Ah, THE 69 EYES… This band takes me back to my baby bat days, when I always seemed to have resting bitch face because my eyes were drowning in clumsy black eyeliner, and my closet consisted of merely three colours: purple, red, and – of course – black. The Helsinki Vampires have been walking this earth only slightly longer than yours truly, since 1989 to be precise. To be honest, as I got older, my own musical interests did shift a little, but you can still to this day find me occasionally having a nostalgic rock out on the likes of “Gothic Girl” and “Brandon Lee” (“Blessed Be”, 2000). THE 69 EYES have a special place in my (dark) heart, and I will happily put on my best black lipstick and celebrate their 30th birthday with them by reviewing their latest gift to their fans: “West End”, available as the perfect soundtrack for vampire parties from this week onward (13.09.2019)!
I am going to start this one off by being brutally honest with you guys. Prior to hearing about this new album, I had stopped following THE 69 EYES since their style shift on records like “Devils” (2004) and follow-up “Angels” (2007). I did like a few songs, but the new sleazerock inspired sound and especially lyrical themes just weren’t my cup of tea. Do not get me wrong, I always admire bands that dare to step out of their comfort zones by experimenting with new sounds and styles, and I have a great deal of respect for that. In addition, I do think bands who choose to take this risk, do it by keeping in mind that they are not going to please everyone, and there is nothing wrong with that. I tell you this because this means that, even if I didn’t want to be, I was a bit biased before listening to this newest material. Well, let’s find out if “West End” managed to change my mind.
The first track, “Two Horns Up”, opens with some very goth approved church bells and organs, then hits you with heavy bass lines and chugging guitars. I have seen THE 69 EYES perform live before, and I can totally imagine them greeting an eager crowd with this catchy song. I have to admit, I have missed Jyrki69‘s unique, deep voice, and my inner teen is squealing just a little bit. He is joined by fellow fiend Dani Filth (CRADLE OF FILTH) on this one, whose characteristic vocals add an extra thick layer of demonic swag to what I consider to be a strong opener. A fun listen, but I still had my earlier reservations, wondering where the record would take me next. With “27 & Done”, Jyrki69 is clearly talking about the 27 club: artists who left this world at the young age of 27 (e.g. Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, etc.). This track takes the tempo down to mid-pace, but keeps it engaging, with trademark synths echoing the guitars. The lyrics seem to remind us to enjoy life while it lasts, along with a clear warning about the backlash of Hollywood fortune and fame. By the way, the music video for this song is worth a watch, since it contains excerpts from upcoming horror film The 27 Club (Cleopatra Entertainment).
So far, so good, but I am still missing something. And then the first notes of “Black Orchid” roll in. I am immediately thrown back to the year 2000 by the choir accompanied chorus, draped in dark synths. This is what I call Goth ‘n’ Roll! I replayed this one a few times, out of sheer nostalgia, before moving on to “Change”. This is a slower track, but I enjoyed chilling out to the melodic eerieness of it, and I especially love the tight guitar solo by Bazie. The ending builds up some momentum, preparing you for the next rocker called “Burn Witch Burn“. This seems to be a horror fairytale about a witch obsessed with beauty, making me wonder if this could be a metaphor for this generation’s obsession with appearances and social media. I will leave that up to your own interpretation, but I liked what they did with this theme.
Next, enter “Cheyenna”, the band’s femme fatale, much like QUEEN‘s “Killer Queen”, or AC/DC‘s “Whole Lotta Rosie”. They continue on the gloomy path they started with “Black Orchid”, and – by now – the signature hooks, choruses and riffs have convinced me. The lyrics, however, somehow leave me hanging by seeming a bit uninspired. I long for the introspective depth of earlier work such as “Perfect Skin” and “Wasting the Dawn”. But maybe, like so many of us, they outgrew their poetic teenage angst? My slight disappointment does not last very long, because we are ready to open the door to the “Last House On The Left”. The band earns double, even triple the amount of goth points for this track. Reference to obscure horror movie? Check! Inviting fellow princes and princess of darkness (Dani Filth, Wednesday 13, and Beastö Blancö vocalist Calico Cooper – daughter of the Godfather of Shock Rock himself, Alice Cooper) to join the underground party? Check! A rough, entertaining throwback to horrorpunk with some heavy, fast riffage? Double check!
After this horrorfest, the band slows things down again with ballad “Death & Desire”. I am hit with a dose of melancholia that makes my thoughts turn inwards for the first time, but it does not move me emotionally in the way I would have wanted it to. Again, I think this is more of a lyrical issue than anything else, because I do feel the band have reached that point where they know exactly who they are as musicians. “Outsiders”, perhaps? Not in the genre at least, as the only band that is still alive and kicking (unlike acts such as HIM, SENTENCED, or TO/DIE/FOR) after more than a quarter of a century in the game. The fact is that they are talented musicians, in what I can only call perfect harmony by now. The forementioned track is a great poster child for Goth ‘n’ Roll, with Jussi69 having a (literal) blast on the drums.
Having nearly reached the end of the album, I admit THE 69 EYES have managed to bring part of my youth back, with the significant dark atmosphere that binds “West End” together. They are one of those few bands that can actually pull this style off, without turning it into an over the top thing that makes the listener not take them seriously. The final tracks, “Be Here Now” and “Hell Has No Mercy”, prove my point for me. Adding tribal-like sounds and instruments to a song might be cheesy when some bands try it, but not when it’s THE 69 EYES. In hypnotizing finisher “Hell Has No Mercy”, it seems like Jyrki69 is addressing us directly, reflecting on the past and present accompanied by guitars shrieking like banshees.
In conclusion, I feel like they put a great deal of thought into this album, not only showcasing their different musical style shifts over the years, but also paying tribute to those who influenced their music throughout their journey as a band. 30 years is a wonderful achievement, and hats off to them for continuously developing, (re)creating, and also influencing newer bands. THE 69 EYES are to be considered true Gothic Rock veterans, and their sound is immortal, even if they themselves may not be (then again, who knows?).
1. Two Horns Up
2. 27 & Done
3. Black Orchid
5. Burn Witch Burn
7. The Last House On The Left
8. Death & Desire
10. Be Here Now
11. Hell Has No Mercy
Jyrki69 – Vocals
Bazie – Lead guitar
Timo-Timo – Guitar
Archzie – Bass
Jussi69 – Drums
Nuclear Blast (13th of September -> How fitting for this release to be on Friday the 13th, right?)