subHuman Reviews


ReGen Magazine - Ilker Yücel

After a seven year absence, Alan Wilder unveils Recoil's latest album, presenting a twisted version of southern blues filtered through his signature layers of dark atmospheres and rhythmic electronic passages.

Seven years is a long time to wait for a new album, but one could argue that such time is a blessing when crafting a work of pure sonic artistry like Recoil's subHuman. 

Following up on 2000's Liquid, Alan Wilder presents a record that is as progressive as it is consistent, offering up the signature layers of dark atmospheres and rhythmic electronic passages that have defined his past output, yet taking a rather dramatic turn with this new album. While Wilder had never strayed from incorporating elements of Black American music such as the blues, jazz, and gospel, they had previously been relegated to the background, providing the proverbial icing on the cake.

On subHuman, things turn in the opposite direction, coming across more like a straightforward southern blues album filtered through Wilder's electronic vision. Part of this is attributable to the presence of New Orleans bluesman Joe Richardson. Whereas Recoil utilized numerous vocalists per album in the past, subHuman finds Richardson taking the lead on five of the record's seven tracks, infusing each of those tracks with his gritty drawl to give the tracks a sense of familiarity. 

Lyrically, Richardson sings of subjects ranging from drug addiction in "Backslider" to war and religion in "5000 Years" and "The Killing Ground," landing perfectly in the scope of topics explored in Recoil's past releases, albeit with a more personal and humanistic approach. Adding to the album's bluesy feel is everything from jazzy organs to slide guitars alongside Wilder's sense of ambient electronic production. 

However, those who prefer the more varied sound of older Recoil will take comfort in the soothing vocals of Carla Trevaskies on "Allelujah" and "Intruders." On "Allelujah," her voice takes on the role of another instrument, echoing and reverberating indistinguishable phrases in a way that would make Elizabeth Frasier of The Cocteau Twins proud, while "Intruders" delves more into trip-hop, reminiscent of Unsound Methods, though still keeping things firmly planted in the blues with those cool guitars and Richardson offering backup to Carla's sweet breathy voice. 

Fans of Collide will certainly enjoy "Intruders." Another nod to Unsound Methods comes in "Backslider," with a refrain from "Drifting" appearing in the final moments, as if to signify that Recoil has come full circle, instilling a sense of curiosity in the listener; where will Recoil go next? Only time will tell, but until then, subHuman will certainly satisfy those in search of something experimental yet familiar, just slightly uncomfortable yet still enticing you to listen further. It's difficult to say if it's Recoil's best record, but it's not the worst by a long shot.

SideLine Magazine - Bernard Van Isacker

Since his “Liquid” album (2000) it had become very silent around Alan Wilder (ex-Depeche Mode). But here's a comeback album that really stunned me. 

On “subHuman” he actually tossed every preconception overboard and started working with blues singer Joe Richardson giving the 'electroblues' term a full face

Compare the original version of “The killing ground” recorded by Joe Richardson in 2006 with the Recoil version recorded now and you will be pretty much surprised to hear how Wilder succeeded in putting things in the Recoil perspective. This album actually breathes sweat, tears and lots of vocal power. 

For those fearing that the overall atmosphere would be way too blues tainted, there are enough intervals added. Tracks like “Allelujah” and “Intruders” clearly offer a rest point while “Prey” and “Backslider” go full force ahead in claiming their power and giving the album the depth it deserves. Musically the album follows a u-curve with a middle part where the sounds are actually the core of the songs unlike the rest of the material where the vocals are more of an importance. 

Not surprisingly that Wilder decided to create an ambient rework of the album as well for the limited edition cd/dvd. This album is not targeted at those who expect Depeche Mode tunes, but if you loved the pedal steel guitar work on an album like “Ultra” you will probably also appreciate this gem very much. Outstanding work from a much overlooked sound genius.

Gothtronic - TekNoir

The long waiting for new material of Alan Wilder with Recoil has been gratified with the new subHuman album. Alan had quit from making music for some time so for this recording he had to rebuild his studio, including sorting all of the new software as times have not stood still since the latest Recoil album Liquid from 2000. The fans of Wilder’s sound can be relieved, since with subHuman we are treated on an album with a stunning sound and some very nice compositions. 

