System 56: Metro-Metro US 7: 
- In The Old World
In a word… Wow! Wow!!! My friend JT hipped me to this incredible Cleveland band that was active for only a few years from 1982-1984 and it’s a crying shame that I wasn’t all over this like white on rice back in the day. It pushes all of my Monk buttons… even 33 years later. And it pushes them hard. The band was initiated by guitarist and vocalist Steve Simenic and after he rounded up the other three members of the band, they recorded this debut single in Simenic’s 4-track studio after only a month together. They were obviously in thrall to Ultravox in the best possible way.
By this time period, I was used to hearing US acts saying that they were influenced by Ultravox, but what was usually delivered was Berlin; hardly comparable if you ask me. But this single is far better than anything that UIltravox ever released after this came out! The lush synths of Kevin Lytle interplay with the frankly awesome guitar of Simenic every bit as vitally as did Billy Currie with Robin Simon. Meanwhile the rhythm section of Vince Scafiti [drums] and Chuck Ryder [bass] kept it urgent and powerful without particularly emulating the distinctive motorik of “Vienna” era Ultravox.
“Metro-Metro” has a title that evokes Berlin’s single of the previous year, but this track has it all over the competition. The tune’s complex intro evokes a little of Polymoog era Numan, before the steady beat comes to the fore and paves the way for Simenic’s stentorian vocals to enter the song with their almost heraldic tones as the uneasiness of the intro was dissipated for the confident and propulsive chorus to take the song to the next level. This makes for an audacious debut single, but the best is yet to come!
The B-side, “In The Old World” is if anything, an even stronger tune cut from the same cloth as the A-side. On this track Simenic’s phenomenal guitar playing really takes the song by the throat and his playing here is as powerful as anything that Robin Simon achieved on “Systems Of Romance.” And brother, that is saying a lot. This is full on Euro synth rock with dark undertones of the Old World [apropos, you’ll admit] shot through the track for a fully satisfying emotional chiaroscuro. When the track faded on another hot Simenic solo at the song’s end, I felt cheated. Almost as badly as only hearing this music half a lifetime later. The only thing holding this record back, and even slightly, was that it was, in effect, self-recorded 4-track demos recorded in a home studio. Simenic’s vocals got somewhat buried in the mix and sound a little remote but the mind boggles at what this band could have achieved with, let’s say, Conny Plank at the boards. With their talent and Conny’s genius of sound…[whistles]. Midge who?
This single was successful enough in the time of its release, that a 2nd pressing was made, but this is still a record that commands a selling price out of my comfort zone. With the boom in “minimal synth” records, this 7″ now is changing hands on Discogs.com for just under a hundred smackers. Ouch, the pain! Fortunately, Simenic has made this music available by download [Amazon and iTunes] and CD, and this has been recently joined last year by LP courtesy of Rave Up Records, for those inclined to get it on vinyl while it’s less than three figures. He’s also put the entire story up at an informative System 56 website that highlights the brief, but shining history of the band. I desperately need to order a CD from this gentleman. This is some absolutely wonderful music that I’m ecstatic to have finally heard. I am as excited about this as I was with the Visage album from last year.
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