LP, Anna Logue Records, 2007
Cultural Amnesia were part of the post-punk cassette scene back in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s and “Enormous Savages” is a selection of nine tracks recorded between 1981 and 1983. In their early days they worked closely with the late Coil front-man John Balance. When he was still editor of Stabmental magazine, Balance encouraged the band to record and acted a sort of unofficial manager, even going as far as writing songs for them. “Enormous Savages” features 3 of Balance’s songs, one of them – “Fetish for Today” – appearing for the first time. The first 125 copies of the album also include an exclusive 3 inch CD featuring 4 new songs recorded by the reunited band between 1998 and 2006.
Although the analogue sounds and mood are understandably retro on the these tracks, the influence of contemporaries like Coil, Current 93 et al is immediately noticeable although, at the time, they would all be in their embryonic forms. The similarities are apparent right from the start but provide an excellent insight into the avant garde movement that all these bands must have immersed themselves in at the time. Album opener “Kingdom Come” has psychedelic tendencies with occasional expletive outbursts augmented with analogue electronics. “Materialistic Man” has a more driving new wave feel to it and adds crackly vocal distortion, apparently through some sort of loud speaker device. The new wave mood is consistent throughout but is accompanied by sonic experimentation and an often hazy psychedelic swirl. Stepping up the experimental stakes is “Sacrebleu” which sees singer Gerard Greenway singing in a weird demonic voice and making odd noises which actually make perfect sense when heard in context. This slightly odd vocal delivery is also used on “The Wildlife of Tranquil Vale” with its funky energetic electronic rhythms and avant garde leanings. “Blood Rag” has a slow plodding beat and equally melancholic vocal with impassioned outbursts not dissimilar in style and lyrical content to Balance’s own vocals and wordplay.
Closing the album are the 3 Balance penned songs; “Fetish for Today”, “Scars for E” and “Here to Go”. The unreleased “Fetish for Today” is typically electronic track with a pseudo-medieval vocal that is actually quite compelling with the vocals and weird out of tune guitar meanderings all fitting together quite nicely. The second of Balance’s tracks, “Scars for E”, has a fairly simple but insistent driving electronic beat and a Joy Division quality both musically and, to some degree, vocally. The album closer and final Balance track, “Here to Go” bears a typical Balance comment at the end of the spoken intro which then develops into a new wave guitar anthem with trademark Balance musings and wordplay throughout. It is this track that can be mostly closely identified as Balance’s work; although he does not sing on any of these tracks his style of vocal delivery and lyrical dexterity are in strong evidence. Of all the tracks, “Here to Go” is the one it is easiest to imagine Balance performing with Coil.
Those lucky enough to obtain one of the first 125 copies of this LP will also be treated to 4 new tracks recorded by the reformed band in the last few years. Presented in the form of a 3-inch CD appropriately titled “Little Savages”, the bonus disc provides an insight into the new tracks being recorded by the band. The first thing that becomes evident is the difference in the overall sound; the warm analogue synth sounds are replaced by crisp digital electronics.
“Bone Chapel”, the opening track on “Little Savages”, has a subtle South American rhythm under buzzing bassy electronic tones and old storytelling theme, almost as if relating a folk tale. “Ourselves” is a return to the slow plodding pace of some of their older tracks, again accompanied by guitar haze and a similar folky vocal style. “Syst.Admin” is an irreverent track that shows the band’s more humorous side and features Ben Norland’s frustrated (and slightly demented) rant about filling in forms. The last of the 4 tracks on the bonus disc is “Sea Song” which returns to a gentler, electro-acoustic base with their recognisable vocal style and a suitable sailing theme.
A quite diverse collection of tracks that, at around 25 years old, still sound fresh and interesting all these years later. Stylistically original, most definitely talented and backed by Balance himself, Cultural Amnesia most certainly had a future beyond the few years they were together. Luckily, they have started recording some new tracks and plan to bring more of their original music into the digital age and release it for our collective enjoyment. “Little Savages” acts as a teaser for their new work and shows that they still have the talent and ability to produce excellent music. On the strength of this release, that will certainly be something to look forward to.
— Paul Lloyd