When I started writing for the now-defunct Digital Metal (around 2002), France seemed like an insular metal nation. There weren’t too many Tricolore-bands that I could mention by name. The bands that did get some airtime, were marginal and quite frankly, seemed to require an exquisite taste simply because they were very—lack of a better word—French. I also remember how former Digital Metal scribe Jeff Lamb said something nice about a French band, which led to a small scale international Internet conflict between the site and the French. This is not to say that France didn’t produce good stuff—cause they did—but it’s safe to say that the country has come a long way in a mere decade.
Anyway, one of the bands that I took a perverted liking to was Carnival in Coal. They didn’t necessarily write the most balanced albums or the best songs, but the unconventionally quirky—borderline pretentious—take on avant-garde was something that truly humored me, yet, I never really did follow the band after their 2001’s Fear Not -album. When Alexis Damien’s new band (who used to play drums for CiC), Pin Up Went Down, arrived to my player with 342, I felt nostalgia take a swing at me.
342 is truly a blast from the past, directed towards the fans of bands like 3rd and the Mortal, In the Woods and the aforementioned Carnival in Coal. It also helps, that female singer Asphodel has a very, I mean very, Anneke and Alanis Morissette–esque ring to her voice. Most of the time.
Musically, the band sways recklessly, crossing borders and boundaries. There’s a ton of stuff pressurized into the 42-minutes. Despite all of that, unlike most bands that used to try it 10-15 years ago, Pin Up Went Down is able to maintain a surprisingly coherent identity, with tracks like “Aquarium” leading the way. The closing piece could have been one of the best The Gathering tracks ever, with its jazzy, trip hop saturated ’90s ‘goth metal’.
At the other end of the spectrum, there are tracks like “Khabod of my Aba” that are simply bipolar and somewhat schizophrenic: I never truly realized how well an organ-spiced choir went with elevator music and catchy rock tunes. “Vaginaal Nathkrakh” starts out with cheap Japanese girl pop, before it turns into an aggressive vehicle for rabies. Disillusion extraordinaire Andy Schmidt lends his voice to the track and elevates the game with his presence.
“Escargot” relies solely on Asphodel’s voice and had it been some other singer, the track could have fatally backfired, but the singer shows no sign of doubt in her abilities. And why should she? She’s probably the biggest reason why the whole album works as well as it does. As heard on “Home”, she goes from flirting with the soulfulness of the likes like Macy Gray, to operatic, to dramatic and utterly personal.
Even though there’s a lot to like about 342, it isn’t a pure home run. Some of the production choices seem a bit weak and while the stuff is generally interesting, a handful of spins isn’t enough to tell what the lasting appeal is truly going to be like. While 342 doesn’t necessarily reinvent the style, Pin Up Went Down has still put out a fresh album in a genre that seems all but forgotten.
Pin Up Went Down is definitely a promising band and 342 is definitely not for everyone. However, if you’ve been expecting at least some sort of a continuation to, say 3rd and the Mortal’s Memoirs (spiced with Carnival in Coal‘s genes), then this might just be what you’ve been waiting for. Just don’t be surprised if the lounge you’re sitting in is for a mental asylum.[Visit the band's website]