Assemblage 23 – Mourn (Album Review)

EBM meets Industrial, Electro-Industrial, Futurepop. Call it what you will, but the genius behind Assemblage 23 is an absolute master of his unique craft. Beginning to build a name for himself in 1998, singer, songwriter, producer, and multi-instrumentalist Tom Shear would make his official full-length debut as Assemblage 23 with 1999’s Contempt. Throughout the years, seven additional full-lengths have followed—including 2002’s Defiance, 2009’s Compass, and 2016’s Endure—all with one-word titles and spaced roughly 2-3 years apart. How’s that for consistency?

Prolific in his work, Shear pens thoughtful lyrics and matches them to dancy synth beats. The electric combination is as intelligent as it is infectious, a fact that is proven time and time again on his latest, Mourn, which arrives on Friday, September 11, 2020, via Metropolis Records. Written, produced and performed by Shear, the LP sees Assemblage 23 pairing body-moving, genre-expanding electronics with intimate, soul-searching lyrical content.

The 10-song Mourn begins by hiding a layer of serenity beneath the ominous synths and demanding beats of “Epiphany,” luring the listener in to Shear’s vocals. And like many great realizations, there’s a bitter sweetness that permeates this angsty self-reflection. Sonically, more a ‘Self-Care Sunday’ than a Friday night at the club, “Epiphany” kicks off an intimate collection of candid confessions and keen social commentary.

Wasting no time, Shear dives into the discussion of toxic masculinity, addressing the topic head-on with the explosively catchy dance-a-thon “Factory.” A smart commentary on the negative effects of societal influences on young men, as well as the harm done by the militaristic machine, the talented songwriter relays his message clearly with the visual of boys who are taught never to cry who, ultimately, grow up to be “broken men.” A phenomenal offering, it opens the door for “Bloom,” which asks where do you turn in a world where “destruction sounds like rain” and “laughter can sound like pain”? Amid the depressing dichotomies and hypocrisies inherent in this life, along with the monotony and fruitless wandering, we each need a beacon of hope. “Bloom,” much like music itself, offers this community and a friendly light to guide us home.

Next, the gritty frustration of “Anxiety” howls across the senses, flawlessly detailing what it feels like to be trapped inside the maze of our own minds. The track’s infectious beat belies its personally daunting topic, but the same can be said for much of Mourn. And what immediately follows delivers the languid, almost sultry ooze of the intimate “Confession” and the pain of “Dissonance,” where the emotionality in Shear’s vocals is juxtaposed against an upbeat, ‘80s New Wave dance party.

Eventually the perfectly appropriate, inappropriate moment to welcome the end arrives with “Welcome, Apocalypse.” Shades of our current global pandemic run thick in its steady beat which is coupled with lyrical nods to our society’s ignorance, nihilism, and lack of empathy. And if you think we brought this on ourselves, you are not alone! Consequently, those apocalyptic feels continue throughout the layers of “Could’ve,” a response to a personal affront that promises there are always two sides to every story.

Continuing to juxtapose his music and lyrics, Shear offers up the sage wisdom of “Tragedy” (“The greatest tragedy is the one that you yourself create”) and sets his serious sentiments to an uplifting, twinkling beat that begs your entire body to move. Though, ultimately, he closes out his latest collection by saying goodbye to the past and burning it down on the album’s dynamite closer, “This House Is Empty.”

In the simplest of terms: Assemblage 23 continues to be one of the genre’s best and brightest. Shear’s ability to create electronic-based music that slithers into our bodies and inspires us to move is incomparable, while his thought-provoking and candid lyrical content only propels Assemblage 23 further. An elevated take on EBM and Industrial, Mourn sounds like a dream but it drips pain from each of its beautiful pores. A cathartic experience, Cryptic Rock gives Assemblage 23’s latest 5 of 5 stars.

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