Complete Front Line Assembly CD Reviews The Initial Command (1986) .+quot; Staccato electr

---
Master Index Current Directory Index Go to SkepticTank Go to Human Rights activist Keith Henson Go to Scientology cult

Skeptic Tank!

Complete Front Line Assembly CD Reviews ======================================= The Initial Command (1986) *** """"""""""""""""""""""""""""""" Staccato electronic sequences, drum machines, and clangorous metallic samples, all drifting through miles of echo and reverberation. The first Front Line Assembly album is a dark and ominous tour-de-force of abrasive mechanical noise and simple rhythmic themes. Bill Leeb's vocals are a bit tentative here. They are used most effectively as a menacing, semi-intelligible growl creeping out from a distance, and less effectively when providing weak lyrical fare mixed up-front. High points are "Nine Times," with its driving, relentless beat (not quite danceable), and "Ausgang Zum Himmel," which is creepy and atmospheric. State of Mind (1987) **** """""""""""""""""""""""""" With their second album, FLA abandon some of the chaos in favour of focusing on simple themes. Augumenting the ever-present echoes and chirpy synth ostenatos are militaristic drum rhythms and sweeping, orchestral melodic lines. "Resistance" typifies the new ideals. It is powerful and awesome, with grandiose themes over _Trans-Europe_Express_-era Kraftwerkian synths. And continuing along the road to glorious noise is "Malignant Fracture," an unstable and unsettlingly harsh beat grafted onto chaotic synth patterns and distorted, ambient sound. Convergence (1988) *** """"""""""""""""""""""" This disc consolidates two EP's, _Corrosion_ and _Disorder_, with three new tracks. For the most part, these tracks are stripped-down synth-and-drum-machine affairs, considerably simpler (and produced in a more up-front manner) than the first two albums' contents. With this disc, Leeb has finally learned how to use his unusual vocals to best effect, as his trademark growl neither dominates nor is lost in the mix. As usual, both uptempo and more ambient fare are represented here. The former not terribly well, with the notable exception of the sensational "Body Count" -- the first FLA song to combine simple, powerful, insightful lyrics with a relentless beat and blasts of pure noise. The latter subgenre is better represented; "Dark Dreams" and "On the Cross" (with its echoing, disturbing piano) are among the band's best mantra-music to date. Gashed Senses and Crossfire (1989) ***** """"""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""" After years of blending atmospheric electronics with driving beats, Leeb and company decide to "divide and conquer" by exploring the extremes of each. The result is their masterpiece. _Gashed_ runs the gamut from vivid mental landscapes to rigid digital rhythms. The album's strength is the varying density of sound within each type of track. One dance track, "No Limit," is dense and driving, a wall of bright synthesizers and distortion. Another, "Digital Tension Dementia," is ultra-minimalist, stripped down to sparse rhythms over a relentless beat. The same variety is seen at the other end of the bpm count; the Puppyesque "Prayer" conjures images of bleak and open spaces, while "Sedation" is claustrophobic and final. Along the way, there's some clever and legitimate songrwiting. "Big Money" is simple and powerful in its delivery. On the other hand, "Digital Tension Dementia" sports some pretty stupid lyrics. The lyrical writing is the album's only uneven point. All told, it's a brilliant disc, one of the most important works of second-generation cyberpunk. Caustic Grip (1990) *** """""""""""""""""""""""" Building on the sucesses of _Gashed_Senses..._, FLA create music of increasing density and rhythmic tyranny. The result is faster, heavier, and harder than anything they've previously done. Unfortunately, the tracks are a bit homogenous. "Resist," "Provision," "Iceolate," and "Mental Distortion" all follow roughly the same formula of 120-125bpm, 8-bar verse sections split by rhythmic breakdowns, 3-part fragmented synth bass and high synth ostenatos to build up "choruses." Fortunately, however, the formula works. _Caustic_Grip_ succeeds at being both danceable and harsh in a way no other act has before. Less attention is paid to slower and atmospheric fare this time around. Partially because it doesn't suit FLA's high-speed-rhythmic- noises-flying-all-over-the-stereo-field arrangement style. And partially, because of the imminent push towards dance tracks, evidenced in... Tactical Neural Implant (1992) **** """""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""" 1992: The year Bill Leeb and company committed themselves to making dance music. For the most part, they did it extremely well. From the start, "Final Impact" sounds like it's going to be minimalist techno fare...but then the machines close in, herr Leeb's ominous growl comes down, and before you know it it's a dense and powerful cyber-dustrial groove. Elsewhere on the album, various similar compromises of beat and noise succeed by twisting stock dance beats into angular mechanical monstrosities ready for the FLA anvil. It's not all great, though. "The Blade" and "Outcast" both attempt to graft the FLA machine onto New Jack Swing-esque robotic takes of James Brown's "Funky Drummer" beat. Both fail, one disastrously. Another failing is Leeb's attempt to fashion lyrical hooks for functional choruses; "Mindphaser" is marred by such weak and inappropriate vocals. The disc's failings are few, however. FLA's grim and driving sound has weathered the transition from brainpan to dancefloor.

---

E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank