January 2004

Leeb and Fulber return with Front Line Assembly's 12th studio album, their 9th as a partnership. 2001's Epitaph perhaps showed the first signs of decline, with Leeb seemingly going through the motions. However, Fulber's return has given fresh impetus and a new sense of perspective. Civilization is perhaps the natural follow up to 1995's Hard Wired, and much of it flowers from the work the duo have concentrated on with their respective Delerium & Conjure One projects.

Civilization can be split into two halves, the excellent and the ordinary. Psychosomatic opens, and is pretty much old-skool FLA, apart from some powerful middle-eastern vocals from Leah Randi complementing a strong, melodic chorus. The single Maniacal slides in nicely at this point, dark, mysterious and apocalyptic, it's everything you expect from Leeb & Fulber. But it's all change on Transmitter (Come Together), where we're greeted by ambient chords, sprinkled acoustic guitar twangs and processed violins. Leeb enters with vocoded vocals and when the chorus hits it's a beauty, with Leeb lyrically removing us from the dark nuclear wasteland that occupies the artwork and musical content of the album, i'm surprised this wasn't the closing track.

Vanished then follows, a good track that once again blurs the lines between Delerium and FLA. The short instrumental Strategic follows, disappointingly weak it has to be said. Thankfully, faith is restored by two of FLA's best tracks in many a moon. The title track's typically long intro is more in league with Massive Attack than anything else, until Leeb delivers another great barking chorus, ably assisted by Jamie Muhoberac on vocals. This track throws up alot of surprises, especially on the guitar side, with the bass being used in a more traditional format, whilst the keyboards are top class throughout. But the peak of the album arrives with the superb Fragmented. The grandios opening synthesiser sweeps are quite exceptional, before being blasted by a pulsating drum loop and driving keyboard frenetics. Leebs vocals are typical FLA, but the programming is quality and the orchestral synth pads give Front Line Assembly an entirely new angle we haven't heard before. Parasite follows, and would easily slide into either of the last 2 FLA albums, not a particularly strong number, neither did I buy into Dissident, which doesn't have much adventure and lacks melody. Schicksal closes, with Leeb singing in German. Again, a good track, but nothing remarkable.

Civilization is a strange album, 3 or 4 tracks are special and give FLA license to move on and explore new territories, but Leeb badly needs to revolutionise the stucture of his formulaic vocal delivery, whilst a few too many of the remaining tracks are revisiting old ground. Having said that, the new elements are sure to surprise FLA fanatics and I'd like to see the duo follow up with one more album that pushes these elements further still.

FLA have moved so far away from their early industrial, Caustic Grip and Tactical Neural Implant sound, I don't feel that there is any necessity to reference them at all in the future. However, Leeb & Fulber still seem a little cautious to let go of the past entirely, which they will have to do if Front Line Assembly is to ever broaden its appeal or validity. Civilization at least shows that there is still one great FLA album left in Leeb & Fulber.

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