Album Review: Amnesia Scanner – Tearless

[PAN; 2020]

If you couldn’t already tell from that album cover, Amnesia Scanner have no intention of being approachable. The Berlin-based Finnish duo have been putting out experimental bass-techno music for a few years now, and while their debut album Another Life seemed to suggest that there was unity in conjoining underground forces, Tearless seems like their admission that everything’s going to shit – so fuck it, let’s just get even weirder.

Tearless features more vocals than any of their previous output, including guests like Lalita, Code Orange and LYZZA – but the main vocalist here is Oracle, who could either be one of Ville Haimala or Martti Kalliala, but they’re attributing it to a machine. Yeah, we’re in that kind of futuristic world where robots roam: like Terminator 2, but much darker. Tearless is god-forsaken wasteland of a record, which is great – if you’re cut out to survive in it.

On the bright side, Amnesia Scanner’s music doesn’t always foretell the apocalypse as something gloomy, sometimes it’s used as an opportunity to rise up and let loose. “AS Tearless” might be the best example, as the duo set out a gallivanting and churning production that is eminently danceable despite its alien textures, and is proven to be a doomed carnival anthem when the Peruvian artist Lalita hops on and finds the imperceptible groove that’s embedded within the layers. She also adds a sparkling drama to “AS Acá”, where she and Oracle duet once again over booming ritualistic drums, like they’re in the belly of an underground bunker, celebrating life despite everything. Amnesia Scanner have another success in this vain with “AS Going”, where whirring atmospherics underscore Brazilian singer LYZZA’s warped vocals, which sound determined – as if she’s ready to fight her way to freedom through whatever carnage may come.

Of course there are moments where Amnesia Scanner just lean into the end-of-the-world feel in all its hopelessness. “AS Flat”, their collaboration with Pennsylvania metalcore band Code Orange, seems to describe a decimated urban wasteland, with high-pitched sirens wailing atop computer-chip mutterings; there’s rubble everywhere, rabid dogs, but, hell, there’s also a guy delivering an unexpected guitar solo, which Amnesia Scanner make work amid the chaos. “AS Labyrinth” is the loneliest song in the set, a forlorn vocal searching for connection while walls of sound – both beautiful and horrifying – close in all around her, coming together to paint a gritty but engrossing scene.

Less inspired is “AS Trouble”, which sounds like a robot having an existential crisis, just wanting to wrap himself up in bed – and it’s not as much fun to listen to as that is to imagine. Similarly adolescent-sounding is “AS Too Late”, where the whining repetition of “too late to die young” give an unnecessary attitude to a song that is texturally and atmospherically compelling.

Amnesia Scanner close out Tearless with a song called “AS U Will Be Fine”, almost like they’re reigning back on all the horror and destruction they’ve laid out previously. They build up their most anthemic and hopeful sounding song yet, as if they’re trying to offer us a way out of their vision of the apocalypse – but at this point, it’s too late, and it feels like a half-hearted attempt at adding some cheer to this merciless record. By the end of Tearless, Amnesia Scanner’s singular vision, for all its moments that both stun and disgust, has seeped its way in. There’s no looking back.