The Bleach Room
, January 7th, 2013 03:42
There's a very British chauvinism that means that for homegrown acts like Ulterior, it'll be a struggle to get noticed. Despite the fact that the UK essentially invented goth music during the 1980s, recent years have not been kind to those who choose to stalk stages flooded with dry ice, sport aviator shades at midnight, and believe that the synthesiser is a powerful tool in the delivery of pompous sturm und drang. Indeed, pompous sturm und drang itself is treated as rather suspect in contemporary mainstream music media - where's the irony? The rinky-dink, widdly-oh-oh guitars? The chumminess and banter?
Of course, there is a hell of a lot of this sort of stuff done very badly - very badly indeed. There's a very fine line between making music that evokes a Teutonic Knight riding an attack ship over the shoulder of Orion and being a black-clad berk with a Suicidegirls subscription hitting synth presets. What makes Ulterior stand out, though, is their complete disregard for perceptions of whether or not they're cool, or fit in with anyone else... while at the same time being utterly unafraid to push the boat out. Live, they tend to play gigs as if they were supporting Depeche Mode on the 101 Tour, but look closely - singer Paul McGregor's wearing goalie gloves and baggy jogging trousers. There's is a curious and uncommon mixture of the utterly outré and entirely down-to-earth.
Yes, Ulterior are a monumentally preposterous band, and always have been. A potted history: They emerged at around the same time as Factory Floor, The Horrors and These New Puritans as part of a vague scene one might cheekily call Shoreditch Darkwave, playing austere psychedelic music that was very popular among button shirted youths. Ulterior played intense, hard gigs that featured a constantly blaring wall of strobes to complement the sound of Suicide and The Jesus & Mary Chain being dropped into a jet engine. Their debut single 'Weapons' is still a favoured 12" from the time. Following that they quietened down a bit, with a love of the Manic Street Preachers and Guns N' Roses perhaps leading them a little too far into headbands and bollock-out rock territories. Meanwhile, the rest of the world moved on.
Ulterior, though, have reined it in and stuck to their guns, stayed focussed and Pledgemusic-funded this largely excellent second album, a massive slab of sweat, leather apocalypse sexaesthetics and flights-across-icy-pine-forest-righteousness. Unlike a lot of contemporary goth-leaning groups (and especially purveyors of minimal/cold wave), Ulterior are never po-faced or arch. They're at heart very much a speedy rock & roll group who just happen to bolster Paul Simmons' guitar noise with Benn McGregor's synths and heli-blade drum machine - as such, there's a precedent for The Bleach Room in the form of Primal Scream's XTRMNTR. Think that, mixed with Sisters Of Mercy in their pomp.
The album opens with a great prelude track (more of those please, bands) in the form of 'Fun Gun', all rolling bass, snarling vocal, trumpeting synthesiser… and you realise halfway through that the cadence of McGregor's vocal makes it an enlisted starman version of Suede's 'Introducing The Band' from Dog Man Star. 'Hello Andromeda' is a brilliant, spacious stadium rock interlude halfway through the album, equal parts Depeche and the sad bit in a sci-fi film when a charming android gets melted. It's this slamming together of difference reference points while still making something very much Ulterior that's the band's strength here. So you've The Cure and Soundgarden on the murky 'Zero Over Two', while 'Cool TV' has the relentless feel of a digital Loop, vocals like a robot having an argument with Brett Anderson after catching the Suede singer hitting on its girlfriend.
If Ulterior wore normal shirts and were American, 'Psychic Chic' would be appreciated in the same way as The Soft Moon etc. I'd argue this is actually better, thanks to a great, snappy psychobilly vocal and whip-crack drum machine before the Primals chorus and nasty breakdown. 'Body Hammer' is an excellent if peculiar mixture of Guns N' Roses' 'You Could Be Mine' and Alan Vega singing The Cult; 'Motorin' evokes a rock & roll Nitzer Ebb; while epic closer 'The Locus Of Control' hints at Rammstein, and features a lyric about the "Emperor's new glory hole". 'Skydancing' must have been the track m'colleague John Doran was listening to when he emailed me saying "It's dead smack-y this album. I mean you couldn't dance to it, you could only lie on your bare mattress fiddling with yourself on an insane speed comedown to it. Which obviously is no bad thing."
It'll be intriguing to see what comes of Ulterior. I imagine that, unfortunately, the UK will largely remain indifferent, or sneer. However, who cares if the stinking hovels in Dalston, Manchester or Leamington Spa are aloof when this is exactly the sort of thing that our wiser European neighbours tend to love? - and I for one, am with them. Right, time to get lubed up, stand on the sofa in my best black leather chaps, blast The Bleach Room at 11 on the dial and imagine I'm driving a tank over Toro Y Moi.