SubHuman goes further where Unsound Methods ended, only much better. Let’s put it boldly: subHuman is without doubt Recoil’s best album. With regards to songwriting as well as sound and samples: Wilder has grown remarkably. The red thread on this subHuman album is formed by the amalgam of organic styles such as blues with electronic music. Moby who did this on his Play album, can eat his heart out, as Wilder goes much further than artificial emotion and manages to perfectly blend the Louisiana blues vocals of the Texan Joe Richardson with the electronic layers of sound, to which triphop, blues and gospel make a seemingly natural mixture. The first single ‘Prey’ is a nice bombastic example of that. A squelchy atmosphere and compelling triphop sound, strings and tempo changes is what you’ll find with the tracks that feature Carla Trevaskis, such as ‘Allelujah’ and the trippy ‘Intruders’, which has heavy bass sounds. She is the counterpart for the blues from Henderson on this subHuman album, which has been a perfect choice for the necessary balance. It is impressive to hear the bluesy ‘5000 Years’ evolve into the bombastic ending, with ethnic chanting, percussion and samples. The next song that really impressed me is ‘The Killing Ground’’, which starts off as a squelchy blues song with somber humming and all of a sudden turns into a dark and explosive tribal-dub elixir, including Hammond organ, that is suprisingly swinging, before it again ends tranquil with violins and a blues guitar. Althouh less impressive also ’99 to Life’ and ‘Backslider’ come across well. 

Recoil are with subHuman on par with the best of Massive Attack and Portishead and with regards to sound and combination of styles, sounds and instruments perhaps even goes some steps further than these artists. Each composition is completed with eye for detail and has an impressive richness of ideas. SubHuman is truly a stunning album. 

SputnikMusic - Stephen Gore

Few genre combinations would sound as awkward and chalk-and-cheese as electronica and blues. While not an entirely new concept (Moby had a stab with his Play album) it’s still dangerous territory for any artist concerned with a loss of accessibility. But Recoil is no commercial venture. This is an album you really have to ‘listen’ to. Of course, when you throw a hefty dollop of trip-hop into the mixture, and stretch your tracks to an average length of nine minutes each, you have to hope that there’s a competent producer at the helm. Thankfully, there is.

Alan Wilder, for thirteen years the man responsible for building the dramatic highs that underpinned Depeche Mode’s dark dramas, returns with the latest release from Recoil, a solo project that frequently employs numerous ‘guest’ vocalists and experiments wildly (rather apt) with bubbling electronica, trip-hop and maudlin lyrics. It’s been seven years since the last release Liquid, and though the darkness is still there to shadow every verse in a gloomy, almost sexual aura, subHuman spreads its demonic wings to encompass a broader musical palette, one with ethereal leanings of dreamy, sentimental trip-hop (‘Allelujah‘), rhythmic military mashers (‘5000 years‘), and full-on, hammer-and-tong blues twangers (‘The Killing Ground‘). In terms of depth, however, Moby’s Play is a mere kiddies paddling pool compared to the Mariana Trench that is Recoil’s subHuman. Lyrically, the album explores the theme of what it means to be human, and whether it’s through religion, war, torture or drugs, we all see ourselves according to different labels (race, religion, sex, politics); themes that are brought to life by the music, and the distinctive vocal styles of Joe Richardson and Carla Trevaskis.

Joe Richardson is a blues singer/songwriter from Louisiana that Alan discovered quite by accident on the Internet, when looking for guest vocalists. Having exhausted most of the distinctive female singers on the last album Liquid (which included the likes of poet, writer, artist, and all-round amazing person Nicole Blackman), his approach this time seemed to favour the style of previous Recoil trip-hop/blues track, ’Jezebel‘. And so, five of the seven songs on this album have Joe at the helm, growling his smoky bass voice around lyrics such as these:

“A thief on the left and one on the right
Up on the hill about twilight
One lived forever, the other died
While a thorny head hung to one side…”

Those lyrics are from ‘The Killing Ground‘, the centrepiece of subHuman, a drawn-out, complex masterpiece of ominous pianos, moans, murmuring, hisses, and pounding drums, that give way to a bluesy-twangfest for the middle six minutes (track length ten minutes), with a crazy, out of control organ urping away over the verses. Joe also deals effectively with drugs, ‘Backslider‘ throbbing away its rhythm with harmonicas and crunchy guitars, while that subtle electronic foundation holds the track together, increasing the tension as Joe grunts, 

