Front Line Assembly, “WarMech”

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Front Line Assembly
Artoffact Records

In 2012 Bill Leeb’s long-running industrial project Front Line Assembly released AirMech, the instrumental score to a giant mech combat video game from Carbon Studios. The record was well-received by fans of the project for its modern production and sleek, futuristic design, and was very much a precursor in spirit to the exceptional Echogenetic LP that followed in 2013. That same sensibility is present is on new LP WarMech, a direct sequel to AirMech and a continued exploration of how the modern era of Front Line’s production and songwriting aesthetics can be applied to soundtrack work.

Like AirMech, the sound of WarMech integrates a healthy amount of bass and dubstep elements, but diverges in how those sounds are applied. The syncopated rhythms and LFO-wubs are less pronounced here, fitting into a broader constellation of musical influences. You can hear the interplay between those rhythms and the timbrally rich pads, rapidfire sequences and naturalistic string sounds that run through the exceptional “Force Carrier”, or even more subtly beneath the surface of the vast soundscape of “The Imminent”. Indeed, Leeb and company find room within each track to explore numerous ideas; witness the transition from upbeat club-ready beats and rubbery bass into half-time breaks and ultimately to harmonized synthwave style bleeps and washes on “Heatmap”. As befits a soundtrack many of those motifs carry over from one song to another, as the aforementioned hints of synthwave blossom into neon-lit Outrun electro on “Molotov”, whose echoes in turn can be heard at the outset of complex and emotional closing track The Creator. Focusing in one any one genre marker or stylistic choice runs the risk of not seeing the forest for the trees, and underselling just how masterfully Front Line are able to bring all of it together into a cohesive work.

That said, work that emphasizes deeply crafted and considered sound design will comes as no surprise to anyone who’s been tracking recent FLA releases, but the record’s tempos, builds and denser arrangements makes WarMech feel even more considered and expansive than its predecessor. While that can sometimes make things a tad laborious (the average run-time of the record’s twelve tracks is over six minutes), on the whole the slower pace brings the sound design, upon which so much of WarMech‘s impact rests, into closer focus. The somewhat carefree blips which dance across the surface of “Rip Sensor” offset the closely considered chiseling that’s gone into the slabs of bass which sit in the track’s dense center, and the slow and murky procession of that bass across the track allows that detail to be examined from every angle. That languid pace may seem at odds with the record’s origin as the musical accompaniment to a fast-moving RTS game, but the granular detail of every sound on the record certainly befits the technophilic process of crafting, upgrading and detailing a mech.

With songwriting and production credits from Bill Leeb, the late Jeremy Inkel, Sasha Keevill, Jared Slingerland, and Craig Johnsen, WarMech is the culmination of the sound this incarnation of the long-running project has been pursuing for close to a decade. Whether or not there’s more material still to emerge from this configuration of the band, the untimely passing of Jeremy Inkel in 2018 makes WarMech the symbolic end of an era, and consequently makes listening to the album something of a bittersweet experience. As a major contributor to FLA and creative partner to Bill Leeb from the middle-2000s onwards, Jeremy Inkel was an architect of the sound which runs through the record, and its success in welding complex melodies, mechanical precision, and deep design to FLA’s electro-industrial framework is part of his artistic legacy. Its success is his success, and the album stands as a document of and testament to his talent and skill.

Buy it.

We Have a Technical 213: TV’s Police

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Mlada Fronta rocks the party

Texture and rhythm heavy records by Mlada Fronta and Zex Model come under the microscope in this week’s episode of We Have A Technical! From Rémy Pelleschi’s stockade of breaks, dub, and techno beats to Paul Von Aphid finding ways of reworking the classic drippy electro-industrial template of Skinny Puppy, Bruce and Alex are ready to talk turkey about “High Tension” and “Mind Slaughter”. All that, some live updates and plenty more on this week’s episode of the podcast! Don’t forget to rate and subscribe on iTunes, Google Play Music, or download directly or stream from Spotify or the widget down below.

Conformco, “controlled.altered.deleted”

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Glitch Mode

It probably shouldn’t be a surprise that a new project from Cyanotic’s Sean Payne and Project .44′s Chris Harris would hearken back to the Wax Trax era: both artists have been longstanding fixtures of the Chicago scene and paid fealty to its celebrated industrial rock history even as they became a part of it. The specific vein the duo mine on Conformco’s debut controlled.altered.deleted is the heavy groove and sample style pioneered by Al Jourgensen and Paul Barker in their Luxa/Pan guise, shot through with some more modern perspectives on that material and its legacy.

