Amelia Arsenic – Queen of Risk – music review

Amelia Arsenic – Queen of Risk – music review

Amelia Arsenic used to be known as DestroyX when she was the singer for the important Australian industrial band Angelspit. With that project, she mastered a unique style of very direct vocal delivery with a nice emphasis on certain lyrics that were almost like ironic punches. She was extremely young when she started with that two person outfit controlled by Zoog von Rock and needed time to develop her own interests when the band split up. Under her new persona, she has created some very distinct electronic sounds with a more feminine edge than Angelspit but also more haunting and gothic qualities. The sounds are a bit delirious and create beautiful aural pulsations with strong waves of synths.

Her new songs are more synth driven with industrial production that has brighter edges than Angelspit, and there are very nice borrowings from underground EDM mixed with darker sounds. It’s a truly industrial project with many songs having mechanistic breakdowns through sampling, but Amelia Arsenic songs stay far more internalized than did Angelspit, which tended to be much more political. Amelia has her own interests in studying culture, and that remains a central concern of the songs. Her vocals blend with her music more than was the case with her old band, where she was often in front of the mix punching listeners with her voice.

The new sound goes in a direction that is radial and immersive. Her voice blends nicely against the synthesizers, and they become an all of a piece statement together without any component standing out above the rest too heavily. As Amelia’s voice blends with electronic bass lines, the combination is beautiful and trance inducing.

The new project has very psychedelic qualities alongside harshness and reminds me of Mr. Kitty in this regard. Rather than an industrial sound of attacking listeners like aggrotech bands such as Combichrist do, it’s more a sense of being wrapped into the sounds and creating a surrounding world out of them that veers more towards beauty than horror, but still with very dark perceptions that are a key part of gothic industrial music. Goth themes are strongly present, but they take the form of romantic pessimism, social degradation, and misdirection. It’s very interesting to see the difference, because for Angelspit everything was an attack on society, while Amelia’s own views are a bit more complex and nuanced. She’s more interested in relationships and superficiality and in the way that people live rather than the surrounding power structures that were so important to her former band.

with Amelia Arsenic
with Amelia

While I thought Angelspit’s criticisms of culture were important and had genuine sophistication driven by insights of art needing a freer, more authentic and changeable world than the present, her new project is more driven by personal insight and living around the edges of negativity in better ways than it is by commenting on everything with attacks. I appreciate the strong complaints that her old band laid against contemporary culture, and it’s a valid perspective, but there is obviously a world beyond that. In the case of Amelia Arsenic, she has elegantly turned more towards her own perceptions. In keeping with being truer to her own ideas, the name of the new band is much closer to her actual name.

Queen of Risk

The new Queen of Risk EP establishes her project as an exciting new part of industrial music. The Carbon Black EP from a few years ago paved the way for this, but it sounded far simpler and more direct in a way that was closer to where she came from with Angelspit. It was a bit of a placeholder for her new project while she worked on a lot of personal things. She completed a college degree after leaving her old band and found her own direction. The first EP established that Amelia Arsenic would go in more trance and goth directions with lighter sounds, and the 5 songs on the new EP are very experimental and highly original tracks that show serious evolution and more harshness.

Rx Love is a criticism of drugs in society, but it criticizes them from the perspective of an addicted society just being a matter of fact. We all are under the influence of something, even if for many of us it is comes primarily from the increasingly immersive and unavoidable media around us. Casual use of coffee, recreational use of intoxicants, and pharmaceutical use of prescriptions from doctors are all overdone. They have become a fuel for a civilization that is constructed by things far outside of personal choice or awareness.

Live Slow Die Old is a more nuanced comment on culture, with boredom and wealth the focal point of our delirious world. Society rewards patience, boredom, and conformity very often with riches, and the result is a slow death for people who, “wanna be the one percent without the reckoning.” The song is very much a cry to break free from this and is loaded with the irony that DestroyX was always so good at delivering as she sings, “in gold we trust,” but it’s now wrapped with more subtlety.

Architects of Death is another deep portrayal of irony and a truly gothic creation as Amelia finds people who are destroying themselves as much as society destroys them. It’s a portrait of a nihilistic world turned into a party song for clubbing. “Our fate is in our hands. Design our own death plans,” she sings about a society that is so nihilistic that the only way to be happy is to embrace the destruction by partying until the end of oneself or the world, whichever happens first. As much as contemporary human beings are run through a machine that devours them, they also manage to destroy themselves looking for a way out. “Sky high till our last breath. We are the architects of death,” captures this perfectly with the amazingly direct delivery that has always been part of her vocal style. I was very taken with how angry and nihilistic Trent Reznor was about the state of the world at the Nine Inch Nails concert at Red Rocks last year, and this song seems like a perfect response to that view of civilization. Everyone opts for self destruction in some form, and Amelia Arsenic depicts that as inescapable and almost necessary. This song really touches on brilliance and is hard to turn off as a perfect portrayal of nihilistic life crossed with intense clubbing as the only solution.