“Backslider, Backslider, lost in pain
Can’t slay the dragon when he’s running through your veins“

His rich, gravelly voice does threaten to dominate the album, however, so Alan chose a singer from the other end of the musical spectrum to handle the more wistful, delicate tracks: English singer Carla Trevaskis, who is on fine form on the paranoid ‘Intruders‘, a track that also ends with several minutes of impromptu studio jamming from Joe’s band (which unfortunately goes on for rather too long). However, she’s most noticeable on ‘Allelujah‘, which has nothing to do with Leonard Cohen and everything to do with Massive Attack’s Mezzanine - it could almost be a missing track, being rather similar to the mighty ‘Group Four‘ from that album. No words necessary; she just sings, umms and ahhs in her own ambient way; the result is sensually haunting.

It’s all brought together by the tension that Mr. Wilder is so expert at creating. Fine vocals and meaningful lyrics aside, the darkness that comes with each track has little to do with cliched lyrics or an over-abundance of minor keys; it’s all in the subtleties. The most bizarre sounds will suddenly jump out or creep up, all when you least expect them. Slide guitar twangs all over the place in ‘The Killing Ground‘, helicopter rotors spatter the speakers during ‘5000 Years‘, and muffled gun-blasts and cackling laughter lurk in lead single ‘Prey‘. This loving attention to detail is the reason why the track length is justified; the complex sonic arrangements of subHuman simply wouldn’t be possible otherwise. The tracks generally follow the pattern of a slow, ominous build-up, an explosive mid-section, and a wind-down, yet the varied approach means that you never notice - one track just rolls seamlessly into another.

Alan Wilder, the reclusive musician and electronic mastermind behind Recoil, has cemented his position with this delicious slice of high-class, intelligent sonic wizardry. Epic rhythm tracks, ominous electronic shudders, dreamy, ghostly reflections and nightmarish climaxes all gang together and ride the blues wave, then spit out the result. Which is refined, distilled, inaccessible, painstaking, unnerving, ultra-tense electronic trip-hop. They shouldn't have let him go.

Subba-Cultcha - Paul Raven

A much-anticipated return for Alan Wilder's collaborative project, as his studio wizardry takes a trip to the Deep South.

It's been seven years since the last record from Recoil, but former Depeche Mode muso Alan Wilder is back with subHuman; a rich and complex slab of studio-based audio landscaping. While there's none of the poetry and spoken word that featured on some of the previous releases, there's still plenty to get your teeth into.

subHuman comes across as a more thematically complete piece of work compared to the albums that preceded it; it consists of the now-traditional moody and dark quasi-industrial soundscapes, but with a strong yet subtle Cajun flavour cooked in from start to finish. As well as a definite sonic style, the songs themselves keep to a theme of social commentary – the inherent hypocrisies of religion and politics; stories about addiction, racism and institutionalised violence in the seedy broken underbelly of the American Deep South, and the world beyond; examinations of plurality, of how people see each other and themselves based on creed and colour; a long hard look at the attitudes that nations and systems have to the people they control.

Even if you don't pay much attention to the lyrics (which would be a shame), there's still plenty to appreciate musically. Layer upon layer of lush tones, artificial and natural alike, seamlessly blending reality with imagination; ethereal synth lines rub shoulders with filtered slide guitars and harmonica squeals, all hanging above intricate yet understated drumming and electronic percussion. It's not a heavy sound, but it's thick - almost smothering, like heavy velvet curtains or layers of smoke in a back-room blues-club. I'm a great fan of music that has depth and space, music that can be entered into and explored – subHuman's landscapes encourage and reward this sort of listening.

Recoil has always been a collaborative project, with Wilder recruiting a wide selection of guest vocalists to work with him. subHuman features Carla Trevaskis providing silky and haunting female vocal parts, but the mainstay of the album (and co-developer of many of the song ideas) is the smoky drawl of Joe Richardson, who Wilder allegedly discovered by Googling for 'blues singer-songwriter'; this is where much of the Deep Southern flavour has come from, with Joe drawing on the events of his own life on the edge in New Orleans and elsewhere (and those of people he has known) for lyrical inspiration – lyrics he then delivers with an authenticity that can only come from genuine experience.

