darkviktory & 24/7 Sound - #TubeClash: The Album (Review)

Martin_Canine
DARKVIKTORY & 24/7 SOUND
#TubeClash: The Album
★★★★★

In 2014, German animation filmmaker darkviktory uploaded the first episode of a series called #TubeClash to YouTube. The project was planned a parody of ten famous German YouTubers, in which they had to fight against each other on a lonely island in a Hunger Games fashion until only one remained. The viewers could vote on their favorite character to survive, in order to decide which one would die next. Although none of them voiced themselves, the series was appreciated and supported by all the internet stars depicted in it and became a hit that was even edited into a feature film featuring alternative footage. Another two seasons followed, #TubeClash02 and #FinalClash, the first of which introduced ten new characters based on YouTubers, and the second of which had many changes to the concept, only featuring three new protagonists, each of which had three lives. Despite the changing main characters, all three seasons had a continuous storyline with a climax in the finale.

As I said, the series started as a parody, and naturally lived mostly through its humorous elements that made fun of the typical character traits, content and inside jokes of the depicted internet stars. While it developed something of a plot halfway through, the first season was mostly purely of comic nature. But things changed when the second season arrived. Although it started off similarly light heartedly and featured several gags, it became darker and more intense throughout its running time, in the end featuring characters that were so heartbroken they developed a grudge against the world around them and became delusional. The series evolved into something much bigger than it initially intended to be, and by the final season in 2016 we had a well structured alternative universe consisting of parallel dimensions and different timelines, tragic backstories to psychologically complex characters and a full blown war going on - all without the slightest touch of satire or irony, except for maybe a comic relief joke or two per episode. Basically, darkviktory threw much of the premise out of the window to tell a much more ambitious story (which is probably the reason why the concept was changed in the third season, so the deaths of the characters won’t interfere with the plot), and while the protagonists looked like and shared names with actual YouTubers, he began to develop their personalities and stories on his own, so that in the end we had a cast that goes much deeper than just being parodies. It started off as a spoof and essentially became an epic animated science fiction drama.

Now, in 2018, a year after the last episode premiered, the original soundtrack album to all three seasons has been released, including every theme song, tunes that could be heard in the background of some scenes and some new material. All of the tracks have been written and composed by darkviktory and 24/7 Sound specifically for either the series or the album, with no use of previously released music. The main vocals were done by Paperblossom, Michael William Rivera and darkviktory himself (who, despite using Autotune here and there, has a pretty damn passionate vocal delivery), with additional appearances by Moritz Garth and Devi-Ananda. They are fairly talented singers, especially Paperblossom, but unfortunately never made it big. While the #TubeClash series may be over, more songs by this team wouldn’t hurt, as this soundtrack is a really fine album in its own right.

The music was inspired by the soundtracks of Japanese anime series, with a careful study of their aesthetics, melodies, lyrical style and instrumental composition. In case you don’t know what exactly this means, let me explain. For the English dub of several well known anime shows, massive alterations have been made. Dark content like deaths or violent scenes was toned down, humorous comic reliefs were added, too complex storylines and philosophical dialogues were simplified, and yes, also the music was changed, in order to fit the expectations of Western kids. In Germany, anime was even bigger than in the USA, taking up much of the noon and afternoon program in the late 90s to late 2000s (that's why many of the shows that aires then now have a cult following). While the German dub of some series were based on the American version, most of them were direct translations of the original Japanese editions, including the J-Rock soundtracks. When listening to the songs darkviktory and 24/7 Sound have written and composed for their own saga, you will notice how often they resemble the distinctively Japanese way of music making. Ghost, with its enchanting icy synths and delicate melody would make a perfect closing song of a magical girl anime, and Monster (which I named one of the ten best songs of the year in 2016) might as well be a posthumous Kōji Wada track for the next series in the Digimon cycle. At the same time the heavy anthemic rock of Life Goal (theme song of the second season) could be taken straight from the English dub of BeyBlade - which, although not as Eastern sounding as the rest of the album, is not half bad, and also reminds of how the German language anime program was caught between the Japanese and American approaches.

Throughout the album, you can remotely tell which corner of the genre darkviktory and 24/7 Sound had the respective song idea from, and it’s especially interesting if you yourself have a bit of knowledge of these shows and their music. The tracks of #TubeClash: The Album include expressive melodies that convey deep feelings that we aren’t used to hearing in our Western pop and rock songs, and also the interjection of English words and phrases into the mostly German lyrics is something originating from Japanese lyricism (if you have listened to a couple of Japanese songs, you’ll notice there’s always a bit of English in them), as is the very visceral yet oddly metaphoric and poetic way of wording. Even during the mostly humorous first season of #TubeClash, the theme song, Antiheld, told a story about friends turning to arch enemies. About betrayal and how far people go to survive.
“Do you think when the flames are raging no one realizes who you betray? / Did you think I would stay at the ground when you run over bodies? / Thought I had lost, was lost, losing you / But I found my voice again, shouted The Dead Don’t Talk!”, Paperblossom sings. Their tale is continued in Monster, Ghost and Demon, which are credited as parts two to four on the tracklist. “Always wanted to be friends, but I guess we lacked the bravery / I always behaved, I know, not always well / In memory of what we were you now set the world on fire / write my name on the memorial and out of mercy you cut the bonds off my hand”.

Lines like these have nothing humorous about them, they are filled with anger, desperation and somewhere in between, a longing for times which were better. The songs center around a close relationship that turned to a spiral of violence and greed for power, with images of burnt rose leaves and towers made of ice. This central theme is also depicted on the album artwork, which shows a man and a woman holding each other tight, with the woman aiming a knife at the man’s back. The scene and characters involved are not from the series, and furthermore strengthen the impression that we listen to a concept album rather than a soundtrack. And it’s one which understands how to flesh out the thin line between pure overwhelming love (not necessarily the romantic kind) and an iron will to end it once for all after having been backstabbed and left for dead.

After the ten main songs, which feel like different chapters of one tragedy, there are four bonus tracks. The piano edits of the songs Antiheld and Hellseher re-work the compositions as minimalistic ballads and show once more how much feeling was put into the melodies and words. The final two songs, however, feel a bit off with the rest of the album. Firstly, there’s also a piano edit of Monster, which is the only one of the three that does not have re-recorded vocals, which does not always fit the tone. While the instrumental is simply bittersweet piano playing, darkviktory and Paperblossom deliver belting and borderline screaming, sometimes layered with digital effects, resulting in a complete overkill of vocals. The record could have lived without this song.
But the weirdest moment occurs at the very end. On an album, which was almost devoid of modern Western influences and instead went for the Eastern sounds of the turn of the millennium, we get a trap remix of Ghost as the closing song, which was an epically built up rock ballad in its original form. This 808 and hi-hat orgy does not fit to the rest of the songs in any way, but to be honest, it would be a pretty badass pop song on its own. Despite the bizarre way darkviktory and 24/7 Sound decided to close the adventure, #TubeClash: The Album remains a fantastic rock album that sometimes feels like a time capsule that contains the best of memories from a specific era when Japanese and European pop culture… clashed.

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NOTE: The songs off this album have been released between 2014 and 2018. I once said I do not review compilation albums, and that's still the case. While the songs may not all be from this year, none of them have been released on an album before, that's why it counts as a regular studio album/soundtrack, not a compilation.

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