Monday, August 22, 2016

(WEARE)WARFACE


Many of you who follow me or read my shit know (or have guessed) that I am friends with a certain industrial glam-rock band called (IAM)WARFACE. At least, "industrial glam-rock" is how I describe them. Another reviewer once described them as "if Nine Inch Nails and Placebo had a baby, and it's pissed off," and while I find that description to be apt, I'd be careful to compare them to Placebo, a band that I love but has its glam-rock roots firmly fused with the music of the '90s. (IAM)WARFACE has its roots firmly planted in the '80s, but brings it forth into an era evolved from metal, post-punk, and industrial music. There is also a pop sensibility to this music, that means it is catchy and accessible, but a hardcore stranger always lurks in the shadows.

If you haven't already guessed, this is a review, my first since considering making reviews a regular part of this blog when I reviewed Max Lilja's Morphosis (an album I really didn't do justice to, and remains a regular part of my life's soundtrack). However, I felt I'd be remiss if I didn't review WARFACE, to belatedly celebrate their success in releasing the EP Say My Name and their status as the winners of Starlight Music Chronicles' Artist of the Year. You see, a long time ago, I promised frontman Matt Warneford that I'd review his song "To Die For." I failed to do that (which couldn't have helped his self-esteem), but he kept on sending me music and making overtures of friendship which have cemented a lasting and lovely relationship. So here is the review, at long last, that I owe him!

I would like, however, to not focus on a single song or achievement of WARFACE, and to preface by saying that, yes, I am a friend and a fan, but I'm going to do my best to give an objective and honest account of my relationship with the music of this band, and how it has evolved to become a lasting part of my psyche, and to be on permanent rotation in my life's soundtrack. How it started was with the song "The Vampire," which was recommended to me on SoundCloud based on my appreciation of the music of Suzerain (who, incidentally, are personal friends of WARFACE and have since become online friends of mine as well).



"The Vampire" is pretty unique among WARFACE's songs. It focuses more on a speed-metal style of guitar, one that I am no stranger to as a former vocalist for various metal projects, which initially drew me to this music. This song still has its roots grounded in the '80s, and there's plenty of pop sensibility in its lyrical hooks (as well as the almost-universal appeal of Matt's vocals) but this is a song that made me want to bounce off the walls every time I heard it, and that I wanted to share with the metal enthusiasts amongst my friends, fans, and followers.

Imagine my surprise when the mind behind this music, who seemed to have hundreds - if not thousands - of followers, graciously accepted my praise on SoundCloud and accepted my friendship on Facebook. Matt Warneford has been almost-famously accessible to his fans, and has befriended many fantastically creative minds because of it. He also has a pretty devoted following. It seemed foreign to him to accept that yes, I was a friend, but that I was also a fan as well. His humility and self-doubt have been a part of his winning public persona and the wide appeal of his music. But I shall try to refrain from praising the band's composer and frontman too much; I will, however, also mention that he's an accomplished 2D artist (he created the cover of my album Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), who accepts commissions and has prints available on his main website (http://iamwarface.com).

I have to admit that, when approaching the rest of his music, I wanted more of the sound presented in "The Vampire." I have never been overly fond of the music of the '80s, with its overly apparent synths and overly-stylized electronic sound. I do, however, have a passion for Goth fashion, industrial music, and the homoerotic presentation of glam-rock. These are all very apparent in Matt's music; he once said that, if he had a different job, it would be as a drag queen. And he makes a beautiful drag queen! There was plenty for me to appreciate about the rest of his musical endeavors, from the music itself, to the artistic presentation, to the live performances I've sadly only seen on YouTube. 