The end result is pure Recoil – subtle, intelligent and expressive music, lushly produced and full of detail. But subHuman stands out from the back catalogue due to its unique thematic integrity, coming across like a soundtrack to a movie as yet unfilmed. If you have any interest whatsoever in what music can achieve when feed from the straight-jacket of the three minute pop song, you owe it to yourself to listen to this album.


subHuman is Recoil's 5th studio album, and to mark the occasion they've got together with the good folks at Mute for an impressive multi-format release. The album comes after a six year recording hiatus from musician/producer Alan Wilder, former member of Depeche Mode. Recoil had been up and running back in the Depeche Mode days, but it was after Wilder's departure from the band in 1995 that the side-project went fulltime. Apparently, upon returning to the studio to start writing and recording this album Wilder had all-but entirely forgotten how to use his equipment, finding his sequencer and operating system had fallen long out of date. Perhaps as a result of having to start again from scratch, Wilder looked to rootsier sounds for inspiration, recruiting New Orleans blues musician John Richardson for help on several tracks. The entire album, in fact, presents a very natural-sounding meeting of digital instruments and traditional acoustic sounds. The string arrangements soar across 'Allelujah' and 'The Killing Ground', instilling a real sense of cinematic, big budget dynamics. Elsewhere, Richardson's vocals shift the music into some kind of futuristic juke joint shuffle. 

IGN - Spence D.

A rich and hypnotic influx of blues, folk, and electronic progression.

Upon casual inspection the latest offering from Recoil (the nom du musique of former Depeche Moder Alan Wilder) seems to be following in the footsteps of Moby's Play. But whereas Richard Melville Hall sampled and essentially remixed forgotten blues and folk songs into tight knit electro pop confections, Wilder has gone in the opposite direction, opting instead to employ the services of Texas Blues singer Joe Richardson and chanteuse Carla Trevaskis and craft intricate electronic numbers around their distinctly hypnotic vocals. The result is a mutated expansion of blues, folk, and electronic music that is rendered in a mesmerizing and progressive manner. To wit none of the tracks on the album are shorter than 7-minutes in length. 

Richardson serves up some crusty baritone-cusped-on-the-edge-of-bassdom on the opening salvo, "Prey," in which he delivers a swamp drenched tale about a deadly mamba snake by the name of "Queenie." He gets more down 'n dirty on "5000 Years," which reverberates with rustic harmonica, rusted blues guitar tangle, and marching cadence snare drums, all swooshed and whooped by detached ambient effects. "The Killing Ground" brings in elements of acoustic strangle, front porch orchestral swoon, and backyard jazz theatrics, before blasting out into emphatic rumble. Naturally at the center of it all is Richardson's richly mournful vocals. "99 To Life" is rife with prison sound effects, rumbling doomsday bass throbs, and Richardson's dead man walking storytelling angst. The album's final track, "Backslider," is a chugging blues number that brings all the previously utilized elements into play (rich, emotional vocals, harmonica, and interwoven electronic schism) to create a twisted take on gospel lament.

While Richardson unquestionably dominates the album, tucked into the mix are two songs presided over by the aforementioned Trevaskis. "Allelujah" is an intoxicating epic that has Trevaskis delivering dark yodel-styled chants in a warbling trill that brings to mind vintage era Kate Bush; it's delicate, waifer thin, and at the same time lilts with the possessive allure of the most seductive of sirens. With "Intruders" Wilder brings a more loping Blues element into the mix, surrounding Travaskis' haunting mantra (this time delivered in more of a neo-Annie Lennox manner) of "intruders just keep coming" with a sense of wavering dread and excitement that keeps you on edge. 

As with like-minded musical souls UNKLE, Recoil isn't so much redefining the parameters of post-post-post-modern electronic music as they are deeply refining them. Some might hesitate to call anything included here new or fresh, but there is no way to deny that Wilder and company have taken creatively inspiring liberties with the base principles of folk, blues, and electronic music, fusing the three elements into a rich, immersive pastiche that continues to reveal deeper and more fulfilling nuances with each repeated listen.. 

