The past two years have found Austin’s dark lord Xander Harris (a.k.a. Justin Sweatt) on a heavy transfigurative trip, overhauling his live rig, detouring through an expansive soundtrack project celebrating the 20th anniversary of Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, touring outside Texas (from New Orleans to the Netherlands), plus a host of other inner-life turmoils and metamorphoses—all of which have seeped into the synthesizer soil of his stunning second full-length, The New Dark Age of Love.
From the first shimmering hovercraft tones that kick off album opener “Night Fortress,” the growth is glaring; gone is the slasher camp and horror tropes of Urban Gothic, replaced by sleek, streamlined post-industrial cold-wave dystopias. A Ballardian mood of paranoia, doom and technocratic elegance reigns, from icy, sci-fi night-drives (“Tristitia,” “Vultures of Tenderness”) to sweeping cyber-gothic dread symphonies (“Legacies,” “When Prophecy Fails”); even the few forays into overt VHS splatter-score worship (“I Still Look Young in the Dark,” “Bring Me Their Heads”) are executed with a similar sense of future-shocked metropolitan menace.
Echoes abound of classic Chris & Cosey urban wasteland synth-pop, Umberto’s vintage evil, and Klaus Schulze at his most candlelit and Crowleyian, but The New Dark Age of Love is unquestionably Sweatt’s story to tell, and it’s a tome.