Everything's Gone Green: Achromaticia

“When Michel Rowland of Disjecta Membra revealed late last year that the band’s debut album from 1997, Achromaticia, was about to benefit from a twentieth anniversary makeover, I knew immediately that I needed to pick up a copy. Despite already having a copy of the album in digital form, I pre-ordered the expanded triple CD set online and waited some months for its arrival. There were delays, mostly due to the fact that Rowland is a staunch perfectionist who wanted to get every last detail of the release exactly right, but late last month the CD(s) finally turned up in my letterbox. It’s fair to say, it was well worth the wait.

The release is made up of the original album on one CD, plus two further CDs containing demos, live tracks, covers, and excerpts from a Contact FM radio interview recorded while the band was still in its infancy. My purchase included a fourth element in the form of an additional digital download, which features more odds and ends of that ilk. The whole thing presents a fascinating, comprehensive, grassroots-level overview of one of Aotearoa’s most unique bands. 

In fact, it wouldn’t be a stretch to describe the Hamilton-born, now Wellington-based Disjecta Membra as this country’s leading darkwave or goth rock band. Rowland – as founder (in late 1993), vocalist, and principal songwriter – has always been at the heart of all things Disjecta Membra, with various band members coming and going over the course of the past two decades. The album’s inlay and liner notes acknowledge the other key individuals involved, and to some extent those notes work as a potted history of the band. That booklet, and the packaging in general (photos, artwork, notes), is a lovely bonus. 

The music on the core album itself is typically dark and cinematic. It opens with the dramatic ‘Cathedral’ and builds in intensity from there. ‘Cathedral’ finds Rowland channelling the not-quite-yet ghost of Andrew Eldritch and that track pops up again later in the form of a Deus ex Machina remix. For me, it is the heavier tunes within the 14-track set, such as ‘Rats’, ‘Cauldron of Cerridwen’, and ‘The Sleep’ which hold the most appeal. But there’s a good mix of stuff – from shorter tracks like the dreamy spoken word wonderment of ‘Malcolm’, and the one-minute interlude of ‘Androgyne Waltz’, to the theatrical-almost-epic qualities of the 11-minute-plus closer ‘Danse Macabre’, which never quite lets you breathe out. In short, the album covers a great deal of ground. 

Probably not quite as much ground as the three bonus sets (two discs, one download) however, which offer huge insight into how the band evolved. It has to be said, some of the earliest demos, the basement and garage recordings, are a hard listen, simply because of the poor audio quality. As you’d expect from material of that description, and vintage. Similarly, a lot of the live stuff sounds a little worse for wear. Yet, for all of those flaws, there’s real energy there, and a genuine sense of the post-punk spirit which clearly drove the band in its fledgling form. Most captivating, for me, are the various covers on offer, with work by some of my own favourites – The Cure, Sisters of Mercy, Bauhaus, and Siouxsie – all getting at least one box ticked. 

Overall, the triple CD/four-set release is a wonderful snapshot of early Disjecta Membra. It’s one of those time-and-place things. If you weren’t there – and I wasn’t – it doesn’t really matter, you can catch up now with this massive collection of archive material. Probably more Disjecta Membra than you’ll ever really need, but well worth the indulgence all the same. Terrific stuff.”

- Mike Hollywood (Everything’s Gone Green, New Zealand)