Release Music Magazine - PETER MARKS

Well now here's a fine kettle of fish. Seven years of silence ended. Is it any wonder I've been playing this thing non-stop? One does not get new work from Alan Wilder very often. A more reclusive, reluctant musician would be difficult to find. Yet he ventured out of The Thin Line (his studio for those of you who're wondering) to work with a Texan named Joe Richardson. And a lass called Carla Trevaskis.

From the first track, the single "Prey", you suddenly remember why it is you suffer through the droughts between albums from Recoil. The sudden tempo changes, the atmospheres. Wilder's usage of tension has never been better. Recoil induce vertigo at times, Alan's singular ability to meld his production prowess into creatively viable yet thoroughly menacing tracks short-circuits the unwary who casually listen to his work. There is no such thing as a casual Recoil fan, by the way. The growth from his last outing (2000's "Liquid") to this album blows me away.

"Allelujah" is at times reminiscent of "Missing Piece" and yet it is different enough that I cannot fault its basis of breathy feminine vocals, immense cinematic presence and almost dream-like tempo. "The Killing Ground" by contrast begins somberly, gently nudging you along until it just flat out explodes like some kind of tune from an all-night dance hall in hell with an exhortive message which when one looks beneath the mythological context is just devastating. It is currently my favourite track of the album. I wonder what this song would have sounded like with say, Johnny Cash singing on it... another question which must remain unanswered.

This album is the fruition of what began back in 1993 on an album we all know quite well. The continuation was 1997's "Unsound Methods" and now, some fourteen years later, I'm going to go out on a limb and posit that this is what he truly had in mind when he was wasting his time in a chart-courting prima-donna finishing academy who have since become neither creative nor viable in any sense of the word.

Aversion - R. Paul Matthews

It's been a dozen years since Alan Wilder parted ways with Depeche Mode to focus on his Recoil project; with Subhuman, his first long-player in seven years, it's almost hard to believe he was ever a part of the band of synth-pop prodigies: If the dense, dark and difficult songs on this album are any yardstick, it's hard to believe he ever had a place in his former band.

Picking up where "Jezebel" off 2000's Liquid (Mute) left off -- namely, dropping various flavors of blues and gospel into a sea of sinister programming that's the bad stepbrother of Moby's Play-ful experiments combining the two -- Subhuman seems to find more in common with the grumbly noises emitted by Einsturzeinde Neubauten or its ideological spawn, Liars, than anything else. The seven-track, hour-long makes no bones about Wilder's complete indifference toward accessibility, with doggedly long tracks (five of its seven clock in at more than eight minutes, with the longest, "Intruders," lasting nearly 12) and convoluted arrangements running the sthow.

That challenging aspect defines Subhuman, and even after numerous spins, you won't be able to decide if it's a blessing or a curse for Wilder's project. Sometimes, Wilder channels the same grim energy of a hot-to-trot Nick Cave. "99 to Life" peppers a basic prison-blues number with gate-crashing programming that's almost as if the Bad Seeds turned in their guitars for synthesizers and sequencers. "The Killing Ground" isn't as immediate, as whirring funhouse organs ebb and flow behind guitars that broadly draw from everything from swamp blues to Appalachian country-folk in a track that never quite decides if it wants to sink into old-time music sleaze or just reinvent a post-modern alternative to it. "5,000 Years" is a little more decisive, as Wilder taps Delta blues guitars to tie together the disparate strains of a gospel-like lament and atmospheric programming. "Allelujah" offers the closest to traditional pop on the album, as Wilder taps dark, swirling atmospheres lifted from trip-hop and recasts them as gritty post-millennial programming.

As compelling as Subhuman is, and, despite its tendency for its tracks to drag long beyond their natural lifespan, it has more than enough intrigue. Wilder seems to be forcing the issue as often as not, making Recoil's latest trip into the grimy, gritty reaches of the soul come off not nearly as sophisticated or rounded as it should.

Treble Media - Adrian Cepeda 

As a 17 year-old, I remember watching Depeche Mode on the big screen and their breakthrough road trip film 101. My favorite part was seeing Alan Wilder showing how he created most of the sounds Mode made famous on the albums and songs we grew to love as die hard fans. He always seemed to be the most accessible and underrated member of the band, and since his departure after the Faith and Devotion sessions, his impact and imprint of the band are now known to have been the key ingredients to the band's world wide success. 

