…And Their Sun Was Electric

(For those who got the reference: This is not a post about Risk of Rain. Sorry to disappoint you. I just felt the reference was a little too present to not make it.)

1. Some musing about VNV Nation

VNV Nation has been in this weird space in my own head. I used to have them (well, now it’s just him, since between Resonance and Noire, VNV Nation is now just Ronan Harris. But I’ll continue referring to them as a duo for the albums on which they were still as such) on a pedestal, because it felt like every successive album from them was just better in one way or another, and stuck with me from then on. Matter + Form being the current album when I was introduced to VNV, Judgement seeing me through my final leg of high school (and many nights laying in bed, falling asleep to As It Fades playing over my iPod, bringing to mind the vast landscapes not far removed from what you’d see in a flyover shot in Lord of the Rings), and Of Faith, Power and Glory plus Reformation 01 seeing me through my first major relationship. All these albums have their memories attached to them, and they’ve stuck with me.

Automatic was, I feel, VNV’s magnum opus. I heard the first bits of Nova and I couldn’t throw money at the screen enough for that album to hurry up and release. Automatic just stuck in my head because of how many absolute bangers it had on it, and it ran the full gamut of VNV for me: The hard hitters, quieter, ambient-ish track, and the in-betweens.

Transnational was…an interesting album for me, not because it lacked any punch. But because the final track of that album–Teleconnect 2–had this feeling of finality to it. It’s a really good track, with a long build up and one sucker punch of a release. But the final lyric just hurts so good, and you’ll see what I mean about finality:

You who tempt the fates
You who’ve journeyed oh so far
To apparitions in the haze
Rise up you earthbound demons
Rise up before me now and fight
Your time has finally come
And take me back before the years
And memories are worn with time
Before the hourglass is drained
Before the colors start to fade

Oof. Like a bag of anvils right to the heart.

That feeling of finality would be apt, though, because Transnational would be VNV’s final album as a duo because Mark Jackson would leave VNV in 2017, not long before Noire released, making VNV a solo act. Why is this relevant? I want to say transitional pains (maybe?) might be why Noire ranked so low on my VNV album tier list. It took a long time for me to like much of anything off it, and coupled with some not-so-great experiences from people on reddit who attended VNV’s more recent (at the time) live shows (which was really unfortunate, being someone who has also seen them live, they put on a great show back in 2007), it really felt like VNV had crossed this event horizon and it was just downhill from here.

Not making this any easier was the radio silence that came after. VNV was still active, yes, but only doing touring stuff. Then 2020 rolled around and the rest explains itself, really. (Plus, not counting Resonance, there was roughly a 5-year gap between Noire and Transnational so in hindsight it taking 5 more years for their next album isn’t all that bad.)

But then, on a lark, one day in 2022, I decided to check his socials to see if anything of substance had been posted, and sure enough, news abound of a new album: Electric Sun.

After Noire had utterly failed to stick the landing in my head, I waited, cautiously hopeful.

2. The Sun Was Electric

As is usual for most albums, singles released, and singles were listened to. Before the Rain and Wait had released as singles, and both gave me immense hope. Was this a return to form? It didn’t sound like it. But what I was hearing? Oh, it sounded good. I liked where this was going.

Wait especially put its hooks in me good. It’s totally one of those songs that feels like it laments society as it is today, but with Harris’ vocals absolutely cutting like a knife such that would give a jilted Phil Collins a run for his money.

Especially the final verse:

The king, the sacred crown
The chalice and the mace
Who rule over these famine lands
Whose bounty goes to waste
A power that corrupts
Regaling this as fate
The waters rising to our necks
And all we do is wait

Oh yes. That hurts so good. I love it. I LOVE IT.

I was still cautiously optimistic. Sometimes the singles really are the only substance to an album and the rest of it is just…meh. I could confidently say, however, that this was already shaping up to stick with me way more than Noire ever did.

The eternity-feeling wait for release finally ended, and I put the album on and played it straight through. As the final note played, all I could think was “Oh we are so back.”

Electric Sun has it all. Much like Automatic, we’ve got the heavy hitters, the calming ambience, and everything in between. It’s all here, and it’s all good. Wait was already a damn great takedown of society being what it is, but then we also had Prophet right there taking down toxic religion, too. Oh man. This is getting good. Harris is pissed off, and he’s absolutely channeling this into his music for great effect.

(It should be noted, to give proper credit to Noire, that he did this with All Our Sins, too. Its one of the songs I really like off Noire, and one hell of a song to end on.)

In the Temple is just a fun instrumental jaunt that feels like you’re just standing in one of those infinity mirror rooms and tripping the hell out. In a similar vein, At Horizon’s End just creates this powerful soundscape that’s light on vocals and feels almost like a callback to Judgement’s Secluded Spaces.

Electric Sun ends on a bang, too. Run is just…I don’t know how I should describe it but it is a LOT and I mean that in a good way. Maybe it resonated (pun not intended) with me because it really summed up how I felt about many things around the time this album released. I mean, here’s a snippet of the lyrics:

Passions rise!
And a voice cries out inside
When what I know and love is gone
Where should I go? Where should I run?
The flag I carried, I held high
Over earth and under sky
When what I know and love is gone
Where should I go? Where should I run?

Once again: Oof. Hits like a bag of anvils. You can just feel the emotion in this one, especially in the final verse when Harris just full sends it. Run is easily my top song on this album, because it’s just so raw. Emotional. It feels like Harris is being vulnerable here and seriously channeling some past demons into this one and it sticks the landing so damn well.

Sunflare serves as a nice, slow pumping of the brakes such that the transition to Under Sky doesn’t feel so jarring. (And for those of you who listen to albums track by track, Sunflare does seamlessly transition into Under Sky, so make sure your music player can do gapless playback for full effect!) Much like The Game, Invictus, and Artifice, it’s a good song, but is it one I’m going to think of years down the line when I think of Electric Sun? Probably not. I wouldn’t call them mindless filler, though. Far from it.

Under Sky is where this feels like a callback to the albums of old, with a nice, calming ambient track playing out the album. It’s a fitting end, and it’s another one of those songs I’ll put on repeat in a dark room and just vibe to it, much like As it Fades. I know VNV is known for hard-hitting industrial, but boy oh boy when Harris wants to do something toned down and slower/quieter, he absolutely nails it.

If the past few paragraphs of me gushing didn’t imply it, I really, really enjoyed Electric Sun quite a lot. I know, I know, we’re a year removed from when it released, and surprisingly VNV’s got a new album coming out next year (holy crap, we’re back on a two-year cadence? Nice). But I think that also speaks to how much I liked Electric Sun. I still think about it a year later, and likely will still think about it next year, too. It’s one of those forever albums that will always spring to mind whenever I’m thinking of loading up an iPod to take to a desert island, or something similar.