I should have lost interest in X Marks the Pedwalk ages ago.
Most artists making music for as long as they have become legacy bands, coasting on old hits, or they continue making new music that sounds dated and stale. Even greats like Depeche Mode simply don’t make new music that catches my attention.
Yet X Marks are well into a 30+ year career, and I still get excited to hear new stuff from them. Transformation, out today, is their tenth studio album.
I think the secret to X Marks’ longevity is that they’re constantly evolving and updating their sound. Transformation could just as well describe the band’s legacy.
I started listening to X Marks in the early ’90s when they were unfairly labeled a Skinny Puppy clone. Sure, they covered bloody subject matter and incorporated horror movie samples, but they stood out for catchy, distinguishable lyrics. The earliest songs I remember loving are “Abattoir” and “I Promise You a Murder.”
In 1995, X Marks upended their sound and divided their fanbase when they released their fourth album, Meshwork. It incorporated softer beats, melodic vocals, and trance elements… a precursor of things to come. Meshwork sounded like nothing else. I remember wondering at the time if it still belonged to the world of industrial music.
It’s important to note that Meshwork predated Empires, Welcome to Earth, No Instruments, and other futurepop classics by about five years, yet X Marks gets almost none of the credit for creating the sound that would come to dominate dark alternative electronic for the next two decades. It may be for the best as X Marks is not saddled with the contempt that many futurepop bands face.
In 2010, X Marks the Pedwalk returned from a years-long hiatus with the album Inner Zone Journey that fully embraced the melodic futurepop sound they helped birth. They’ve since been on a run, steadily releasing solid albums every 2 to 3 years.
Their sound has changed yet again on recent albums as Estefania, founder Sevren Ni-Arb’s partner, has taken over lead vocals on many songs, giving the project a strong female polish. On last album, Secrets, she carries the vocals on standout tracks “Masterpiece” and “Ghost.” They’re basically a female-led band at this point.
I’ve only listened to Transformation once, but Estefania is all over the vocals again, and she sounds fantastic. Production value has always been one of X Marks’ finest traits, and it’s sharp and engaging yet again on their latest album. Incidentally, the cover art for Transformation, a woman’s figure topped by a steampunk-ish lobster head, is wildly compelling, possibly one of the best album covers of the year.
Like many releases this year, Transformation is a more subdued affair designed for headphone listening rather than dancefloors. Second track “Walk Away” stands out upon first listen for its catchy, energetic chorus. “Sunrise” sounds like a bit like a Covenant song, and the title track of sorts, “Transformind,” throbs along with superb songcraft.
As a music fan, it’s truly exciting that a band you’ve loved for this many years continues to peak.