In 1988, Wilder was the first member of the band to release a solo project, under the moniker Recoil. Recoil's releases 1 + 2 and Hydrology showcased Wilder as the electronic guru who came up with all of the sonic landscapes of all of our favorite Mode songs. In 1992, Wilder released Bloodline, and took those same landscapes and molded them into more of an alternative flavored electro-song format recruiting Nitzer Ebb vocalist Douglas McCarthy, Moby and Curve frontwoman Toni Halliday. McCarthy's vocal contribution "Faith Healer" was an underground sensation when it first came out. It was Recoil's genius use of old bluesman Bukka White with electro beats that inspired Moby to crib the idea for success years later on his breakout album Play. After 1997's Unsound Methods, Alan Wilder decided to leave the friendly confines of Depeche Mode and concentrate all his time and creative energies on Recoil. This lead to Recoil's best album 2000's Liquid. Inspired by wilder witnessing a plane crash yards from his car, the song "Black Box" revolved around this track and life changing incident. 

I first heard Liquid at a Nine Inch Nails Fragile show in New Orleans. My favorite track from the album was a remix of "Jezebel," featuring the bluesy Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet mixed with the most eerie and mind blowing drum and bass backing track ever created by Alan Wilder, which made my driving through the French Quarter during Halloween reflect the true gothic atmosphere that is New Orleans. 

On the subject of Louisiana, Wilder must have needed more of that soulful 504 vibe (that's the New Orleans area code for those out of the loop) on his next creative excursion, because he recruited Southern Louisiana bluesman Joe Richardson as his main collaborator on subHuman. When I heard the news of this up and coming collaboration, I was readying myself for greatness. After heearing opening track "Prey," I could safely say this exceeded my expectations. 

As Richardson sings "It's time to get down on your eyes" over Wilder's trademark electronic backbeats, it turns "Prey" into a 21st Century enlightened pièce de résistance. It is the culmination of the sonic undertakings that Wilder began with Liquid. Richardson helps resurrects this sacred vibe into the song that personifies what hardships everyone in South Louisiana have encountered since the aftermath of Katrina. A perfect way to reintroduce Recoil back into the consciousness of underground music fans every where. 

"Allelujah" is the prefect song to follow "Prey." English vocalist Carla Trevaskis croons more of an angelic piece where her vocal floats in and out of the mix as if she was appearing from the heavens. An impressive performance from Trevaski, whose work picks up the mantle where other female singers like Blackman and Halliday have captured in songs from Recoil's underrated yet glorious past. 

What I particularly love about Wilder's music is how he lays down distinctive beats yet he's content to let these singers carry the loaded spotlight on his ever-evolving project. Richardson returns on "5000 Years," laying down his trademark blues riffs and a vocal that sweats the sounds of the Dirty South. Wilder sprinkles this blues number with a number of minimal backbeats that accentuates Richardson's mesmerizing performance into a post-modern number that one might hear coming from a blues club in a resurrected French Quarter in New Orleans. The vibe in this song reminds of the same chilling feeling that came over me when I first heard in the remix of "Jezebel." I love the samples of the radio evangelists towards the end of the song. It reminds of industrial bands like Front 242 that I used to listen to during the slam-dancing days of my youth. 

Trevaskis returns on the Massive Attack-esque "Intruders." This song sounds as if would fit perfectly on Mezzanine. If you're a Massive Attack fan and dying for an album that echoes the lyrical darkness of Mezzanine then subHuman is for you. Richardson shows again up as he trades vocal lines with Tevaskis, reflecting a little bit of electronic darkness and light in the bluesy night sky. It's the perfect combination that lifts subHuman as the ultimate addition to Recoil's explosive canon. 

Divine Caroline - Angel Jackson

Eerily seductive, subHuman goes beyond the electronica roots of this band, using atmospheric vocals and guitar blues. Sound-bites and transient synths create the dark environment that one could expect from a Recoil album. But it’s Alan Wilder’s collaboration with Texas blues virtuoso Joe Richardson—with his swampy vocals, muffled harmonicas, guitar, and violins—that sets the mood for this long-awaited fifth album from the former Depeche Mode member.

