A spiritual synth pop journey
Five years after the release of ‘Transnational’, VNV Nation are back with their 10th studio album ‘Noire’.
Combining future and synth pop elements with retro 80’s style and instrumental experiments, the album offers a good mixture for passionate dancers and contemplative listeners alike.
Ronan Harris’ melancholic and calm voice leads the listener through very dark places, where opposing forces such as light and darkness, peace and war, life and death, love and hate are intertwined in an eternal conflict. The religious implications in the lyrics add to this somber atmosphere and make listening to the 13 songs an almost transcendental experience.
In church with VNV Nation
The first song ‘A Million’ starts with a calm and soft melody and just when you are tempted to think that this is a typical, minimalistic intro song, the song surprisingly quickens its pace and transforms into a dynamic up-tempo opener. The fast, insisting club beats perfectly accompany the lyrics, depicting an apocalyptic scenery of violence and war which occur as soon as the “dying sun presages the night”.
The 80’s synth pop melody of ‘Armour’ feels like a welcoming distraction after the disturbing and violent images of the first song. This song is much more optimistic and reminds you that there will always be someone or something protecting us from the world’s hazards.
The hopefulness evoked in the last song abruptly fades away while listening to the lyrics of ‘God of All’. The song describes the life-long search of (a) God, who does either not exist or just decides to leave you alone while the world is collapsing around you. Just like the first song, ‘God of All’ seems to tackle the large themes of our times, such as endless warmongering and the lack of compassion and love.
‘Lost in space and time’
The ‘Nocturne No. 7’ indeed comes as a surprise, as I would never have expected a classic piano song on a VNV Nation album. The blank, natural piano chords without any synthesizer beats stand in contrast to everything we heard before. They actually force you to hold on for a moment and listen carefully as they slowly seem to fade away and then come back softly but decisively.
This contemplative ambiance is developed further in ‘Collide’. This song actually reminded me of ‘Endless Skies’ at first. While the first half of the song makes you feel as if you were flowing in space, the rhythm in the second half becomes more emphatic and insistent and leaves you pondering on the meaning of the words.
With its regular synth pop rhythm, ‘Wonders’ is yet another typical VNV Nation song, but in terms of lyrics it has become one of my favorites on this album. This song is an ode to memories, be they good or bad. It also reminds us that we can never go back in time and should savor every moment we have because it will never come back.
‘Immersed’ abruptly takes us back to the themes of the beginning of the album and immerses us in the ever-lasting fight between Good and Bad. This song is definitely one of the songs on the album I would love to dance to. I can already imagine people running to the dance floor and getting carried away by the forceful beats.
Although ‘Lights Go Out’ does not take up the same dark beats, its message is not less grim. Just like the alarms evoked in the lyrics, calling everyone to seek shelter for the night, the song starts off with the exact same sound and introduces a morbid scenery: While war is raging outside, people are trying to forget what is happening outside of the basement they are trapped in for the night, laughing and dancing, “waiting for the all-clear”.
‘Guiding’, the second instrumental song of the album, suddenly drags you out of the scenery depicted in the last song. Slowly building up tension, this interlude announces the breaking of a new dawn, as if the sun was rising after last night’s horrors.
Rise and fall
The next song does not only invoke a night’s stroll of a “stranger in a strange land”. ‘When Is The Future‘ also describes our never-ending search for answers while time seems to run by too fast. With its regular beats and future pop elements, I couldn’t help but imagining myself walking to the song’s rhythm through a metropolis as a stranger, just like Ronan Harris on his stroll through Tokyo.
‘Only Satellites’ takes on a faster beat again. Its optimistic wave and future pop sounds awake you from the last song’s reverie and I couldn’t help but humming the song’s refrain again and again because it just wouldn’t leave my head. Although this song is not extraordinary, I can already imagine a concert by VNV Nation where the audience will be singing along.
After this cheerful flight into the heavens, we are, again, brutally torn out of the previous song’s mood by the album’s third instrumental song. ‘Requiem For Wires’ seems to be a memento for everything that has been lost in the past and shall never return. It is yet another interlude which, in this case, prepares us for the ending.
‘All Our Sins’ takes up the same theme from the beginning, both in terms of lyrics and pace. The lyrics invoke dramatic images of the Last Judgment where all sins are either punished or forgiven, announced by fanfares who seem to represent the opening of the gates of Heaven or Hell.
For real fans
‘Noire’ might not be an outstanding album, but for all those who love the typical VNV Nation style, this is a good, solid record. Personally, 3 instrumental songs out of 13 are two too much for my taste, I think there might have been more potential for at least one other vocal song. Still, I would recommend the album to everyone who loves to dwell on the both cryptic and meaningful lyrics and be enchanted by Ronan Harris’ ever so sad voice.