Eleven years ago, the idea of a metal band covering the popular music of the 1980s was still a novel concept. Sure, Life of Agony had done it ("Don't You Forget About Me," from Ugly, and likely others I'm too lazy to look for), but in 1997, for the most part, metal bands were trying one thing: to be metal.
But, it was also around this time a shift occurred. Dark metal band Moonspell started to cut the growls, releasing the rockier, more mainstream Sin/Pecado that year. Paradise Lost cut off their hair and was only two years away from Host, the electronic album many longtime fans abandoned the band over. And German death metal band Atrocity released Werk 80.
From the first familiar "ting-ting-ting" of Tears for Fears' "Shout," it was clear thing were going to be interesting. And the album seemed to have far reaching influence. While never a band on the top of many lips as say Metallica, or even Testament for that matter, they had still developed a respectful following and appreciation in the underground.
With Werk 80 II, Atrocity has released an album in an era where it's far more common, maybe even a little cliche, for an aggressive band to cover poppy radio hits of a bygone era. But, cliche or not, it's still fun to hear how a band more likely to scream and spit into the mic while tearing riffs translates balads lamenting lost love.
They do a respectable job with the songs, most of which were originally released around the middle of the 1980s. "People are People," originally released by Depeche Mode in 1984, opens up the album, which is good, but does not necessarily get the listener excited as when singer Alexander Krull droned "Shout. Shout. Let it all out" 11 years ago. It's really Bronski Beat's "Small Town Boy" that gets the blood pumping. Unlike Paradise Lost's cleanly produced, industrial tinged version of six years ago, Atrocity's feels more like the song is being covered by vikings. (It's ironic, though, how a song many consider a gay anthem would be covered by two bands within six years in a genre known better for an abundance of machismo)
The album really shines on Frankie Goes to Hollywood's "Relax," which was already a bit of a dark song at its roots, made all the more foreboding by Krull's deep growls, Mathias Roderer and Thorsten Bauer's guitars and the sweeping apocalyptical orchestra. A very aggressive song that retains the spirit of the original without simply copying it. One of my favorites on here.
Another highlight is their take on A-ha's classic "The Sun Always Shines On TV." I must admit, I enjoyed Norwegian thrash metal band Susperia's version of this song from 2004 just a little more. But, with Krull's wife, Leaves Eyes singer Liv Kristine performing backing vocals, the song takes a very theatrical approach and runs with it. Sweeping and majestic.
That a band such as Atrocity would even consider pursuing a project like this is a testament to their ability to refuse to remain stagnant. Though Krull has not translated his growl into a clean voice as effortlessly as some of his contemporaries, emotionally charged tracks like Alphaville's "Forever Young" and Talk Talk's "Such a Shame" show the band can still be heavy while providing a fair amount of melody.
Overall, this is an enjoyable album for the curious metalhead as well as a lover of the 80s who might be a little more adventurous. Nothing goes so over-the-top heavy as to turn you off, and even wears its heart on its jean jacketed sleeve. One wonders what they'll cover on Werk 80 III. "Owner of a Lonely Heart"? "Love Bites"? One can only hope.