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xmag.com : March 2006 : Betty X

As one of the pioneers of the “Death Lounge” movement, Betty X has always danced to the beat of a different drum machine. In recent years she has been closely connected with the caustic industrial-metal scene, but when Betty emerged in the mid 1990s, she had more in common with Nina Hagen or Hazel O’Connor. Abandoning the light-hearted New Wave camp of her first project, 1999’s Salon Betty, she favored the harsh electronics of her solo debut, Bad Side of Love. In the process, she abandoned much of her following as well.
This type of destructive reinvention became a recurring theme as her music steadily became heavier and more aggressive. Betty X’s latest record, Memoirs of a Pain Junkie, is her most abrasive and metallic yet, a showcase of crunching riffs and disjointed rhythms that exhibits few of the electronic histrionics that once defined her solo material. But while the record may not be traditionally metal (aside from the heavy guitars) or industrial (aside from the distorted vocals and odd sample), Betty X maintains the antagonistic ethos those genres command. Ever since the late ’70s, aggro music has thrived on the will to provoke. For Betty X, provocation is a priority that comes just after breathing.
Judging by opening lyrics such as “We all know what’s in your brain/Let’s take a look anyway” (“Chainsaw”) and “It comes down to you and me/You better look me in the eye when you talk that shit about me” (“Necrotic”), Betty X seems to view this world as an increasingly oppressive and violent place, overrun with conservatives and societal dregs. As a result, she seeks to mock and defy expectations and funnel her most carnal, depraved impulses into her inflammatory music. Unlike many industrial-metal artists, whose insurgency is as synthesized as their Hot Topic clothing, Betty is truly a rebel without a pause, as a trail of departed band members and a prior arrest for inciting a riot can attest.
But don’t write Betty X off as an impulsive deviant who churns out musical performances between flag burnings and bar fights. She is obsessive when it comes to her music, which explains why Memoirs of a Pain Junkie and her last record, 2004’s Dystopia, were delivered way behind schedule. So is Memoirs the incendiary album that fans have been holding their breath for? Yes…and no. Her new emphasis on heavy-metal riffs and mechanical noise may prove too metallic for rivetheads and too convoluted for metalheads. But it definitely delivers a proper ass-kicking.
In the past, Betty X administered sharp, simple electronic dance beats and memorable trip-hop/jazz melodies. The new release is far messier, exploding like a shotgun blast and leaving too much damage for some to take in easily at one time. Redundant beats, layered guitars and over-distorted production provide a menacing atmosphere but very little melody. The record also lacks dynamics on most of the tracks. Instead of rising and dipping in volume and intensity, the songs lash out in a feral blitzkrieg and maintain their exhaustive pace throughout.
For the most part, the songs on Memoirs follow one of two formulas. Betty X’s most compelling trick is to construct a hooky, repetitive guitar rhythm and then sprinkle in volleys of production effects to prevent the tracks from becoming too monotonous. Sometimes it works, as on “Chainsaw,” a brutal chunk-fest that melds gas-powered garden tools and guitars with a semi-melodic bridge and an anthemic chorus. It also proves effective on “Necrotic,” which is driven by a disarming, high-octane riff and enhanced with several breaks and sample effects.
Elsewhere, Betty X experiments more insidiously with tempo and structure. “Bleed” starts with a distorted and delayed growl that sounds like something from Ministry before dissolving into a loose fury of rapid drumming and a repetitive guitar sample. This works well as a soundscape, but it doesn’t hold up as a full song. And “The Snake Pit,” a daunting combination of Middle Eastern flavor and danced-out beats, offers a refreshing break, but it doesn’t quite fit in with the overall tone of the album. The same is true of “Ultra-Violence,” a techno-metal anthem reminiscent of Rob Zombie.
“Shoot ’em Up” is perhaps my favorite track on the album. Mixed and drummed by Martin Atkins of Pigface, it features the guitar-work of Seibold from Hate Department. Obviously, the track stands out for this reason. Betty’s vocal work is also shining on this track, with a stompin’ rock rhythm and catchy guitar riff pushing it along. Yeah, it’s possible to quibble with the sensitivity level of outbursts like “Shoot ’em up/Let God sort ’em out,” but as underbelly dwellers have known for decades, art doesn’t have to be in good taste to taste good.
With all that said, Memoirs of a Pain Junkie is by far a superior follow-up to Dystopia that will no doubt satisfy open-minded fans of metal and industrial music alike. At this rate, one can safely assume the next album will be even better.




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