Since 2008, Hungarian duo Black Nail Cabaret have crafted a dark noir-pop sound all their own. Composed of singer Emese Arvai-Illes and keyboardist Krisztian Arvai, the act has toured for the better part of a decade, with their releases beginning in 2012 with Emerald City. On their most recent album, Gods Verging on Sanity, the two have a new lease on life, having signed with Dependent Records earlier this year, prior to the album’s release in May. The album is darkly delicious, with a lovely vocal showing by Arvai-Illes and solid, sleek production. As far as dark pop goes, it’s a major victory.
“Black Lava” flows freely and fast, opening up the disc with a four on the floor groove. A sharp snare and Emese’s mid-range vocals drive this song forward. It’s urgent and punctuated, whereas its follow-up, “Spheres,” dials back the tempo a hair for a more synthwave-flavored number. Its swaying rhythm gives way to the excellent “No Gold,” which shows a level of vocal restraint in the best way. It’s so tempting to hit a high note or a belt, but instead, Emese keeps to the script and it makes this song even better.
Next we have “To Die in Paris,” with its burrowing E note on the piano and layers of keys and synths playing nicely with one another. The chorus brings this one together. Then comes “My Casual God,” which might be the strongest single track of the album. It’s stripped down, with feelings of Depeche Mode evoked, and is dark and moody without being overdone. It’s firmly able to be called goth, without needing to be taken too seriously. “Make a Run” is cinematic in nature, with upticked percussive elements and a showing of Emese’s vocal range, switching between softer low tones and higher vocalizing.
“Maelstrom” brings in more Depeche Mode feelings, as the whole ordeal reminds one of Violator-era DM. It’s slow, swaying, and evocative, and it is a shining example of how to do proper dark synthpop. “Private Religion” is a more upbeat track with an almost cabaret style of vocals. The blend of those two things shouldn’t work, but it’s been working for these guys for some time, so why stop now? Finally, “Children at Play” feels like a synthpop classic with an almost bubble meets glockenspiel effect over the synths and percussion. It’s endearing, and closes this record on an airy high note.
Black Nail Cabaret have an infectious, accomplished album on their hands here. With Gods Verging on Sanity, the duo has an album that is essential to the genre in modern times. At times it sounds like the classics, at times it carves out its own niche of sound, but throughout the entirety of its runtime, it is polished and dreary. Go out of your way to hear this one.
Gods Verging on Sanity is now available via Dependent Records. Stream and/or buy the album via Bandcamp.