My Spotify Wrapped for 2020 showed that I listened to a lot of Fear Factory throughout the year.
A lot – an obscene amount.
Those mechanized effects, the haunting synths that play underneath such mammoth tracks as “Pisschrist” and “Demanufacture” are courtesy of one Rhys Fulber – of industrial heavyweights Front Line Assembly.
Given that those moments are pertinent to my repeated (nee: obsessive) listening to Fear Factory, curiosity natural got the better of me and when presented with the latest Front Line Assembly album, Mechanical Soul, which so happens to feature Fear Factory’s Dino Cazares.
Formed by former Skinny Puppy member William Leeb, Front Line Assembly sit alongside Nine Inch Nails and in some circles KMFDM as pioneers of industrial music; made up more of moods rather than blunt force melodies is part of its appeal to myself. Not so much as a palate cleanser either.
Mechanical Soul is Front Line Assembly’s seventeenth album and yet still manages to conjure the same 80s cyberpunk aesthetic as the band did with their seminal works Hardwired and Tactical Neural Implant.
Which is great – in the same sense that Ridley Scott’s classic Blade Runner is still the benchmark for that certain aesthetic.
“Glass and Leather”, the second track on the album, continues to have this sensual, erotic aspect that always seem to permeate industrial music. The tenets to the genre are all there also; bouncing basslines, bit-crushed drum beats, cascading synths and samples that proffer a metallic taste in the mouth.
You realize going through the album though that there might be some disparaging aspects, as if people would make a lazy assumption this is merely industrialized euro-dance/ambient trance. Which wouldn’t be an unfair comparison to make truth be told.
But we are talking about a band that has been at the forefront of a musical movement since the early 80s, who seem to live by the adage “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.” Given Leeb’s history throughout the industrial movement, from Skinny Puppy to now, why and how could someone fix something that they effectively helped create?
“Rubber Tube Gag” sits nicely alongside Pretty Hate Machine era NIN, with it’s pulsating drumbeat and otherworldly samples courtesy of Fulber. The synths once again take centre stage creating a complicated harmony that’s slightly off-centre compared to everything else going on.
It is that dynamic that imbues Mechanical Soul; it’s a fantastic jumping-off point for those that have an interest in discovering industrial music that it’s accessible. It has an immediate crossover appeal for EDM fans because it leans into the more overt electronic parts rather than what some industrial music has become.
Fear Factory were industrialized. Later Nine Inch Nails was industrialized. Front Line Assembly remained industrial and continues to excel in their field.
The only downside is that the songs, given their length, start to meld together after a few listens. It’s shortest track, “Time Lapse”, runs in at 3:34 – and yet proves to be one of the highlights of the album as the mood it creates is certainly different to the rest of the album.
Unfortunately, it is the penultimate track of the album also. So by that stage, you’ll be forgiven for the fatigue you may be feeling.
But fatigue aside, Mechanical Soul is a strong release once more from the group and worth investing a little bit of time while we are all locked indoors at this time.