 2500 words of this -Lord knows I can't anymore.)

IN BRIEF: Hypnotic Records on the decline.

This third volume of music from Music Research's sub-label, Influence, brought to us by Hypnotic (a sub-label of Cleopatra), is something of a mixed bag. Influence's early releases were quite distinct in tone and atmosphere, drawing themes from industrial music quite liberally at times, all the while maintaining trance and hard acid elements. And while the latter is present in this compilation (at times in spades), the former is not. I suppose some of trance's early association with industrial had been all but wiped out by the time these tracks were released but it's a shame to see that distinctiveness in Influence's sound go by the wayside.

But enough about the past. Does this compilation do the label justice? Well, yes and no. There is some quality stuff here but at times on this album it seems like Hypnotic was scraping the bottom of the barrel of Influence's library.

Like the two previous Influence compilations Hypnotic gave us, this one starts out with a track by Norman Feller's alias, Phasis. Visitations is a solid sounding affair, once it finally gets going that is. As a low acid warble starts this track off, subtly playing with some pitch effects. Bits of percussion progressively are added, making for a decent, if somewhat long, lead in. In fact, it isn't until two and a half minutes into this track that Visitations gains any real momentum. Finally, at around three minutes into this track, a minor breakdown gives the main riff, a filtered little stuttering trancey sound, some prominence. It plays around with a few reverb tricks, adding ominous filtered pads into the background before everything comes together again for a sinister sounding little number. Around five minutes in, the song goes into another breakdown, and the initial low acid line gets to play around again before building up into a great moment where the pads are given prominence, accentuated with simple, driving bass punches. The riff joins the fray again as the song plays out to its end, which is quite abrupt, especially considering how much lead in this song had to start with.

Fortunately, World In Trouble by Wave Shaping Age picks up the pace right where Visitations left off. After a hollow, metallic banging sound plays for a bit, a quite creative and unassuming sample from The Terminator (I'll leave it to you to guess where in the movie it's from) leaps out at you, rousing you from whatever inert state you might have been in. As the sample loops, a chunky bit of low acid joins at an urgent pace. The sample fades back and a simple, beeping riff becomes the focus, a rather paranoid sounding little thing. Driving bass kicks and other percussion are progressively added as things settle into quite the hypnotic number here. The riff fades back for a bit around two minutes in as some stuttering sounds and acid effects play out for a minute and a half, never loosing momentum. A brief breakdown comes about eventually, giving the riff full prominence. The song builds back up to its original driving momentum, where the riff is then treated to some echo effects, adding even more urgency to its already paranoid sound. As the Terminator sample loops out at the end, the riff is given full prominence once again to take us out. Great trancey stuff.

Unfortunately, it's with the next track things start to become a bit suspect with this compilation: a return of the rather mediocre The Bushmen by Omnicron. Why put this track on the third of this series when its already been featured on the previous one? And if you absolutely had to put a previous track on, why not something better?
"The Bushmen trance or curing dance..." Get ready to hear this sample a lot in this song, more than I'd really care to hear. I'm not entirely adverse to the idea of repeating samples throughout a song but very rarely does it ever come across as creative; more like tedious, especially if it doesn't add much to the track in general. The song itself is quite driving thanks to some brisk percussion, an energetic bass line, and stuttering voice pads. The main riff, however, is kind of lacking in this same intensity, sounding rather muddy. A few bridges with acid bleeps and a trancey ping that echoes across the stereo spectrum add a bit of diversity around three minutes in but, for the most part, it doesn't deviate from its main riff, which just doesn't have enough meat in it to carry this song. Even the stuttering voice pads, always a guilty pleasure of mine, can't help in making this track more interesting than a decent transitional track.

If The Bushmen is an example of how to use a repeating sample wrong, the next track, Jupiter (Omm To The Stars) by The Dermatologist, is an example of how to use a repeating sample right. Of course, it helps that this spoken sample is the word omm, which has an almost Zen-like quality to it when heard or said. Strange, that.

There's quite a bit of subtle stuff going on with this track. The opening, crisp acid line is quite low in pitch to start but it will be given a great workout throughout this song's duration, peaking and subsiding in frequency with great embellishment. Sinister and spacey effects come and go, playing off of percussion elements that never overtake the main acid line in prominence... and here is where a problem lies. The bass kick is rather flat. Were it punchier, this could have been a great track that could pummel dance floors. As such, it merely functions to serve the pace, which is a shame. At around six and a half minutes, the song stops and an ominous voice utters "Jupiter." Interesting, but nothing is done with it afterwards besides just pick up right where the song left off. It kind of takes you out of the trance this song puts you into while listening to it quite abruptly. What's the point of this? If something new were added afterwards, I could see some logic behind it. As it stands, Jupiter is a fine enough excursion into acid but leaves the listener wanting.

Sadly, Analog Communications doesn't seem to be up to the task of upping the ante, further dragging this compilation into mediocrity after its solid start. The opening of Wave Generator is something of a mess. A chunky bit of stuttering acid starts out, which is fine, but a flat sounding bass, hi-hats, and cymbals that are progressively added just don't mesh well, making this sounding quite cluttered. It isn't until two minutes in that things kind of settle down into something resembling a song, thanks largely in part to a kick drum and snappy, shuffling claps that gets things organized. The acid line carries on throughout this track, given a bit of a pitch workout after the five-minute mark. Trouble here is this line is so abrasive and prominent that it drowns out so much of the rest of the track; you need a very good set of speakers or headphones to make out any of the other details. Even an eerie little warbling riff that joins the fray three minutes in can't get its head over the acid. Might make for an alright transitional track if an acid techno DJ played the middle four minutes worth but other than that, this song is just too cluttered sounding to be any good.

