FRONTLNE ASSEMBLY - MECHANICAL SOUL
Updated: Apr 10, 2021
THE DOYENS OF INDUSTRIAL REMIND US THAT THE FUTURE IS, FRANKLY, NOT BRIGHT.
For over three decades, Frontline Assembly have been at the forefront of the industrial scene, a sub-genre that has survived mostly in the austere bunkers of the underground. FLA are often perceived as dogged influencers rather than over-achievers with founding member Rhys Fulber in demand as a remixer, collaborator and producer. This is FLA's seventeenth studio album; and if the world is cautiously optimistic that 2021 - with the roll out of vaccines for the global pandemic of 2020 - might promise brighter times ahead, then FLA are sending a drone from the future to tell you vaccines won't be needed when there is no humanity left.
The undulating, marching heavy electronica of opener Purge gradually builds up with layers of distorted beats, samples and space odyssey-like synthesizers until it is a bewildering, chaotic wave of neurotic digitalism and gravelly, rasped vocals. It re-affirms the futuristic aesthetic that FLA have inhabited for over three decades - a pastiche of AI dominated industrial bleakness and dystopian paranoia. It also forms a well-used song structure - where a simple digital rhythm nods along like a pre-programmed space probe and is gradually embellished and swarmed with unnerving effects, loops and sampling. It is a formula that is relied upon throughout.
More evocative of a foggy, dingy industrial nightclub is Glass and Leather with ravey flourishes and crackly static cyber-goth beats while Unknown goes even further to the centre of an 80s style goth dancefloor with a big uplifting singalong chorus. A reprieve is offered with New World which starts with soothing ambience and whisperings of a reflective long-haul space journey while the dark pulsating trance of the weird Rubber Tube Gag sounds like a sleazy android S&M session. The sole appearance of a guitar sound is on the slow, claustrophobic Strife where Fear Factory's characterful Dino Cazares adds heavy, serrated, mechanized riffs among clicks, pulses and industrial forge clangs.
The post-human, apocalyptic imagery is consistent throughout with the assembly line, hydraulic march of Alone, the gaseous shimmering ambience of Time Lapse and the strident wobbling base and metal cutter scrapes of finale Hatevol (Black Asteroid Mix) which book ends the album strongly. But as is the nature of mechanization there is repetition - particularly in an over-reliance of song structure, a ploy that loses the album some traction in the final furlong. Moreover, there is a bias, too, towards mid-paced, cyborg marching tempos that shine with ambience and atmosphere but arguably lack adrenaline. With barely any guitars this is an industrial electronic record but one that is full bodied and unsubtle with similarities to the likes of Die Krupps or Laibach at their least metal.
Mechanized Soul is appropriately titled. The vivid, broken future imagery has been well refined by FLA over the years. Automated, pneumatic, irradiated with a prevailing sense of dread and haywire, pernicious artificial intelligence. FLA aren't novices in creating a radioactive, post-civilisation landscape and so this is familiar, desolate territory. The clear production brings out every frantic bleep, scratchy alarm, metallic scrape, industrial weld, and static sample to good, foreboding effect.