Calling the Cyberpunk subculture dead these days seems a little premature since the future is now and is getting close to what Science Fiction warned us it would be. Besides, if you were to mention that to Italy's Dope Stars Inc. they would tell you otherwise and point to themselves as proof. Love them or hate them they have taken a fusion of Technology, Fashion and Sociology and created an offshoot of Industrial music that's as hard to describe as it is to ignore. In just six short years they have gone from a random idea to the poster child for everything that is both right and wrong about today's dark music landscape. They are also one of the few so-called Goth Industrial bands that have actually gotten MORE popular since the decline of various subcultures, and for good reason: They are not afraid to rock.
Debuting with the self-produced EP 10,000 Watts of Artificial Pleasures, Dope Stars Inc. caught the attention of Trisol Records and became an almost overnight juggernaught. Hooking up with Metropolis Records stateside and scoring a deal with Hot Topic propelled them to mainstream appeal with teenagers. They also had several tracks on the SAW horror movie franchise. With the release of Neuromance (2005) and Gigahearts (2006) they have shown the world that it is entirely possible to fuse old-school Rock and Metal sensibilities with futuristic Techno and Acid synthesizers into one organic sounding experience. Bringing a Punk Rock attitude to their interviews and stage shows doesn't hurt either. Dope Stars Inc. are poised to release the third proper album later this year and have released the Criminal Intents/Morningstar EP as a taste of what's to be.
The EP opens with "Criminal Intents" from the upcoming album and immediately they go on their usual Goth Rock tear with a solid hook line, aggressive guitars and gravely vocals. The song isn't necessarily new sounding, but it is very solid which should have fans salivating for the new material. The best song on the whole EP for me is "Digital Warriors" which adds more grinding electronic synth lines than normal, but is right up there with likes of Marilyn Manson in terms of production quality. I was also pleasantly surprised with "Morningstar" a slower and moodier electronic number which has more in common with Ashbury Heights or Din [A] Tod than vintage Dope Stars Inc., but don't let that fool you because it is amazingly textured and grows on you the more you listen to it. I will point out that Victor Love's work with the side-project Epochate has indeed carried over to these new tracks, but not quite in the way you would suspect. There is much more attention to ambient sound effects and layered melodies but the band still keeps the guitar-and-drum filled style as the main focal point. They have also shown the ability to evolve their sound rapidly from album to album in a relatively short span of time.
The rest of the EP is remixes of old songs as re-imagined by a diverse group of artists such as Goth Metal rockers Mortiis, the Electronic incarnation of KMFDM, and the one and only Gothminister. As with all EP's some songs are amazing, some are atrocious and the rest are about average. The first song you should gravitate to is Gothminister's remix of "Can You Imagine" which has everything but the kitchen sink - heavy electro beats, multiple chord changes, a random BPM stallout, a few sprinkled sound effects - but stays true to the spirit of the original.
The next standout is Lovecrave's take on "Lost" which adds strings and piano to the guitars and drums to create a very Victorian soundscape (think Emilie Autumn or Lola Angst and you'll get the idea) which is wholly original and a very welcome break from the Rock aspect of the rest of the mixes. For those that prefer the Industrial sound of Dope Stars Inc. pick up Reverend Hellbastard's remix of "Bang Your Head" which goes for a 1980's Thrash vibe guaranteed to make you headbang with the best. The final excellent track is the Violent Diva remix of "Can You Imagine" which is an Electronic dance floor piece littered with EBM beats, sound clips and a couple of strange surprises which make it club friendly.
I will warn you that the KMFDM and Crossbreed remixes are extremely sub-par and feel uninspired and the handful of other mixes are well done, but ultimately forgettable. The EP finishes strong with a cover version of "Jasmine & Rose" and the original demo for their early hit "Vyperpunk." All in all Criminal Intents/Morningstar EP is both a great teaser for the new album (officially listed right now as "Late Summer") and a give back to the growing legion of fans. Even with the clunkers it is worth every penny, so go buy it already!
Must have tracks: "Criminal Intents" "Digital Warriors" "Morningstar" "Can You Imagine (Gothminister remix)" "Lost (Lovecrave remix)" "Can You Imagine (Spiritual Front Cover Version)" "Bang Your Head (Reverend Hellbastard remix)" "Can You Imagine (Violent Diva remix)"
For fans of: NIN, Marilyn Manson, H.I.M., London After Midnight, Lola Angst, Mind.In.A.Box, Dope Stars Inc.