Debut single “eighty-sixed” is Conformco at their best, arranging a flurry of pitched-up orch hits over a funky electric bassline, tortured and stuttered vocals and a flurry of samples. It plays as a 2018 take on a PTP track, but doesn’t necessarily suffer from the comparison, leaning into the homage hard enough to justify itself. You get a similar vibe from the aggressive “supply+demand”, where a charging arpeggiated synthline runs up and down across the track and Return of the Living Dead dialogue sounds out, invoking the era of 12 bit samplers and 12″ remix singles. Speaking of remix singles, Conformco make a point of offering up songs in extended and altered arrangements. “into the cut [funk-o-tron]” is a maxi-sized and club ready take on “eighty-sixed”, with the addition of numerous programmed instrumental passages, where “demand supply” ups the rock ante over its source material with blasts and squeals of guitar.

The songs on controlled.altered.deleted are obviously indebted to the project’s influences, but you can’t fault Payne and Harris for having fun with such an iconic template. While classic EBM and 90s dark electro have scads of acts borrowing liberally from their playbook, very few bands have turned their attention to the sounds Conformco are staking their claim to. To whit, when the big kick-snare drum sound and electric bass a la “Attack Ships on Fire” kicks in on “time to conform” or the joyous sampled sax break in “we are conformco” busts through the mix in all its downsampled glory, its hard to find fault with them, tributes though they are. If the songs had less energy and verve to them it might be a different story, but Conformco hit the right balance of snarky charmy and creative reverence to make it hang together.

Buy it.

controlled.altered.deleted by CONFORMCO

Lana Del Rabies, “Shadow World”

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Lana Del Rabies - Shadow World

Lana Del Rabies
Shadow World
Deathbomb Arc

It’d be easy enough to spy Lana Del Rabies’ moniker flitter past on a screen, give a quick chuckle, and keep scrolling. Sure, imagining the aughts’ most tranqued chanteuse getting high by the beach on bath salts rather than benzos merits some mirth, but thankfully the moniker Phoenix’s Sam An has used for her recent recordings doesn’t portend madcap zaniness. Instead, An samples from a wide range of noise, industrial, and dark traditions to assemble disturbing and often violent tracks which place a premium on rhythm without ever becoming garish or excessive.

It’s as tough to describe the composite form An ends up offering on Shadow World as it is easy to identify the record’s influences and component parts. Textures and motifs from power electronics, rhythmic industrial, and the broadest (and roughest) understanding of early American darkwave all find their way into the mix, but are brought to bear by An’s submerged, lo-fi production style and sparse arrangements. The stabbing static and accompanying nails on chalkboard scrapes of “Devour”, for instance, might not be too far removed from early Dive, but the way in which they interface with a low, booming klaxon and An’s pained yet almost wistful vocals aren’t remotely in Ivens’ ballpark.

The ambiguity of those vocals, haunting but seeming to connote very real, very concrete, and very contemporary horrors rather than otherworldly specters, is given plenty of space to shift about in Shadow World‘s concrete haze. When “Repose” morphs into something approximating the classic rhythmic noise template for its last minute, with rapid beats and distortion finally pressed close enough together to blot out anything else, it comes as a shock, putting into start relief just how much space and atmosphere An’s given the rest of her beats.

Whatever the provenance of her sounds, An’s voice finds ways to bend them to her purpose, whether she’s barking out condemnation and confession simultaneously amidst “Disgrace”‘s boiler room hisses or weaving her way through the circular lope of “Unwilling”, perhaps holding on to half-remembered childhood melodies as talismans of strength. For a record so uniformly bleak and upsetting in tone, Shadow World showcases the considerable talents and range of an artist who knows a myriad secret avenues and passageways, though each may very well lead to the same intractable hell.

Buy it.

Shadow World by Lana Del Rabies

Tracks: June 18th, 2018

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This week Tracks is being guest curated by Sólveig Matthildur, one third of Icelandic synthpunk trio Kaelan Mikla and solo artist in her own right. Her 2016 vocal/synth/strings release Unexplained Miseries & the Acceptance of Sorrow attracted the attention of Artoffact Records who will be re-releasing it this week on vinyl and CD. Speaking of attracting attention, Kaelan Mikla played just this past weekend at Meltdown Festival by personal request of Robert Smith (yes, that Robert Smith); one hell of a co-sign for the project. If you want to know about what’s happening in the Icelandic outpost of Our Thing, you could do worse than to listen to her Tracks picks below!

