Numb – Mortal Geometry


Albums like this always divide my opinion, so you should take this review as an open question to you, the reader. When an artist/project/band returns after a long hiatus, is them coming back with more of the same i) exactly what we want or ii) a bit of a disappointment? The answer is obviously up to the listener, and as a newcomer to the work of Don Gordon and Numb, my answer will obviously be skewed in one direction more than another. With that pinch of salt added, let’s think it through.

Numb has consistently been Don Gordon plus a variety of other members since the band formed in Vancouver, Canada in the mid-1980s. Along with folks like Skinny Puppy, they helped to develop an influential electronic industrial scene which you can hear scattered throughout a host of bands since. (What’s the collective noun for industrial bands? An estate, maybe?) After years of developing a mix of thumping electronics and hissing atmospherics, Numb disbanded. Now Gordon emerges a couple of decades later with Mortal Geometry. So what should we expect?

From the start, Mortal Geometry pounds you with the kind of late 80s/early 90s electronic beats we’ve all become accustomed to, thanks to bands like Numb (let’s not forget that throughout). In fact, it sounds very early 90s. Let’s examine “When Gravity Fails”. There’s the piercing synth lick that cuts through the whole track, with that popping drum track underneath and modulated vocals that wobble over the top. Even the lyrics are right out of the industrial metal/tortured electronic artist playbook. “Everything falls apart”, the vocals croak. “There’s nothing left between us now”. These words could have appeared on any album in this genre from that era. This could be for one of two reasons: Numb helped create this sound and so this is just Don Gordon continuing what he started, or he just hasn’t moved on much in three decades. If an artist in their twenties had produced this album, I’d be sitting here writing a different review: “Isn’t it great that the kids have found out about bands like this? There’s even several nods to Depeche Mode’s Violator in there, but they should be careful because tracks like ‘Complicit Silence’ stray uncomfortably into those bits of Pop Will Eat Itself when they tried to be all edgy (like when cops have to go into a goth club in a gritty action movie and the music everyone is dancing to sounds like a Hollywood producer’s idea of what those Six Inched Nail and Marion Mansell people must sound like)”. However, this is one of the pioneers and so it’s hard to wonder whether he couldn’t have nudged things on a bit rather than called-back so heavily. The problem is not that he’s back with another Numb album. It’s that he’s back with another album that’s similar to what a lot of other people have carried on doing and, in a lot of cases, left behind.

Electronic music is always a bit dangerous when it looks back because it relies so heavily on the technology of the day. With VST instruments and plugins freely oozing out of the internet like soundcloud lubricant, electronic music can change direction at any moment. It means that what was retro can suddenly just be plain old dated. What I really wanted from this album – retro sounding or otherwise – was one of the old guard showing the yoof how it is done. Sadly, I’m not sure that this hits the mark. Not for myself anyway, and this is why I added the disclaimer at the top. Fans from around the world might be delighted by what they hear. It should be added that I enjoyed “How It Ends”, with its sneering vocals channelling Howard Devoto at the peak of his snide on Secondhand Daylight, and I nodded along to pretty much every track. This is an album that does what a lot of Numb fans will be looking forward to. However, when the scene has been growing, developing, expanding and revolutionising for thirty years, more of the same may not cut it for new listeners who want to find their next source of excitement.

Words by Angri Peters

Track list:

  1. Redact
  2. Hush
  3. Complicit Silence
  4. The Waiting Room
  5. How It Ends
  6. Summer Lawns
  7. When Gravity Fails
  8. Shadow Play
  9. Mortal Geometry
  10. Hush (creation to negation)