9 July 2013

Front Line Assembly took the alternative scene by storm in 1992 with the electro-industrial Tactical Neural Implant dawning a new era for hard-edged electronic music – leading the stakes in the technology wars.

The union of Bill Leeb and Rhys Fulber was as complementary as Lennon and McCartney (if not as fruitful) until the latter left the band in 1997, although his return seven years later for Civilization failed to fully reignite the project. Upon Fulber’s second departure, FLA slid into mediocrity; a pale version of their former selves.

Thankfully, 2012 saw a reprise in the form of AirMech, the soundtrack to a real-time strategy game. Returning to a wholly electronic sound, with dubstep overtones, it dispensed with the clichéd guitar samples and monastic chants borrowed from Bill Leeb’s side-project sound library and somehow recalibrated the project, sparking a new energy and some much-needed new ideas.

Echogenetic pretty much starts where AirMech finished while building upon it. However, nobody could possibly predict that the union of co-writers (Jared Slingerland, Jeremy Inkel, Craig Johnsen and Sasha Keevil) could deliver an FLA album this good at this point in the band’s career. Like AirMech, the music is gripped by a thirst for grisly robotics, fused with formidable dubstep bass vibes, monster cyberiffs, cavernous effects and sublimely programmed beats that combine to infuse the songs with a tangible sense of power and intensity.

However, the real secret behind the success of Echogenetic is the songwriting. FLA always worked best when they created a theme for an album using a consistent sound palette, complemented it with great songs then raised the bar via slick, ingenious programming. Good songs don’t rely on technology, they use technology as flavouring. It’s when technology starts to become the lead creator that artists soon find themselves stuck in a rut, which is why so many electronic bands have hit an impasse.

Beautifully produced and mixed by long-term collaborator Greg Reely, Echogenetic has a massive sound that’s never shrill or coarse and retains a formidable punch no matter how loud you play it. Best of all, however, are some of the killer tracks on show, easily amongst the best FLA has ever recorded, from the thumping, unrestrained dance anthem Killing Ground to the massively addictive, slow-paced Blood and pulsing circuitry of Deadened. Best of all, perhaps, is the track Exo, whose stunning chorus injects a beautiful melancholy into the veins alongside a superbly introspective vocal from Leeb.

And that’s not where Echogenetic ends. The album is solidly consistent throughout; Leeb has somehow managed to not only cauterise the stale and predictable flesh wounds that plagued albums like Improvised Electronic Device, Artificial Soldier and, to a lesser extent, Civilization and Epitaph, but significantly enhance them on almost every level, reshaping FLA’s sound so it belongs as much in 2013 as Tactical Neural Implant did in 1992. Gone are the mindless fast-paced beats, clichéd guitars and nonsensical samples, replaced by a slower (yet still uptempto) and far more thoughtful body of work that stays true to the band’s ethics while delivering a modern airbrush.

Hopefully Mr Leeb can keep this current line-up together for a few more albums yet, but not to worry, you’ll be dining off this one for years.

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