Solveig getting lit, no literally

Aska, “Úr nafnlausum prósa”
Aska is the solo project of my good friend Kristófer who I first met when he joined a poetry group I started in 2013. Kristófer creates his music around his poetry with his analogue gear and records it on cassettes. I was so lucky to get one of 30 copies he made. I recommend everyone to check him out. His work is so well thought out and I recommend everyone to check him out.
út við sundin grá by aska

Johnny Blaze & Hakki Brakes, “WD-40″
These two disco guys are brand new in the Icelandic music scene. Before I checked out their music I wasn´t sure if I was gonna like it or not. It looked too vaporwave for me. Then in early May 2018 I was so lucky to catch them live in Reykjavík and they completely blew my mind!
Vroom Vroom Vroom by Johnny Blaze & Hakki Brakes

Rex Pistols, “Never Done Anything”
Rex Pistols is an amazing woman from Montreal who moved to Iceland some years ago. We got to know each other through the music scene in Iceland and also when we were working together at a cafe in Reykjavík. I really look up to her. She used to be in a band called Antimony that unfortunately quit couple of years ago. But Rex Pistols rose up from their ashes and I am forever great-full for that.
SQUALOR DEMO by Rex Pistols

IDK I IDA, “Bees Riot”
Ida is also an amazing woman from Denmark that also moved to Iceland some years ago and we also met while working at a cafe in Reykjavík together. Reykjavík is small. She makes her music out of field recordings and everything she does is so brilliant! I really look forward seeing her music career blossom. She released her debut album last year “the bug” and it is definitely my favorite album of the year.
The Bug by IDK IDA

Hatari, “Biðröð Mistaka”
I don´t want to tell you anything about Hatari. They are so much more then music…so catch them live!
For example at Kalabalik på Tyrolen.
Neysluvara EP by Hatari

We Have a Commentary: Snog, “Buy Me… I’ll Change Your Life”

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David Thrussell’s 1997 opus Buy Me… I’ll Change Your Life goes under the microscope for this month’s We Have A Commentary podcast, made possible by our Patreon backers! Snog’s staunchly anti-capitalist, anti-corporate ethos was blended with a melange of folk, pop, and country sounds. How have Thrussell’s screeds aged on the other side of 9/11 and Trump? Can we ever have too much nihilism? How does Lee Hazlewood translate into a post-industrial context? We’re pulling no punches with this one, folks! Don’t forget to rate and subscribe on iTunes, Google Play Music, or download directly or stream from Spotify or the widget down below.

Observer: Pod Blotz & Deadframe

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Pod Blotz
Light Mass Body
Difficult Interactions

Suzy Poling’s Pod Blotz has been around since 2002, and has an expansive discography commensurate with that sort of tenure. Those who have yet to experience the project’s particular version of DIY industrial could do far worse than to start out with new EP for Difficult Interactions Light Mass Body, which gives a handy summation of where Poling is at in 2018. The sound of “Returned Human Source” is dense and frantic, featuring blasts of shredding static, long winding filter sweeps and Poling’s own voice doubled and delayed, warping it into new forms as the track rapidly spirals towards its conclusion. Far more slowly paced but no less unnerving is “The Infinite Now” which slows the tempo to a crawl and fills out the track with a massive, swirling phaser that always seems to be moving further out of orbit with the simple kick and snare at the song’s center. Not strictly rhythmic noise, and not totally power electronics, Pod Blotz finds an unhappy medium between the two, forgoing straight anger for an anxiety tuned up to frenzy or reigned in to jittery distress. With commendable intensity, Poling is still pushing her long-running outlet into new and as yet unbounded territory.
Light Mass Body by POD BLOTZ

Deadframe - No Contact
No Contact

Vertex, a Washington crew loosely assembled around those lo-fi low-lifes in Chrome Corpse (and we mean that in the best way possible), are at times as cryptic as they are coarse. For every couple of Night Terrors or Chrome Corpse release rooted in vintage, grimy electro-industrial and dark electro, there’s an anonymous left-field release like the debut from Deadframe. Comprised almost entirely of staticky electronic drones which sound as though they’re either echoing down wind tunnels or being compressed by 386-era soundcards, it’s a record that’s utterly forthright in its sound while also somewhat mysterious in its intentions. At times, the odd punctuation of these walls of noise by vaguely rhythmic pulses and potentially even super-distorted vocals (it’s rather tough to say) seems to be making feints to death industrial or possibly even Throbbing Gristle, but on the whole the focus is on walls of noise subjected to huge amounts of phasing – think power electronics on the other side of vaporwave, or possibly even early Arca after too many playthroughs of System Shock 2. At just under seventeen minutes, the EP’s over before it has a chance to wear out its welcome, or for the shock of its force to abate.

We Have a Technical 212: Rollerball Rock

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A rare pic of the wild JLDM and Marc Heal

A Pick Five episode aims for the singles charts this week on the weekly ID:UD podcast! Bruce and Alex are picking songs whose single versions they prefer to album versions. Expect some big names (and a couple of smaller ones), plus some discussion of upcoming C-Tec dates and how you might be able to help out ArtOfFact in their hour of need. All that and more on the latest episode of We Have A Technical. Don’t forget to rate and subscribe on iTunes, Google Play Music, or download directly or stream from Spotify or the widget down below.


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