Review: Genghis Tron ‘Dream Weapon’

For the moment there, around a dozen years ago, there were many people pointing at Genghis Tron as being the most exciting band in the world. Their album, Board Up the House, was cited as one of the albums of the year everywhere from Rock Sound magazine to The New York Times….and then, like the film from which they take their name, they disappeared.

Genghis Tron ‘Dream Weapon’

In revisiting Board Up The House in preparation for this review I must sadly confess that it now sounds like As I Lay Dying with synths to my ears, which isn’t anything that anyone has ever asked for. I remember enjoying it at the time, but I really don’t think it’s aged terribly well. Fast forward thirteen years, and not only have we had a Tron sequel, but we also have a new Genghis Tron record…spooky hey?

This is where the Tron references will end – mainly because I’ve never seen either of them and have no interest in watching a film that appears to be about Jeff Bridges getting lost inside a ZX Spectrum. What I do have an awful lot of interest in though, is a band like Genghis Tron who apparently have no respect for genre or expectations and do whatever they damn well please! If you share my current boredom with retro-rock bands wearing kaftans and playing Gibson SGs then this record may very well be your saviour. In fact you’ll struggle to identify a guitar anywhere on the whole album.

Dream Weapon pulls of that trick which I find so rare in electronic music – it weighs-in with some pretty significant emotional heft. If you’ve ever sat and digested Nine Inch Nails’ Downward Spiral in one sitting then you have a feeling for what I’m talking about – which isn’t to say Genghis Tron are stylistically akin to NIN or quite reaching their lofty heights – I think it comes down to a similar quality in the song writing. Some of these tunes would be just as affecting if they were played on a banjo and a tambourine (which may or may not be the content of any future remix release).

The band have seen a significant change in personnel since last they visited our earholes. Mookie Singerman (a name which made me childishly snort in 2008, and still has the same effect) has been replaced by new vocalist Tony Wolski, and the change is a stark one. Gone are the aggressive screams of before; replaced by far more subtle and inviting tones. Perhaps even more interesting is the introduction of Nick Yacyshyn on the real-life tub-thumping. Is the emotional quality of the music increased by the introduction of a walking and talking drummer? Quite possibly; there is something intangibly engaging about a drummer rather than a machine – maybe it’s the tiny, almost indiscernible variations in tempo that even the best drummer in the world delivers?  Whatever it is, I’m wholly onboard for using a real drummer within electronic music.

The album opener, Exit Perfect Mind, is a short instrumental introduction which works really well and segues into the first track proper, Pyrocene. Straight away we have a very old-school electronica sound which sets the template for the rest of the album. Wolski’s vocals certainly add an ethereal element which wasn’t present on previous albums. His more relaxed and less extreme delivery works really well in my book, although it does take Genghis Tron another step away from the metal genre.

the changes in personnel in Genghis Tron are positive, and the drumming of Yacyshyn is certainly worthy of particular praise…

The title track contains a really stand-out drumming performance – the rhythm teeters beautifully on the edge of collapse towards the end. The contrast of the controlled-chaos drums with vocals that never veer from their calm and measured delivery is really effective – it’s one of best tracks on the album, no doubt, and caps-off what is an incredibly strong start to the album.

The whole album has an air of soundtrack about it, and is none more evident than on Desert Stairs. This is perhaps where my attempts to not reference NIN again are going to falter, as Trent Reznor’s ability to create electronic moods has ultimately ended up with his downstairs toilet being decorated with Emmys and Oscars. There are times when this creation of a consistent and affecting tone strays into less than inspired tracks though. Alone In The Heart Of The Light is maybe the clearest culprit as it is seven minutes long and really doesn’t go anywhere – it feels like merely a stepping-stone between the tracks before and after.

From Alone… we come to Ritual Circle which is the longest track on the album, clocking in at ten minutes. It’s also possibly the most adventurous in its construction. Perhaps bizarrely for a 600 second song, there is no real crescendo – it manages to vary the feel without making any significant dynamics shifts. Normally I’d label something as ‘lacking in dynamics’ by way of negative criticism, but that’s not the case here. The track is interesting for not using the standard quiet-loud-quiet dynamic that so many bands live by. This control does however mean that these two long tracks tend to blend into one another, and the song-writing seems to lose its momentum somewhat. Taken in isolation, Ritual Circle is really interesting, so maybe this is a question of sequencing as much as it is about quality?

Single Black Point acts as a Stranger Things-esque interlude before we’re dropped into the final track, Great Mother. This takes us back closer to the fuller sounds of the title track. It’s the noisiest track on the album and its mid-paced drum-heavy sound is satisfyingly huge when your volume dial is edged to the right. It’s a worthy closer.

I found Dream Weapon to be an initially very exciting album – the sounds set out in the first few tracks are great and the song writing top notch. Unfortunately, to my ears the middle of the album then falls short of the standards set. There is a lack of variety which means attention is lost until the final track ups the intensity and reminds you how arresting the first fifteen minutes of the album were.

This criticism aside, the changes in personnel in Genghis Tron are positive, and the drumming of Yacyshyn is certainly worthy of particular praise. Dream Weapon may divide long-standing fans who have waited over a decade for them to re-emerge, but for my money this is a more mature sounding band, and one that I’m more likely to follow in future. Let’s just hope they don’t wait for us all to mature for another thirteen years before the next record!

Label: Relapse Records
Band Links: Facebook | Bandcamp | Twitter | Instagram

Scribed by: David J McLaren