The opening track, “Prey,” has a mysterious voodoo vibe that consistently appears throughout this body of work; as in, for example, “5000 Years,” and the closer, “Backslider.” “Allelujah” and “Intruders” feature vocals by Carla Trevaskis, whose sound is very reminiscent of Kate Bush—although on “Intruders,” her filtered voice becomes borderline pop. “The Killing Ground” has a similar tone—ethereal and tragically beautiful; in just under ten minutes, and using an almost monotonous beat, Joe’s voice takes you to dark misty plains where you can almost smell the moist ground.

Recoil is an acquired taste and not for the lighthearted. Their music suggests such intense visuals that you may question any liking for the band, yet find yourself strangely drawn to it—and unable to press “stop.” If dark, industrial, post-modern themes that combine different music genres tickle your fancy, this album will surely become a favorite.

There are seven songs on the CD, each over seven minutes long, with most of them averaging over nine minutes. The band tends to use themes and visuals (such as the CD artwork) that are quite controversial and could be considered tasteless by some. There are two versions of this CD. This review is based on the standard version that has seven tracks. The deluxe version has an additional CD with five additional tracks.

SF - Hobey Echlin

Alan Wilder was sort of Depeche Mode’s George Harrison—the soft-spoken if unsung keyboard architect of the band’s blacker celebrations. He’s better working from someone else’s blueprints: His solo work as Recoil is more about run-on sound design than it is about songs. But to his credit, Wilder’s also the guy whose early Recoil tracks hipped Moby to the potential of sampling old blues records. With subHuman, Wilder returns to the blues, working with singer Joe Richardson for an album of agitated, lumbering tracks that dive sampler-first into post-Katrina angst and hard-won catharsis. (Lest we forget he was in Depeche Mode, Wilder indulges Dead Can Dance-y stuff with Kate Bush sound-alike Carla Trevasis, who fits Goth-perfect into the ominous, seismic synth-shift bass lines.)

Though Wilder’s aural palette can sound dated—the film-score strings, the herniated trip-hop beats, the murky production—he uses it to bring an operatic chaos back into the electronic canon, even if it can make for exhausting listening. With their lofty themes of base natures and divine intervention that Nick Cave would have (and has) been proud to pen, subHuman’s tracks routinely clock in at eight-plus minutes of shape-shifting over skittering, processed beats. But the artistry here is as indulgent as it is necessary: As Moby mines the blues from a there’s-an-epiphany-in-here-somewhere preciousness, Wilder doesn’t clean anything up or strip anything down. He keeps it raw and primordial, sometimes to a fault. On the album’s best track, “5000 Years,” Richardson may go on forever, but at least he goes somewhere, resolving a grinding, Katrina-oriented blues commentary about God and destiny on a well-earned bed of Wilder’s heart-tugging strings. There’s not a dry ear in the house.

Artist Direct - David Jeffries

After a six-year hiatus, former Depeche Mode member Alan Wilder revived his Recoil project with the full-length Subhuman, a dreary album of dark soundscapes and a blues singer. Taking his "Electro Blues for Bukka White" track off 1992's Bloodline and blowing it up into a loose concept album, Wilder has hired Texas blues man Joe Richardson to contribute lyrics, guitar, and his swampy vocals to the album. The opening "Prey" is the grand meeting between Richardson's creeping blues and Recoil's creepy electronics, while the satisfying "5000 Years" finds Wilder acting as Richardson's producer until he dissolves the tune into noise and sound collage. The rest of their output sounds like a clever soundtrack searching for a moody movie, which is just to say it's both convincing and forgettable. The other track of note is the dreamy "Allelujah" which finds guest vocalist Carla Trevaskis speaking in ethereal tongues and sounding quite a bit like a Kate Bush sample. There's heaviness to the rest of the album that ponderously plods until numbness sets in, plus a collage in the booklet that perfectly illustrates Subhuman's big problem. In the collage, an antique picture of families frolicking at the beach is combined with an atom bomb exploding overhead, and then two showroom dummies are haphazardly planted in the foreground. Subhuman is equally hackneyed and entry-level postmodern, but like the collage, it's skillfully polished and best suited for lovers of dark, incongruous genre blending.

Soundsect - Greg Blosser

It’s cold and snaps back— Something hot fires out the other end. “It” is Alan Wilder’s (Recoil) production snapping back in time to grab the blues. That “something hot” is subHuman: Taking the proverbial square piece and making it fit in to the circle hole with utter ease. 

