The 69 Eyes - 'West End' Album Review
1. Two Horns Up
2. 27 & Done
3. Black Orchid
5. Burn Witch Burn
7. The Last House On The Left
8. Death & Desire
10. Be Here Now
11. Hell Has No Mercy
It seems fitting that I’ve been pondering over the wording of this review for the past few days, with a full October moon lurking in the sky above me in the evenings, and the witching hour bringing flight to bats and other creatures of the night to share it’s pale glow. The soundtrack to all of this spookiness has been fitting too, for I’ve been filling my ears with ‘West End’, the new album by Finland’s premier purveyors of Gothic Rock, The 69 Eyes.
If you’re not familiar with The 69 Eyes, imagine, if you will, a bar; perhaps a slightly dingy one in an unknown location and year, with a cantankerous barman, a jukebox that’s stacked to its rafters with Classic Rock music and where red wine and Bourbon flow rather than beer. As it turns out, this bar is a haunt to the scuzzy ghouls from the Rock scene, and it’s here that we find Andrew Eldritch from the Sisters of Mercy, Tobias Forge from Ghost and Billy Idol sitting in the darkest corner of the bar. They’re having a great time until Forge stands up somewhat unsteadily and, in between a hiccup and a fart, proposes something unequivocally ambitious. “What if us and our bands were to come together to make music?”, he slaps Eldrich’s back and and flashes Idol a toothy grin while wiggling his eyebrows, causing the raucous chatter in the bar to fall to hushed mutterings. Lightning flickers and thunder booms menacingly outside the bar after this, at which point Forge mutters something under his breath, pours another glass of red wine, scratches his nose, sniffs, then sits back down again.
Yes indeed, if you were to mash the three above named artists together in a big spooky cauldron (and ask for the assistance of a witch or three), I'm fairly certain that the resulting wailing sound, if you listened closely, would sound somewhat like The 69 Eyes. Of course, since the band was formed in the late 80's and have been around for longer than you might expect, they most likely drew their influences from earlier artists than the ones I've mentioned - but to my somewhat youthful (or at least attempting to cling onto it) ears that's about as close as I can get to providing a description of what they sound like. It’s like Goth and Rock in one genre! Gadzooks!
‘West End’ kicks off with the sound of a church bell, which seems appropriate during this spookiest of months, but the spooky atmosphere doesn't hang around for long before the cobwebs are blown out of the belfry by the one-two-punch attack of a shotgun bass riff by bassist Archzie and the thundering drums of Jussi's kit, which are pounded to a crescendo before a humongous dirty beast of a riff by guitarists Bazie and Timo-Timo lay down a foundation for Jyrki's vocals as the first track "Two Horns Up" blazes a trail for the rest of the album to follow, with the frontman growling his way through the majority of its lyrics. It's a real crowd pleaser of a track for the album to kick off with, with a proper life-affirming Rock-'n'-Roll attitude and a spikiness that's absolutely delicious in its intensity and execution. The following track “27 & Done” sees the band shift things down a gear into something a little bit slower and melodical and it’s the first track on the album on which you will be able to hear the obvious Sisters of Mercy influence on the band, with the ‘hey’ chants on the intro and Jyrki’s vocals slipping into his soft baritone warble rather than the growling and prowling rasps you’ll have heard from him on the first track. The track centers on the somewhat clichéd Rock’n’Roll trope of living fast, partying hard, burning out and leaving a good lookin’ corpse behind, with lyrics like “Let’s all die young / It’s so easy and fun / 27 and you’re done”. It’s an epic-sounding and catchy track with big, kick-ass guitar solo in it’s smooth, darkly fruity centre and a chorus that has the ability to get lodged in your head.
When the next track ‘Black Orchid’ comes along, it lulls you into the false sense that it’s going to be a sedate one as it starts off with a soft bass riff and a tinkling of the ivories, but this makes way for a steady-paced and tight-sounding riff, with Jyrki cooly weaving his eerie vocals through it with a touch of menace. I have to admit that I’ve no idea what the subject matter of this song is as it’s all rather ambiguous, but it’s a good track, if not as immediately appealing and engaging as the ones before it - but it’s most likely going to be a grower. Towards the end of the track there’s another cracker of a guitar solo, with Bazie really making his axe sing and squeal with some real verve, which adds some polish to the already glistening professionalism that these guys exude. Another tinkling of the ivories signals the beginning of ‘Change’, but this time it does deliver on its initial promise as the track settles down into a much slower and softer pace, with the bands rhythm section off-setting this with a muted riff that sounds like it’s threatening to become something much more significant. I particularly love Jyrki’s vocals in this song as the slower pace really allows him to showcase his voice, which to me sounds equal parts Johnny Cash and David Bowie, which is indeed no bad thing, and although this is one of the slower-paced tracks on the album it’s easily one of its best.
