January 15, 2021 Front Line Assembly – Mechanical Soul (Album Review)
We last heard from Industrial titans Front Line Assembly in the winter of 2019 when they delivered their sixteenth studio album, Wake Up the Coma. Continuing to bypass any genre constraints, the duo is set to deliver Mechanical Soul on Friday, January 15, 2021 thanks to Metropolis Records.
It’s no secret that Bill Leeb’s exit from Skinny Puppy was the catalyst for the creation of the Electro-Industrial Front Line Assembly. Over the past 35 years, disregarding their score work, Leeb and his cohorts have delivered an extensive catalog, one that includes 1987’s The Initial Command, 1992’s pivotal Tactical Neural Implant, 1995’s fan-favorite Hard Wired, and 2013’s Echogenetic, to name but a few. Utilizing layers of sound to evoke emotion and inspire shifting moods, their oeuvre of material frequently pairs Industrial with EBM, creating sounds to make you move and force you to feel.
But their latest, Mechanical Soul, gets a little dark. For the 11-song LP, Leeb and Rhys Fulber—finding themselves a twosome after the tragic death of Jeremy Inkel—explore terrain that often toys with Techno while holding onto the dystopian wasteland of their previous work on 2018’s instrumental journey WarMech. The end result is a collection that will get listeners to move off the quarantine couch, yet it might also stimulate thoughts on the bleak and parasitic nature of humanity. In short, it’s not exactly the next bubblegum bop!
Which is apropos for the duo, who continue to push boundaries and unintentionally hold onto their rightful place within the uppermost echelon of Industrial music. Suitably, Mechanical Soul journeys further into a world of genre defiance, cinematic feels, and apocalyptic notions, all while featuring guest appearances from Front 242’s Jean-Luc DeMeyer and Fear Factory’s Dino Cazeres.
So it’s no shock that the album presents Industrial textures from the outset with “Purge,” where thick programming and a solid beat are apt to inspire bodies to move. And it pairs well with the Futurepop infectiousness of “Unknown,” another offering that encompasses the ‘mechanical soul’ motif. With its dichotomous nature that beautifully exhibits bleak joy and sorrowful elation, “Unknown” is a stand-out among the collection—although it is admittedly difficult to overlook the ironic balladry of “Barbarians.”
Then there are moments that focus on using their electronics to excite the senses: undulating rhythms that explode into full-bodied dance-gasms (“Glass and Leather”), chemical waves of hypersensation and bass (“Stifle”), as well as some ominously scampering aural experimentation (“Komm, stirbt mit mir”). In this, Front Line Assembly uses their time with our bodies to toy with us, to present surprisingly sultry twists that aren’t meant to be titillating (“Rubber Tube Gag”), and vocal performances that tease us with ASMR (“Time Lapse”).
And there are instants that inject an optimistic feel into their programming, like on “New World,” where we soar above a future landscape as Front Line Assembly provides us with a lullaby for a new life. Understandably, gloom and doom creep into the collection, too, on tracks such as “Alone,” a droning reflection on being a solitary, misanthropic creature. This before it all culminates in “Hatevol (Black Asteroid Mix),” where blast bass beats hold down a menagerie of penetrating push and pull.
While nothing on Mechanical Soul redefines the state of music in 2021, it’s still enjoyable for its duration, providing listeners with an intriguing mixture of aural feels. For fans of the duo, lovers of Industrial and EBM, or anyone hosting their own Goth Rave, Front Line Assembly’s latest is a solid entry into their masterful catalog, one that is apt to make your January more pleasurable. Which is good enough for us, and that is why Cryptic Rock gives Mechanical Soul 4 of 5 stars.