Amelia Arsenic at 3 Kings
Amelia Arsenic at 3 Kings, Denver, 9/1/18

Queen of Risk is a particularly beautiful and trance styled take on industrial music. It focuses heavily on self destruction through a personality that seeks thrills, but not in a superficial way, more as a creative impulse. This song has a double meaning and fits Amelia Arsenic in a lot of respects, as risk has a good and rewarding side to it just as death has a component of beauty found in the previous song and in gothic creations overall. It also has a nice double component to a relationship of not being able to trust herself with someone else and also only being able to trust with that same person. “You’re my failsafe. Keep me from the edge,” she sings after opening the song with with memorable and fitting line of, “Crown me with your barbed wire halo,” descending into tranced gothic sounds about closeness, risk, and destructiveness.

Homewrecker is a song about collapse and pleasure. It takes the idea of a woman wrecking relationships and the world in general to please herself and expands it into a general falling apart of both the woman and everything else. Amelia sings the part of the girl in the song, but the point is partly that a constraining environment can force destructive behavior as one of the only ways to be satisfied. It is a clever and again deeply gothic play that attacks the common usage of the song’s title.

The five songs together tell a story about living in the 21st century. People are medicated to the point of delusion on the first track, in love with money and living safely as they slowly rot on the second, and by the third song nihilism sets in. Death takes over as living for the moment starts to become important. The fourth song focuses on a self destructive person also seeking better things, and the last one describes domestic collapse by a liberated person. It is a short but clever musical story well worth a great many listens as is the case with the best densely layered industrial songs.

Angelspit

Angelspit is interesting to look back at in retrospect to these new songs. I loved that band for ages and was traumatized when DestroyX left. They were no doubt one of the most important parts of industrial sounds for the 21st century. Zoog principally wrote the songs, and other people were performing members or played side roles, but it was a two person band at heart. The way DestroyX approached those old songs was wonderfully deadly with a lyrical precision in her delivery that was unrivaled. She could bring out biting irony on a lyric with harsh emphasis like no one else. Amelia started too young with that band, and it may not have been the best for her in all ways, but the music is profound, and it got her started on a very unique creative path. I hear enough of what she did with Angelspit in her new work, and find enough changed in their later releases that I am left thinking that working with DestroyX had a lot to do with Zoog shaping the final sound of those old songs.

One of the band’s serious interests was in trash culture, often depicted as a decaying and corrupt society that led people to desperate ways of degrading themselves, frequently with medical procedures, as they searched for meaning. That does sound like the average consumer in many ways, but DestroyX was depicted as a very extreme personality to make the point. It’s not the real Amelia, and now she has a chance to show her true intelligence and far nicer creative demeanor with less of a horror wrapping, or one that is far more subtle. Some of Angelspit’s best results came through excellent remix albums. So many of their songs focused on the recycling of things within a decrepit society that recycling their own songs through remixes turned into a serious project, producing some of the best industrial remixes I know. It’s fascinating to see that DestroyX has remixed herself into Amelia Arsenic.

Part of what is so exciting and different about her work now is that the songs are much more driven by her own perspective. Angelspit was a very intellectual highlight of the industrial genre, but its focal point is more of a Marxist view of objective commentary on culture. Amelia’s own project focuses more on her own feelings and views and her position within the social things she depicts.

Live

As a live performer, Amelia Arsenic is friendly, exciting, and gently dancey, more hypnotic and less aggressive than she was with Angelspit. Her singing takes on more beautiful and haunting qualities in the solo work. Now she flows more with the music. She seems very at home in the new environment of being surrounded by her own sounds and more a creative part of them. The songs are very fluid and feminine in this respect but with harshness underneath that carries very original industrial currents. It’s more gothic than Angelspit with its embrace of beauty instead of constant horror. She is still drawn to irony and humor, but they are accomplished with far more subtlety than the direct attack that is often found in Zoog’s songwriting. 

In the live performance at 3 Kings in Denver back in September, she showed these new creative directions very well. It was exciting to see her play with industrial musician Rabbit Junk. His songs are very intellectual like her old band, and he plays guitar for most of his show. So she got to sing and play keyboard on some of his songs. She also got along very well with the brilliantly talented Kanga, who is a huge new force to have in industrial music and an incredibly exciting live performer who kept jumping into the audience and completely wrapped up the venue in the raw intensity of her performance.

I was impressed to talk to hardcore Kanga fans, including our excellent local DJ talent, Jason Kilgore, but the friendship with Kanga and Amelia Arsenic was especially fun to see, because they are such enormous creative talents. This is even more interesting based on how strong the use of keyboard is in their songs. Both of them are taking industrial in a very synthpop influenced direction which I also see happening with the exciting new band Night Club. This was one of the most exciting tours I’ve seen, because it brought some serious underground industrial music together with a strong fabric of mutual support between the bands. Cyanotic from Chicago made for an aggressive headliner that was just right after the other bands, and the whole tour was a wonderful way to represent a true and uncompromising industrial cult. Amelia Arsenic was a standout and has shown that her sounds are an important part of the future of industrial music.

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