After three straight tracks now that haven't been too hot, it wouldn't be at all uncommon for a casual listener to dismiss the rest of this compilation. Fortunately, Morten's Hypnotizing manages to rescue it from sinking altogether. After about a minute's worth of fairly standard lead-in percussion (although there is a bit of playfulness in the use of stereo effects), a wobbly bit of acid bass joins in. Half a minute later, some trancey beeps begin to float about before the main riff, a rather simple, stuttering synth stab, rises up in a minor breakdown. Things play out for a while as extra effects adding a sense of urgency to the riff build tension. At about the four-minute mark, the song breaks down into a lovely little bit where string pads float along with the trancey beeps, all the while a female sample says, appropriately enough, "Hypnotizing away." As the song builds up again, a chunky bit of acid grows from the background, given full prominence once the rhythm sets in again. As the trancey beeps and strings pads are added, it gives a sense of soothing calm over the song's initial anxiety. Even when the main riff returns, the two polar elements play quite nicely off of each other. On its own, Hypnotizing is fairly standard sounding trance from this era. Coming off of two straight hard acid tracks though, this one is like a breath of fresh air after sitting in a suffocating room.

Now that our attention is brought back, it's time for Judge S. to increase the intensity with Brainstorm (Scatanic Gab). A menacing sound effect weaves about as percussion slowly fades in from the background. In less than a minute, a booming gabber bass kick rears its intimidating head, fortunately at a brisk enough pace as to not loose this track's integrity. The sound effect switches up a bit, turning into actual notes instead of background noise. All this is very subtle, mind; like the calm before the storm. By the three-minute mark, an incredibly catchy riff plays out; very epic sounding despite the low-key sounds used. A minute later, a quick percussive bridge ups the ante as effects and extra hi-hats accentuate this riff. As the song builds down its layers of elements, an acidy synth gets fed through a pitch bend, repeating towards a minimal outro. Killer stuff, and not an easy act to follow up. Fortunately, the always intriguing Audio Science is up to the challenge.

Sunstroke starts out very low key due to a pulsing synth sound fed through a low pitch; things don't really pick up until over a minute in where a subdued synth pad weaves about as a very unique sounding bass kick pattern (going something like 'thump thump-thump-thump-thump-thump thump thump-thump-thump thump') is introduced. Extra hi-hats and claps in separate stereo channels are progressively added, setting up a very quick pace. As the synth pad leave, the original wobbling synth sound picks up in intensity, getting doubled up and peaking briefly every so often at higher pitches but remaining low for the most part. By the five-minute mark, the percussion briefly leaves, giving some eerie stuttering voice pads a bit of prominence before rejoining the fray. This carries on for a couple of minutes but never sounds repetitive thanks to the ever-so-subtle pitch tweaks to the pulsing synth line. Once we're in about seven and a half minutes, the song gives a new element, a good ol' bit of tweaking acid, a bit of prominence. Finally, every element comes together for a frenetic climax where the original pulsing synth gets fed into quite a bit of echo effects. This is quite a long song compared to the rest, clocking in over eleven and a half minutes, but it never gets tedious to listen to. There are so many elements subtly lurking about that an acute listener can have quite a bit of fun with it. The only real trouble with it is there is no real defining riff, just a series of trancey movements. As such, this is trance music in its most raw form: subtle, minimal, and hypnotic. Me likes.

Attempting to outdo Audio Science at their game is not something recommended for a follow-up track, and this compilation wisely follows this advice by delving into something a little bit different than anything heard yet here. A moody pad intro starts Cyberjam's Alphaflight out. Before long a couple different twerping acid lines emerge, building in intensity. Soon enough this intensity is released as percussion charges in with a bit of low, reverbing acid throbbing in the background. Acid lines and effects weave about, creating what is actually something rather funky sounding, a bit of a surprise given how this song started out (at least, as funky as acid trance can get). Three minutes into the song, the opening pads return in a breakdown, this time more intense as low-key acid and sound effects play off of them for a minute. Once the rhythm returns, its more driving than before and various acid effects play all about, sometimes retaining a bit of the opening's theme, but for the most part doing their own thing in a rather fun way. The song kind of pitters out at the end from a lack of focus, though, seemingly having run out of ideas. This wouldn't be so bad if the next track picked up nicely after this steady run of quality tracks.

Ouch! What is this? Did someone record this track too loudly onto this album? Or is it the song itself? Deep Noizer by Artificial Flavor does have a danceable rhythm to it, I guess, but the sounds used here to make up its main riff (which plays through the songs entirety) and various effects are so overbearing and abrasive, I can't imagine anyone making heads or tails of it. Everything is just so distorted. Granted, it's not a very long track, but I can't see anyone using this for anything more than a joke. It certainly isn't an enjoyable listen at home. What a lousy way to end an album. Since it's the last track, this is pretty much a throwaway song. I've never been fond of the idea; wouldn't you want to go out firing on all cylinders instead of leaving a bad taste in the mouth?

Still, there is some great stuff to be had here; tracks like World In Trouble, Brainstorm (Scatanic Gap), and Sunstroke are worthy additions to any trance collection. But when a compilation contains such weak contenders like Wave Generator and Deep Noizer, it's hard to recommend an album in good conscious. However, the former group of tracks are worth having, and given the rarity of Influence material on CD (or MP3 for that matter), for the most part the rest on here would be welcome accompaniments for a trance library. It's just a shame the lesser tracks drag the overall impression here.

Score: 6/10

Wave Shaping Age
- World In Trouble
Judge S. - Brainstorm (Scatanic Gap)

Written by Sykonee. Originally published in 2004 for© All rights reserved.

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