Siouxsie and the Banshees – Tinderbox(1986)

This is going to be a raving review for a classic album; written in order to encourage you to find it and hear it. You were forewarned. Although this isn’t Metal, Siouxsie and the Banshees have influenced countless Metal bands, mostly in the Black and Avantgarde circles, all the while being regarded among the most influential of Post-Punk and Gothic bands. Most of the bands that bear the Gothic label tended to reject it and this band is no different. This label clings to them mostly because of Siouxsie Sioux’s (vocals) appearance (bearing decisive influence on the Gothic ‘dress code’) and the ominous atmosphere and lyrical subject matter that envelopes even their most upbeat poppy songs. “Tinderbox” is the borderline album; standing right before their shift from post-punk to a poppier direction.

Candyman’ opens the album with a sense of urgency; a slightly dissonant chord played by the rhythm section is met with a crisp clean guitar line and then gives way to further changes in tempo and scale. Siouxsie is probably at the top of her vocal capabilities here and soars above the deconstructed chord-work. Her voice is just a tad below the diva level, allowing for subtlety and dynamics to direct her roles rather than showing off vocal skills. The song is the second catchiest in the album and showcases the band’s modus operandi for the rest of the album as guitar lines, vocals, bass, drums and percussion each do very little in unison but bear a cohesion that very little Progressive Metal bands sport nowadays.

The Sweetest Chill’ could be described by the merit of its title alone. A ballad about longing for a lost loved one that could barely even be called a ballad if it wasn’t for Siouxsie’s more subdued vocal performance. The bass and guitars trade between driving minimalism to the aforementioned chord deconstruction whilst grand piano touches create a sense of grandiose with very little effort, making the song’s crescendo creep up on the listener.

This Unrest’ builds up from what remains of the previous song then the guitars ring out and the bass conjures darkness from beneath. Siouxsie whispers then wails as the verses morph into a chaotic dance, bearing some resemblance to Black Metal dissonance. A faux-tranquil part divides the song in the middle as reverberating piano keys ring above palm muted riffing (not unlike some tracks by Paradise Lost) before collapsing once more into chaos followed by a slow fevered release.

Cities in Dust’ is the main single off the album and is therefore the catchiest track. It doesn’t share much of the album’s atmosphere, rather being an indicator of things to come in the band’s later releases. The song does however hide within its instrumentation one of Stephen Severin’s most interesting bass lines, moving from lower to higher frets with ease that gives character to the song that isn’t found often in other 80’s pop hits.

Cannons’ is deceiving in its simplicity. John Valentine Carruthers weaves ringing clean guitar with acoustic chords that meet Budgie’s percussion in a way that makes the track danceable. Siouxsie delivers a calm layered vocal line that highlights this.

Party’s Fall’ is the most upbeat track in the album and wouldn’t have suited it unless it offered the album’s trademark chord changes. Thus the song perfectly transfers the feel of a party gone wrong. Budgie’s drumming gets more complex as the song edges to a close, emulating a drunken dance.

92 Degrees’ is my personal favorite. It is the slowest track and thus gives each member of the band greater headroom to show their contribution to the piece. The song builds up from restless verses to nearly anthemic choruses and truly mystical c-parts. Carruthers proves that a guitarist needn’t play continually in order to write creative lines.

The song then fades into the album’s closer – ‘Land’s End’. Severin’s bass line here is chorused and bubbly like a sub-conscious half swim\half drown through a moonlit lake. Siouxsie’s vocals are sung as if she’s calling the listener from above the water. Carruthers and Budgie interrupt this in an ominous build up to one of the last ‘classic Banshees’ choruses they’ve written. Siouxsie beckons us to join her in a walk by the sea that is as unsettling as much as it is suggestive, as she wails the album’s coda joined by the rest of the band.

To sum it all up, to the day this review is written, I am still perplexed by the material on this particular album. There are parts which I could easily imagine being played with high-gain amplifiers and sounding absolutely and deliciously Metal. I could definitely see Celtic Frost and the Banshees sharing their influence in some metaphysical bond among others, giving birth to what Paradise Lost and their contemporaries will ultimately dub as the original Gothic Metal. On the other hand, there are places where the high gain would botch all the subtleties created by the core instruments (and some clever usage of synths and samples) – right where this band shows us that to create something truly dark and haunting you need nothing more than that. But all this could be saved for a future article (or rather a rant) about how Gothic Metal today is barely Gothic at all. No wonder why the Banshee’s influence is cited mostly by bands in other sub-genres.

If you seek a dark atmosphere in your music, I urge you to hear this album: it is the last one in which this seminal band has done so convincingly, and bearing an aesthetic that many supposedly Gothic Metal bands should aspire to adopt.

Written by Omrry Efrath

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