Enticing relics from a past life
Music like Alan Vega’s rarely comes along. Odd as it may be to consider, given the countless bands who call upon Vega’s music for inspiration, people should not take Vega’s insistence upon recognition for granted. As a member of Suicide, Vega introduced the world to soundscapes that would go on to define modern electronics, noise, avant-garde, industrial and even metal in some cases. This posthumous record, curated and produced by his partner Liz Lamere, combines some unreleased material from Vega’s musical vault, provides a worthwhile glimpse into some of the hidden creative processes Vega undertook during his life.
Mutator is immediately recognizable as Vega’s work and would be even without his name on the cover. “Trinity,” which opens the album, welcomes listeners into an overwhelming hellscape. Over a repeated refrain of “Trinity! Father. Trinity! Daughter. Trinity! Holy Ghost,” Vega whines and wails as if he were a man trapped in hell, crying out for god’s salvation. “Fist” follows up by weaving a dance floor beat that keeps everything moving forward at a record pace. The song still retains a disturbing edge thanks to Vega’s growling spoken word poetry. Through these two tracks, it becomes exceptionally simple to find where groups like Swans and Nine Inch Nails found their identity, though most Suicide and Vega fans were well aware of this fact by now.
If one was under the impression that the whole record would be a hellish dungeon of synths and chaos, then “Samurai” should relieve people of such reductive assumptions. The lyrics are, of course, upsetting. Unsettling lines such as “missing girls, who’s been killin’ em’?” are slammed next to banal life details such as “point spreads.” It all reads as though it were a news broadcast filtered through the lens of a religious fanatic. Despite the lyrical intensity, the track itself consists of a beautiful synth pattern, keyboard and lightly tapped percussion. It feels like a farewell, which is only further reinforced by the repetition of “goodbye” at the end of the track. But then, there is no finality here.
Next, people plunge directly back into the filth with, well, “Filthy,” which masterfully deploys Vega’s growl over the top of rattling synth patterns. The track itself feels rather like something one would find in the Cyberpunk 2077 Soundtrack. If you’ve played the game, you can practically imagine that the worlds Vega and Suicide were imagining look similar to the trash-ridden streets of Night City. When the album finally closes with “Breathe,” people are all left terribly spent but somehow enriched for their tribulations. “Breathe” rewards people’s steadfastness with a lush array of string-like synths and the voice of a weary Vega. This is truly the goodbye that listeners nearly received on “Samurai.”
While it must be said that the work contained on Mutator is not essential in the same way that Vega’s earlier work was, it is something well worth investigating and dissecting. Few artists were as popular, influential and unyielding as Alan Vega. It’s imperative that people study and appreciate what he left behind in order that we may better understand the future.