Formed in Canada in 1986 and drawing influence from early electronic and post-industrial bands such as Cabaret Voltaire, D.A.F. and Severed Heads, Front Line Assembly have been trailblazers who have in turn influenced countless acts. Their 18th album Wake Up the Coma, while not a bad record, features the sound of a band who have reached the pinnacle of their powers: they’re atop a mountain and are wondering where to go. With none of the genre bending volatility of their classic Tactical Neural Implant their latest effort would seem lacklustre in lesser hands but Front Line Assembly are seasoned enough and still have a few tricks up their sleeve.
Album opener ‘Eye on You’ feature’s D.A.F.’s Robert Gorl (the first of several inspired guests) who brings an anti-authoritarian touch to proceedings. He’s a pertinent choice as the song deals with the paranoia created by the ever watchful governmental eye (CCTV) and the band take the listener on a drive through a neon soaked dystopian future. At once both expansive and claustrophobic it’s very evocative and conjures images of a Blade Runner cityscape and a real inherent groove ensures all but the infirm will be moving. Things liven up with the adrenaline charged ‘Arbeit’ which is overlaid by some sinister vocals from the ever present Bill Leeb and there’s something about the hardness of the German tongue coupled with the intense industrial beat that’s extremely weighty.
A spirited cover of Falco’s ‘Rock Me Amadeus’ follows and it’s a song that lends itself well to an industrial reworking. Thankfully the band haven’t tinkered with things too much but the introduction of electropunk Jimmy Urine (he from Mindless Self Indulgence) adds a uniqueness with his cracked, slightly off kilter vocals and subsequently the song takes on a whole new dimension. Accompanied by a great video that satirises crass ’80s consumerism it’s just the move that could adhere the band to a whole new audience. ‘Tilt’ explores the bands roots with a nod to Kraftwerk. Hypnotic in its repetition it’s at once liberalising and discombobulating. However the jewel in the albums crown is the title track ‘Wake Up the Coma’. Featuring vocals from Paradise Lost and Bloodbath singer Nick Holmes it’s great to hear him out of his normal environment. His vocal prowess was never in doubt and here his words add a real depth like a penny dropped in treacle and the band complement his endeavours by creating a doom laden feel (albeit manufactured electronically).
In true industrial style the final three tracks shy from the light and offer little in the way of redemption. ‘Negative Territory’ is built upon repetitive percussion and samples as Front Line Assembly sculpt sound to create something huge and immovable and it becomes apparent what a huge debt Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails owe to these guys. ‘Structures’ is the most commercial track on the album and marries dark lyrics to an ethereal, dreamlike beat. ‘Spitting Wind’ lacks the punch of a traditional closer but rather it spirals downwards to an anti-climax. However Chris Connelly (Revolting Cocks) adds some Bowie-esque vocals and it’s a track that demands to be included on a cool sci-fi film.
Unfortunately any new release by Front Line Assembly will be held up against their impressive back catalogue and while Wake Up the Coma is a good album it’s not groundbreaking like their 1995 opus Hard Wired. Despite some great ideas and well crafted songs the overall feel is of a band treading water without direction. However every track has its own identity and there’s enough variety contained within to keep both hardcore fans and the casual listener interested.
Reviewed by Peter Dennis
Wake Up the Coma is released through Metropolis Records on 8 February 2019
- Eye on You
- Rock Me Amadeus
- Living a Lie
- Wake Up the Coma
- Negative Territory
- Spitting Wind