It’s almost jarring when Joe Richardson chimes in at 1:04 into opening track “Prey”. Richardson cracks the line “Deep down in Louisiana...” amongst cold ambient street noise and electronic string swells, which seems to be the antithesis of his growling, dirty, Southern blues. At this point, you either commend Wilder for his ambition to meld genres or you so absolutely despise it due to your distaste for the blues that you start skipping tracks hoping that the first was just a failed experiment that Wilder needed to get off his chest. It wasn’t. The album is chock full of this union. 

The production is extremely dark, cold and vintage Recoil. As deliberate as this may be, the vocals and even the bluesy instrumentation that surfaces gives this a humanity and warmth very few electronic albums can claim. If I didn’t know any better, I would assume this is a new Massive Attack album. Every facet of their style is in place. Multiple vocalists, both male and female (Richardson and Carla Trevaskis, who channels Elizabeth Fraser agreeably), dark instrumentation, builds and breaks, and flawlessly meshing of genres are all lounging on the same psychiatrist couch. If you salivate at the thought of Massive Attack’s most recent single, “Live with Me”, and an album full of edgier takes on this formula, my friends, behold your holy grail. 

These songs should not be singled out. subHuman is so brilliantly conceived and executed as an LP that I say pick a mood and cool night, invest in some noise-canceling headphones, hit the street and let this guide you. Something hot will create a whole new world of your surroundings while having you feel the shame that some music just isn’t heard by the masses but provides exclusiveness to your own experiences. 

Notable Noise - Jason Ferguson 

Warmth and grit are perhaps the last two sonic attributes one would expect from Alan Wilder, a man who spent more than a decade as a member of Depeche Mode. Through the course of his work under the Recoil moniker, however, he has staked out an aural territory that has seen progressively more of both of those things added to his synthetic programming mix. Subhuman, the fifth Recoil album, ironically stands as both his most digitally advanced and organically evocative work yet. The rough-edged vocal work of Louisiana blues singer Joe Richardson is both a shocking contrast to expectations and a surprisingly effective complement to the disc’s darker soundscapes; the mellifluous, Kate Bush-isms of Carla Trevaskis are a little more predictable, but no less effective. Subhuman is as swampy and spooky as it is sweetly ethereal, and it’s Wilder’s unique vision that renders it so.

Pensatos - Sean Kendall

Seven years is a long time. It gives the impression of enough time for Axel Rose to finish an album and a leader to undo forty years of foreign affairs building.  Maybe one of which is neither here nor there.  But it was seemingly the perfect amount of time for ex-Depeche Mode alumni Alan Wilder to create his follow up to the stellar Liquid.  It also appears that a hiatus for the greater part of a decade gave him a chance to battle his darker demons that often plagued the 2000 release and those prior. For his fifth studio effort under the Recoil mantra, Subhuman is a different bend from the days of goth and mod that fans may be use to. A dark look into ones belly of music and soul, Wilder may have finally discovered a bridge of which both content and contempt surround. 

Much of the albums center is a melting pot of blues and electronica. Southern rock guitarist Joe Richardson’s key guitar slides and fusion of blues and swamp rock elevate ‘The Killing Ground’ into a unhurried train gaining momentum only to culminate into a fiery and growling rock anthem as Subhuman’s shining moment. Richardson is joined by English singer Carla Trevaskis to continue his sludgy guitar sway on ‘Intruders’ – a darker introverted percussion fueled piece that seemingly goes on forever enough to choke the own life out of its tripped out self. Fans of the sorrow sound of Wilder need not be dismayed; ‘99 to Life’ is the best crack Alabama 3 never could recreate. 

Of course, listener be warned, this is still from the mind of the man who urged a generation to reach down and touch faith - and it has its niche sound.  Those who avoid the sounds of Massive Attack need not apply within. Sure, Richardson aids it greatly from falling too repetitive but there is only so few sampling and drum beat fills that can make one resonance different from the next. By the time you get to ‘Backslider’, the album has already shown its best hand, relying too heavily on retread and sounds of albums pasts. But Subhuman, thankfully, is Wilder’s acceptance of patience and small doses allowing attention to the detail in his counterpart’s Texan slide. It isn’t perfect but it is by far Recoil’s best work yet by being rather anti-itself.