WPGM Recommends: Pixel Grip – ARENA (Album Review)

Pixel Grip are a Chicago based three piece who have been gradually building a following based around their ready-made club anthems. Their sound has been influenced by two of the greatest 80s musical offspring’s – darkwave and synthpop.

Previously, Pixel Grip’s take on the genres leaned more towards synthpop; with their debut album Heavy Handed focusing on songwriting, dance rhythms and prominent vocals.

What makes their music come to life is their penchant for creating larger-than-life beats that are all consuming. Richly layered and textured, every song is crafted to suck you in and bring the European night club experience to you.

And just like that night club experience, Pixel Grip are very much about the atmosphere, sound and feeling. While lead singer Rita Lukea has a formidable set of pipes, it is more about how she incorporates it, rather than her being centre stage.

And this time round, it is no different except that Pixel Grip have now incorporated more EBM and industrial elements. Their new album ARENA is heavily influenced by the 80s Western musical movement, featuring the trademark pulsating basslines, Berlin-inspired electronic rhythms, and a myriad of vocals inflections.

With ARENA, Pixel Grip are looking to offer a new experience compared to its predecessor and ARENA is certainly darker, meaner, and bigger.

The nightmarish introduction to ARENA begins with “ALPHAPUSSY”, a deliciously dark anthem that oozes venom. From the urgent, bubbling synths and ice-cold industrial snares to the poisonous vocal performance, it is clear this song is for nightcrawlers.

What really brings the song to life is the depth of the bass, which extends the impact of the synths, making them fuller as they whip back and forth.

“Club Mania” pushes the latex body on body heat to the next level with a full-on EBM anthem. As the synths churn and burn, the bass helps elevate the vocal melodies as it mirrors them with its rhythms. While the song’s beginning is ferociously foreboding, it explodes mercilessly in a manner that Kraftwerk would be proud of.

Pixel Grip then switch to what they know best, a streamlined darkwave anthem with “Pursuit” featuring eclectic vocals and a bunch of filthy synths. The rhythms on this track in particular echo Boy Harsher, especially the coldness of it.

It is apparent throughout ARENA that Pixel Grip harness their influences and make them their own. Even though the album’s sound harkens back to the 80s, while also borrowing from their modern peers, it never feels redundant or ham-fisted.

One of the strongest tracks which highlights this is “Demon Chaser”, and it embodies everything Pixel Grip are musically. A whirring industrial opening makes way for a full-on descent into a twisted, sensual anthem. Killer vocals and a reverb-soaked snarled feature by Monae lends to the depraved intimacy of it.

At this point, it must be noted there are a few lyrical quirks dotted throughout ARENA. From the opening track itself winding up a little on the nose lyrically and the album’s lowest moment is an interlude titled “Cae Moment”.

While I appreciate the sentiment before the interlude, it feels awkward, and out of place. I personally cannot see where it fits within the musical journey the trio are conjuring.

Despite the slight misstep and lyrical quirks, Pixel Grip’s ability to craft absolute skull-cracking anthems outweighs the more awkward moments. ARENA ends with a burst of variety, with the final tracks encompassing an entirely different sound to each other.

“Dancing On Your Grave” is an industrial tornado, featuring a menacing instrumental which oozes 80s horror bolstered by haunting vocals that ride the line between sensual and sinister. “Alibi” follows, embracing synthpop in all its glory and is quite possibly their most vocally heartfelt song.

The album ends with “Double Vision”, which sonically, is an amalgamation of ARENA. It is a strong finish to an album that is relentless in every sense of the word, and the closing vocal performance is the perfect remedy for the seedy fun that has come before; with Lukea delivering a powerful, fiery, and vulnerable curtain call.

It is fair to say that Pixel Grip have delivered an album with no constraints and that it is exactly the type of musical escapade you would want if you were a fan of the aforementioned genres.

ARENA is not revolutionary, but what it is, is a wild ride to the dark side and well worth the time for fans of darker club music. So, don your finest latex outfit, turn on the mood lighting and play ARENA loud and proud.

The album is out now on Feeltrip Records, purchase it here and stream it below.

Words by Jake Gould

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