Front Line Assembly – Mechanical Soul [Metropolis Records]

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EBM/Electro-industrial pioneers are a very famous name in the genre, one of the first bands to mix sci-fi undertones, dark synth sounds and harder rhythms with influences coming from the European scene. By time, Canada gave us names like Front Line Assembly, Skinny Puppy and Numb, cementing a new vision that would have influenced the development of industrial music with electronics leanings.

Many albums, many decades, and many different genres have been touched by the band, ranging from EBM to techno, from IDM to broken rhythms, from industrial metal to synthetic ballads. One constant: Bill Leeb’s voice, the cyborg singer of tales made of melancholy, dystopia, woe, militant ferocity, nihilism, rebellion. The rest of the formation saw many line-up changes with new names, the departure of key figures, and their return, all over three decades.

The previous album “Wake Up The Coma” was the last collaboration with contributions from the late Jeremy Inkel, who sadly died in 2018, and the first one since “Hard Wired” to see the presence of historical FLA past member and renowned producer Rhys Fulber, a name liked to Fear Factory, Delerium, Will, and many, many more acts. The sound of this album was partly influenced by Fulber’s recent solo ventures in the world of European techno-industrial by the way of EPs and albums for labels like aufnahme+wiedergabe and Sonic Groove, while retaining all the core elements of late FLA sound.

“Mechanical Suit” follow suit with this take, expanding it and presenting a work which retains many typical tract of the band, while not shying away from club-tinged moments and robust rides that will not be out of place on the dancefloors of European clubs. One could argue that Front Line Assembly themselves have always been a huge influence for the current techno/EBM scene, so the line between updating one’s own sound and experimenting with fresher elements is kinda blurred.

Anyway, the result is a dystopian atmosphere built more on well-crafted and crawling movements than brutal full-front assaults, albeit you will find some fast-paced moments during the course of the album. A mature sound where IDM structures, EBM throbbing synth-lines, techno kicks, guitars, cinematic suspense, are employed at great effect in different tracks. We haven even two reworks: a new version of “Future Fail” with Jean-Luc Demeyer of Front 242, here called “Barbarians” and a remix of “Hatevol” from the previous album, by Black Asteroid.

“Purge” starts the work with an old-school EBM bass-line soon reached by stomping rhythms and droning mechanical, shrilling kicks. Leeb’s voice introduces us to a ravaged world in the tradition of the band lyrics, while the track slowly adds moody synth sounds. After a very club-oriented pause we follow new march among digital scenarios.

“Glass And Leather” is a perfect example of the more techno-oriented sound of the album: fat sounds, crushing cymbals and kick-drums, rhythmic obsessions made to make the body move. It somewhat recalls the atmospheres of “Tactical Neural Implants” in a contemporary setting, and its very reminiscent of Fulber’s solo sound. Tastily placed samples complete the dancefloor vibe, and the final storming assault is a perfect finale.

“Unknown” is the first single, a dark electro-industrial number with grave vocals, eerie refrains and epic choruses underlined by melancholic synth sounds. Any fan of the band will recognize a tested formula which is familiar and a trademark for Front Line Assembly, and of course beautiful melodic climaxes are on the menu too.

“New World” is an elegant ballad with slow IDM influences, syncopated structures and tasteful piano notes. Leeb crawls as a serpent among the soundscape, reaching gentle implosions. Electronic effects and a sort of digital lullaby guide us among a relaxing atmosphere.

During the second half of the work we find some other surprises: “Stifle” returns to guitar-oriented riffs with the help of Fear Factory’s Dino Cazeres, developing a thrashing track recalling the sound of “Artifical Soldier” during its choruses and cinematic soundscapes, while the aforementioned “Barbarians” renders the original track as way moodier affair with orchestral elements and almost clerical sounds.

All in all, “Mechanical Soul” is what you should expect from a modern FLA’s album, a collection of tracks moving among different influences coming from current electronic music, implanted in a structure that is 100% Front Line assembly. The way choruses, refrains, pauses, loops are placed, and of course Leeb’s voice, are what will make you instantly recognize one of their tracks, no matter if with dance sounds, harsh electronis, moody synths, or distorted guitars.

After three decades of career the band has no problem in recognizing its history, using various elements it has touched during this time, and at the same time it has no problem in recognizing what is happening around the world and what are current sounds. This not “Caustic Grip” or “Hard Wired”, but so was the case with “FLAvour Of The Weak”, “Epitaph” or “Echogenetic”; FLA will probably always be an ever-changing and at the same time ever-familiar project that will guide us during its, we hope for long, enduring career.

Release date: January 15th, 2020.
Text by: Davide Pappalardo

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