Well, wouldn’t you know it, we’ve got ourselves a double header here. And what better to round out this double feature than with a double album, appropriately titled Dual. It might be a coincidence that we’re running this today, but it’s no coincidence that German darkwave pioneers and masters Deine Lakaien are commemorating their thirty-five-year career and tenth overall release with a sprawling double album of new work and ingeniously imagined covers of a breadth of artists that may just leave you scratching your head. Rest assured, if anyone can handle it, it would be the masters of the craft.
The path to success for the iconic duo of composer and multi-instrumentalist Ernst Horn and vocalist Alexander Veljanov has been a long one, but they have managed to achieve the trifecta of success that few actually get to experience in a musical career: they are taken quite seriously as artists, they are immensely popular, and they are appreciated in their own time. I guess when you’ve been around for as long as they have, you’re bound to get it eventually, but Deine Lakaien has been crushing it since 1986, and it’s easy to see why. They have a knack for weaving together experimental electronic, melodic pop sensibilities and minimalist aesthetics. For their tenth full-length, the band pulls out the stops to celebrate the influences that have shaped them all these years. Dual features two discs of ten songs each, the first being original compositions and the second being covers of artists that have influenced them over the years, from an eclectic collection of artists that range from Kate Bush and Cat Stevens to Bruce Springsteen and Kansas to Soundgarden and Linkin Park. What’s more, each original composition corresponds to a cover track, and is equally influenced by the same artist. It all makes for a striking conceptual piece that does a lot to look back at everything that has helped shape the band as it is now.
The original songs on Dual capture the minimalist, elegant style of darkwave that the duo have been perfecting over their enormous career. Horn’s orchestral arrangements and understated synth washes and lines pair perfectly with Veljanov’s deep, resonant croon, which rests front and center in the focus of each song. Each original song is inspired by and pairs with a cover song on disc two, so every song sounds just a little bit different in instrumentation and aesthetic, but they are all tied together by Viljanov’s voice, which cements the more experimental instrumental arrangements. Take “Because of Because” for example, which corresponds to their cover of Bruce Springsteen and Patti Smith’s “Because the Night.” The energy of the inspiration piece is still there, but it’s been transformed and stretched out into soft, swelling orchestral arrangements and commanding yet simple vocals. “Snow,” inspired by Kansas’ “Dust in the Wind” (YOU’RE MY BOY, BLUE!) is similarly somber and haunting, with a real sense of poetry to it. Obviously, there was a lot of thought and love put into how these songs came into being, but the technical skill and artistry of filtering them through Deine Lakaien’s particular lens can’t be understated either.
I have to be honest, for me the covers kind of steal the show. I love a good cover, and the way that Deine Lakaien reimagine tracks like “Black Hole Sun,” “Dust in the Wind” and “Lady D’Arbanville,” songs that I grew up listening to, is something really special to me. It shows just how timeless these songs are, and it also shows just how diverse of a pool of influences Deine Lakaien have to pull from. Each track is completely broken down into its component parts and reimagined in the classic German darkwave style, giving them a fresh feel and making it really easy to appreciate how much these songs have to offer. Listening to their dark, minimal and haunting cover of Linkin Park’s “My December,” probably the most surprising song included on here and a song that literally shaped my life, is like listening to the song for the first time. It hits me all over again, and really makes me miss Chester Bennington. The power electronics that lay the foundation of “Black Hole Sun” are perfectly innovative without being unfaithful to the original. The whole ten tracks are so wildly creative that I find myself really engrossed in this side of the album, almost to the first disc’s detriment. But still, on both sides, the band manage to lay all their cards out on the table in appreciation while still showing that they have plenty more to offer in the years to come.
Thirty-five years is a long time for anyone to do anything, but it seems like Deine Lakaien have no plans of stopping anytime soon. If anything, Dual shows just how much gas they have left in the tank. They are still the same creative, inventive band they were when they first burst onto the scene, and there is plenty more out there for them to draw influence from. Here’s to thirty-five more.