2020 has been sponsored by the letter A, for anxiety. If you’re used to being anxious, no doubt – you’re aware you’re more anxious than you’ve ever been; and if you can’t quite put your finger on what’s bothering you – surprise, you’re anxious. After all, our brains are just lumps of electronic flesh, vaguely sending out symbols about an enemy it can’t see – no wonder you’re anxious. Virus, coffee, isolation, working from home, the incompetent government… it all adds up. Anxiety, thy name is person (man). This, of course, has manifested itself in the shape of coping mechanisms. Some eat the doughnut, some bake the bread and – in a move that’s so, so welcome – some bring out their first new album since 1994.
Or at least, that’s what you do if you’re Cabaret Voltaire. Shadow Of Fear, the first release with Richard H Kirk as the sole member of the band, is an album that sails the seas of pandemical anxiety. Despite electronica not being ahead of the zeitgeist anymore, it cements that Cabaret Voltaire are still very much amongst the royals of electro. If anxiety has a musical partner, it’s very much electronica. And not only does Shadow Of Fear provide us with an outlet for our pandemic anxiety, the haunting chorus of “millions will die” floating through the soundscape as the ghost of Christmas past, it also provides us the soothing arms of repetition, and dark beats to bop along to whilst we’re trying to work from home.
We begin with Be Free, resonating with the sample “I did it, I killed him” that then throws us into The City Is Falling Apart – an eerily prophetic opening. The repetition leaps forward, driven by a funky cowbell that raises that itch in the space you can’t touch on the back of your neck, the fear at the edge of your vision, the anxiety in its most weaponised form. We then swim into The Power (Of Their Knowledge) a murky ocean of blips and static and vocal distortion, a one-two-three-four loop that serves as a memento mori – “ya start with nothing, and ya end with nothing” eerily etched into its sound.
Next up is Night Of The Jackal, flipping the vocal distortion into full on discords, that blend with their background and summon back that cowbell from the merky deep. Microscopic Flesh Fragment changes pace, and cuts through the lullaby we’ve been lowered into, etching a new path with a stop-start, stop-start electronic voice that ghostly declares, “thousands will die”. Papa Nine Zero Delta United races the horses of claustrophobia on, combining the esoteric vocals with the anxious repetition of the start of the album. Universal Energy begs we reach to the sky, praying to our anxious gods for a conclusion, invoking the two heaviest tracks in the album’s final moments, Vesto and What’s Going On – a battle cry to messy Slimelight nights and those goth mates you only meet at 4am after six glasses of wine.
All in all, Shadow Of Fear is a well-rounded release. It won’t change your life, but at the moment, all we need to do is survive. Because the best way to deal with our anxiety is to share it, to send it out into the world and realise, we’re not alone. At the moment we need to speak to each other, and Shadow Of Fear is an album that absolutely helps us make that connection, musically. Mr Kirk, please don’t leave it a quarter of a century till the next one.