Electro-Industrial pioneers Front Line Assembly return with ‘Mechanical Soul’, their (believe it or not) 17th studio album and, while not containing much in the way of conventional soul music, is a veritable grab bag of electronic invention.
The Canadian duo was formed back in the mists of time (well, 1986 to be precise) by Skinny Puppy evacuee Bill Leeb and, despite numerous personnel changes, are still going strong. Indeed, this reviewer was due to see them last year on a killer bill with KMFDM and Ministry in Florida but that’s another story.
Enough of your Covid-scuppered holiday plans I hear you cry, what about the music. Well, it’s good. It’s prime FLA – namely dark, twisted, occasionally pervy industrial EDM. It’s atmospheric, clubby, immaculately produced and played and, if you’re a fan, it’s up there with their best. As the promotional blurb says, it’s “a culmination of their artistic endeavors”.
Opening track ‘Purge’ sets out their stall. An electronic pulse. A beat emerges. It’s muted, sinister, quietly threatening. The vocals are treated, distorted, there are snatches of samples. Synths begin to add depth, they build up the intensity of the song layer by layer, feeling as though it could explode into violence at any moment until, finally, it drops out and fades away to an echo, a whisper. Multiply that by 11 and Bob’s your uncle.
Having said that, there’s as much variety here as an electronic duo can muster. ‘Glass And Leather’ is a depth charge of a track. It’s uber Berlin – Leeb informs us that he’s “driving naked in my car” (alrighty then) while the song submerges into an ambient cavern before broken vocal samples herald the return of the frantic beat. ‘New World’, meanwhile, is calmer, more relaxed, almost soothing. It appears to be about resettling on Mars and offers you a chance to catch your breath before the onslaught begins afresh.
And cheery it’s not. Liquid skies burn from above and burning flesh is all around…apparently. “The Earth is burning, welcome to Hell” – well, you can’t really disagree at the moment. ‘Alone’ threatens and insults with it’s remorseless pummel. It’s the sound of brain waves put to music – the brain waves of that sad, ill, misguided man who finally snaps and walks into a public space with an automatic weapon, that lonely teen, converted and assimilated online by extremists thousand of miles and life experiences away. Easy listening it ain’t. And we don’t even want to ponder what ‘Rubber Tube Gag’ is all about…do we?
Guest stars, they’re here too. Front 242’s Jean-Luc Meyer adds his vocals to the Bonham-esque drum onslaught of ‘Barbarians’ while ‘Stifle’ benefits immensely from the precision guitar bombs of Dino (Fear Factory) Cazares – it’s full-on industrial metal crunch is a definite highlight. ‘Komm Stirbt Mit Mir’ ramps up the Rammstein vibe for a stuttering, teutonic disco boogie. Party auf kerl.
It’s all rust-coated, creepily seductive stuff – although quite what it’s seducing you to do I don’t really want to know. It’s 11 corrupt drones switch from minimalist mutters to the cinemascope sound of dying planets. Plus, there’s that 90’s staple, the hidden uncredited bonus track – just when you’re about to switch off you’re treated to an extra few minutes of spooky, end of days ambience. Which is nice, you don’t often get that nowadays (hidden tracks that is, not end of days – we get end of days a lot). So yeah, if you’re a leather and BDSM fetishwear clad Depeche Mode-meets-NIN kind of person, this is without a doubt for you. Recommended.
Review by Gary Cordwell
Released by Metropolis Records on 15 January 2021
- Glass And Leather
- New World
- Rubber Tube Gag
- Komm, Stirbt Mit Mir
- Time Lapse
- Hatevol (Black Asteroid)