I donít usually review this type of music. I donít usually like this type of music. I had a brief passing interest in techno for a couple of years when it was being hailed as the next great music revolution by all the magazines and critics. I never put that much stock into it at the time and put even less into it now. The great revolution of techno never came to pass and today the airwaves and popular music culture are not the bastions of innovation and experimentation that Spin magazine promised us, but instead are a stage for self-important stagnation and carbon copy retarded shit like Britney Spears and Limp Bizkit. The potential that techno once represented has been largely forgotten and what survives of the genre has mostly assimilated itself into this mass market mentality and become as a result the progenitor of countless faceless clones playing to an audience of semi-conscious drug addicts and middle class suburban kids with pants bigger than their collective capacity for creative thought. In short, techno did not replace the stagnation of late nineties music, it became a part of the problem. This generally sums up my feelings on techno as it exists today. Since 1996 I havenít listened to techno much at all. Some of the work that Atari Teenage Riot did is still interesting but nothing to get too excited about. Like I said, I had a passing interest in it for a short time. I donít follow the underground and canít name any good DJs or make any comparisons between them. My friend Jay probably could but he's in rehab again so there will be no help from him.
I try to keep an open mind as far as genres of music go. There are talented individuals out there playing all different kinds of music. So when a guy from Oklahoma, the undisputed capital of techno music, e mailed to tell me that I would be blown away by his techno wizardry I told him to go ahead and send me a CD to review. The guyís name is Max, with a Russian sounding last name but his DJ alter ego is Ultramax and the name of the CD is Resurrection. He promotes his style as a ďfusion of techno and classicalĒ. This approach caught my attention right off. Being an ardent black metal fan, I have over the years acquired an appreciation and respect for classical music. My own thought is that if Mozart or Beethoven were alive today they would be playing techno or some of the more extreme forms of hard music. I see both techno and black metal as direct descendants of classical music. Black metal in the diversity of sounds, symphonic quality of some of the arrangements, and its emphasis on creating atmosphere and soundscapes rather than 3 minute pop hits. Techno is a direct descendant in its experimentation and combinations of different instruments and sounds and also in its ability to create moods and atmosphere without the use of lyrics or blunt messages. Both genres are also capable of pushing the envelope, and taking things to their extreme musically. There is really no limitation as to what you can do with the techno format and thus theoretically, the genre remains on the cutting edge of music today. Unfortunately, this total artistic freedom has not seen much realization and as a result of trying to market to the rave culture, most techno acts sound exactly the same as their counterparts. So I was interested to see what this Ultramax guy could do with classical and techno music. The fact that he cites Tchaikovsky as an influence foretold at least some thinking outside the box. It is a different approach at least and originality will always win you points on this site, regardless of the final product.
So what is the verdict on the final product? That would be the point of this review. I must admit that it took me a while to get into this CD. I had to listen to it 6 or 7 times before I was able to tell the songs apart and to develop a solid opinion on the music. This is probably due to the fact that I don't listen to techno and that I haven't reviewed anything in almost a year, not any shortcoming on Mad Max's part. I have to say that the cover art was the first thing that impressed me about the CD. Our friend Max is wearing some kind of spacesuit and darth vader robe, immersed in a background of shadows and stars. He is holding what appears to be a 3D Q-Bert box. Anyone reading this review who is old enough to remember q-bert shouldn't be listening to techno. I thought it was cool. It definitey evokes the feeling of early 80's retro sci fi style. Not quite Star Wars but striking a note somewhere in that region between Tron and the Last Starfighter. Definitely bonus geek points for that shit. The music itself was interesting, at times great, and at other times ordinary. The cd definitely lives up to its mission statement of fusing techno and classical. While a lofty and respectable goal, this fusion however doesn't go as smoothly as it should. At times it seems as though the techno and classical sides of Max's personality are fighting each other for dominance. At other times, one style is completely abandoned in favor of another. When the combination does work though it is truly remarkable to behold the results. All this is best evidenced by the first track of the cd, EnTrance. It begins with the standard techno bass and synth that while pleasant enough had me reaching for the fast forward button. About halfway through this piece however, the classical side of Maxwell's split personality makes its first appearance with the opening salvos of classical piano layered in with this standard techno material. I'm sure that it is probably synth doing all the work, but it does definitely evoke an atmosphere of mad genius somewhere along the lines of Beethoven's better moments. This song hits the right notes at the right times and is probably the most representative of Max's style as a composer.
The rest of the CD is more disjointed. The first half concentrates more on the fusion of classical and techno, the second half beginning with Automatic is more oriented toward techno with hardly a trace of anything classical. Feel My Desire contains what appears to be a harp interlude but this feels more to be thrown in for good measure than a solid fusion. My Heart Is Stone Cold is a disturbing song which begins with a woodwind intro but is quickly buried by synth lines. Most of the stuff after Automatic, which is a fine song for straight up techno, is more standard fare mid-paced techno. While not as cold and impersonal as most rave tracks, these songs are more in the vein of this type of music. There are times when Max really shines on these songs, such as the latter half of Dance Track # 1 which layered some excellent synth work reminicent of early Pink Floyd over the top of lightning paced drum and bass. This type of experimentation represents the potential of techno as an artform by itself to create interesting and unique music. The latent sexual agression just beneath the surface of Music With More Muscle is more in line with typical rave fare, but still makes an interesting song. Dance Track # 2 contains some mid-eastern singing which can either be really evocative or completely annoying depending on the mood of the listener, but besides this it is mostly standard techno.
The first half of the CD concentrates more on fusion and comes out with mixed but mostly positive results. There are two straight up classical songs on this record, a completely stripped down string instrument version of the second track, Consequential, and Sweet Harp. The Consequential track helped me immensly in understanding where Max Payne fuses his classical and techno interests. The song is basically some eerie violin and other symphony instruments which really formed the basis for the techno version of the song. In the techno version however some of the more low end instruments were replaced by bass and synth to a very good effect. The black metal fan in me was impressed by the very dark and atmospheric classical instrumentation on this track as well as on the gloomy sounding 4th track Fatlism. The song Asteroid also contains some absolutely brilliant instrumentation alongside a pulsing techno beat. The harp song is amazing in that it is truly beautiful music but also evokes a mood of despair and melancholy. Kind of roots music for goths. Any classical composer would be proud of this song.
So my final verdict is that this CD is alright. The results are mixed but mostly this is a good CD. The standout songs here are EnTrance, Conseqential, Sweet Harp, Automatic, and Dance Track # 1. Go to the sites I have listed in the contact info section and see for yourself. Not my usual style of music but I am willing to diversify and artists like this give me good reason to. I had given up on techno as a progressive musical style years ago, but this CD offers some hope that there are talented individuals out there willing to push the limits. The title Resurrection when viewed in this light could be rather fitting. Will Max change the world with his music? Probably not, but it is good to know that he is trying and that in a genre dominated by clones he is brave enough to take chances like this and talented enough to sound good doing it.* * * Contact Info : http://buycd.UltraMax-Music.com http://members.home.net/ultramaxmusic/Statement.htm http://hersh.dhs.org/~maxf/About.shtml www.UltraMax-Music.com Max I. Fomitchev 3444 E. 84th St. Tulsa, OK 74137 (918) 492-8952 firstname.lastname@example.org