What point are these records making? Abdulla Rashim declared "No God" on his 2014 LP Unanimity, but these artists don't seem like Richard Dawkins-style scornful atheists. Nor are they likely to be religious fanatics. Belief Defect keep us guessing. Their name, and the reference to "monothematic delusion" on their social media ("a delusional state that concerns only one particular topic"), suggest a critique of religion, but the music wallows in churchy awe. This ambiguous play with symbols isn't the only thing they've inherited from the industrial scene, but the technique probably had more of a kick in the days of Throbbing Gristle. Now it often seems lazy: a shortcut to profundity for artists who buy the romantic cliché that "serious art" should deal with grand themes. Religion, after all, is the grandest theme going.
The duo's debut album presents this micro-trend in its most distilled and dreary form. The tracks have names like "Deliverance" and "Fake Disciples," and their scorched percussion, roiling drones and epic, dirge-like melodies drip with the dark sublime. There are hints as to why the god angle might be popular right now. The weathered prosthetics on the cover look like relics of some fallen civilisation, and the press release declares the album "a soundtrack for this apocalyptic time." Apocalypse and the fall of man, ideas inscribed in Western culture by Abrahamic religion, chime pretty well with our current political moment. On a track called "No Future," a robotic voice recites deadpan lines over churning coldwave synths. We've probably all felt that sinking feeling after turning on the news.
In fairness to them, Belief Defect nail this mood. They're veterans working anonymously, and the album's evocations of anger and existential despair, its molten crescendi and foghorn synth wails are expertly engineered. It doubtless sounded impressive at Berlin Atonal, where the duo debuted their show last month. The festival has hosted all but three of the artists mentioned above, and its vast Kraftwerk space is something like this movement's church: a place where fans can get their shiver of awe, just as medieval parishioners felt closer to the almighty with every blast of the cathedral organ. It's this feeling that our techno god-botherers seem hooked on, and in our technologised age the obsession is kind of quaint. It seems to reflect a yearning for a simpler time, when we all believed in an omnipotent being in the sky who—though He may have been vengeful and terrifying—at least had the answers. Our reality is much more confusing, and the desire to escape it is understandable. But thinking that your escapist art offers any meaningful insight into the times we live in? That might be the real belief defect.