In any other case, a review for alternative metal band Emil Bulls, would not be up my alley. But to celebrate the bands 20th anniversary they have released XX an album that reimagines many of their hit songs into softer sounding works of art (what the band calls the candlelight sessions) and these new versions bring a new voice to many of their classics, enhancing them, and making them palatable to a new audience.
“The Jaws of Oblivion” starts off with a tickling piano and lead singer Christoph Von Freydorf singing “this is the end of the road.” It has a really interesting and engaging melody and tones down the song from the original. Listeners can really appreciate Von Freydorfs’ sweet melodic voice that has a hint of Phil Collins to it. The lyrics remain top notch with such gems as “we gotta keep momentum alive/to escape the chokehold of time,” and the amped up vocals toward the end of the tune add a bit of texture to the track which ends on a haunting note.
The joy of “The Most Evil Spell” is that it retains its hard edge in lyrics like “what the f*ck/stop talking to me/you took sides against me and my family,” but it has an unmistakable sultry vibe to it, on the verses, almost an Arctic Monkeys feel. It still has a don’t mess with me attitude, but with horns and slowed down delivery Emil Bulls are able to cast a spell on first time listeners who may have shied away from their more hardcore sound. When Von Freydorf croons “you’re gonna burn for this” it is preformed in such a subtle way that it makes the threat that more quietly terrifying. There’s no denying that it’s one of the standout tracks on XX.
“Nothing in This World” has a complicated and intricate guitar riff throughout the track which elevates the song from just another tamer cover to something that is much more gripping. With the sparse instrumentation, and just Von Freydorf’s light and airy voice, the tune sounds like something that Simon and Garfunkel could have come up with. While the verses are where the track really shows its uniqueness, the engaging chorus holds up on this new version. “We’ll never stop/we’ll never give up/hungry at heart,” Freydorf gently proclaims but with just as much passion as the original. There’s definitely an anthem quality to this track and just because the sound of the particular song has been tamed it doesn’t lessen the message. In fact “Nothing in This World,” is the standout rearrangement, if one had to pick, of these candlelight versions.
But if we are talking sheer catchiness, the type of song that will embed itself in your head, the landslide vote goes to “Not Tonight, Josephine.” It has the type of chorus that one just can’t help but find themselves singing along to. Compared to the original, this version sails along smoothly and lushly. It doesn’t lose any of its raw emotion and when the breakdown occurs with Von Freydorf pumping up and becoming more intense questioning “Josephine, what the Hell happened to us? once again breaking slightly into Arctic Monkeys territory. The song also boasts some of the most impressive lyrics on the entire 15 track album with such imagery as “I slowly exsanguinate /into an ocean of despair.” You won’t find a better tune on XX.
There are number of outstanding retoolings on this album, but even the songs that come across as just ok, are more in this reviewers comfort zone of listening pleasure. So while some tracks don’t measure up to the beauty that is “Nothing in this World,” or the infectiousness of “Not Tonight, Josephine,” they are still better, in my opinion, than the originally released counterparts. I realize that after a career spanning twenty years Emil Bulls knows their true sound and have found much success. But allowing new fans to hear these songs for the first time will garner them appreciation from those that would normally turn away from their regular sound.
“Gone Baby Gone, has some generic and stale rhyming patters and clichéd lyrics such as “the seasons change/but the song remains the same,” but the tune itself is still listenable. In more of an outputting manner “When God was Sleeping” has much more of an edgy vibe in a slightly rapid vocal delivery from Von Freydorf, but the addition of horns on the track add a delightful tone to the track. It’s not awful by any means, and is still pleasurable, but it does pale in comparison to some of the fantastic tunes on the album, which is to be expected when there are so many songs on one LP. Similarly songs like “Between The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” sound a little too all familiar and blend in with the lesser tracks of the album. The lyrics may still be imaginative and emotional “agony, you really live up to your name,” but there is nothing inherently special here except for the fact that for this reviewer it is superior to the original.
With the release of XX one can only applaud the brave decision Emil Bulls made to reimagine their beloved tunes in such a drastic way. Hopefully longtime fans will be able to appreciate the stripped down versions of their favorite tracks and the band will attract new fans who are more open to a minimalist sound.