It was around the turn of the millennium that danceable electronic music became increasingly popular in the ‘scene’ (scene defined here as that collective of bands, clubs, DJs and people I usually write about). Whether it was industrial bands finding a sense of melody, or goth bands discovering sequencers, it’s an era of music which I’ve covered frequently in the past. And Diary of Dreams, whether by plan or by chance, would cut themselves a slice of the action, starting with their fifth album One of 18 Angels, released in 2000. The last piece of their definitive sound was about to fall into place. Their gloriously weary epic goth sound could now be enjoyed to a dance beat.
The two finest examples are the signature call-to-arms synth riff of Butterfly:Dance! and the deeply infectious electronic groove in Chemicals. And by finest, I mean in terms of the entire genre, iconic anthems on any dark dancefloor you or I are likely to gravitate towards. They aren’t the sole highlights, either. The doomy piano stomp opener Rumour About Angels, the contrasting guitar blasts and piano motifs of Mankind or the haunting theremin-like chorus of Winter Souls all appeal in their own way on a musical level, whilst memorable lyrical excerpts are abundant throughout.
But it’s in the final stages that we get a reminder that the human aspect of the DoD sound was not lost under the electronics. The piano ballad Colorblind is a song with a deep personal resonance, a touching tragic tale of lost hope that could easily have ended the album. But the final trio of People Watcher, Darker and the spoken-word outro Dead Souls Dreaming seem to be in a private contest to out-do one another in sounds more terminal, more conclusive, more ‘final’ than each other.
I have to admit at this point that it’s difficult to write impartially about an album that made such a lasting impact on me. I was hooked on first listen, and over 20 years on, it’s still one of the few I regularly listen to start-to-finish. It’s enough to say that if you’re looking to dip into the sound of this band by listening to one album only, One of 18 Angels is the best place to start. Unless you’re instead looking for the album that would form the basis of their live shows for the next couple of decades. That one’s a couple of years off……
Versions: The early Diary of Dreams albums were all identical in terms of tracklisting, but we now reach a point where they were being issued outside of German, and hence variations creep in. And I’m sad that you should avoid the Metropolis versions of this album as it shuffles the tracklist slightly, omitting the key opener “Rumours About Angels” though it does add the upbeat “Now This Is Human” as a strong, if not exactly like-for-like substitute.
What do you do when you hit upon a winning formula? You double down and do more of whatever it was that made you successful in the first place! That’s clearly the mindset behind 2002’s Freak Perfume. Sure, turn up the reverb for the arena-sized opening epic Traum:a (bi-lingual wordplay strikes again!), but when the sequencers kick in for The Curse, we’re going nowhere but the dancefloor. A message from the tortured to their torturer, and a key track in terms of club play and future live shows, it’s symbolic of an act that is no longer content to mope in the shadows. It’s time to stand up and fight.
Lead single O Brother Sleep is so typical of this era of the DoD sound that it defies further explanation beyond ‘this is good’. The later stages of the album offer two further upbeat highlights- the feminine mystery of She and self-reflection of second single AmoK. The more downtempo side of their sound hasn’t been forgotten, though. Traumtänzer sees Adrian take a forary into his native language. For years, it was an encore highlight with all German-speakers present engaging in an a cappela rendition of the chorus. The delicate piano ballad She And Her Darkness closes out the album, a tale of loss that would go on to become something of a “fan favourite” – indeed, streaming stats suggest this one of their most popular songs of all.
Sadly, the album lacks the consistency of it’s predecessor, with some rather ponderous moments between the admittedly frequent highlights, with the clumsy and directionless Bastard a definite low. It is possible that disruption in the bands line-up might have affected things (Alistair Kane has gone and yet to be permanently replaced), and there were also known to be technical issues with the recording process. The good more than compensates for the bad, though.
Singles and Versions: This was the first Diary of Dreams album to have lead singles, with both ‘O Brother Sleep’ (backed with ‘She’) and ‘AmoK’ released ahead of the album. The most notable cuts on these singles are the three Daniel Myer produced ‘upgrade’ versions of older songs on the AmoK single, with “Victimized”, “Ex-Ile” and “Butterfly:Dance!” all brought in line with the bands current sound. Revisits to old songs would become quite rare from this point, so enjoy them while they last.
This was also the first Diary of Dreams album to be released in a limited edition version with extra tracks. The digipak version adds three – the edits of “The Curse” and “Rebellion” can both be found on the Dream Collector compilation, but there’s a unique mix of ‘AmoK’ that was never reissued. It’s not that different from the album version barring some tweaks to the bassline and drum programming, so don’t feel you need to hunt it down. As an iconic album in the band’s catalog, it was one of the few to get a ‘vinyl revival’ issue in 2018.
There was a companion EP Panik Manifesto released later in 2002, though it’s more of a mini-album – seven new songs, no remixes or alternate versions. There are points where is ventures even further into the realm of club-friendly electronics – PaniK? is driven by a squealing synth klaxon, a song as urgent as the title suggests. Soul Stripper, meanwhile is more groove-oriented, catchy looped phases all the way through.
They go too far on The Scream – the futurepoppers might have gotten away with cheesy trance synths, but with goth integrity to preserve, it’s a stylistic shift too far for a band best when they’re trying to sound at least a little bit miserable. The remaining four songs sound like everything else they’ve ever recorded, leaving the feeling that ‘Freak Perfume’ would been one hell of a dark-scene club smash if they’d subbed out the weaker tunes with the two hits on offer here.
By 2004, the mohawked Gaun:A had established himself as Adrian’s permanent guitarist – he would also go on to make significant contributions to the album concepts and cover art. With the line-up settled, the duo headed off to Iceland for a photo shoot and research mission, the aim being to create their own mythology that would form the basis of the album Nigredo. It’s a concept album, sure – but such things can only succeed if the songs can cut through the rather esoteric ideas around which the whole thing was built.
And it just so happen we get two out-and-out anthems early on. Giftraum is a densely-packed blast of Germanic fury, probably the pinnacle of all their ‘native language’ songs. Kindrom meanwhile, develops from a metronomic keyboard line to colossal rallying call, repeated phrases and huge choruses providing another live show favourite. But the album never equals these heights. Reign of Chaos and Charma Sleeper both succeed in a providing a more complex but also less directly confrontational version of theirsound, but the second half of the album is a thing of only patchy delights.
The best of these is UnMensch, using their now well established sinister piano and guitar stab technique to grab attention at a point where other songs seem content to drift past. Upbeat synth tunes are thin on the ground here, presumably not befitting the overall concept, though Psycho-Logic plays a strong hand with programmed loops and twisted-up lyricism. Other than that, the closing stage prove to be something of a drag – as if the obscure concept took priority over the individual songs. It’s a trap many concept albums fall into.
Singles and Versions: ‘Giftraum’ was the solo single, with two mixes – the Skinner mix clearly aimed at dark-scene clubs DJs, the classical version an interesting concept, but applied to the wrong song. The two exclusive tracks “Fallacy” and “UnKind” are nothing special.
The different versions of the album, meanwhile, all offer the the same songs, but the box set version offers additional artworks which allow you to see what Gaun:A contributes to the band alongside his guitar.
Again, there was a counterpart mini MenschFiend with seven further songs released the following year. The opening title track is another one of those huge, slow Teutonic marches, the synth lines descending with the listener into an underworld of the bands creation. Surprisingly, it’s the other two German songs, Haus der Stille and Treibsand that some closest to making an impact in terms of reviving the uptempo (but not upbeat) sequence-heavy sound of ‘Freak Perfume’ with the remaining four come across as ‘Nigredo’ outtakes.