Filthy, heavy synth rock outingwith resounding endorsements from Dinosaur Jr and Sonic Youth
Consisting of vocalist Khan Of Finland, guitarist Philipp Virus and Boris Bergmann on drums and synths, Wild Style Lion are one of those adventurous collaborative efforts that draws heavily upon members’ experience in other fields: Khan is a producer and has worked with Julee Cruise, Diamanda Galás and Kid Congo Powers, Virus has directed videos for Atari Teenage Riot, and Bergmann is a classically-trained musician who has scored films as well as playing in punk and death metal units.
Owing a debt to Dinosaur Jr frontman J Mascis, who invited them to take the support slot for the European leg of the US grunge legends’ tour, the band’s debut album is a dark, occasionally harrowing body of work built up from sludgy guitars, restrained beats and synths that would typically belong to darkwave. The trick here is density – instrumental tracks like ‘Godwasinme’ rely on intense layers to deliver their emotional impact, while the heavy processing of the instruments add textural grit to melodic sources.
Blues and garage rock reference points abound across ‘Wild Style Lion’, but there’s a conscious push into psych and krautrock territory. ‘Kingdom Cum’ possesses a blistering lysergic intensity, a jumble of disjointed lyrical themes occasionally touching on religious fervour while the squealing, mechanical whine of ‘Lovewasinme’ (featuring Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon on vocals) occupies that astral field so favoured by German groups in the 1970s.
The highlight is ‘Grey Sedan’, a dirge-like blues number with guitar and synth interplay that sounds like the group are making shapes out of pure electricity, while vaguely glam, stomping processed drums add an unswerving weightiness to the track. The album includes two versions of ‘Grey Sedan’ – one where Khan does his best insectoid impression of Suicide’s Alan Vega, and another where Kim Gordon steps in and sounds trapped somewhere between detached seductress and the doomed first victim of a teen slasher movie. In addition, ‘No President’, featuring proud sponsor Mascis on guitar, finds the trio all but dispensing with the drums in favour of a thrilling mesh-work of dirty, distorted synths and equally ground-out axe lines. It makes for a cloying, claustrophobic, panic-inducing thrill-ride of a song.
A clue to the inspiration for this curious musical collaboration may lie in the solid, brutally austere ‘Charlie Charlie’, which drops in lyrical sections from The Velvet Underground’s S&M hymn ‘Venus In Furs’ over its chunky beat. Doing so feels like an attempt to bookend 50-odd years of experimentation in music, from the Velvets’ 1960s artsy gestures through sky-scouring prog and krautrock and on into electronic music, finally arriving at a point where it’s possible to make an album like this, where guitars and synths can be blended together so inseparably that they sound entirely indistinguishable from one another.