In the beginning there was blackness
Abney Park – Wasteland is the 18th album of the band from Seattle. Founded 1997 as a rather goth-industrial band the band started to reorient itself 2005 with the release of „Death Of The Tragedy“. Steampunk became the central element of the band and their music. The band identified deeply with the steampunk genre. Each member of the band was linked to a fictional character, all embedded into a fully-fledged background story (three books, „The Airship Pirate Chronicles“). By means of the books and the characters the band explained themselves, the changes and where they saw themselves, thus paving the way for their new music.
The 2008 released „Lost Horizons“ was the band’s first steampunk-themed album. This album to this day is a milestone, especially due to the songs „Airship Pirate“ and „She“. Both songs to this day are top ranking works of this band that I truly admire a lot. The band set a reference there and all following releases had to measure themselves and prove their weight against these two musical treasures. The band has changed over the years. Old members left, new ones came in. The Music has changed as well, became more modern, electronic elements grew more prominent. Not to the liking of all Abney Park fans.
By the end of last year Wasteland was released. I sort of shied away from the album. I had serious concerns the latest changes to the band might have an impact onto the musical character of Abney Park that I would not like. Looking back I got to admit that all this stems from hear-say, and rumors. „Abney Park is not what it used to be,“ they said. „The music is something else completely,“ they said. In general there was a feeling of profound disappointment that shone from those remarks resulting in me being overly cautious.
Abney Park has changed – no doubt about that. They changed as a band and they changed musically as well. The music embraced some more rock, some more electronic, but the same time it grew more and more professional – in a positive way. Abney Park – Wasteland is an album of a band that can look back on a plethora of intense and ever changing year. It is an album that is presenting a band orienting itself in many aspects, one being the band’s own history and heritage, the other being the present and future (Zeitgeist anybody?)
The music is undoubtedly influenced by electronic aspects. We should not forget the band has its roots down in the industrial genre, which is a severely electronic style of music. The band has some serious experiences in handling electronic music in their resume so it comes to no surprise they are tapping into those riches. This opens ways for the band to release more modern, dancefloor-oriented tracks. Those got a bigger chance to be played in clubs nowadays. To be fair „Airship Pirate“ or “ To The Apocalypse In Daddy’s Sidecar“ are brilliant songs but they are not exactly first choice for a club-DJ. The band understood that they need to make music accepted by their fans, that the band needs to stick to themselves and be true to what they became. But the same time the music need to be played to a broader audience to draw new fans towards the band.
Then and Now
Abney Park – Wasteland is trying to combine these seemingly contradictory interests. The album has three parts that are swiftly flowing from one into the other: In the beginning the album is strongly electronic, carried by dance/club beats. „Witch Hunt“ at the least is a reminder that Abney Park has not lost its unique character. The band became more open to modern aspects. This song especially showcases the „old“ Abney Park embracing change, accepting influences that might be a bit more up to date, or modern. To me this song is a landmark showing what might be down the road with Abney Park. The third section of the album seems to address the „old“ fans, trying to convince them that Abney Park still is Abney Park.
The Band proves that they did not lose any of their astonishing versatility. „Hired Gun“ is a surprising play on the Western-aspects related to the Wasteland-Theme. This song combines the modern which perhaps reminds about bands like The BossHoss with the feeling of those old Western-flicks of John Wayne and Charles Bronson. The result is a classy TexMexx-Western-Country song, yielding the distinct Abney Park signature – while still being totally unexpected.
The swinging-grooving cover of the jazz classic „Minnie the moocher“ is flat out ingenious. This adaption to me is one of the highlights of Wasteland. The band rises to full height and vents off its full potential, proving that Abney Park still is a class on its own. My favorite song of the album, towering over all the other songs, however, is „The Prayer“. This song crawls under your skin, giving you goose bumps. The unique atmosphere and density that I especially link to Abney Park’s music ever since „She“ blew me away blossoms to all its glory in this jewel: Dense, touching, unagitated, without childish carryings-on, deeply rooted within Abney Park’s heritage while still being a modern take on what the band is capable of.
Long Story Short
Abney Park – Wasteland is a versatile album that I consider really well done. It is combining many aspects of the Band. Wasteland points out new musical options the band could possibly venture along but still pronounces that the band is not only very aware about its own past but that Abney Park is fully embracing it. Rumors todays Abney Park would not be what they used to be are true to some extent. In fact the music changed. Show me but one band who did not change over the course of some 18(!) albums and almost twenty years of rocking the stages.
To say Abney Park is betraying themselves is simply not true. Wasteland is clear evidence for this. I do like the album a lot. It could – perhaps – use a nudge more rock, a spoonful of Nomad but hey, just because this album has a little less rock in it doesn’t mean Abney Park can’t rock it anymore. To me Wasteland is perhaps not the very best but certainly one of their best releases because of its versatility and the way the band is proving how they can adapt and adopt without losing „it“.
As I said: I really like the album and the band and because I wanted to support Abney Park I decided to actually buy the album for this review. A word of waring is due. If you are ordering this from Germany this very one CD will cost you 30 US$ which I consider a tad steep. That’s why I opted for the digital download which comes along with an all instrumental version of „Wasteland“ – a nice add on. Thing is: You can not chose a codec and the one used is well behind todays standards. You don’t get to choose the quality or codec you want. Instead you get pre-rendered MP3-files at roughly 200 kb/s joint stereo which got a lot of artifacts and distortions, rendering the music far behind what Abney Park should sound like. So if you really want the music: Get the CD. The download is – sorry to say that – money wasted.
Abney Park – Wasteland was released 07. Nov. 2015