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Reviewed by James B. Eldred
Evil Nine's sophomore effort They Live! is an unabashed attempt to ride the zombie zeitgeist to the tilt, complete with undead cover art, brooding death-march beats and even some samples lifted straight from zombie films themselves. It would be sad and pathetic pandering if it wasn't so good.
The Brighton-based duo's 2004 debut, You Can Be Special Too, was good, but lacked anything unique or, ironically enough, special. They Live! finds Evil Nine coming into their own, finding their niche by combining ‘80s-style electro, creepy sound effects and the occasional vocoded vocal.
The brain-eating motif starts off strong with the opener "Feed on You," with eerie synths accompanying a marching beat, giving the listener the mental picture of undead hordes shambling out of a cemetery over the opening credits to the best zombie movie that was never made. It sets the mood of the entire album to a tee.
The whole album is cinematic, and sometimes references not only the horror/zombie genre but even specific films. The title track could have come straight out of the John Carpenter movie it shares a name with, with its simplistic synthesizer melodies nailing the sound of many a Carpenter score from the ‘80s. Put over an equally ‘80s vocoder robo-voice proclaiming over and over again that "They walk, they lie, they love, they live! / They wake, they fall, they cry, they live! / They fight, they fail, they die, they live," it's hypnotic and makes you yearn for Roddy Piper, kicking ass (since he's all out of bubblegum).
The John Carpenter odes continue through the short, creepy "Ngempa Guzom" and into "How Do We Stop the Normals?" which takes that 8-bit keyboard sound and shoves it into a building house track that'll make the zombies get on their feet Thriller style. Snake Plissken and the rest of the guys from "Escape from New York" are alive in this one, and they're in a new wave dance club. It's one of the only pure "dance" tracks on They Live! and it works well.
On "Dead Man Coming," the duo finally stop ripping off the music from their favorite horror films and just start sampling them, taking the iconic score from the Italian splatter epic "Zombi" and using it as the backbone to a great rap by dancehall MC Toastie Taylor. It's amazing how well the music of the low-budget Italian horror films works as electro.
Even with all this pillaging of zombie films and horror culture, not all of They Live! references the walking dead and their lust for human brains. El-P drops in for one of these numbers, the bass-heavy "All the Cash," and while it sticks out like a sore thumb compared to the brooding, creepy songs that surround it, there's no doubt that it's a powerful song, or that El-P contributes one hell of a killer rap. Other times the excursions into non-zombie territory are less successful, such as the New Age keyboard crazy "Born Again" or the way too pop-friendly "The Wait" which features annoying vocals by David Autokratz.
But for most of They Live! Evil Nine stick to their guns and embrace their love of flesh-eating ghouls, and the zombie apocalypse has never sounded so good. Horror themes are typically relegated to death metal in music, so it's cool to see artists from another genre tackle it. Fangoria readers who go clubbing should eat this up like zombies eating brains.