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Silent Servant: Shadows of Death and Desire

Silent Servant: Shadows of Death and Desire

Mendez sticks to a certain stark mode of techno so intensely.

Silent Servant: Shadows of Death and Desire

3.25 / 5

Juan Mendez’s latest Silent Servant record, Shadows of Death and Desire, might sound familiar even if you haven’t kept track of the producer’s activities since releasing his 2012 debut album, Negative Fascination. Brooding bass lines, harsh electronics and a menacing sense of repetition: this nexus of industrial and dark electro can be found in abundance in underground techno music today. Mendez doesn’t mention these current trends in conjunction with the album — it’s instead inspired by a “significant life change,” he says — yet his first full-length in six years drops just in time to remind of the producer’s contribution in the scene that made those very sounds now in vogue.

Negative Fascination already arrived like a continuation of what Mendez built with his creative partners Regis, Function and Female for the influential label Sandwell District during the previous decade. The techno imprint folded by the record’s release, but it instead found a home in Dominick Fernow’s Hospital Productions, which has also welcomed works by Regis and Function over recent years. The relationship makes sense musically: Fernow’s explorations with Prurient and Vatican Shadow share a lot of commonality in genre lines. And the Silent Servant debut kept that legacy going, connecting the dots between post-punk, industrial and minimal techno as he did alongside the other Sandwell producers.

Shadows of Death and Desire still tightly retains those aesthetic hallmarks of a Silent Servant record, but it works beyond a simple re-introduction of the producer’s influences. Previously a standalone single, “Harm in Hand” moves more viciously than the smoky techno of the previous album. Mendez puts down vocals, warbled and obscured with layers of echo like the old post-punk records he loves. But while a presence of voice adds a vague feeling of purpose, the searing electro loop beating behind it already presses on a sense of urgency to the record. The raw beat is too hot to touch, and it snarls as if to intimidate.

Formidable electronic tracks like “Harm in Hand” form a lot of Shadows of Death and Desire. “Damage” and “24 Hours” follow up the terror of the lead single with harsher electronics and a panicked groove that evokes an even more aggressive personality. “Loss Response” and “Glass Veil” move more docile than the two, but their brooding thousand-yard stares feel no less imposing. These tracks have heft compared to Mendez’s more searching efforts in Negative Fascination, and the harder-hitting numbers sink their teeth in the moment the loops activate.

“Optimistic Decay,” meanwhile, grabs at ideas outside of Silent Servant’s usual pool of references. A slight air of familiarity comes from the distant vocals of Camella Lobo, who also plays around with similar reference points of industrial and post-punk music as Tropic of Cancer. (Mendez once worked with Lobo for the project as well.) But the drones buzzing throughout the song places it closer to Dominick Fernow’s noisier projects friendly to the world of metal music. While the pummeling drums punch the track like his other beats, the crisscrossing of guitar feedback takes Silent Servant a bit out of the digital electronic-music realm and gives it a live, analog element.

Shadows of Death and Desire runs brief with Mendez cutting his tracks shorter than the six-minute deep-techno ruminations he’s known for. Yet the record wastes no time within the limited minutes, packing in not just information but a restlessly spiked energy until the album cools down with the experimental comedown of “Optimistic Decay.” Mendez sticks to a certain stark mode of techno so intensely, he adopts sort of a tunnel vision as he heads down the set path. The obsession gives Shadows of Death and Desire a disorienting rush, but it also provides the album a jolt of fresh energy for the Silent Servant project.

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