Or Not—the Choice is Yours
Musicians acknowledging faith in and deference to God in more than just an award acceptance speech are, for lack of a better term, damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Punch up the preachiness and you might lose market penetration to more godless artists (hi, Stryper). Dial it back and you risk being mistaken for the Philistines (hi, Creed). And why do so few of these choirboys and girls seem to learn so little about details and independent musical voice when developing their repertoire? The man who makes music as Celldweller has been touched by all three sins throughout his career, and new album Wish Upon a Blackstar delivers little redemption.
Celldweller is the latest and longest-running nom de plume of Klayton, a central figure in the experimental group Argyle Park and the industrial metal projects Brainchild and Circle of Dust. Brought up in a religious household and signed to Christian labels, Klayton’s early work has long managed to piss off Christian music labels by not being religious enough, and he’s often distanced himself from that industry and fan base. Still, if you’re Klayton, you have such a faith-based background and you’re trying to find some way into the mainstream, it may not help your cause to open your album with the line, “three figures watch over us all” (“Unshakeable”) and close it by being told, “you’re reaping what you sow” (“Against the Tide”).
Don’t get me wrong. Aggressive rock has long employed the theme of juxtaposing religion as a salvation and a downfall. If Celldweller had even a whit of subtlety it would be a miracle. Wish Upon a Blackstar makes easy mention of special places in Hell (“Gift for You”), includes thinly-veiled tropes suggesting the mob as congregation (“It Makes No Difference Who We Are”) and laying down with God/a woman (“I Can’t Wait”). We also get songs like “The Lucky One” and “The Best It’s Gonna Get,” with Klayton’s hokey rap-singing and—as menacing as they wanna be—straight-up hymnal hallelujahs in “Blackstar.”
And for as much influence as Circle of Dust once proffered to the sound of 1990s industrial music, Wish Upon a Blackstar invites that old karma to come back three times stronger. In reality it comes back three or four times bigger instead, sounding like an unwieldy mess. There are Linkin Park levels of predictable quiet/loud sonic drama, buzzing breakbeats left over from Pendulum and late Goldie, melodic vocals more Fall Out Boy than A Perfect Circle, and enough bass drops to make Skrillex jealous. Klayton himself has admitted both a perfectionist streak and a need to simplify, and for as long as this album has been in the works—gestating since 2004, with pieces released between 2009 and 2011—it sure could have used a professional whittling-down.