- The influential techno artist looks to EBM, industrial and post-punk on his second LP.
- "I got tired of propagating that kind of [dark] sensibility," Juan Mendez, AKA Silent Servant, recently told Red Bull Radio. "Because after a while that kind of leads nowhere and I realise that." It's a surprising thing to hear from an artist behind some of techno's most sepulchral sounds and images of the last decade, first with Sandwell District and then Jealous God, the EBM, industrial and post-punk-leaning label that folded last year. But the fatigue is understandable. Techno has been getting carried away with its monochrome fetish. The EP and LP titles, the artwork, the press shots, even the adjectives—how many times has a techno producer been described as "shadowy"?—suggest a deep-seated compulsion to associate the music with dark tones. You might also wonder what Mendez meant by "nowhere." At a time when dance music culture has been roused by an increasingly alarming political climate, nihilism for the sake of it suddenly seems like an empty gesture.
To quote Mendez's old Sandwell District blog: Where next? He's described his latest album, Shadows Of Death And Desire, as the result of a "significant life change"—he recently stopped DJing and making music full-time—but it's more legible as a study of how Mendez's music has evolved. Since his last album, 2012's Negative Fascination, his techno as Silent Servant, once full of menacing tones and inky ambience, has taken on a noisier '80s hue. As far back as 2009, he and Camella Lobo were making candlelit minimal wave as Tropic Of Cancer, but Mendez's love for bands like Cabaret Voltaire is now more explicit in his own music. This is clearest in the cool wails of guitar ambience in tracks like "Optimistic Decay." The music is still dark—as the droning synth bass shows, Mendez can't resist a dolorous mood—but the weeping guitars and Lobo's voice waft sweetly above the churchy gloom.
Shadows Of Death And Desire's dance floor tracks have shed the minimalism of old. "Damage," a highlight here, has a comically muscular synth bassline that seizes up in grotesque positions. (Its sense of slapstick horror brings to mind The Evil Dead.) The album's other techno and EBM hybrids pale in comparison. "24 Hours" repurposes the thick, driving arpeggiation Mendez is so fond of, but without something like "Damage"'s rictus, off-key notes to catch the ear it sounds less distinctive. "Harm In Hand," while good, is just too similar to "Damage" and "24 Hours" to feel essential here. The LP's circular ideas are made more apparent by its 27-minute runtime. Negative Fascination was also short, but its Sandwell District-rooted austerity lent itself to a wider range of ideas.
Given the resurgent interest in '80s electronic music on dance floors (and Mendez's longtime enthusiasm for it), Shadows Of Death And Desire comes at an opportune time, though maybe not for Mendez himself. He mastered this sound as a DJ, producer and label owner years before it really came into vogue. It's no surprise, then, that Shadows Of Death And Desire struggles to sound fresh. "There's no way for me to do [my album] that way again because I think I've reached my limit of what I can create with in this way," Mendez said recently. "I could make songs within the same themes, but I will not be able to create something authentically new in my mind, until I learn some new shit." When he does, the results could be game-changing. But for now, Mendez is chasing his own shadow.
02. Harm In Hand
04. Loss Response
05. 24 Hours
06. Glass Veil
07. Optimistic Decay