CD, AEntitainment, 2006
“Dirtward” is pure industrial rock from the moment it hits. The apparently single-man project Utopia:Banished has taken a good, hard look back at mid-90s North American coldwave and forged ahead with all the production and genre-bending the intervening years have come to offer. Evocative of that particular blend of rock and electronics before the music became infused with too much techno (author’s note: not necessarily a bad thing), critics will have a difficult time discussing this album without bringing up everyone’s favorite industrial rock poster boy. So I won’t, and just didn’t. Although this music owes a great deal to its obvious forebears, its strength across the spectrum it challenges and the diversity found therein stems from, above all, willingness toward experimentation. What Utopia:Banished offers its audience is not simply introspective atmospheres versus punishing guitar riffs or disenchanted electronic shenanigans varnished with a healthy dose of post-punk aggression, but rather an honest, emotionally charged and passionate fusion of rock aesthetic meets processor nihilism.
The origins of Utopia:Banished are vague, though perhaps the name itself derives from the album “Utopia Banished” (1992) by pioneering grindcore/death metal act Napalm Death. This might begin to explain the apparent fascination with heavy guitars and sampled live drums. “Dirtward,” despite its name, is immaculate when it comes to two things: adrenaline and texture. Heaps of both define the album, along with a fervent vocal delivery that ranges from balls-out screaming to forceful spoken word and unhinged whispering. Utopia:Banished does a commendable job in balancing the digital legacy of industrial with the power and versatility of a rock song format, and “Dirtward” ranges nicely between kicking heads and brooding in a corner.
The first few tracks, although less interesting, still manage to function as appetizers heralding the intense flavors to come. First to truly impress, the excellent “Spare Time” is a quietly ruminative number that plays effective counterpoint to the rage-fueled endeavors found elsewhere. “Low” then hooks the listener in with a great build of menacing, abstract beats and shrieking, disintegrating synths topped off by variously spoken and whispered lyrics. The sampled drums and bass guitar complementing the murmured dementia in “Trespass (Blind Alley)” eventually evolve into a credible nod toward nu metal. Further highlights include the hopelessness aroused by the grooving pulses and glowing symphonic tones of “Affirmative / A Letter” and the buzzing mix of distortions and guitar stabs in “Don’t You.” “Kayal” is definitely solid material for any local goth/industrial weekly (DJs take note), and the mesmerizing, guitar-driven album closer “Carve Up a Nit” confirms that borderline lunatic is sometimes simply the best way to go.
— Dutton Hauhart