Regretfully (and blessedly), I've gotten most of my (IAM)WARFACE illegally, though some if it has been from the artist himself, and I do have what is legally available in my Apple Music Library, in rotation on my "Another Soundtrack for Another Life" playlist. But there is so much that isn't officially published! Still, every song I was able to get my hands on went onto that playlist so I could hear more of it, and many of them have taken their turns as my "favorite," replacing "The Vampire." They have the ability to get stuck in your head with their catchy hooks, and to make you marvel at the composer's ability to coax such unorthodox sounds into cohesive arrangements. I must say that "Wake Me Up" has become one of my favorites to find myself driving to, while singing at the top of my lungs. But before that - as I was still more of a novice fan, and more enamored with another musician who considered me a peer - I was swept up in the publicity that surrounded WARFACE as the Artist of the Month for Starlight Music Chronicles in the month of June, 2016. I was thrilled by Matt's success and engrossed by the publicity circus surrounding an exclusive-to-Starlight music video for the song "Fear the Future." Of course, I had to listen to that song over and over as an overture to it's fitting Halloween release, and then rewarded with a creepy and disturbing social commentary that was all I had hoped for and more.



This video represents so much of what I love about the compositions and the image that Matt has crafted. The macabre and blatant commentary on man and his demons in modern society enveloped so much of what I respect about subversive artists, and was a stunning demonstration of what director Yohan Forbes can accomplish on a small budget. It also shows that this music has potential way beyond that of shallow or self-centered pop. Though Matt has said he wishes his music was more emotionally honest, I believe it speaks louder than he might expect. While one of my most prevalent criticisms would be to agree that his music could benefit more from raw emotion rather than catchy pop hooks, his music admittedly has a wide reach and the potential of having an iron grasp.

It was mostly with the release of this video and the creation of the fan group that I realized I was a poor (IAM)WARFACE fan. There was still so much of their music for me to explore, which was mostly made accessible to me by other fans. I found myself hearing songs as if for the first time (and sometimes it actually was the first time) and being blown away by their ability to strike an emotional cord with me, or to move me physically. Much of this is music to dance to, or sing along with. I am admittedly jealous of Matt's ability to accomplish this while still maintaining undisputed status as an avant garde composer. This is pop music for fans of industrial-metal. This is complex, modern music for fans of the '80s. And there's so much material to draw from that a full-length album could easily be accomplished, yet there were only singles and a demos first as A Major Work of Friction and then Golden Army before we were finally treated to an official release, the EP Say My Name.


Prefaced by the release of this fantastic music video - featuring the current band's line-up playing together - the EP treated newcomers and current fans to four tracks that, in my opinion, are wonderful, but not Matt's best work. The title track is definitely one that is catchy and memorable, and grew on me like a fungus, despite my initial dislike of the backing vocals. It is now amongst my favorites, and I get excited every time it comes up on my iTunes shuffle. "Trigons" is a fantastic display of Matt's abilities as an electronic composer, being primarily instrumental, though when vocals come into play, I wish they were louder, because they are a haunting juxtaposition with a song that could otherwise be categorized as "electronica." And let's zero-in our focus to Matt's vocals for a moment: sure, you can compare his music to Nine Inch Nails and Placebo, but neither of those bands have vocals half so strong. He may not scream like Trent Reznor or vocally bend his gender in the manner of Brian Malko, but his voice is powerful and gripping, and he can wield it deftly in ranges varying from your standard post-punk frontman, to devastating falsetto. Say My Name, while not consisting of my favorite WARFACE songs, nonetheless demonstrates Matt's strengths as a composer and as a vocalist.

So one of my nagging questions for Matt is always (aside from "where is that remix you promised me of 'Sublime Like Swine?'"), "When will we have a full-length album?" But Matt's primary concerns are elsewhere, from touring and promoting, to cementing his live band and getting a record deal. All of these things are on the verge of happening, if they're not happening already. A distraction may have come in the form of the prize for the winners of Starlight Music Chronicles' Artist of the Year (an achievement accomplished just a month ago), which may send the band to LA for an exciting apprenticeship. Needless to say, this is a band accomplishing much - thanks primarily to the talents of a single remarkable man - and they are not going anywhere. We may have to wait forever for the first full-length album, just as we did with Suzerain, and which we are currently also doing with The Arcane Insignia (forgive the name-dropping, but I love these guys and their music), but it promises to be worth it! No pressure, though, Matt...you know you can always vent on me.