Full disclosure: I’m biased when it comes to Belgian EBM icons Suicide Commando, to say the least. Johan Van Roy’s music was a major influence on high school Stephen’s descent into rivethead culture. Seeing them play at 2018’s Sanctuary Fest was a major bucket list moment for me. When I read that Johan was re-recording and remastering their classic 2000 album Mindstrip I was like an edgy goth kid at Christmas waiting for the notification from Metropolis’ Bandcamp page. I have the utmost respect for such a seminal album, one of my personal favorites, but I’m not a purist or an old-school conservationist by any means -- I want to hear the newest of the new, and taking something so ingrained into the scene’s consciousness and rebuilding it piqued my interest.
While revisiting and updating old classics isn’t a new concept in the genre (Aesthetic Perfection did it in 2015 -- updating the Necessary Response album Blood Spills Not Far From The Wound) Johan clarifies that this is more of a full reimagining than a re-recording, noting “most songs had a completely different turnout”. That statement rings true throughout the album, for better or worse. The opening tracks, reworked versions of “Jesus Wept” and their biggest hit, club staple “Hellraiser”, fully embody the Suicide Commando spirit. The crunchy drums, the driving melody, and Johan’s signature rasp are all there, albeit with a slightly more polished edge. It seems as if in these tracks he’s decided that he had a good thing going and not to fix what wasn’t broken. “Raise Your God”, arguably Suicide Commando’s best track to date, has room in the mix opened up allowing for a more dynamic feel than the original and an overall better listening experience, without sacrificing any of the hallmarks of the classic song.
However, as the album progresses the 20 year gap between recording and re-recording becomes more apparent. “Love Breeds Suicide”, a favorite of mine when I first heard the album, almost completely discards the well-known melody for most of the track, instead focusing on a more processed arpeggiated synthline that comes off more dated than updated for 2020, and doesn’t have the same bite as the original track’s raw agony. “Comatose Delusion” completely abandons the hellektro staples of its predecessor, opting for a more synthpop vibe -- a choice that leaves me wondering if this is more of a cohesive retelling or a piecemeal remix album, and if the album suffers from that indecisiveness.
That said, the more noticeable updates on other tracks aren’t all bad. “Run” and album closer “Slaves”, both tracks I had previously considered to be weak on Mindstrip, have been completely overhauled from the ground up. Despite its name, the “Sabotaged” version of “Run” takes a turn for the better and transforms what had previously been an often-skipped track into one I found myself returning to several times. “Slaves” somehow manages to sound even more like classic SC than 2000’s mix did, tying together a sometimes chaotic idea into a cohesive package.
It’s no easy work juggling desire to improve upon your previous work and the nostalgic value that work holds for many people, but in Redux, Johan has fared better than expected. Overall this is a solid piece of work that soars in some places but falls short from a lack of focus in others. It’s a very solid hack at living up to its legacy, and while I imagine these versions will receive plenty of club play, they’re not going to be replacing the original Mindstrip tracks as anyone’s absolute favorite.
If you’re interested in a new take on an old classic, this is a must-have album of the Suicide Commando catalogue. If the original is more your thing or you’re just a collector, it’s still worth picking up a physical copy on either LP or CD, which includes the original album back in print for the first time since 2000.