Seven Trees was formed back in 1993 by vocalist Johann Kronberg and a cast of musicians who lasted less than two years, but programmer Henrik Karlsson had been recruited and they recorded a demo together that was praised in their native Sweden. Their 1997 dark industrial electro cult full length debut, Embracing The Unknown, became something of an instant classic, and now, 24 years later, they’re finally back with their second album. Dead/End was completely worth the wait too.
Things begin with Veins of Charcoal – which is something of a dark electro love song. The haunting atmospheric and electronic sounds, coupled with Kronberg’s whispery demonic sounding vocals are not without a more emotional touch. “Sway, stay, see me, feel me, open up your heart again, I’ll make you fall in love again,” Kronberg pleads, but then he fails to understand something, you walk away, ruin him and he’s left in worry and dismay. And that’s just for starters, a tale of heartbreak as old as time only things get very dark, very fast.
Pure Sedation has an industrial edge that starts off with the proclamation: “Hey Wretched Existence! I fail, doubting persistence!” The music is impeccable, and the mood is only getting bleaker. On End of the Line (and again, we are only up to track 3) he’s standing on the edge of the platform and “longing for that final call.” Perhaps if you’re struggling with your mental health, Dead/End may not be for you, although things do improve in the tracks ahead. If you’re mostly firing on all cylinders, however, End of the Line is a suicidal winner.
Then Game Over immediately switches gears, telling us it’s gone too far, and offers a change of perspective, albeit a rather dark one. It’s such a great track. Then Phased Out’s vocal treatments propel us further, even if the heart has now been “phased out“. It’s also where, I believe, we get some possible insights into the 24 year absence, as well as some underlying trauma: “Deluded views, a broken past, nothing for me that will last.” Dim, for sure, and it’s also the first song that really makes me want to dance – a juxtaposition I think is brilliant. Valium Dreams makes an even more definite turn. “We must be strong, try to hold on… trust within, it’s sinking in, we will prevail, we can not fail.” The vocals now are also rather normal, whatever that means, but his tone reveals a shift has taken place just as much as the lyrics.
The final third of Dead/End kicks off with Dystopic Illusions, a track with whispery vocals and rhythms so seductive I can’t stop my shoulders from moving to them. I Die/You Die writes that it’s “a great example of Seven Trees’ range in a single track: a simple distorted drum loop and vocal lay groundwork for a rich suite of pads, twittering synths, soon joined by a rubbery bassline and a shimmering veil of electronic textures which camouflage shifts in the rhythm arrangement.” It’s a winner.
Final Program is a beautifully haunting instrumental that’s only briefly interrupted by distorted voice samples, first asking “What’s my purpose for even being here?” – and later reveals a disturbing confession. The final and title track, Dead/End, is the companion piece to End of the Line, taking us back to that same edge of the platform, this time with shadowy piano, and mid-way Kronberg once again sings, “And as I fall, resolving it all, and as I fall, erasing it all” – only this time it sounds different, maybe even hopeful. We’re left wondering, is life better? Yes? No? In any case, we’re not left in the same place we were when we started. Dead/End is cohesive and a thoughtfully crafted master work of it’s kind. The deeper dark dive may not appeal to everyone, but it’s one I’ll be returning to again and again.