It’s evident from the riff at the start of ‘Burn Witch Burn’ that things are going to kick up a gear, and when the drums and Jyrki’s vocals begin, it becomes clear that this track is (so far at least) without doubt the album’s gothiest one yet, which sees the band go into full Goth’n’Roll mode. They’re having a bit of fun with it too, what with its obviously gothy subject matter and them chanting ‘Burn witch burn’ with monstrous refrain during the chorus, and there being yet another big dirty beast of a guitar solo which briefly gives a glimpse of the band’s glitter and leopard-print Glam-Rock undercarriages. This is an absolute stoater of a track and is without a doubt one of the highlights of the album. Once the ephemeral smoke from those burning witches clears, it makes way for another hugely gothy-sounding track ‘Cheyanna’, which starts off quietly before breaking off into a very Cult-like guitar sound, which permeates the chorus sections and chugs away pleasingly during the verses. To me, this sounds like one of the obvious commercial tracks on the album and they really belt it out towards its end, with Jyrki seemingly channelling Ian Astbury in a rare case of him singing in a higher register. It’s a shame he doesn’t do this more often, as it sounds really great when he does.
The shredding riff from Timo-Timo that marks the intro to ‘The Last House On The Left’ is a portent for the most roisterous track on the album and leaves you in no doubt to its intentions as it explodes into a big, swaggering stomper of a beat, with Jussi double-kicking and thumping his kit into submission while Bazie lays down an almost Rob Zombie-esque spooky guitar piece over the top of the proceedings. This is a big, beefy sounding track and one that will most likely get people movin’ and groovin’ if played in a club, and it's another track in which Jyrki moves out of his safety zone baritone croon and into a sneering, snarling vocal style which sounds simply awesome. To top it off, there’s some more sterling guitar work from Bazie, who may or may not have made a deal with the devil to pluck and strum his instruments strings with such effervescent aplomb and it’s difficult to not break into a grin and punch the air during this one as it’s got such an infectious ballsy Rock’n’Roll majesty to it. Once that's out of the way, the album settles down to the slow pomp of 'Death & Desire', which is a far quieter track that allows you to once again enjoy the soft deep and warm tones of Jyrki's vocals. It's a really nice track that, despite being toned down competitively to the track before it, still has some juicy guitar work and hooks to get your teeth into and the chorus will get stuck in your head.
After that, it’s back up through the gears as 'Outsiders' sees the band return to their big gothy Sisters of Mercy-esque sound with a track that rocks like a mofo and sees the band's excellent rhythm section firing on all cylinders. Despite this, this is one of the few tracks that misses its mark for me as it’s lacking a little in the way of hooks - but that's perhaps me being overly picky as the quality of the album has been so high up until this point. Thankfully, there’s a bit of a change coming as you’ll hear the exotic sounds of the Sitar and Indian percussion lending the next track 'Be Here Now' with a lovely intro before breaking into the band's unique blend of Goth-Rock fusion. There's a great hook in the chorus with chanting backing vocals and it pleases me that those exotic far-eastern instruments continue in the background and aren't overbaked into the track. In spite of this, it does however begin to feel a little like the album is running out of steam at this point.
It's probably fitting then, that 'Hell Has No Mercy', the final track is up next, which starts off in a sombre mood with Jyrki reflectively singing about his life's ups and downs in his velvety goth croon. At almost seven minutes long and one of the albums slower tracks, it sees the album sort of fizzle out rather than go out with a bang, which is a bit of a shame. Don't get me wrong though, in no way do I mean that it’s a bad track - it's got some great melodies in it and fantastic, rock-solid work from the band, but it just seems to me that it’s an unfitting end to an album that’s packed with some really kick-ass and raucous Rock’n’Roll songs. Perhaps I’m just not ‘getting’ it and that it will strike me one day like an epiphany and all will be clear as to why they chose to end the album in this manner, but for the past few listens of the album it’s been leaving me with a bit of a ‘meh’ feeling rather than one that guides my finger back onto the ‘play’ button to listen to it again.
Rather thankfully, this is an album that’s absolutely not without its merits and despite the somewhat abrupt tailing-off of the Goth’n’Roll spirit that infuses the majority of it, this doesn’t actually hurt it too much as it’s stuffed to the gunnels with great songs, quality songwriting and hooks aplenty, with more riffs and superb guitar solos that you can shake a gnarly stick at, and just enough in the way of slick Rock sensibilities to keep you coming back for repeat listens. Praise should also be levelled at the exquisite production values of the album, too; it sounds simply HUGE on every device I play it on, with the drums and bass sounding satisfyingly meaty and Jyrki’s vocals cutting through everything clearly without getting muddied behind the guitars, as is so often the case with Rock albums.
To conclude, if goth-tinged Rock’n’Roll with bags of character sounds like your thing and you’re a fan of 80’s guitar-based Goth music and more recent Goth-Rock bands like Type O Negative, Ghost and the likes, you’d be hard-pushed to find a more competent and entertaining band or album out there at the moment, so it’s time to dust off that black clothing, strap on those big stompy boots, apply some black eyeliner and embrace your inner goth; The 69 Eyes are back in town and the witching hour beckons. Go paint the town black.
Website - www.69eyes.com
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/the69eyes/
Review - Craig Henderson