Camouflage – Voices & Images 30 Years Later

Camouflage – Voices & Images 30 Years Later

The dabbling of Depeche Mode into the dark fringes of New Wave/Synthpop, via their 1986 album, Black Celebration, contributed to the flourishing in the late ’80s of what became Dark Wave. Of the bands that followed the gloomy footsteps and cold drumbeats of the influential English group, Camouflage was among the ones that took the influence seriously in its members’ hearts, as if this was a badge of honor. Carrying the flag and leading the troop of musical poets with brokenhearted yet hopeful aspirations, Camouflage endured the change of musical tides over the years and soldiered on, mustering an impressive eight-album sonic armory.

Formed in 1984, in Bietigheim-Bissingen, Germany, by the trio of Marcus Meyn (lead vocals), Heiko Maile (synthesizers), and Oliver Kreyssig (synthesizers), Camouflage not only gained commercial popularity but also immediately established their own niche and style as early as their debut album, 1988’s Voices & Images. This now-30-year-old landmark gem further elevated the status of the previously obscure subgenre, and it remains the band’s most progressive work.

Released on March 4, 1988, on Metronome/Atlantic Records, Voices & Images opened with the smooth, metronomic, steely beat of “That Smiling Face,” which despite its lyrically romantic slant, exuded a certain iciness. Starting with a moonlight-conjuring piano prelude, the ensuing melancholic ballad “Helpless Helpless” instantly set Camouflage apart from its heroes. “Neighbours” then entered dramatically with its metallic percussion and slowly transformed into a proper dark Synthpop track, whose timeless sentiment still rings relevant to this day.

The album’s carrier single, “The Great Commandment” was the song that gave away Camouflage’s obvious Depeche Mode influence, owing to Meyn coming across as a deadringer of Dave Gahan and the instrumentation’s similarity with many of the tracks in Black Celebration. However, upon keener inspection, Camouflage’s Gothic inclination was less ominous and more melodious. Displaying the broadness of their musical palette, Camouflage then incorporated Oriental sensibilities in “Winner Takes Nothing,” which might have recalled songs such as “Big in Japan” by Alphaville, “Asia” by The Mo, and “La Femme Chinoise” by Yellow Magic Orchestra.

Another album highlight, the upbeat and subtly syncopated “Strangers’ Thoughts” was as cold and icy yet also sentimental as it could be – like the apathy that it was singing against. The rhythmic beat flowed flawlessly onto the following “From Ay to Bee,” in which Meyn’s use of both his baritone and higher-octave voice gave the track an organic quality.

“Where Has the Child Gone” was rustic and eerie sounding, owing to its music box melody and children’s choral voices that complemented the lyrics effectively. The trumpet-led instrumental “Music for the Ballerinas” might had been overlooked by many, but in retrospect, it was pivotal for Voices & Images, because it gave the album its Progressive/Krautrock personality, making Camouflage more than a typical Synthpop band. The following ornate “I Once Had a Dream” built on the scale of the preceding track, blending elements of Baroque and Synthpop. Near the end of presentation, “They Catch Secrets” returned the listener to the overall sinister, slightly conspiratorial vibe of the album; it would have made a great inclusion to the soundtrack of an espionage-themed movie.

Finally, Camouflage finished off their first oeuvre with “Pompeji” – another cinematic instrumental that could have actually passed as a part of a proper film score.

In the beginning, Camouflage had surely gotten a lot of negative comparisons with Depeche Mode and other pioneering purveyors of Synthpop. However, the German band had eventually quelled all these unwelcomed criticisms. Their discography had disproved all that. In fact, a more-detailed, retrospective reassessment of Voices & Images, which has reached its 30th anniversary, should be enough for the initiated to realize that there is indeed more to the previous assumption that Camouflage was just a doppelganger of some of the much earlier developers of Dark Wave/Synthpop music.

Purchase Voices & Images:

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aLfie vera mella
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Born in 1971, in Metro Manila, Philippines, aLfie vera mella is a healthcare worker, singer/songwriter, and editor/writer. He was the frontman of the ’90s-peaking Philippine Alternative Rock / New Wave band Half Life Half Death, which released a full-length album and several singles on Viva Records. aLfie worked at Diwa Scholastic Press as an editor/writer of academic textbooks and supplementary magazines, focusing on Science & Technology and English Grammar & Literature. In 2003, aLfie migrated to Canada; he has since been living in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He works full-time at a healthcare institution, while serving as the associate contributing editor of Filipino Journal—a local community newspaper in Winnipeg—tackling Literature, Languages, Cultures, Lifestyles, and Music. aLfie has been a music journalist since the mid-’90s for various print magazines as well as websites. He started writing album reviews for Cryptic Rock in 2015. In 2016, aLfie published Part One (Literature & Languages and Their Cultural Significance) of his Essay Series, Can You Hear the Sound of a Falling Leaf?; in 2021, his first book of poetry, Pag-íhip sa Dáhon ng Kahápon [Blowing Leaves of Yesterday]. In his spare time, he enjoys reading books and listening to music. aLfie is a dedicated father to his now 13-year-old son, Evawwen; and a loving husband to Kathryn Mella, who herself moonlights also as a writer aside from holding a degree in Bachelor of Arts, Major in Sociology.

  • Heiko World
    Posted at 00:57h, 07 March Reply

    They are my favorite band of all time and still make great music. Sadly, the band never toured the States which would have given it an edge of DM. Today’s DM has lost its roots while Camouflage is more faithful to dark wave listeners, the band still has the potential to become big.

  • aLfie vera mella
    Posted at 02:34h, 07 March Reply

    Heiko World,
    Thanks for your comment.

    And, yes, I agree with you. While I love also the music of Depeche Mode–especially everything till 1997’s ‘Ultra’–I have to agree that the band has long lost their musical roots. Whether it was a conscious decision from the band themselves about their preferred musical direction, I still would have preferred that they remained within the scope of their trademark sound.

    Yes, considering Camouflage’s discography–the German band is more grounded in their style and music. Their latest album, 2015’s ‘Greyscale,’ is a testament of this.

    While we’re at it, here’s my review of that last album by Camouflage.

    aLfie (eLf ideas)

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