Thursday, 29 July 2010

Music Review: Front Line Assembly - 'Improvised Electronic Device'

One of the first things that struck me about Improvised Electronic Device was how integrated the guitar-driven and electronic elements of the sound are. There's a tendency with industrial acts from both ends of the genre to either bolt on razor-sharp guitars or pounding beats without really considering how the two sides fit together or how to write this style of music as an integrated whole. Front Line Assembly, as stalwart pioneers of this kind of sonic hybridisation, have never really had a problem with this – 1994's 'Millennium' was sterling proof that they were on the bleeding edge of a nascent genre. But I can confidently say I've never heard such a flawless construction of traditionally variable instrumentation as their lastest album. It's obvious that it has been built from the ground up as an indivisible blend of styles, and that in itself is deeply refreshing.
It helps that Bill Leeb has surrounded himself with the cream of the crop of younger rivethead musicians (currently there is a significant membership crossover with Vancouver cyberpunks Left Spine Down) to fuel his experienced songcraft with a sense of urgency and energy that is uncharacteristic of bands halfway through their third decade of existence. This distilled fusion of EBM and metal is apparent through a good chunk of the record, with roaring soon-to-be-live anthems like "Angriff" and "Pressure Wave" blasting off with a biomechanical precision.
That's not to say this album is a one-trick pony. Recent FLA albums have become more varied in their content – while their older records are solid pieces and sound different from LP to LP, their newer material shows a confidence and maturity in approach to album construction. The case in point for Improvised Electronic Device is first single "Shifting Through The Lens", a purist techno-laced EBM piece that takes what was so inspiring about Front Line Assembly in the early '90s and updates it for the freshly scarred 21st century. If dancefloors were led by quality and not fashion this song would be detonating in DJ sets worldwide. Elsewhere subtle pieces of acoustic guitar and piano add layering to already packed instrumentation, reminiscent of 2004's underrated 'Civilization'.
Inevitably something must be said about "Stupidity", a collaboration track between FLA and industrial metal godfather Al Jourgensen. It sounds just like you'd expect, really. A Ministry assault of thundering bile backed by thumping beats and bassline. That might sound like a reductive description, but rest assured: I would be willing to sell the soul of my firstborn (and yours) for a full side-project between the two.
It all adds up to the finest album the band have produced since the evergreen pleasures of 'Tactical Neural Implant'. In itself this is a remarkable achievement for a band who have been at the forefront of their scene since emerging in the 1980s. That it eclipses in style and urgency almost all of the younger acts who have emerged since then is a lesson many other musicians should take to heart.

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