[Album Review] Clan of Xymox's 'Spider on the Wall' Brings Post-Punk With a Synthpop Twist

With a lifespan reaching across four decades (and traipsing into a fifth), the Dutch group Clan of Xymox have purveyed their brand of electronic-tinged gothic rock for generations of creatures of the night. Even with Ronny Moorings as the only remaining original member of the band, the band has kept a tight recording and touring schedule, especially inside of the last five years. With their latest album Spider on the Wall, Moorings and his co-conspirators have crafted a post-punk powerhouse of a record, the band’s sixteenth studio LP to date. If nothing else, the band is actively proving that so-called “goth” music isn’t dead, and with the band’s established staying power, it’s clearly not going anywhere anytime soon.

“She” starts in with a synthpop backbone, supported by clean-tone guitars and Moorings’ droning mid-range vocals. It is an upbeat, danceable track, despite its subject being a nameless “She” being alone, left cast aside by the world at large. The chime-happy “Lovers” is a bit more overtly goth, evoking memories of classics like Switchblade Symphony, while also leaving the guitars behind for layers upon layers of scintillating synth work. In the chorus, the alternating ascending and descending synth flourishes add a bit of levity to this weighty love song, a shimmery tone to the black heart it paints in the mind. “Into the Unknown” goes back to the four on the floor approach for its goth two-step-worthy rhythm, with neither the guitars nor the synths trying to overtake one another. Each chimes in as they need to in order to accentuate and break up the repetition in the main riff.

“All I Ever Know” might be my personal favorite from the album, a dark synthpop dream decorated with a dash of trancey, lose yourself in the music vibes. The kicks are pronounced but not jarring, the lead lines present, but not dominant. Everything is in its place, and it makes for a better composition, as a result. The bass line on “I Don’t Like Myself” is another standout bit of songwriting, with the drumming upping the hi-hat output to eighth notes, rather than quarters like we’ve seen so far. It’s a chill sort of feeling, a wandering in darkness kind of track, rather than actively relishing in it like some of the others. The title track starts in with toms and a choral sequence, though it ends up being a bit lighter on air, while carrying something deep-seated in its chest. The guitar solo feels a bit extra, like one too many chains or studs, and while that sounds like it isn’t possible, it is, though it doesn’t take much away from the final result.

The fuzzy electronics and descending bass line drive forward “When We Were Young.” It is an old-school anthem, a song dedicated to reliving the glory days, and lamenting having to grow old and grow up. It doesn’t dog on the newer generation, as some older goths try to do, but it minds its own business in digging through old business, and inherently, there’s not much wrong with that. On the next song, “Black Mirror,” the bass guitar line instantly reminds me of Sisters of Mercy or earlier Siouxsie and the Banshees, planting its feet firmly into post-punk soil. It’s ominous and brooding, with guitars waiting their turn until the chorus of “black mirror, black screen.” If the previous song was about days gone by, this one is about present day, damning modern technology, right down to naming the song after one of the most frightening high-tech speculative series in the game right now. “My New Lows” sees a return to the rock backbone we started off on, with a smattering of synthpop flavor in there just to bring things to a higher plane of existence. We end on “See You On The Other Side,” which, fittingly, feels like an end credits song to a contemporary thriller film. It’s the kind of song you would anticipate hearing as the scroll begins, reminding the listener that the personal will always be there, even if they physically and practically are not.

Do Clan of Xymox have a playbook? Absolutely. Do they follow it to the letter? Well, they’re this deep into their career, so if so, they’re clearly doing something right, but the music can speak for itself, as far as that goes. I can understand the resistance to the so-called “goth revival,” but my counter would be that in order for something to be revived, it would have to be dead and gone first, and Clan of Xymox are far from it. They celebrate death and the darkness among us, and appear to plan on doing so for some time. They have time on the clock, but they aren’t going to be too harsh about it.

Spider on the Wall is available now via Metropolis Records.

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