The new album by the German group Schattenspiel is available as a regular CD with a four-page booklet, as well as an engraved metal box set with extra inserts. The latter edition is limited to 50 pieces, and the regular pressing to 450.
Whereas Schattenspiel's previous album Schattenkrieger was focused on minimalism, quietness, ambient atmospheres and abstract compositions, Lichtgestalten is more about sorrowful melodies and dreamy remembrance with a good dose of martial industrial and pop. The opening song is a calm, piano- and electro-driven song with some neoclassical string-synths, topped with Space Cat's dramatic vocals that bring out the pop-element. As the abstract and ambient-like "Thirst" shows, the vocals are a spot-on add to the group's music; her voice is deep and emotional enough to make their presence and melodies meaningful, and manage to make the songs catchier and more appealing without entirely stealing the show. "Military Pop," as the group themselves state. The re-worked song "Falling Down," originally featured on the group's full-length from 2009 as an instrumental piece, strongly underlines how much she's taking the band's sound further even when she's present on only a part of the songs.
The album presents something from each of the band's phases; some songs are abstract and harsh ambient-soundscapes that are reminiscent of a desolate landscape, some are purely neoclassical a'la the group's earlier works, and some are really catchy and poppy, such as the already mentioned opener, "Falling Down 2010," and "Mi Nombre es La Muerte" with strong and repetitive male vocals by Igniis backed by equally repetitive but pleasing electro. Some of the songs feature authentic military samples and samples of real isntruments, whereas some mainly employ digital synths and neoclassical strings and beats. Schattenspiel hasn't lost their ability to create both instantly appealing and mysterious and brooding atmospheres.
As far as individual songs go, "Lichtgestalten" presents Schattenspiel at their best and boldest. If you liked their previous albums, I'm certain you'll like this one too. For me, though, the album's leaps from harsher ambient to pop-catchiness, from neoclassical beauty to militant beats, and from ethereal ambience despair made itself too difficult to grasp. The album lasts for 70 minutes, and with all the constant changes in the songs' approaches and moods I just can't bring myself to focus on it for its length, despite numerous attempts. For example, the slightly cheerier "Sun & Steel" and the two following very minimalistic pieces are good as individual tracks, but their placing on the album eats away their strengths and reduces them to background music. I'd recommend the band to be more careful when using actual instrumentation as well, as the soundscape is on the brink of becoming a rather confused one when these two opposites clash. For example, the transition from the electronic ambience of "Shadows" to the following song's strong violin, beats, samples and metal scrapes is quite a major one.
I would gladly hear an all-minimalistic album from Schattenspiel, as I would a strongly poppy and catchy one, but when the songs are presented as a "compilation" of this kind I am plain unable to enjoy them fully. The individual songs are good or decent, but they don't support each other as they should, making this album's foundations rather shaky. A shorter album with a clearer basic idea that carries through it would do both the songs' quality and the band's skills more justice. It would allow the artists to focus more on honing their capabilities and individual ideas, as well as on perfecting the production values.
I hope that Schattenspiel won't be trying to go for everything on the spectrum all at once on their next album. Less can be more.