Nearly the entirety of aggrotech, futurepop, and all other forms of post-millennial EBM can be traced back to Claus Larsen of Leaether Strip. Having kickstarted the genre known as dark electro, he was among the first to merge vintage EBM rhythms with the melodies and hook sensibilities of synthpop. But the additional spice to Larsen’s formula was a gusto for symphonic and classical music, an influence that culminated in the 1994 album Serenade for the Dead, which was a presentation of a dark electronic symphony and a major break in his sound at the time. Last year’s Serenade for the Dead II revived that process.
So this year’s newest Leaether Strip album, Aescapism, sees the Danish madman reverting back to his vintage aggressive electro sound. Since Leaether Strip’s birth it’s been the defining trait of what Larsen has brought to the EBM/industrial table, and Aescapism has it in spades. Opening track “We Fail We Forget” is a harrowing, orchestral tune of marching beats and operatic keys before sinking into a hard-hitting minimalistic number in “Sanctuary,” a floorkiller that recalls his early style. “Hold Me” is slow, grooving, and trippy, with Larsen’s voice as the forefront and the primary muscle holding it all together. The amusingly-titled “Suicide Summer School” is all beats and bass, a snarling chorus adding a malicious dosage to an already spooky track. “Strong Boys” has 80s clapping beats in addition to lyrical content that elicits the androgyny and sex-bending of the same era. “Unhuman Response” is the ultimate brooding electro track, with deep, plodding synths and smokestack-coughing electronics consistently pumping, made all the more evil with Larsen’s tormented voice.
Leaether Strip’s musical adventures in Aescapism don’t venture too far off the narrow path of the dark electro bible, but Larsen still manages to keep with his classic style with confidence and excitement. The tongue-in-cheek “Strong Boy” (as well as “It Doesn’t Hurt to Hurt you”) serve as invigorating contrasts to the album’s bleak, murderous numbers that put most modern EBM acts to shame. It is a testament to his resilience and relevance as an artist and why he was such a big deal back in the day. If the Leaether Strip renaissance that began in 2005 has consistently impressed you, then there’s no reason not to lose yourself to the safe confines of Aescapism.